Four issues into the hotly-debated Before Watchmen prequel project, and the returns are diminishing rapidly. It started off fairly strong with Darwyn Cooke's Minutemen, exploring minor characters from the original series we knew little about, and Cooke teamed up with the mighty Amanda Conner for Silk Spectre #1, which was still fairly solid, if a little suspect. But with Brian Azzarello's actively bad Comedian #1 and now J. Michael Straczynski's dull Nite Owl #1, we're reminded acutely why these books didn't really need to exist.
There's not much to say about Nite Owl #1, because the writing feels so banal that it doesn't inspire much of anything in the way of response. We see how a young owl-obsessed Dan Dreiberg uncovered the secret identity of his predecessor Hollis Mason, then trained with him as his replacement, and then an immediate team-up with Rorschach on his first night on the job. There's even a forced bit of heavy-handed retroactive foeshadowing where Dan sees Laurie at the Crimebusters meeting and goes on about feeling "the strangest sense of connection to her" like "we were fated to be together." Please. It feels very much 'by-the-numbers,' hitting these beats just because the beats needed to be hit, with no real sense of purpose beyond that. The closest thing to an emotional note is the revelation that Dan's father was a cruel wife-beater, although it's done so over-the-top that it just seems silly. Everything else just seems completely matter-of-fact. This happened, then this happened. Prequel money, please.
Andy and Joe Kubert bring a very old-school sensibility to the artwork, though, and their legendary talent in that classic style elevates things a bit, but none of this feels like Watchmen in the least. Sure, maybe an interesting story will unfold here, since this is only the first issue, but there's nothing here to inspire much hope.
That's about all I can muster to say about it. It's just that lifeless.