Posts Tagged ‘dave gibbons’

2826850-2013_01_20_minmen_cv6_ds_superSo, this is it — the “no-holds-barred” (so we’re told, at any rate) finale to what has become, either by default, design, or — most likely — a little bit of both, the “cornerstone series” of the entire Before Watchmen prequel-a-palooza. I suppose now would be an opportune moment for me to take a bow, since as things turns out I had the “shock surprise” ending figured out more or less detail for detail, but ya know what? I’m not going to do that, for two reasons:

1. This issue actually left me feeling considerably better about this series than I had been, even though I could see the ending coming a mile away; and

2. Writer-artist Darwyn Cooke actually throws a little extra wrinkle in here that I didn’t see coming, and even though said minor twist actually ends up setting up yet another final (supposed) gut-punch that, to my credit (okay, I’ll shut up now — wait, no, I still have at least 3/4 of this review left to write, so I guess I won’t), I also predicted on this very blog in advance, for just a split second there it was enough to make me second-guess myself —and since surprises have been so few and far between in the world of Before Watchmen, a surprise that ends up leading to an ending that’s really not all that surprising  is still better than no surprise at all. Whew! Did that make any sense? It will if and when you read this issue, and if and when you’ve read my previous reviews of Minutemen.

For the record, though, if digging through those past posts is too much hassle,  I had prognosticated  that the other Minutemen would come to the realization that Hooded Justice was the child-killer that they had been hunting, off and on, throughout the six-issue run of this book (okay, fair enough — throughout five issues of it, since nothing happens in the first installment), that they would kill him themselves rather than turn him over to the cops, and that it would be revealed later, in one of the other BW books, that it turned out they’d actually killed the wrong guy. Apart from one or two little details (I won’t say which particular ones in case you haven’t read the book yet), that’s more or less how things play out here — but like I said, Cooke takes an interesting-enough turn on the way to arriving at this expected conclusion that I don’t feel to cheated as a reader even if I did see the whole thing (or at least most of the whole thing) coming.

So where does that leave us at the end of the day? Good question. Cooke really draws his butt off this issue, it must be said, and even though the art for this series has been of a generally high standard from the get-go, the extra effort he puts into this finale really shows — in particular, there’s a terrific  sectioned-up splash page featuring Dr. Manhattan  at the halfway point of this one that might be the best single image in any of the BW books, so that goes some way toward elevating my overall feelings about this title, as well.The variant covers by Cooke (see top of post) and Becky Cloonan (see below) are both pretty damn amazing, as well. The story’s been a mixed bag, to be sure, and was obviously constructed to be read in collected form since it isn’t paced or plotted to work particularly well in single-issue chunks at all, but you know what? I think folks who read this in the upcoming hardcover and eventual trade paperback collections are going to be pretty pleased with what Cooke has done here. The characterization has been consistent, we’ve gotten to know Hollis Mason and Byron Lewis, especially, a good deal better than we did before, and all in all the whole thing doesn’t feel like a giant, gaping, yawning waste of time.

2828263-before_watchmen_minutemen_006_zone_000a_super

Damning with faint praise? Possibly so. And maybe my expectations have been ground down so low under the onslaught of pointlessness that is the rest of Before Watchmen that even an okay series like this one seems better than it actually is when compared to its fellow travelers. Certainly there are more ideas and multiple layers of meaning and interpretation to be found on pretty much any given page of Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons’ original Watchmen series than Cooke manages to fit into six entire issues here. At its best moments, this was pretty much just superbly-drawn, competently-written, straight-forward comics storytelling. At its worst, it had a tendency to drift into the realms of “why-the-fuck-am-I-even-reading-this”-ness that BW books such as ComedianRorschach, and Ozymandias have firmly planted their flags in and never left. But it didn’t stay there for too terribly long, and Cooke always managed to find a way to at least keep his readership engaged in the proceedings. That hardly makes for revolutionary stuff, by any means, and this series doesn’t really do anything to add to the Moore/Gibbons Watchmen legacy, but at least it doesn’t in any way detract from it, either. If you’re willing to settle for a decent-enough little story featuring  characters that first appeared in a timeless classic of world literature rather than holding out for, well, another timeless classic of world literature,  then you’ll be more than suitably entertained by Before Watchmen : Minutemen. If you were hoping for something more, as I guess to one degree or another we probably (and, let’s face it, foolishly) all were, I don’t know what to tell you — this is DC Comics in 2012.  A snappy superhero adventure yarn with pretty pictures is, sadly, about as good as it gets from them.

