Archive for August, 2012

If anyone were to put a pistol to my head and ask me to name my absolute favorite comic of the last couple of decades, Debbie Drechsler’s Daddy’s Girl, a hardcover collection published by Fantagraphics Books collecting all her various shorter works from the 1980s and 90s (some in color, some in black and white, as the art samples included with this review will show) just might be it.

First off, though, please understand that this is by no means an easy  or pleasant read. Quite the opposite : Drechsler’s account of her (via her surrogate character, Lily) horrific sexual abuse at the hands of her father is stark, harrowing, and at times even painful to read. It’s also unflinchingly honest, amazingly heartfelt, and above all agonizingly human. It’s not just the mindset of a sexual abuse survivor that Drechlser portrays so authentically, but the “new kid on the block” mentality that she had to endure so frequently as a kid whose family moved around a lot growing up, and the little ways in which adolescents have to process and interpret aspects of the adult world that are only beginning to make any sense to them, to the extent that they even do at all.

Drechsler’s heavy brushstrokes and her expert utilization of thick, inky blackness drive home an almost oppressive feeling that suits her subject matter perfectly, and gives the book the look and feel of a series of captioned woodcuts that expertly capture not just various moments frozen in time, but the emotions that go along with, and/or result from them. It’s damn uncomfortable reading on occasion, but it also feels brutally necessary. Watching Lily’s attitude toward her father evolve from scared to forced nonchalance to one of pathetic derision happens at such an organic pace that it’s often hard to believe that many of these stories, appearing as they did in irregularly-published journals such as the original Drawn & Quarterly, often appeared years apart, so natural is their progression, and while it does, in fact, feel like something of a personal victory for Lily to finally see her old man not as a deadly predator but a useless, limp-dicked piece of shit, it’s definitely a hollow victory at best, given the horrors she has to endure to get to that point.

Still, on the whole, the sexual abuse narrative, while central to Drechsler’s work here, is only part of the overall portrait of the pain and awkwardness of adolescence that runs throughout this collection of vignettes, all of which are suffused with more authenticity than the entire output of the “Big Two” publishers in total in — well, their entire history. We keep hearing that comics have “grown up,” then watch Marvel and DC prove they haven’t. Books like Daddy’s Girl, even though it’s about teenagers, prove they certainly have, but nobody’s paying much attention, relatively speaking, to this in comparison with, say, Avengers Vs. X-Men, which is a rather depressing prospect to consider — but at least work like this is out there now, which is a step in the right direction.

Still, a work as powerfully affecting and meticulously crafted as Daddy’s Girl deserves to be a lot more than just published, it should be read, and if I manage to convince any of you out there to pick up one book you otherwise wouldn’t have as a result of these “Comix Month” (which really is about to end — finally! — I promise) reviews, I sincerely hope it’s this one. Debbie Drechsler , after winding up her solo series Nowhere, said she felt she’d probably said all she wanted to say via the comics medium and didn’t think she’d be back anytime too soon, if ever. It’s been over 15 years and so far that’s proven to be true, which is our loss. But this masterwork stands as a testament to her natural visual storytelling ability and only increases in power and resonance with successive re-readings. Do yourself a favor — if this book’s not on your shelf, rectify that situation right now. This is the rare comic that I can think of absolutely nothing bad to say about. It’s demanding. It’s nausea-inducing. It’s ugly. It’s heart-wrenching. It’s  often desperately hopeless.

And it’s  uniquely, unpretentiously, unreservedly, unquestionably perfect.

Posted: August 28, 2012 in Uncategorized

My continuing series for Through The Shattered Lens —

Through the Shattered Lens

There are those who insist that good things come in multiples of three and there are those who will tell you that bad things tend to come in threes — both camps have a Star Wars trilogy they can point to as evidence for their pet theory, and while neither are strictly correct, on a purely rational level, neither side is technically wrong, either.

