Like Rorschach’s series, Before Watchmen: Dr. Manhattan is a prequel to the graphic novel Watchmen and a four-part arc, as well as a loving study on the titular character. But while Rorschach’s storyline has had little to no familiar cameos (so far), quite a few well-known Watchmen faces have flickered by in Dr. Manhattan, whether Manhattan has met them yet or not. This makes perfect sense if you’re at all familiar with America’s favourite blue quantum anomaly; after all, when your perception exists outside of natural reality, you’re bound to see some future flashes every now and then.
Last issue saw Manhattan doing what Manhattan does best: brooding about the mysteries of the universe while sitting on an empty planet in space. He thinks a lot about the different realities that people make for themselves with their decisions, and then I guess he feels up for a challenge, because he decides to try to extend his consciousness to before his own creation.
Before Watchmen: Dr. Manhattan #2 deals with the fallout of Dr. Manhattan’s experiment, where he has created a new central reality that never sees Jon get locked in the radiation chamber in 1959 and become Dr. Manhattan. It’s an interesting direction to see the story take because we see that Manhattan is clearly spooked by the situation; very unusual for a near-omnipotent figure. Even more interesting is the idea that his wife brings up towards the end of the issue: that maybe time is broken. I’m looking forward to seeing where writer J. Michael Straczynski is going with this concept.
If you’re confused yet (and I admit, sometimes I am), don’t panic. It just means that Straczynski is doing his job well. One of my favorite things about Dr. Manhattan’s character in the original Watchmen was how intensely philosophical, how cerebral he was. In a nine-panel page he would simultaneously blow my mind and go straight over my head. Straczynski may not be Alan Moore, but he can certainly ponder existentialism with the best of them.
I was also impressed by how respectful to Dr. Manhattan’s history this issue was. Clocks were everywhere, and the technical reasoning behind timepieces is intrinsic to the plot. We also get to see a nice snapshot of Manhattan’s life as Jon, idyllically married to Janey in the 1960s, which was bittersweet. And in true Watchmen fashion, there are Cold War references everywhere. The ongoing conflict between the Soviets and the Americans is one of the strongest-running threads through each of Manhattan’s perceived realities. In our post-post-Cold War era, I had worried that in the Before Watchmen series, how essential the Cold War and nuclear fear-mongering was to building the Watchmen universe might be glossed over. I’m so happy this is not the case.
I was so surprised by how much I liked this issue. I thought that Dr. Manhattan would be extremely difficult to capture properly — but Straczynski kind of nailed it. I can’t wait to see what happens next!
Before Watchmen: Minutemen #4, the next issue in the series, hits stands October 17.