Archive for December 9, 2012

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So, this is it.

For months now, those of us who are actively following the goings-on in and around the various Before Watchmen titles have been hearing stirrings about a “major revelation” to come in the fifth issue of Darwyn Cooke’s Minutemen series — one that would be “controversial,” earth-shaking,” and would form the lynchpin and/or turning point not only of this book, but of all the various other BW series, as well.

And sure enough, it’s in there, playing out over the last couple of pages following (well, following might be generous — to be honest, it feels more like a hastily-tacked-on “cliffhanger”-type scene) a  quite- nicely-done little stand-alone adventure story that sees our erstwhile, and heretofore mostly incompetent, costumed adventurers taking on a handful of Japanese “fifth column”-type infiltrators determined to unleash a deadly wave of nuclear radiation on New York City as post-war retaliation for the atom-bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. It’s the Minutemen’s finest hour — and frankly Cooke’s as well, as it’s a tightly-scripted, impeccably-drawn affair that showcases his natural ability to tell  a traditional period-piece adventure with a modern sensibility at its very best.

There’s just one problem with this whole “major revelation” thing — it’s not in the least bit surprising. Seriously, Cooke’s been telegraphing this thing to us since the second issue, and all but hammered us over the head with it in the fourth. If you didn’t see this coming, well — I just don’t even know what to say, except that you’re probably the kind of person that can be trusted with even the most obvious of secrets. So maybe that’s a good thing.

All of which begs the question — why haven’t I chosen to spill the beans, specifically, on this “big” not–so-secret myself in this review? Well, two reasons, really — one, I do realize that there are folks out there who read a number of reviews of movies, comics, books, etc. before deciding whether or not to spend their money on them, and I can certainly respect that; and two, if you’ve been reading this series up to this point, it’s all so painfully fucking obvious that you flat-out don’t even need me to.

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At the end of the day, then, Before Watchmen : Minutemen #5 suffers from something of a split personality. On the one hand, the first twenty-four pages stand up really well on their own as  a self-contained story. Cooke’s scripting is solidly professional, and his always-noteworthy art has never been better (the variant covers by Cooke and Michael Cho, respectively, as shown, are none-too-shabby, either), but the “moment we’ve all been waiting for” that wraps up the issue — in addition to reading like a quickly-slapped-together and hopelessly disjointed addendum to the proceedings — is, in fact, a moment that we’ve all seen coming from a mile away.

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Well, after last time around, things really couldn’t get much worse, could they?

If you’ll recall — and even if you don’t — the third issue of Brian Azzarello and J.G. Jones’ Before Watchmen : Comedian is a book I had literally nothing good to say about whatsoever. Not only did it mark, in my mind, the low point (at least to date) of the entire BW enterprise, it was , no exaggeration, one of the very worst comics I have ever read in my life, period.  It’s pretty rough to imagine that the next  issue would lower the bar even further, and while I’ve learned never to underestimate the ability of a good many of these titles to be even more pointlessly lame than I imagined going in, I’m relieved — even pleased — to report that this book  has, at least for the time being, pleasantly interrupted this particular series’ post-debut issue downward spiral.

Following Eddie Blake’s rather public meltdown on the mean streets of Watts the last time we saw him, it seems that Uncle Sam has decided that the best place for their top psycho-for-hire is back in the jungles of Viet Nam, and while his first go-’round there in issue two was a rather listless and bog-standard affair, this time around scribe Brian Azzarello has taken the time to actually develop some supporting characters for the Comedian to interact with (particularly a couple of local kids that Blake is teaching to play cards, among other things) and has even gone to the extent of having his title character do something actually interesting, which is always a plus in any comic.

And what is this interesting thing he has him do, you ask? Well, he has him drop acid. We don’t know how it’s all going to play out yet — only that it ends bad — but hey, between this and Hollis Mason getting high in the final issue of Silk Spectre, at least the various BW books are providing equal time to the onerous and predictable anti-drug message presented in the first two issues of Len Wein and Jae Lee’s Ozymandias.

The other notable thing about about what Azzarello’s done — finally! — with this fourth issue  is that the story actually builds on preceding events to show some sort of character trajectory for Eddie Blake going on. Even if it’s a rather simple tale of one guy’s gradual mental breakdown, and it arrives pretty late in the day (after the series’ halfway point), at least it’s there — which, again, is more than you can say for Ozymandias, which is still stuck in basic “career-recap” mode.

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To be sure, Before Watchmen : Comedian #4 (variant covers this time around by Jones and Brian Stelfreeze, respectively, as shown — is that getting to be my most predictable line or what?) is still far from a great comic . In fact, it’s very barely what I would generously term as a good one.  J.G. Jones’ art still does absolutely nothing for me, and while I really can’t point to anything actively bad about it, for the most part it just strikes me as being — well, kind of there, you know what I mean? As for Azzarello, he still has a tendency to mask out-and-out laziness as an “economy of words” or pseudo-“gritty” realism, and the fact of the matter is that biggest knock on this particular segment of his little six-parter is that not a whole lot actually happens in it. But hey, after that absolutely horrendous third issue, a story that’s  competently enough executed for the most part, even if it’s still miles away from the work of Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons on even their worst day, at least feels like a step in the right direction. Even if it’s just a baby step.