So let’s just face facts here and admit there are some good movie trilogies and some bad ones, that within the good ones some better than others, and that within the bad ones some are better than others. All of which brings us back to that rooftop scene we started this “Rebooting Batman'” series with, from Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale’s The Long Halloween miniseries, the second page of which is reproduced above (and I apologize for its crookedness, it’s the only scan…

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Well, whaddaya know — I certainly didn’t see this coming.

Oh, don’t get me wrong — I saw the first 21 pages of this 23-page comic coming from a mile away. As the last of the Before Watchmen titles to debut, J. Michael Straczynski and Adam Hughes’ Dr. Manhattan four-parter probably had the lowest set of collective fan expectations surrounding it of any of these books. After all, Hughes is best known as, essentially, a “cheesecake,” pin-up style artist (his hyper-sexualized cover for issue one, as shown above, being entirely par for his course — alternate covers, by the way, as will be posted here in a minute, are by Paul Pope and Jim Lee, respectively), and Straczynski is busy making a mess of things over in the Nite Owl series, so hey, Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons probably weren’t losing too much sleep about the prospect of these two guys surpassing their Watchmen work.

Which, of course, they don’t. Not even close. And like I said, the first 21 pages here are pretty much Straczynski doing what he does in Nite Owl — the lead character is just standing around reminiscing about various chapters in his past, many of which we’ve already seen (including the first disastrous Crimebusters meeting that was already shown for the second time in Nite Owl #1 and gets replayed yet fucking again here), for pretty much no reason whatsoever. To his credit, “JMS,” as he’s apparently known in comics cirlces, at least gets the tone of Jon Osterman/Dr. Manhattan’s characterization right, which is more than you can say for what he’s doing with Rorschach in that other book, but nevertheless, this series essentially starts life as,  more or less, Watchmen #4 all over again — only not nearly as good.

As for the art, Hughes is a perfectly competent and capable draftsman, and he probably draws Dr. Manhattan in “blue form” better than anybody this side of Dave Gibbons, but he’s still, crucially, not Dave Gibbons, quite obviously, and the heavy reliance of the script on images directly out of the original Watchmen series makes such comparisons between the two artists more or less inevitable — comparisons that Hughes is going to come up on the short end of every single time.

The other annoying thing that Straczynski ports over into this work directly from Nite Owl is his wretched use of foreshadowing to demystify aspects of Moore and Gibbons’ original work. Just as he’s given us the “origins’ we never cared about of Rorschach’s “The End Is Nigh” sign and Nite Owl’s fixation with chicks in costume, here we learn that the cool clockwork-ship Dr. Manhattan either creates from thin air (as some have theorized) or finds buried under the sand (as I’ve always maintained) on Mars is, in fact, unambiguously a work of the Big Blue Naked Guy’s own creation, based on a fancy clock his dad gave him as a birthday gift when he was a kid. So there’s that cool, unexplained, open-to-interpretation event from the original wrecked forever, then.

And hey,  now that we’ve hit the point where it sounds like I’m more or less completely down on this work, let’s get back to that “hey, didn’t see this coming!” that I opened things with here, shall we? Because really, I didn’t see this coming — the “this” in question being this issue’s amazing, awesome, mind-blowing, genuinely surprising “cliffhanger”-style ending.

An ending that, asshole that I am, I will now remain completely silent about. Because seriously — you’ve gotta read this book. I mentioned that Straczynski pretty much nails his characterization of Osterman/Dr. Manhattan here, and that includes his “quantum perception” (or whatever we want to call it) of time. Moore did it better, sure, but “JMS” does it well enough. And that’s key here because when, in the midst of his unforced, apparently entirely self-indulgent, idyllic reverie, “Big Blue” decides, on a wild hair, to go back to the moment of his own creation and watch himself be “born” again, it feels like a “natural” enough thing for him to do. You can do or see anything you want at any time since it’s all happening simultaneously anyway, right? Okay, fair enough, for reasons unknown he encounters a brief “blip” of resistance for what you or I would perceive to be a “moment,” but then, presto! He’s in! He’s back at the lab! He’s going into the intrinsic field generator to get his coat! And then —

