Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Before Watchmen: Comedian/Rorschach

 I was as horrified as the next guy when DC announced that they were going to publish prequels to the classic Alan Moore/Dave Gibbons mini-series WATCHMEN. The news was hardly unexpected, but it was still shocking. I always figured that one day DC would just give Moore the high hard one and realize that there was money being left on the table by not exploiting these characters, which is their right, since they do own them. I'm a huge Alan Moore fan, but, in all fairness, it's hard to take him seriously when he bellyaches endlessly about people stealing his ideas and using his characters, when he's made a career out of using other peoples characters in ways that the original creator may not necessarily have approved of. (I mean, what would H.G. Wells and Robert Louis Stevenson have thought of The Invisible Man being raped to death by Mr. Hyde? And let's not even get into what Moore did to Alice, Wendy, and Dorothy....) Moore is a phenomenally talented man, but he's no more sacred than Jack Kirby, Steve Ditko, and every other screwed-over creator. I'm not here to judge...well, I am here to judge. Never mind.

 First off, thank you, DC, for not making us shell out extra money by having each mini-series get it's own hardcover. They could have easily doubled the cost by doing that. I suspect they thought it'd take some of the bad taste of of fandom's collective mouth if the "Bang for your buck" ratio was increased.

 I'm not sure if these collections are better off being read in a particular order, but I randomly decided to read this one first, and I'm glad that I did. BEFORE WATCHMEN: COMEDIAN/RORSCHACH is written by Brian Azzarello, who is very hit-or-miss with me. I really enjoyed 100 BULLETS, until around issue 40 or so, when I realized that my enfeebled mind was incapable of following such a byzantine book as a monthly floppy...It was just getting too confusing. I should probably buy some of those humongo hardcover collections that DC/Vertigo has been printing, but I need another massively expensive comic like I need a hole in my head. Anyway, I'm happy to say that Azzarello landed in the "Hit" department with these two stories.

 I think that Alan Moore gave the reader every little bit of information that they could possibly need to understand the story he was telling in WATCHMEN, so that made me wonder: Do we NEED to know any of the information that would be conveyed in BEFORE WATCHMEN? The answer, as far as this collection goes, is no. Nothing here gave me any new insight into Edward Blake and Walter Kovacs, but I sure had a great time seeing them in new adventures.

 Both of the mini-series reprinted in BEFORE WATCHMEN: COMEDIAN/RORSCHACH are really character studies, as opposed to full-fledged stories. The Comedian's six-issue arc follows him from the J.F.K. Presidency, through Vietnam, and into the period right before WATCHMEN. Rorschach's four-issue arc loosely follows his efforts to stop a serial killer known as "The Bard". Azzarello has a lot of quirks in his style that annoy me and interrupt my reading flow, and these are on full display, especially in The Comedian's arc, but the work was strong enough to get me past those bumps in the road. A lot of credit has to go to the artists, J.G. Jones on The Comedian, and Lee Bermejo on Rorschach. Bermejo, in particular, is in rare form. His Rorschach covers are works of art. The cover to RORSCHACH #3 had me going "What the hell...?", until I squinted at it. Now I consider it a work of genius.
                                                                  Best cover ever.....?

As I said, none of this is essential reading, as far as WATCHMEN goes. But reading this book made me realize that I was, however unknowingly, hungry for more of these characters. So far, BEFORE WATCHMEN looks to be a success, at least as far as I'm concerned.

 BEFORE WATCHMEN: COMEDIAN/RORSCHACH collects BEFORE WATCHMEN: COMEDIAN issues 1-6 and BEFORE WATCHMEN: RORSCHACH issues 1-4, and features all covers, variant covers, promotional art, statue designs and sketches, and sketches by Jones and Bermejo.

 DC Comics provided a review copy, but I bought a hardcover anyway, because I'm nuts.

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