One of the most enigmatic characters from ‘The Watchmen,’ the god-like Dr. Manhattan steps onto the stage in this opening issue of his prequel miniseries. The issue essentially recaps his origin and elements from the parent miniseries, with further commentary by the being himself and with further elaboration. As you’ll probably recall, the scientist Jon Osterman is trapped in a radiation experiment chamber and obliterated, only to later reform as the blue, atomic-powered Dr. Manhattan a being that seems to exist outside of time.
There are two recurring images in this story: clocks – he is the son of a clock maker and structures his life in a way as to mimic their precision; and boxes, which he assigns the heady honor of creating vast chronological parallel universes. The first example is his ninth birthday, when he receives a gift from his father. In his mind, he surmises that anything could be in the box and in one reality, there is a kitten inside. In another, it contains a teddy bear. In yet another, there is a baseball mitt and ball. But in this reality, the box contains… a clock. “What’s inside the box?” is both the title of this issue, but also a recurring mantra, being referenced in various scenarios with different implications.
Seeing as how Manhattan exists somewhat outside of the Quantum Universe, his story jumps backwards and forwards through time, from his childhood to his “present” which is shortly before ‘The Watchmen’ miniseries proper, and detours to various points in between. But Manhattan’s obsession with precision makes it all cohesive and linear.
One point of interest is… and this is something that never quite made sense to me in the original series… the one area where he strays from this rigidity – his relationships with women. In his college years, he ignores a busty, beautiful student to work on a clock he is building, seemingly casting him as asexual. But later, his relationship with Janey Slater, a fellow scientist and his girlfriend before his accident, disolves when he becomes smitten with Laurie Jupiter, the “jailbait” hero Silk Spectre. He even cheats in order to get paired up with her as members of the Crimebusters (the post-Minute Men, pre-Watchmen attempted team), causing Janey to eventually leave him. The character is always so stoic and emotionally remote, seemingly above human frailty, yet here he is chasing barely legal tail. The sequence is embellished but still not really explained.
Toward the end, the hero attempts to manipulate the time stream in a way he never has before, but he may wind up erasing himself from existence as a result!
This tale was obviously crafted with a great deal of care and consideration. The symbolism of both the clocks and boxes are used very cleverly and work very well. Though he is still very emotionally distant, there is some explanation behind why Dr. Manhattan is the way he is. As far as storytelling, the one area that proved slightly less than satisfying was the very end, but it’s sort of a cliffhanger and may pan out.
The art by Adam Hughes is beautiful! Hughes is a brilliant artist, but his work is so time-consuming that he hasn’t drawn a monthly book in years, choosing to focus on covers. It’s comics’ loss, as his work, time and time again, is simply lovely in every single way.
Once again, another excellent book in this line of comics. Fans may have been outraged that DC would even dare to revisit The Watchmen, but every creator involved seems to have grasped the weight of this undertaking and has accordingly stepped up their game. Another excellent example!
BEFORE WATCHMEN: DR. MANHATTAN #1
Written by J. Michael Straczynski
Art and Cover by Adam Hughes