Everything we know, or thought we knew, about the birth/creation of Dr. Manhattan changes in an instant, right there, on  the last two pages of this hitherto-wholly-unremarkable book. And I’m cheering and fist-pumping-the-air at the ending of a comic book in a way that I haven’t done since, hell, I don’t know when. And while I’m still apprehensive, based on his track record to date, that Straczynski could, and maybe inevitably will, find a way to fuck this whole thing up, the fact is that he’s given us an ending for the ages here, and the first genuine “shocker” moment in any of these BW  titles. It could all end in disappointment, sure, but for now, well — I’m something I had recently resigned myself to feeling I never would be when it came to anything to do with any of this Before Watchmen stuff : genuinely, eagerly, can’t-wait-see-what-happens-next excited. Bring on the second issue now, already!

Posted: August 24, 2012 in Uncategorized

My continuing series for Through The Shattered Lens —

Through the Shattered Lens


They just don’t draw Batman like that anymore, do they? These days, he’s a “ripped” steroid freak in a high-tech suit of armor who’s usually either thrashing someone to within an inch of their life or brooding silently. Ever since Frank Miller’s legendary Dark Knight Returns story — which, I’ll grant you, is still probably the single-best Batman story ever — he’s been getting increasingly somber, morose, and violent. Miller himself even portrayed him, essentially, as a child-abusing psychopath in All-Star Batman & Robin, The Boy Wonder. The films,  Joel Schumacher aberrations aside, have been getting increasingly darker over time, as well. People thought Tim Burton’s Batman flicks were a little too dark, so Warner went to Schumacher for a “course correction” that fell flat on its face, and then Christopher Nolan came along with the most popular, and darkest, cinematic version of Batman yet.

Then came the…

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Posted: August 24, 2012 in Uncategorized

My continuing series for Through The Shattered Lens website —

Through the Shattered Lens


If there’s one area (and actually I think there are several, but that’s rather beside the point and I promised to remain focused like a laser beam on each individual subtopic in this “Batman reboot” series of posts) where I think Tim Burton’s Bat-flicks had it all all over Christopher Nolan’s it’s in their depiction of Gotham City. Not only did Burton’s Gotham have a fantastic Metropolis-gone-gothic look thanks to the late Anton Furst, but it felt like an intrinsically different sort of place than a real city, a place where you could sort of actually believe guys might run around in bat costumes and Joker facepaint , while Nolan’s Gotham was just, essentially, New York only a little grimier (even if his first two films were shot in Chicago).

I understand the reasoning behind making Gotham less fantastic, of course, and those reasons do make sense —…

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Posted: August 23, 2012 in Uncategorized

The first in that lengthy series for Through The Shattered Lens website I hinted about —

Through the Shattered Lens

Bear with me, folks, ‘cuz this is gonna be a looonnnnng one. Not this post in and of itself, mind you — in fact I’m going to do my very best to keep things brief in this and subsequent installments (whoops! I just gave away what’s going on here, didn’t I?) and try, perhaps even desperately, to confine all postings in this series (and if I didn’t give it away before I sure did now!) to one particular aspect of what we’ll be discussing here each time so as not to throw too much out there at once before receiving input from you, dear readers, as to your own thoughts on what I’m talking about before plowing ahead to the next part. I know, I know — all bloggers say they genuinely want the input of their readership on what they’re posting, but in this case I really…

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Remember back in the late ’90s/early 2000s when it seemed that every self-respecting “underground” cartoonist had figured out that the best way to pay the bills between doing the creator-owned stuff they actually cared about was to write monthly series for Marvel or DC? It was all the rage there for awhile, with talents as diverse as Jon Lewis, Dylan Horrocks, Terry LaBan, etc. churning out superhero garbage while still managing to have just enough spare time to devote to the kind of work they really wanted to be doing all the time.

