Sunday, February 17, 2013

Before Watchmen: Dollar Bill Reviewed

Well, as I predicted in my previous post on the subject, Before Watchmen: Dollar Bill DOESN'T suck.  It isn't brilliant, or groundbreaking, or anywhere near as good as Watchmen, but it doesn't suck.  What it does is provide a few moments of mild, if inconsequential, entertainment with an ocassionally clever script by Len Wein and typically lovely art from Steve Rude.  Hardly a ringing endorsement, to be sure, but overall Dollar Bill is a pretty good comic.
"There was Dollar Bill, originally a star college athlete from Kansas who was actually employed as an in-house super-hero by one of the major national banks, when they realized that the masked man fad made being able to brag about having a hero of your own to protect your customer's money was a very interesting publicity prospect.  Dollar Bill was one of the nicest and most straightforward men I have ever met, and the fact that he died so tragically young is something that still upsets me whenever I think about it.  While attempting to stop a raid upon one of his employer's banks, his cloak became entangled in the bank's revolving door and he was shot dead at point blank range before he could free it.  Designers employed by the bank had designed his costume for maximum publicity appeal.  If he'd designed it himself he might have left out that damned cloak and still be alive today."
 That one paragraph, from the faux-memoir of first Nite Owl Hollis Mason, "Under The Hood", which comprises the text section at the end of Chapter II of Watchmen, is the extent of the characterization or background that Alan Moore gives us for Dollar Bill, leaving quite a bit of leeway for Wein to fill in the details.  Wein begins by giving the character something Moore neglected to--a real name.  We are introduced to Bill Brady, an exceptional high school athlete who gains a football scholarship from Dartmouth, leading to eventual fame, as well as hot prospects for an eventual pro career.  All that is ended when he is injured during a game.  Bill barely graduates and finds himself living in New York with no job and no prospects until he decides to cash in on his good looks and become an actor.  When that doesn't pan out, he answers an ad placed by National Bank.  He discovers that the job would require him to play the part of National's resident protector.  His bosses eventually direct him to join the Minutemen for the publicity.  Through his interaction with his fello masked adventurers, Bill eventually comes to be the hero he was at first only playacting as.  Then, inevitably, comes his fateful encounter with that revolving door...
Wein deserves credit for not attempting to emulate the style of storytelling Moore used in Watchmen.  In fact, he makes a couple of storytelling choices that I find somewhat daring, at least for a Watchmen prequel.   The first is the lighthearted, even comedic at times, tone that he gives the story.  He invokes the old "Dewey, Cheatem and Howe" routine familiar to Car Talk listeners and Three Stooges fans and includes a scene reminiscent of those old Legion of Super-Heroes tryouts, featuring a dozen or so lame wannabe heroes, when Bill shows up to join the Minutemen.  There's nothing laugh out loud hilarious here, but there are bits that do raise a smile or a light chuckle.  That's certainly more than you get from Watchmen.  For all its virtues, and they are myriad, there just aren't a lot of yuks in Moore's graphic novel.
Even odder is Wein's choice to have Bill narrate the story in the first person from beyond the grave, which brings a sort of whimsical fantasy tone to the story that Watchmen also lacks.
Both of these choices work, however, allowing the story to stand alone, on its own merits, apart from the work that inspired it.  They also give the book a distinctly Bronze Age feel, which, I suppose, given that it was written by Len Wein, one of the writers whose work defined the Bronze Age, isn't at all surprising.
All in all, Dollar Bill is a pleasant little super-hero comic that in no way denigrates or descecrates Alan Moore's beloved and revered classic.  Given how doomed from the start the whole Before Watchmen project initially seemed, I suppose that's something of an achievement in and of itself.

1 comment:

  1. What about the art, Mr Tomczak?! WHAT ABOUT THE ART?!?!? Is Rude emulating any particular artist in this comic?! Is it a good return to the field?! I need to know, man! Wein's story sounds really good and quite daring as you say, I always liked his Batman work with Jim Aparo but I wouldn't be buying this comic if it was any other artist! Great review nevertheless, thank you!