What's In The Box?
For Dr. Manhattan’s opening issue, J. Michael Straczynski bravely decides not tell or trade war stories or early crime fighting exploits but instead, chooses to explore the extraordinarily, complex mind of the great, blue demigod. Always going to be one of the more challenging Watchmen characters to write, he tackles heavy themes and challenging concepts. Is this a comprehensive, exploration for one of comic’s most morally debated characters or do all these ideas simply clash in one big, great bowl of mush?
Order and control shine through as the main themes of the book. From Jon Osterman’s pre Manhattan days as a young boy methodically, fixing clocks with his father and later, his career as a theoretical physicist, Jon’s life has been one of self-control. Now, as Dr. Manhattan and the endless power he possesses, he explores the order of time and the universe, its infinite perspectives and possibilities, cleverly using the idea of a surprise birthday present as a metaphor. “What’s in the box?” It could be anything but with Dr. Manhattan, he has the ability to see what mere mortals cannot.
JMS does a good job of re-capturing Dr. Manhattan’s cosmic nihilism that was clear to see in the original series. Viewing life and the universe as a simple set of gears, everything moves in conjunction with each other, one gear turning the next. There is no such thing as accidents or coincidence; ultimately, everything falls into place. Its highbrow stuff and most of it will probably go over your head - I know it did for me. Some of the narration comes across a little pointless and ridiculous at times as it usually does when time travel is involved in comics but the ending is intriguing as Dr. Manhattan’s beliefs are suddenly distorted when he is presented with the absence of control.
This is my first exposure to the artwork of Adam Hughes and he plays a big part in telling the story. Despite being this monochrome, blue alien, Hughes does a fantastic job of capturing the subtle sadness of Dr. Manhattan. The scenes in space are particularly poignant, showing how isolated and exceptional he is from the rest of the world. It’s not the type of art that will blow your head off like Jae Lee in Ozymandias but it’s very effective for the story it tells.
This has definitely been the most unique and insightful take on a character for this Before Watchmen series. While last week, Brian Azzarello seemingly played it safe and threw Rorshach into an ugly, prostitute ring and got the snot beaten out of him, the issue didn’t say or add anything about the character. Dr. Manhattan #1 is not perfect by any stretch but it tries to do something different and gives the impression that it is not afraid of the source material. It doesn’t feel like a forced prequel for what many consider to be the greatest comic of all time. It’s ironic that this detached and cold character, made me feel something more than any Before Watchmen prequel so far.
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