Well, apparently that well has more or less dried up now, as the only guy still operating that was is Canadian cartoonist Jeff Lemire, best known for the superb Essex County , who’s writing Animal Man and a couple other books for DC on the side when he’s not working on his creator-owned Vertigo series Sweet Tooth  and his “major projects” such as his new 224-page graphic novel from Top Shelf Productions, The Underwater Welder. Apparently this book was a couple years in the making and a definite labor of love, and while it’s far from a flawless work by any means, Lemire’s devotion to it clearly shows.

Our story here revolves around one Jack Joseph, a thirty-something deep-sea welder attached to an oil rig off the coast of Nova Scotia. It’s an unusual way to make a living, that’s for sure, but it sort of runs in the Joseph family blood, apparently, as his father was a freelance scuba diver, as well as being a raging alcoholic and general fuck-up. Jack still worships his memory, though (he disappeared under the murky depths some years ago), and even seems to have inherited some of his less admirable traits — which is not to say that he’s a hard-core booze hound or anything like that, but he seems to have picked up the old man’s intrinsic fear of commitment. Jack’s wife, you see, is pregnant with their first child, and for reasons known only to him, our ostensible “hero” seems to be pulling further and further away from the Mrs. and his soon-to-be-born son or daughter the closer she gets to the big day.

Then, one day while welding ‘neath the waves, Jack notices a shiny object glinting at him from the ocean floor (is it really called a floor? And if so, why?), goes down to have a closer look — and is catapulted into a Twilight Zone-type world of memories both real and false, and a future that may or may not be. It’s part Rod Serling, part Charles Dickens, all served up with a healthy dose of contemporary family angst, and while it all unfolds rather predictably, and never achieves the weighty sense of gravitas that Lemire is actually, and quite obviously,  hoping for (Alan Moore and Oscar Zarate tread on somewhat similar thematic matter in the criminally underrated A Small Killing, for example, and did a much better job of it), there’s still no denying that this is, in its best moments, a powerfully understated book that explores issues of childhood pain and loss and the desperate desires of new and prospective parents not to repeat their own folks’ mistakes all wrapped up in a pleasantly-enough-executed, quasi- surrealist package.

Lemire has a well-established “scratchy linework” style that suits the material here quite nicely, and his underwater scenes, achieved (I’m assuming) by employing an old-school inkwash technique of some sort, are a particular standout element in what is, on the whole, a really well-drawn book. His script is pretty economical in terms of word count but might be stretched a bit thin at 224 pages, although it does maintain a fairly organic flow throughout that tightening things up may have compromised a bit, so I won’t complain much as far as that goes. And yeah, there’s no doubt that we’re firmly and fully in “labor of love” territory here from the outset, as it’s obvious our guy Jeff has paid attention to pretty much every detail along the way as his little melodrama unfolds. Atmosphere is key here, of course, and Lemire delivers that in spades, and his time-period transitions feel quite natural and almost rhythmic, even if he occasionally resorts to some of the more hackneyed elements of the “Serling style” in order to frame them. All in all, my complaints about this book are few, far between, and pretty small, given the overall scope of the work.