2769578-niteowl_400_super

So — this one’s done. J. Michael Straczynski and Adam Kubert’s Before Watchmen : Nite Owl series has been the book fans love to hate, even the ones who didn’t hate the whole BW “concept” from right outta the gate, and why not? Truth be told, it’s been pretty wretched, and while no single subsequent issue has been  the complete waste of paper that the first was, the sad fact is that it would take a pretty remarkable parts 2-4 to make up for that dreadful debut, and “pretty remarkable” is something this just hasn’t been.

Which isn’t to say that this wrap-up is altogether unsatisfying, simply because, well — it satisfies me to know that this series is over, and that JMS will, hopefully, never get a chance to write Rorschach again, because, if we’re honest, that’s been the real problem here : Staczynski’s take on Dan Dreiberg’s “Nite Owl 2.0” hasn’t been all that actively bad, per se, but dear God — his characterization of Rorschach has been flat-out atrocious.

In this issue, we learn that a youthful Walter Kovacs actually — SPOILER ALERT! — killed his own father, while the guy this book is ostensibly about gets relegated to second-fiddle status once again, and ends up with a broken heart to boot by the time all is said and done. Oh, and we also get served up a limp and unnecessary tie-in with a throwaway line from Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons’ original Watchmen series after our Nite Owl/Rorschach/Twilight Lady triumvirate brings down the demented preacher who’s been bumping off hookers in grisly fashion, too, that pretty much serves as a textbook illustration of how pointless and ultra-pedantic true “fanwank” can be, and that’s it — we’re done.

On the artistic front, Bill Sienkiewicz takes over on inks for the late (and sorely missed) Joe Kubert in this issue, thus completing his career decline from full-fledged Alan Moore collaborator on Big Numbers to last-second fill-in inker on a book that’s cashing in on Alan Moore’s creative legacy against The Bearded One’s wishes, and to say the results are unimpressive is to be too goddamn generous. Joe’s richly detailed linework, the unquestioned highlight of this series, is sorely missed. The covers aren’t anything too remarkable, either — the Andy n’ Bill combo provides the “main” one shown at the outset of this review, while Ethan Van Sciver is responsible for the variant reproduced immediately below:

2769662-niteowl_400var_super

And speaking of wrap-ups, this is gonna do it for Trash Film Guru in 2012. It’s been an interesting year of blogging, and while I certainly didn’t foresee the extent to which reviewing comics would take things over around here, the good news for those of you who haven’t enjoyed this admittedly lengthy side-step (and let me say a very profound “thank-you” to those of you who have) is that 2013 will more than likely see movie reviews rise to prominence around these parts again, although I do plan on finishing out this whole Before Watchmen thing, my sanity be damned.

So hey, Happy New Year one and all, and I look forward to seeing any and/or all of you back here on the other side of the calendar flip. Stay safe on New Year’s Eve, and if you insist on doing something stupid, please — do it at home, willya?

2758618-bwtchm_cv2_ds_super

One thing I’ve read and heard from many — even his most ardent fans — when it comes to the writing of J. Michael Straczynski is “JMS doesn’t do subtle.” He certainly has proven that to me with his work on the Nite Owl and Dr. Manhattan books, but damn — Before Watchmen : Moloch #2 has gotta take the cake in the “whack-you-over-the-head-with-it” department. He starts with Ozymandias assuming a crucifixion pose on the second page while he implores Edgar Jacobi to “let me save you,” and just ramps it up from there.

Seriously, this book is a case study in completely one-dimensional characterization from start to finish : Adrian Veidt is portrayed as nothing but a deeply pathological megalomaniac, and Moloch is a “heart of gold”-style simpleton —the ultimate irony being, of course, that when it all comes to a head at the end, it will be the simpleton who willingly sacrifices himself to the megalomaniac’s audacious “save the world” scheme, thus completely reversing the roles of savior and saved as depicted in the “come to Jesus” panel I just mentioned.

