Posts Tagged ‘brian azzarello’

 

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.

What a difference an issue makes.

As you may or may not recall, on our first trip through the Before Watchmen titles, I was kinder to the debut issue of writer Brian Azzarello and artist J.G. Jones’ Comedian mini-series than I was any of the others. Okay, fair enough, I said Jones drew things in kind of a standard superhero-ish way that was certainly competent but in no way distinctive, and that rather tame “criticism” still applies to this second issue, but I was generally pretty complimentary of Azzarello’s efforts to tell something more, or at least other, than a typical origin or “missing adventure” -type story, which is exactly what pretty much all the other writers involved in this increasingly-obvious cash-grab seem perfectly satisfied with doing. Azzarello (whose writing I found sufficiently impressive to spur me into picking up another one of his books — the hardcover Joker graphic novel he wrote, which sucked) seemed to have a clear story — with a definite, if predictable, character trajectory— in mind that he wanted to tell, wasn’t afraid to buck the trend of simply filling in character “blank spots” pointlessly as the other titles had been doing (and continue to do), and even left us a nifty little cliffhanger in regards to the whole JFK killing with some lingering questions about why the not-so-good Mr. Blake was purposely yanked away from Dallas on that fateful day.

Along comes issue number two (with two versions of the cover this time around, by Jones and Tim Bradstreet, as shown above, respectively), and things start off decently enough with The Comedian and RFK attending one of the greatest matches in boxing history as  then-Cassius Clay defeats Sonny Liston (with Bobby implying that the fight was fixed), but pretty soon we’re skipping ahead, Blake’s in Viet Nam, where four pages of a 20-page book are taken up with a lazily-written, nearly wordless (and pointless) battle scene, and after some machinations involving the setup of an illegal drug-smuggling operation run through Air America to finance the war (which as we all know really happened, and was repeated in Central America less than two decades later), it becomes obvious that all “Azz” is likely to do here — although I hope to still be proven wrong — is duck and dive into various parts of The Comedian’s life and show us some scenes that don’t really amount to much, and that we could have pretty well guessed at ourselves anyway, that will supposedly “provide a greater understanding” of how these characters came to be the way they were when Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons first introduced us to them back in 1986.

In other words, it’s a big, fat, four-dollar dose of “whatever.” As of right now, after a pretty promising start, the Comedian mini-series is firmly back in the  pack with the other  Before Watchmen titles, content to do the same job that’s already been achieved by the numerous  better-written and better-drawn flashback sequences in the original Watchmen series. My patience is running pretty thin at this point. The writers and artists involved in this project are getting one more issue each to show me that they intend to do anything beyond what they so obviously seem ready to settle for — competently-enough-executed, but completely uninspired (and even more importantly, uninspiring), totally useless, needlessly extended “Secret Origins of the Watchmen” crap. To use a very apt, if painfully obvious,  metaphor — the clock is ticking.

Finally! I guess the third time’s the charm, because Before Watchmen : Comedian #1 finally shows that DC is capable of delivering on the “promise” — limited as it is from the outset — that I thought this whole Watchmen prequel project might have going for it (and I use that term with caution, since the idea that these to-my-mind completely unnecessary books have anything much “going for them” at all is highly debatable, to say the least) : namely, that while they probably in any just universe not ruled by the forces of predatory capitalism wouldn’t even exist in the first place, but since we live in this rather soulless and benighted one, the best we can hope for is some decent storytelling that has something interesting to say about some admittedly quite compelling characters.

To be sure, writer Brian Azzzarello and artist J.G. Jones aren’t adding anything extra to the figure of Eddie Blake, aka The Comedian, that we absolutely need to know, but it seems like they are, at least, interested in providing a fresh take on him that seeks to do a little bit more than just recount some story from his past that’s either complete retread material (a la Darwyn Cooke’s Minutemen) or simply the exact kind situation we could easily envision these one of these characters in ourselves, no problem (Cooke and Amanda Conner’s Silk Spectre).There’s no doubt that at his core, the Comedian as scripted by Azzarello and drawn by Jones (brief aside — my biggest gripe with this issue is, in fact, Jones’ artwork — it’s not actively bad, by any means, but it’s just standard, garden-variety superhero-type stuff that’s frankly the very essence of the term “nothing special”) is in no way fundamentally different than the character we were introduced by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons in the original Watchmen mini-series, but this story does, dare I say it, almost show something of a softer side to the guy. He’s still a rat bastard at heart, as shown by how he rather casually murders a famous woman he was only just sleeping with (I won’t say who, but if I tell you that the story is set in the early ’60s, you can probably guess), but he’s also shown here to be very nearly developing something of, dare I say it, an idealistic streak. He actually seems to believe in something — or, more specifically, in someone (again, I won’t say who, but again, given the time period in which this story takes place, you can pretty easily guess). He is, in fact, supposed to be on his way to meet that someone when he’s detained by an obviously hastily-arranged little time-waster of a “mission,” and while he’s tending to that pesky n’ pointless matter, that certain less-than-mysterious someone whose name I’ve studiously avoided mentioning is killed (and let’s face it — if you still haven’t figured out who I’m talking about by this point, there’s absolutely no hope for you).

And that’s probably where things are going to get dicey for a lot of Watchmen purists (what are you doing even reading this book in the first place?), because it directly contradicts something that was hinted at in the original series and that was explicitly shown in Zack Snyder’s film. However, it’s quite apparent that solving this “whodunnit?,” as well as its attendant question of “why was The Comedian kept away from it?” is going to be the driving force behind the plot of this six-issue series, which should be heavy on the political intrigue and conspiratorial overtones.

All that being said, it’s pretty obvious, it seems to me at any rate, where this whole thing is going to end up. The Comedian is going to find the perpetrators of the crime within our own government, be coerced or explicitly forced into helping them shape their decidedly right-wing agenda for America’s future, and what little idealism (there’s that word again) he was almost threatening to develop is going to be buried under the crushing wave of cynicism, if not outright nihilism, that solving this case engenders in him. He’ll go to Sally Jupiter/Juspeczyk for comfort at the point where he’s at his lowest, sire her daughter, and when she makes it clear she won’t allow him to play any part in his baby girl’s life, that decision, coupled with the loss of faith in pretty much anything and everything that will result from his investigations over the next five issues will result in Blake becoming the hard-assed, completely unlikable scumbag we’ve always known him to be.

Still, it’s a convincingly-written, thoroughly readable book (Azzarello seems to have something of a flair for solid, realistic dialogue), and it at least has some ambitions beyond DC’s apparent remit of “just don’t screw anything up.” I won’t be buying it in its three different variant covers (as reproduced above and drawn by Jones, Eduardo Risso, and Jim Lee, respectively), but I didn’t feel too bad about shelling out four bucks for the one copy I did get. Even though the ending might as well be telegraphed in more or less from the outset, I’m sufficiently intrigued at this point to see just how it is that we’ll arrive there.