Archive for December 18, 2012

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Continuing this series’ pattern of being the BW book most determined to exactly ape Alan Moore’s writing style (albeit with only the most limited handle on the quantum physics-related concepts The Bearded One was attempting to explore with the title character), the third issue of J. Michael Straczynski and Adam Hughes’ Before Watchmen : Dr. Manhattan is at least readable, and certainly beautifully drawn, so I’m not going to gripe too much here.

Things kind of took a turn for the duller last time around as we ventured into purely Marvelesque What If —? territory, but in this latest issue Straczynski decides to have “Big Blue” go about the business of consolidating all possible alretnate realities into one (at least apparently) definite one. Which makes the proceedings at least reasonably interesting for the most part, apart from the horrendously predictable decision to make the point at which all realities diverge be — you guessed it, that goddamn fateful first meeting of the Crimebusters again, a scene we’ve seen replayed in just about every one of these prequel series now.

But hey, maybe I’m just feeling the Christmas spirit or something, but I feel like being (mostly) generous with this book. The variant covers by Hughes (above) and Neal Adams (below) are both well-executed and rather striking in their own way, and the interior art continues to impress with Hughes drawing Dr.. Manhattan in a style vaguely reminiscent of Dave Gibbons, sure, but with his own singular stamp. Combined with a perfectly competent script, the overall impression is one of two creators at least trying to bring their so-called “A game” to the project, which is more than you can say for a lot of the others involved with this enterprise (hell, it’s more than you can even say for Straczynski himself when it comes to Nite Owl).

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And yet — the ending to this issue is pretty flat, leaving us off at the point of Dr. Manhattan’s creation yet again, thus ensuring that there’s basically no dramatic tension heading into next month’s wrap-up. We’re most likely in store for the kind of story that ultimately leaves us exactly where we started, which might make for a pleasant enough diversion, but in no way advances an argument for this book’s necessity. Straczynski and Hughes are at least not actively detracting from our appreciation of their title character in the same way that, say, Brian Azzarello is doing over in Comedian, but they’re not adding anything to our knowledge or appreciation of him either. It’s all just so very — there.

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First off, credit where it’s due — for the second time in three issues, artist Lee Bermejo has delivered one heck of a cool and inventive cover  (shown above — the variant, by Chip Kidd, pictured a paragraph or two down the road here, ain’t half-bad, either) for this series.

Unfortunately, all thought put into Before Watchmen : Rorschach #3 pretty much ends there, because once you open the book, it’s another ho-hum wanna-be-hard-boiled crime tale, with a pointless dose of unreconstituted fanfic of the most pathetically obvious sort thrown in (“what if Rorschach asked a girl on a date? Wouldn’t that be a fucking trip?”). As with Azzarello’s scripts for his decidedly lackluster Comedian mini-series, inspiration is completely absent from the proceedings and even the most basic workaday “noir”-type thriller would be decidedly preferable to the flat-out laziness on display here.

And when I say lazy, I do mean fucking lazy. The basic plot outline for this issue is almost a carbon-copy of the first —Rorschach gets set up for a nasty fall by the crime-boss villain of the book, Rawhead. Issue one showed the massive ass-whooping our friendly neighborhood vigilante nutcase took at the hands of Rawhead’s goons while this one leaves its inevitable arrival as a “cliffhanger,” but apart from that, the only difference between the main narrative thrusts in chapters one and three of this story is that here in three, the infamous New York City blackout of 1977 hits right as Rorschach is walking into the trap that’s been set for him. Oh, and as mentioned earlier, he asks Nancy the waitress out on a date.

In other words, Azzarello has thrown in a couple of cheap n’ handy gimmicks in the hope that you won’t notice that he’s got no new actual ideas on offer here — and while that sort of thing merely pisses me off when I’m reading his “work” over in Comedian, it’s almost tragic in this book because, even sleepwalking through his job as he is, it’s obvious that Azzarello has a solid handle on Rorschach’s character and understands both what makes him tick and how to write convincing narration and dialogue for him — two things he frankly struggles with when it comes to Eddie Blake. So “Azz” probably could, indeed, write a very good Rorschach story (as opposed to, say, a great one — we still need Alan Moore for that) — he’s just chosen not to.

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On the artistic side, Bermejo looks to be rushing things again. His illustration in the first ish was flat-out superb, and while it wasn’t enough make you forget Dave Gibbons by any stretch, it really captured the essence of 1970s Times Square sleaze. Since then, however, he looks to be pretty obviously drawing under deadline pressure, and his illustrations look rushed and sloppy.

This particular segment ends with the serial killer known as “The Bard,” who’s been lurking around  as a  background subplot  for no discernible reason up to now, being shoehorned into the story proper in what I’ve come to think of as  typical Azzarello fashion — namely, the most  obvious way possible. This series ends next month and you can pretty much tell how it’s all going to play out already. Try to contain your excitement, please.