When the Before Watchmen series was first announced the comic community went insane with what it saw as a slap in the face to Alan Moore’s 1986 masterpiece. Well that time has certainly passed and fans have been raving about the prequels. This week DC comics released the first in a series of four books for the character Dr. Manhattan. Writer, J. Michael Straczynski, and artist Adam Hughes pile on to the already fantastic prequel series.
Dealing with the early days of Dr. Manhattan is a difficult task. He is the only character that we really got to see his origin in the 1986 run. We already know Dr. Jon Osterman mistakenly gets trapped in an “Intrinsic Field Subtractor” and becomes the hero we know as Dr. Manhattan. What is great about the book is that with all we know Straczynski is still able to keep us on our toes. You do get some rehash of Jon’s story, but the book deals more with Dr. Manhattan examining who he is, or as he states it “why I am.” The questions of existence and quantum physics come into play. The book never gets outlandish that you can’t follow, but doesn’t dumb down the character for a new generation either.
The story elements of examining one’s life in real time or even before birth is fantastic for the character. In the original series he is constantly battling back and forth with ideas of existence and morality. While Straczynski doesn’t go into morality, which I assume would be full of winks and nods to the Alan Moore series, he does set it up for that discussion in the future. We do get to see the original Crimebusters and what some of them think of Jon and what that makes them think of themselves. The juxtaposition between the aging heroes and Jon is well placed.
Adam Hughes artwork looks great. I really like the way he creates his own feel of Dr. Manhattan, while still paying homage to the David Gibbons. I do find that Gibbons’s Manhattan was less “busy” in design, where Hughes’s has a more updated look and more detail. This isn’t really a positive or negative statement about either artist, just an observation.
Dr. Manhattan #1 is a great, my favorite of the entire Before Watchmen series so far. Its feels the most grown up and really does a great job in reflecting on what the character is in the original series. I’m sure Alan Moore will never read these books, but he could certainly be proud of what Straczynski and Hughes are doing.