In the fourth of Digital Spy's comprehensive series of reviews of DC Comics' Before Watchmen prequels, we take a look at Nite Owl #1.
Who's it by? Before Watchmen: Nite Owl #1 is written J Michael Straczynski, pencilled by Andy Kubert and inked by Joe Kubert. The Curse of the Crimson Corsair back-up is written by Len Wein and drawn by original series colourist John Higgins.
What's the story so far? Daniel Dreiberg stalks the night as the costumed, gadget-wielding crimefighter Nite Owl. As a young man, he inherited the mantle from Hollis Mason, a former member of the costumed hero organisation Minutemen. Later, he retired from the business with the introduction of the Keene Act, his identity still unknown to the public.
In Watchmen readers were introduced to a middle-aged Dreiberg, a good-natured but somewhat awkward man who has let himself go following his athletic, heroic peak. He offers shelter to Laurie Juspeczyk - the former Silk Spectre - and the two embark on a relationship fuelled by their passionate return to crimefighting.
What happens? Nite Owl takes the reader on a lightning-fast tour of Dreiberg's early career. The opening pages cast him as a young boy who idolises and is able to discover the identity of his hero, Mason. The older man takes the younger under his wing, grooming him as his own replacement.
The issue jumps ahead to the new Nite Owl's debut with his flying ship Archimedes. He encounters fellow vigilante Rorschach, and the two team-up, eventually finding themselves as attendees of the first meeting of the Crimebusters team.
What's the verdict? Before Watchmen has so far shown a tendency to tread water, revisiting old ground rather than adding a new dimension to the property's mythos. Nite Owl is unfortunately no exception.
Straczynski does make some attempt to add new depth to Dreiberg's story, but has an unfortunate tendency to stumble before he reaches his goal. In the case of the character's discovery of his hero's identity, readers are basically offered a 'new' element to his origin story that is simply a take on the Tim Drake/Robin tale of a clever and technology savvy young man earning his wings.
When it comes to the relationship between mentor and student, we are given tantalising hints at something interesting, but the pace moves too quickly and that part of the story is not allowed to develop before it is left behind. Similarly, an opportunity to show us something of Nite Owl's collaboration with a young Rorschach is mainly squandered for laughs.
Other scenes are more or less a replica from the original, with the debut of the new Nite Owl echoing very closely panels from Alan Moore's book, and the Crimebusters scene recreating some of the original pages without adding much to them. Paired with some pieces of awkward and obvious dialogue, there is little here to inspire.
There are moments when this issue shines, in Stracyznski's subtle treatment of the Dreiberg parents' abusive relationship, as well as that of the two Nite Owls. Unfortunately, some of the best parts are rushed through in order to cram in less satisfying material.
The artwork is generally solid, with Andy Kubert bringing his usual finesse to every page. His father and comics veteran Joe Kubert provides inks, giving his son's work a vintage edge that suits the 1960s setting well. There are times when the rougher finish and colouring is too rough, leaving faces murky or bloated.
Nite Owl is a rushed read, dodging opportunities to flesh out the potentially interesting relationships between characters in order to cover as much ground as possible. With three more issues to go, readers may well wonder what story will be left to explore at this rate.