Again, pretty damn unsubtle stuff all around, here. And ultimately pointless. The trajectory of the plot this time around can only end at exactly the point we know it does, with Moloch’s death as depicted in Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons’ original Watchmen series, and since the resolution to that story makes it pretty clear how our pointy-eared friend indeed must have died, all Straczynski and artist Eduardo Risso (who also did the “main” cover, depicted above — the variant, by Olly Moss (by way, it has to be said, of Matt Wagner) is shown below) are doing here is filling in the details.

2758619-bwtchm_cv2_var_super

All of which isn’t to say it’s exactly a terrible comic — Risso’s art is probably worth the purchase price in and of itself — it’s just, stop me if you’ve heard this one a thousand times already — not in any way, shape, or form a necessary one. Reading it won’t add to your appreciation of Moore and Gibbons’ original work, nor will it detract from it, and that seems to be the editorial endgame strategy that DC is employing on all these titles — just don’t fuck anything up, and we can all get paid, go home, and pretend that none of this ever happened.

And speaking of things we’d like to pretend never happened — John Higgins’ “Curse Of The Crimson Corsair” back-up strip comes, mercifully, to its conclusion here. At first this pirate story was pretty much the best thing about the entire Before Watchmen enterprise, but to say it’s gone off the rails in the last couple of months would be an understatement. While the quality of the artwork has remained consistently high throughout, the story has taken an absolute nose-dive into the most hackneyed territory one can imagine. It wraps up with the most simple and predictable resolution possible, but Higgins’ deeply purple prose renders even this most straightforward of conclusions a garbled, nearly-incomprehensible mess. I thought this strip was going to run all the way to the finish line of all the BW books, but apparently the plug’s been pulled on it a little early, and I don’t think anyone’s really going to mind that in the least.

We’re almost done, folks. Two more issues of Comedian and Ozymandias, one more of MinutemenRorschachNite Owl, and Dr. Manhattan, the Dollar Bill and Crimson Corsair one-shots, and the pain will all be over. What arrived with a bang clearly seems to be heading out with a whimper, as sales for these books have all nose-dived when it became crystal clear that none of these creators had anything to say with any of these characters and were content to merely tread water. It appears that DC has sought to do nothing more with Before Watchmen than strip-mine the initial concept — and the reading public’s good will — for all they’re worth.  If that’s the case, then congratulations — mission fucking accomplished.

2750945-before_watchmen_dr_manhattan_003_zone_000b_super

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).

2747101-drmanhattan_sl2_super

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.

2747000-screen_shot_2012_12_09_at_3_03_34_pm_super

 

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.

2747095-screen_shot_2012_12_09_at_3_03_53_pm_super

 

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.

2734636-bw_minutem_cv5_solicit_0_super

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.

2738386-before_watchmen_m_zone_029_super

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.

2734637-comedian41_super

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.

2734711-comedian42_super

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.

2723085-4000_super

Here we go again.

Len Wein and Jae Lee’s Before Watchmen : Ozymandias mini-series is getting so far beyond redundant at this point that I really ought to have my head examined for still buying it. Every issue more or less completely drops and/or disregards the various plot threads that had snuck their way in the last time around and swaps them out for another set of themes that are sure to ultimately go nowhere as well. You doubt me? Consider the evidence:

The first issue centers around a leaden retelling of Adrian Veidt’s past, then throws in a wrinkle about his girlfriend OD’ing on unnamed “drugs.” In issue two, Ozy sets out to KO the drug trade, then gets sidetracked into finding out what happened to long-lost mystery man Hooded Justice. In issue three, after tussling with the Comedian while looking for answers to HJ’s ultimate fate, the so-called “Smartest Man In The World” gives up that quest and begins obsessing over Dr. Manhattan instead — all of which brings us up to the current issue, which sees  Ozy drop his fixation on the big blue guy and instead go into service as an unofficial adviser to President Kennedy during the Cuban Missile Crisis before briefly turning his attention to finding out “Who Killed JFK?” after he’s assassinated and then taking notice of some new costumed vigilantes when they arrive on the scene, namely Rorschach and the Dan Dreiberg-model Nite Owl.

