Posts Tagged ‘Lee Bermejo’

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Another week, another Before Watchmen book draws — mercifully, I might add — to a close, as we reach the “climactic” final issue of Brian Azzarello and Lee Bermejo’s four-part Rorschach mini-series. And frankly it’s not a moment too soon.

I’m not even sure how to properly convey my overall disappointment with this one, folks — and at this point I wasn’t even expecting much. It’s no secret I’ve been more than a tad disappointed by the entire BW project as a whole, but the concluding chapter of Before Watchmen : Rorschach really lets down the side —  even when compared against the slink-out-the-door, complete-cop-out ending of J. Michael Straczynski and Adam Hughes’ Dr. Manhattan series. The scripting  — as we’ve come, sadly, to, expect from Azzarello — is lazy, the dangling plotlines are “resolved” in a completely rushed and unpredictable-only-in-terms-of-their-ineptitude manner, and all in all, well, the book just plain sucks.

If you’ll recall, last time around things were finally starting to come together a bit — Rorschach had been captured by super-criminal Rawhead and his boys (again) and was being trussed up in preparation for a gruesome death (again) while the serial killer known as “The Bard” zeroed in on Rory’s only friend in the world, the Gunga Diner waitress he was all set to meet up for a dinner date. On top of all that, the lights went out in New York City as the infamous blackout of 1977  hit. Simple as it would be to bring all these disparate plot elements together in a semi-satisfying, if unambitious conclusion — Rorschach gets away, saves the girl in the nick of time and/or doesn’t but manages to kill “The Bard” anyway, and the lights come on — Azzarello can’t even pull that off. Oh, sure, Rorschach escapes from Rawhead’s clutches (although how he actually manages to do so is barely shown), the girl gets away from “The Bard” on her own (somehow — in this case they don’t even bother showing us how), and five years later, when “The Bard” gets outta the joynt, Rory busts into his apartment and kills him in an epliogue that completely lacks any sort of “payback”-style drama because, well, even though “The Bard” has been hanging around the outskirts of the story since the beginning, he never once tussled with the star of the book.

What does “Azz” take up the remaining pages of this scantily-scripted issue with, then, you may wonder? Some lame-brained, last-minute “twist” to the plot featuring Rawhead hitting the streets in Rorschach’s mask and getting himself killed — all of which is, as you’d be right to guess, about as stupid as it sounds.

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On the plus side, after the obvious deadline-rushed work of issues two and three, Lee Bermejo’s art improves here and is more or less back up to the standard he set in the book’s opening installment. His cover (shown atop this post) is pretty good, too, and Ivan Reis’ variant (shown above) is flat-out incredible. But pretty pictures alone can’t save this work, and somewhere I think Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons are probably shaking their heads.

Then again, I’m sure they had better since than to actually read this thing. Wish I could say the same for myself.

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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.

As Walter Kovacs, aka Rorschach, himself might say : “Hurm.”

We’re now at the halfway point of this four-issue series and it’s safe to say that I’m just flat-out unsure what to make of it. In this issue, our favorite vigilante-in-a-pattern-shifting-mask winds up in the hospital on the heels of the ass-kicking he took last time around, runs an 18-wheeler into some small-time dope dealers (or maybe they’re pimps — or both), eschews the only female contact he’s probably had in decades, and starts in on a new mission of getting even with the crime lord who left him for dead in the sewers, a crime lord who, incidentally, has now gotten wind that leaving Rorschach for dead is a far cry from making sure he well and truly is  dead.

It’s certainly every bit as bloody and gritty as you’d expect (and then some), but it in no way surprises the reader or delivers anything you might call even close to being unexpected, so in that respect it’s a fairly gutless and pedestrian piece of work. Which isn’t to say it’s bad by any stretch of the imagination, just that it’s all so highly predictable. Writer Brian Azzarello seems determined to pretty much just, as the Brits would say, “give the punters what they want,” and leave it at that. Which is, clearly and self-evidently, not what Watchmen as envisioned by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons was all about. So it’s fair to say I’m a bit torn on the overall effectiveness of this book — and its relegation of its serial-killer subplot involving a psycho called “The Bard” doesn’t help matters much, either.

Another thing that doesn’t work as well in this series’ second installment is Lee Bermejo’s art. It’s okay, but it looks rushed and semi-sloppy compared compared to issue number one, where eye for detail for was really a strong suit. I think Bermejo still gives a shit, don’t get me wrong, and most of this issue looks good enough, but it lacks some of the almost-photo-realism we got last time, which is something of a bummer. Ah well.

In summation, then, Before Watchmen : Rorschach #2 (variant covers, as shown, by Bermejo and Jock, respectively) is just — alright. I can’t point to anything out-and-out lousy about it, but it seems content to rest of its laurels and just deliver more or less exactly the type of thing we’re expecting. That might make for involving enough and interesting enough reading, but gosh, is it too much for me to wish for something a little bit inspired somewhere in the midst of this whole Before Watchmen project somewhere?

Hurm, indeed.

 

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.