Still, while The Underwater Welder has an undeniably satisfying conclusion, and one that feels entirely appropriate to the story itself, I can’t say that this is absolute “rush out and buy it” material. Maybe it’s because you can pretty much only see one possible ending the whole way through, maybe it’s because the whole “fantasy” element is frankly completely unnecessary to the type of story that Lemire is telling here, maybe it’s because the book’s principal female characters, namely Jack’s wife and his mother, feel less like actual people and more like ciphers for drawing out and/or expounding upon the the protagonist’s various unresolved neuroses, or maybe it’s just because, as I mentioned before, others have mined similar ground more successfully, but all in all this feels like a book that would have been absolutely revolutionary 20 years ago, but is just — and maybe the use of the word “just” if unfair here, but bear with me, if you would, please — a really solid, nicely-done graphic novel in this day and age. I was glad I read it. I’m pleased to have it on my shelf, available for re-exploration anytime I choose. But it doesn’t feel like one of the really important comics works of the past several years, and Lemire seems to be talented enough to have a book like that in him. This isn’t quite it — but it’s close enough to make for a very impressive read in and of itself, and honestly, that probably should be enough. You get the sense that Jeff Lemire is knocking on the door of genuine greatness, and I’m hopeful that his next project will be the one that throws that door wide open, in which case The Underwater Welder will be remembered as the book where he got the last few things he needed to worked out before stepping up to the final rung on the creative ladder; a necessary precursor to something more, something larger, something undeniable, that seems to be right within his grasp — he just needs to seize it , trust in his abilities, and not let go. While this isn’t a book that shows Jeff Lemire making a quantum leap forward creatively, it does show that he’s probably ready to do so, and that alone certainly makes it worth a look, as well as your time.


So, this is it. Way back when all of the various Before Watchmen miniseries were first announced, it was Brian Azzarello and Lee Bermejo’s four-issue Rorschach book had even the most die-hard opponents of this project in general grudgingly saying “well, maybe that one won’t be so bad,” even if they were quick to follow up such admittedly guarded “praise” with ” — but I still won’t buy the fucking thing.” And when it comes to the folks who were downright enthusiastic about the prospect of non-Alan Moore, non-Dave Gibbons Watchmen work, well heck, this sounded like a dream come true. Azzarello has a reputation for being “Mr. dark n’ Gritty” in comics writing circles, and Bermejo has a reputation for being — well — “Mr. Dark n’ Gritty” in comics art circles, so what could possibly go wrong, right?

Then Bermejo’s flat-out awesome cover (as shown above, with variants by Jim Steranko — and holy shit if that one’s not the coolest of the bunch — and Jim Lee, respectively, to follow here shortly) became one of the first publicity images associated with the whole BW project and, frankly, even I was prepared to be impressed by this one (mind you, this was before I had read Azzarello and Bermejo’s completely useless hardcover Joker graphic novel, which for reasons I can’t fathom a lot of people seem to positively adore as, apparently, an example of “modern noir done right”). So at the end of the day we’ve got arguably the most popular character in the so-called “Watchmen universe” being written and drawn by the two people most qualified to deliver exactly the kind of story fans would want here, and this, then, is the point at which I’m supposed to ask “what could possibly go wrong,” right?


—and then I’m supposed to follow that rhetorical question up telling you what, in fact, does go very wrong with the whole thing, at least if we’re keeping to the form established by Before Watchmen in general up to this point. Here’s the thing, though — nothing really does go wrong here, and this ain’t a half-bad book at all. Admittedly, it’s lightweight and a damn quick read, but given the pure-set-up nature of all the BW first issues, this stands out, easily, as the best of the bunch. No “origin recap” bullshit. No repetition of stuff Moore and Gibbons did before, only better. No fanfic “didja ever wonder how Rorschach picked out his overcoat in the first place — and how he drops it off at the dry cleaner without arousing suspicion?” nonsense. Azzarello and Bermejo just deliver good, solid, (extremely) light-on-the-dialogue urban crime fiction in comics form.

Granted, there’s absolutely nothing here that could be considered in any way, shape, or form to be inspired work — it’s 1977 and we’re introduced to the handiwork of a serial killer the press has dubbed “The Bard” due to his penchant for carving pithy phrases into the flesh of his (invariably female) victims; meanwhile, Rorschach is working on busting up a Times Square heroin ring and gets set up for a massive ass-kicking that he barely survives; the bad guys, led by a Black Mask-type disfigured crimelord, assume he’s dead, and , well — that’s it. End of part one.