The entire by-the-numbers affair concludes with the iconic first meeting of the Crimebusters, which we’ve also (and already) seen “re-interpreted” from the Alan Moore/Dave Gibbons original in the pages of  the Nite Owl and Silk Spectre books, as well, the key difference here being — it’s actually not “re-interpreted” at all, just fucking redrawn. Seriously. The last two pages of this book are a word-for-word cribbing of the scene as originally scripted by Moore, it’s just that Jae Lee’s drawing it this time.

And speaking of Jae Lee — his art is as stiff, lifeless, and frankly downright soul-less here as ever, even if his take on Nite Owl and his ship, Archie, is pretty darn cool-looking in the most strictly formal sense.

2723097-4002_super

If I had to sum up the problem with Before Watchmen : Ozymandias in one simple phrase, I would just say “lack of inspiration.” Both Wein and Lee seem content to go through the motions and leave it at that, and the flat , neo-classical faux-romanticism of both  Wein’s embarrassingly purple prose and Lee’s moribund interior art has even managed to bleed its way into  the cover artwork (variants this time around by our guy Jae and Micheal William Kaluta, respectively, as shown), as well. Four issues in and we’ve gained no particular new insights into the character of Adrian Veidt, and his motivations have been more or less revealed to be exactly what we always figured they were. All in all, this book’s principal creators have expended who the hell knows how many hours of time and effort in telling  and showing us exactly what we already knew, and it’s getting duller and duller by the page.

Speaking of which, so is the “Curse Of The Crimson Corsair” back-up strip. This little pirate story was really rolling along quite nicely for awhile there, but ever since John Higgins took over the writing as well as the art, the basic plotting (and it is, indeed, fairly basic, considering it’s designed to be delivered, and consequently digested, in two-page snippets) has suffered considerably —- so hey, maybe Len Wein’s not all bad, after all. At this point, while it’s certainly still amazingly cool to look at, the story has degenerated into a bog-standard “quest for lost items to save a damned man’s soul”-type thing, and reading it has become an absolute chore. Again, the inspiration factor seems to be running decidedly low here.

Oh, and while we’re talking of all things uninspired — if you’re wondering just who, indeed, killed Kennedy in the world of Before Watchmen, the answer is (no drumroll, please) — Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone. Of course.

2724458-prev_img_1_super

 

I hope I’m not giving too much away right off the bat here, but Frank Sinatra is dead in the so-called “Watchmen Universe.”

Okay, fair enough, he’s dead here in the real universe as well, and has been for a good long time now, but he died a lot sooner — and a lot more hilariously — in Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons’ fictitious world than he did in ours. As a matter of fact, the Tarantino-esque one-two punch that does in the Chairman Of The Board in the fourth and final issue of Amanda Conner and Darwyn Cooke’s Before Watchmen : Silk Spectre miniseries is the single-most effective sequence in any of the BW books to date as well as being the only laugh-out-loud funny moment in any of them so far (it honestly wouldn’t feel out of place at all in, say, Marvel’s new ultra-absurdist Deadpool book) and it’s worth the $3.99 cover price in and of itself.

Fortunately, this book has some things going for it, as well, most notably Conner’s superb artwork, which started out great and has been getting more confident and assured with each issue. She’s saved her best for last, however, and really hits it out of the park with this concluding chapter. My only slight quibble is that in the final splash-page page panel that winds things up (the only splash in this series, come to think of it) she depicts Laurie as being considerably younger than she had appeared previously, which could be explained away as a realistic-enough choice on Conner’s part since this is an image of her iconic first meeting with Dr. Mahnhattan and depicting their age difference in such a stark manner would really drive home Janey Slater’s famous “chasing jailbait” line, but — she makes Dr. Mahnhattan look like some sort of love-struck teenager, as well. Seriously. He looks more like a blue kid sidekick than the most powerful man in the world. So the image, while amazingly well-rendered, is a bit of a head-scratcher.

