A lot of the concepts and themes that were present on the surface of this series in previous issues are explored in greater length here. The extent of Dr. Manhattan's powers, for example, is one of those issues. What can he do, exactly? When he changes the outcome of an event, does that mean that he simply changed the future, or did he unintentionally create a new timeline where a new possibility exists? Meanwhile the old possibility still exists, as well? One thing is for sure, if anyone can write existentialism and integrate head-scratching concepts like whether or not time is relative to life/a story; it's J. Michael Straczynski. If you aren't used to reading stories that deal with past present and future, and that define time and space, Straczynski provides a story that touches on those concepts and explains them in a simplified way. That's certainly one of the things I enjoyed about this issue.
However it isn't the story that is guaranteed to blow you away so much as the art. The art in this comic is absolutely jaw-dropping. Reading this issue is a process. Each page of this comic is more detailed than last, and helps to tell the story in an incredible way. Hughes' work is so abstract and different; the way he illustrates each panel is so brilliant that you will be drawn into this gorgeous comic for his skill alone. It's like seeing a Norman Rockwell painting come to life, that's how beautiful it is.
I think the purpose of these BEFORE WATCHMEN titles is to add some depth or dimension to characters that we met in Moore's WATCHMEN title. I would think the purpose is to find how these characters are grounded and what drives them. Although we have one issue left to go, it doesn't really feel like Straczynski humanizes Dr. Manhattan in his series, which is something I had expected him to do. Unlike other heroes in WATCHMEN, Manhattan undergoes a change that takes him from being a human male with an ordinary life, to a super-powered being who is completely detached from society.
This issue features a lot of flashbacks that gives readers a closer look at Dr. Manhattan's life before he became Dr. Manhattan. We see him as a child and become acquainted with his father. Straczynski also goes on to explore that particular relationship. I think the only problem with this is the fact that it doesn't quite tell us who the character is. What was his personality like? Was he a moral person? How did he meet his first wife? There's just a ton that we don't know about Dr. Manhattan even after having read the three issues of his BEFORE WATCHMEN mini-series. So, at the end of the day, who is he exactly? What was the purpose of this series? Still, beyond all that, the issue itself is very well written, well organized and Straczynski certainly plays to Hughes' strengths. Hughes knocks the art in this issue out of the park completely, delivering a just absolutely stunning piece of work.