Hmmm —- put that way, I guess it doesn’t sound like much, and hell, maybe it really isn’t, but Bermejo’s art, which didn’t impress me much at all (to put it kindly) in Joker really does capture the feel and aura of “The Deuce” in its most decayed and decadent period (around this here blog we like to call this “The Golden Age”), and Azzarello’s script, while essentially pretty obviously lazy, still at least portrays the character of Rorschach correctly (are you taking notes, J. Michael Straczynski? Because you damn well should be), while  his —- uhhhmmm —- economic use of dialogue and sound effects actually suits the type of story being told here just fine. In short, I ought to be a whole lot less happy about spending four bucks on a book that takes about five minutes to read and where not a whole lot actually happens than I am, but I can’t help it — Azzarello and Bermejo have delivered an entirely satisfying, if fairly un-ambitious, first issue here. I’m genuinely curious to see how the whole “Bard” thing works its way into Rorschach’s apparently-unrelated, smaller-time case, and look forward to Azzarello and Bermejo dunking our collective head into the societal toilet for three more issues.


Certainly, this is far from greatness. Any given page in the original Watchmen series contains more ideas than this entire issue does. And yeah, there’s no reason that an apparently-straightforward piece of “period” crime drama like this couldn’t be told with some non-Watchmen character, or even an entirely new Masked Avenger-type of Azzarello and Bermejo’s own creation. But given some of the dreck we’ve been subjected to under the Before Watchmen banner up to this point, I have to admit, Rorschach #1 stands out as the best book of the bunch so far — and by a fairly wide margin, at that.


As mentioned briefly in the write-up I did the other day for the second issue of Nite Owl, it seems that Ozymandias artist Jae Lee is getting all sorts of “ooh”s and “aah”s for his work on this book  and has firmly established himself as the “artist to beat” as far as this whole Before Watchmen thing goes, and while his cover for our guy Adrian Veidt’s second solo outing, as shown above (the alternate cover, by one Phil Noto, I’ll insert a paragraph or two down the road) is certainly — uhmmm — striking, to put it mildly (not that it has anything at all to do with the actual contents of the book itself, mind you — that sound you hear behind you is the Asian-women-in-gas-masks fetish crowd (assuming there is such a thing, and Christ, for all I know there probably is) closing the door behind them in bitter disappointment on the way out),  it’s also indicative of what I think is both right and wrong with Lee’s art — it’s got the ability to really grab your attention right off the bat, but spend any extended amount of time actually looking at it, and you’ll realize that not only is it stiff and lifeless as all get-go, but that there’s really just not that much going on with it, either.

For one thing, not since the (thankfully long ago) heyday of Rob Liefeld has there been a “hot” comic artist so apparently constitutionally predisposed to drawing more or less no backgrounds whatsoever. For another, while his page layouts are innovative and eye-catching, nearly 25% of the panels in this issue alone consist of nothing but shadow-outlines of figures, so it’s not like he’s technically skimping on the details — it’s that he doesn’t actually draw any in the first place! And finally, like I said, it’s all stiff as a board. Even the supposed “action” sequences of Adrian taking down various low-level thugs involved in the “drug racket” have the look of still-life illustrations of people striking action-oriented poses, and not like people in the midst of actual, fluid motions themselves.

All of which puts me in the rather uncomfortable position of saying that I think Jae Lee is an incredibly lazy artist, even though he probably spends a lot of time poring over his work. Two issues in, this guy’s full bag of tricks is on display for anyone and everyone to see, and how much longer he can keep hoodwinking readers into thinking they’re looking at something really special here remains, perhaps, the most intriguing mystery surrounding Before Watchmen in general.