Still, that’s it for gripes as far as the artwork goes. Conner’s pencils and inks, coupled with Paul Mounts’ superb colors, are all in top form here and I hope the two of them are teamed up on another project in the not-too-distant future. Now, as far as the story is concerned —

Well, whaddaya know? I don’t really have much cause to bitch on this front, either. Yeah, things get wrapped up a bit quickly and conveniently, and it does at times feel like Cooke and Conner are rushing to get things in the can ASAP before they run out of pages, but it at least all makes a kind of sense, and the characterization of Laurie and Sally Jupiter and Hollis Mason is spot-on throughout. Even when Mason is stoned off his ass (yes, you read that right). All in all, it’s an admittedly inconsequential, but nevertheless damn fun little read.

2724459-prev_img_2_super

And that word right there — fun — is what sets apart not only Silk Spectre #4 (variant covers by Conner and Bruce Timm, respectively, as shown), but this entire mini- series as a whole from the rest of the Before Watchmen pack. Conner and Cooke didn’t set out to trump Moore and Gibbons here, nor were they so slavishly beholden to what had  gone before that they were hesitant to add their own stamp on the character. They just seemed content to tell a simple story well and have fun while they were doing it. The end result? The BW series that I frankly had the lowest expectations for going in has ended up (at least to this point) being the best of the bunch.

So, anyway — it appears that the entire publishing schedule for Before Watchmen has been thrown off a bit lately. We didn’t get anything for two weeks, and next week they’re playing catch-up by releasing the latest issues of Silk SpectreComedian, and Nite Owl all at once. For Silk Spectre and Nite Owl, that’s ll be the end of the road, but until then, we’ve been “given” the first of the two-part Moloch (very) mini-series to mull over — since, ya know, DC apparently feels we weren’t being subjected to enough J. Michael Straczynski already.

I admit, when this book was first announced my reaction was, essentially, “what’s the point?” But then, given that you could reasonably say the same thing about the entire Before Watchmen enterprise as a whole, I guess “what the hell — why not?” is a reasonable enough way to look at this late-comer to the proceedings, as well. And hey — at least it’s got Eduardo Risso art, and I’ve always liked his stuff.

All in all this issue wasn’t so bad as far as these things go, but a word of warning — if the other BW series have felt like useless “professional fan fiction” to you, then this one is going to feel like more of the same only on steroids, since it’s principal character, one-time super-villain Moloch, appeared on a grand total of, what? Maybe 12 pages of Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons’ original Watchmen series? So yeah — we are admittedly, pretty firmly in “fanwank” territory here. And it’s not like there’s bound to be anything too earth-shattering going over the course of a story that only runs two issues. And yet —

Maybe it’s because this little interlude-of-a-book is so far removed from being actually necessary, or maybe it’s because I was just in the mood for a pleasant-enough little time-waster when I read it, but I actually enjoyed (believe it or not!) Before Watchmen : Moloch #1 (variant covers, as shown, by Risso, Matt Wagner, and Jim Lee, respectively). Admittedly, the framing device of using a confession to a Roman Catholic priest as a springboard for a series of flashback vignettes covering the course of a character’s life has pretty much been done to death, but it generally works here, and maybe because we know so little about him Edward Jacobi’s life story actually makes for fairly interesting reading. We’re not mining overly-familiar territory here as we are in the other books. Heck, as we get to the end of the “origin flashbacks” in this first issue, Straczynski even leaves us with a relatively nifty little cliffhanger, even though it should be anything but a surprise given what little we do know about this character.

I guess what I’m trying to say here is that, contrary to the other  BW books that are nothing but random recollections of past “adventures” (I’m looking at you, specifically, Comedian and Ozymandias — as well as Nite Owl  #1 and Minutemen #1), Before Watchmen : Moloch  #1 actually works. Yeah, the Moloch character is uglier and weirder-looking than Dave Gibbons portrayed him, looking a lot more like Neal Adams’s Man-Bat character here, but there might be an explanation for his changed appearance forthcoming in the second issue, or maybe it’s all just down to artistic differences. I don’t much care either way, this is pretty much a throwaway character, and yeah — it’s also pretty much a throwaway book. But it’s a competently executed throwaway book, with a breezy, well-written script and some truly gorgeous art by Risso. What’s not to like?

Still, I have to confess (just to clumsily pick up on Straczynski’s already-clumsy “confession” theme) that the book left me with a nagging question — if a well-done, but pointless, diversion stands out as being one of the better Before Watchmen issues to date, how  absolutely thorough a condemnation is that of the other titles in this series?