It’s certainly a more interesting one than the one writer Len Wein shoehorns into this book at the very tail end, now that he’s written two issues of nothing but origin-recap crap and realizes he’s still got four more issues to fill up, to wit : Ozy decides to put his “smartest man on Earth” skills to use figuring out what actually happened to Hooded Justice. I’ve got a pretty damn educated (even if I do only say so myself) guess going in that regard, but I’ll keep my mouth shut about it for now. Suffice to say anyone paying attention to the last issues of Minutemen and Nite Owl is probably thinking more or less the same thing I’m thinking here, and the sudden appearance of the Comedian at the end of this story ( in a truly wretched splash-page illustration by Lee that looks like he’s trying to ape Kyle Baker in a big way) pretty much confirms that my (and probably your) hunch in this regard is fairly solid.


Apart from that, there’s really not much worth talking about here story-wise — there’s a scene where Veidt takes on a black drug “pusher” that would have felt comically over-the-top even if it appeared in an old ’70s issue of Green Lantern/Green Arrow, so ham-fisted is Wein’s “street thug” dialogue, and the book’s overall anti-drug tone is preachy, lame, and would probably have both Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons in stitches assuming they were ever to actually read this thing (especially Moore, who’s about as far removed from a “Say No To Drugs”-type guy as you’re ever likely to find). So anyway, yeah, more abject pointlessness all around is pretty much the order of the day here.

I’ll close out this (mercifully, I suppose) brief review by once again, as I do at the close of every four-issue cycle, looking back at the Curse Of The Crimson Corsair pirate story back-up feature by Wein and artist/colorist John Higgins (who apparently will soon be taking over the writing chores on it, as well). After a couple of installments where more or less nothing happened, and then another that got bogged down in some heavy-handed exposition, things seem to be moving along in an interesting enough direction with this once again. The art’s remained stunningly gorgeous and evocative throughout, as has Higgins’ use of color (his only rival for “best colorist” on this whole BW project is June Chung, in charge of the digital hues that are making Lee’s art on this particular book look so much better than it really is — she’s the real star artist on Ozymandias, never mind what anyone else says!), and with the story heading back into “near-enough to intriguing” territory , it’s safe to say that Crimson Corsair is still the best thing about any of these books so far, period. Hopefully the first issue of Brian Azzarello and Lee Bermejo’s Rorschach mini-series, which I’m about to read as soon as I’m finished posting this, will have me back here tomorrow saying something quite different.


I did, in fact, warn you all — I said at the outset of “Comix Month Take II” that I might do a third,  and so it’s come to pass. This is gonna be it, though, I promise — apart from keeping up with all the various Before Watchmen books, which I’ll continue to write about for as long as I’m buying ’em. September will be business as usual apart from that, though, as we go back to the grindhouse in a big way. And as last month proved, I haven’t neglected film reviews entirely — I still did a few for Through The Shattered Lens and duly linked to them on here, as promised/threatened. The same will go for this month, and in fact I’ll “tease” that a bit by saying this much in advance — I’m working on a series of interconnected posts (yes, movie-related) based around a single theme for TTSL, and hope to have the first one up in the next handful of days. I’ll say no more for the time being apart from this — comics fans should (I hope) find them interesting, as well.

All of which brings me back to the business at hand, which is of course taking a look at the second issue of Before Watchmen : Nite Owl, and I do so with a very heavy heart, indeed, because as it turns out this was the last comic featuring art by the now late, great Joe Kubert to see publication while he was still among us. Mr. Kubert passed away at the age of 85 the other day, and to call him a giant is an understatement indeed. While DC’s horribly shoddy initial press release mentioned only his Before Watchmen work, anyone who knows anything about comics knows better. Kubert was the premier war comics illustrator of all time, the premier jungle adventure comics illustrator of all time, one of the two or three premier superhero and sci-fi comics illustrators of all time, and frankly right up there in the pantheon with names like Kirby, Wood, Eisner, Hogarth, Foster, Ditko, etc. when we comics fans are discussing the always-debated subject of “who was the greatest American comics artist ever, period.” His contributions to this medium can never, I repeat never, be adequately or accurately measured, and he will be sorely missed by hundreds of thousands, even millions, of fans in addition to friends, family, and the legion of comics talent he trained at his Kubert School, the institution that gave us the likes of Steve Bissette, Rick Veitch, and John Totleben, to name just a few illustrious alumni.

Rest in peace, Mr. Kubert, and know that history will judge you very kindly indeed.

And while we’re talking of Joe Kubert, I mentioned last time around the block with Nite Owl #1 that I honestly wondered how much of the art in this series was down to his son Andy, who’s credited as being the book’s penciller, at all, and this second issue does nothing to quell that curiosity. The classic Kubert mastery of layouts is on full display here, as is the rich, heavy linework in the inks/finishes. My best guess —and mind you it’s only a guess — is that Joe was responsible for the layouts on this book, Andy did some rough pencils, and Joe did finished pencils as well as inks. We’ll probably never know, of course, but that’s sure what it looks like to me.

All of which is to say that the art in this book is top-notch. While fandom in its assembled “wisdom” seems to be crowning Ozymandias artist Jae Lee as the king of the Before Watchmen art universe, I say it’s Joe K. all the way — and it’s not even a close contest. Just look at that cover (the main one up top, not the secondary one by David Finch underneath it, although that ain’t bad, either) and tell me that’s not the finest Watchmen-related illustration not done by Dave Gibbons you’ve ever seen.

Unfortunately, however, we’re still waiting for the first great Watchmen-related script not written by Alan Moore. J. Michael Straczynski does a heck of a lot better job this time around than he did in the go-nowhere, do-nothing first issue, and this secondary installment at least moves the plot forward a bit (it’s apparently going to center on Nite Owl/Dan Dreiberg’s developing costume fetish as he gets involved with a masked “villainess” called Lady Nightshade, and juxtapose that with Rorschach(who’s really a full-fledged co-star here)’s slow-burn mental breakdown), but Straczynski is still writing Rorschach all wrong given the time period, he’s apparently never even heard of the concept of subtlety, and a couple of scenes (where Rorschach yells “whore!” at Lady Nightshade while attempting to attack her and teenage Dan, in a flashback scene, asks his mother whether it was her or his abusive old man who wanted to abort him before he was born when he learns one of ’em did) are somewhere between cringeworthy and laugh-out-loud bad.

Still, there’s some hope. An extended sequence detailing how Dan first used a mask to deflect away the painful reality of bullying and ass-kicking while growing-up is melodramatic, to be sure, but it’s also handled with a fair amount of sensitivity and realism, and a sequence with Nite Owl the first, Hollis Mason, hinting at some darker reason as to why the Minutemen broke up is both genuinely intriguing and, thankfully, not overplayed (even if I have a pretty solid guess as to what happened based on a single panel alone). It’s far from a great script, no question, but it’s certainly miles ahead of anything I was expecting/dreading after that flat-out abysmal first issue.

Still, of all the books to serve as a capstone to one of the undeniably greatest and most influential careers in the history of this medium, it’s a shame that it’s gotta be this one. Before Watchmen : Nite Owl #2 is head and shoulders above the first issue, but it’s still nowhere near even the top, oh, 500 single issues in Joe Kubert’s illustrious oeuvre, and reading it again the other night, the thought foremost in my mind ,as it was after the first issue, is still “this would have been so much better if Joe had written it himself.” It’s too bad that it’s too late for that now, but I look forward to the final two issues of this miniseries, assuming they’re already “in the can,” so to speak, not for anything Straczynski has done/is doing — his scripting is so wildly uneven that I don’t have the first clue what the quality of next issue’s story is going to be like — but because, unless there’s some mystery project buried somewhere in the “industry pipeline” that we don’t know about — they will, in all likelihood, mark Joe Kubert’s last comics work ever. And if you’re looking for the single saddest sentence I’ve ever had to type out, that one’s right up there near the top.