Posts Tagged ‘watchmen’

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I have no idea how many words have been spent — digitally or in print — praising and/or occasionally lambasting, to say nothing of parsing the rich minutiae of,  Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons’ Watchmen, but it’s surely gotta run into the billions by now, and I confess to being one who has contributed to the ever-growing landfill of opinion on this most seminal of works, but please give me some credit — I at least never stooped so low as to regurgitate the depressingly common line that it represents “the last word on superheroes.”

Oh, sure, at one point during its gestation its creators may have harbored illusions that it could be viewed as such — and for a long time it stood as both of their final words on the genre/phenomenon — but eventually both of them (Moore in particular) decided that they each had more to say on the subject, much of it a direct response not so much to Watchmen itself, but to the industry-wide excesses that sprang up in its wake. By now it’s painfully obvious to all of us that DC editorial never really knew what to do next after it was done and, lacking the vision to understand that its runaway success meant that audiences were ready for more good comics, instead they chose the easier path of just giving us more dark comics. Those, after all, can be cranked out without much effort, or even thought.  And so here we all are, three decades later, still wondering why a work that its creators sincerely hoped would be eclipsed in terms of quality in fairly short order never has been.  And here we are still talking about it.

Not that it isn’t worth talking about, of course — Watchmen is such a dense, multi-faceted, complex, and sophisticated narrative that it can literally take dozens of re-reads to unpack all it has to offer. It’s just more than a bit depressing that neither of the “Big Two” have produced a work of even greater quality in all the years since, and that the superhero genre has never had the guts to look at itself in the mirror this honestly again, despite being under a larger and more all-pervasive microscope than ever.

So, yeah — the final word on superheroes? It’ll probably never be written. But what of the final word on Watchmen?

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In all honesty, that’s probably decades — perhaps even centuries — away from happening, as well, but it’s certainly high time for somebody to at least have something new to say about it. Enter cartoonists Dave Baker, Nicole Goux, Rachel Dukes, Malachi Ward, Nick Diaz, Emilie Vo, Sam Ancona, Chuck Kerr, Colby Bluth, Robert Negrete and Sabrina Deigert, and their “mondo” self-published collaborative “jam” effort, Shitty Watchmen.  Baker, who’s selling the book via his website at http://www.heydavebaker.com , has stepped forward as the nearest thing to an unofficial spokesperson for the project in recent weeks, and while his standard line is that the book was designed to highlight Dave Gibbons’ often-overlooked contributions to the original work by proving  it’s so damn visually powerful that it even flows and makes sense when re-drawn in the “shittiest” manner possible, in truth he’s selling he and his compatriots’ perhaps-accidental (and perhaps not) achievements here almost criminally short — this, you see, is actually a nuts-and-bolts deconstruction of a comic that is, after all, a brilliant piece of deconstruction itself, and when you sit down and really think about that, it’s kind of like Russian dolls, isn’t it? You open one, and there’s another hiding inside it. At the risk of making Alan Moore cringe by even invoking the name, maybe Grant Morrison was exactly right when he said those things were a model of the universe.

Double-negatives being the equivalent of a positive, then, it would stand to reason that deconstructing a deconstruction would ultimately add up to being a reconstruction, and damn if that’s not the case here. In fact, I’m downright stoked to read Watchmen (yet) again now that I’ve seen its beauty besmirched so thoroughly. I’ve always loved it, of course, and always will, but as familiar as I am with every page, every panel, every sentence of it, I admit — it’s been awhile since I felt in awe of it. That deficiency in my viewpoint has already been corrected.

To get the obvious out of the way, then, yes — the art in Shitty Watchmen (formatted in such a way that each artist tackles a single chapter, except for Baker, who takes on two of ’em) is absolutely atrocious. That’s rather the point. Odds are better than good that each of the contributors involved can actually draw pretty well, but damn, they sure don’t do it here. To which I can only say — so what? The likes of Gary Panter and Art Spiegelman, among others, certainly don’t or can’t “draw well” on a purely technical level, but does that in any way detract from the power or immediacy of their work? Heck, in Panter’s case his decided lack of anything like “finesse” only adds to its visual impact, and the same can be said of much that’s on display here. Yeah, it’s uniformly crude. It’s ugly. It’s barely above kindergarten scribbling. It’s as “shitty” as it bills itself as being. And it also proves, without question, its over-arching thesis — that Watchmen as a whole, and Gibbons’ art in particular, is, if anything, under-rated.

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That’s probably a decidedly “uncool” thing to say in this day and age, where trashing Watchmen has become something of a fast-track to gaining instant “street cred” with the self-appointed “hip” and reflexively contrarian members of the comic book critics’ “community,” but I’ll let you in on a secret — a lot of that, perhaps even all of it, is a fucking pose. Divorce Watchmen from its context — whether asked for (“the first major deconstruction of the superhero genre”) or unasked for (“the book that started the ‘dark age’ in comics”) — and guess what? You’ve still got a soaring, ambitious, expertly-executed, revolutionary work. And if it takes reducing it to to a beyond-bare-bones shadow of itself in order to to either prove or remind people of that, so be it. Shitty Watchmen isn’t just throwing the genius of its “source material” into sharp relief, but people’s reactions to it, as well. A veritable “cottage industry” of opinion has sprung up around this comic over the years, much of it illuminating and some of it infuriating, but for my money I can’t think of any other interpretation of it that’s been this unflinchingly honest and utterly free of pretense. “We love Watchmen — let us prove it to you by wrecking it” may seem a contradictory assertion on its face, but often the most essential truths are hidden in some surprising places.

But it’s not just Gibbons’ art that is atomized on these pages — Moore’s script is presented verbatim only in chapter nine, while others either decimate it with as much gusto as they do to the illustrations or leave it out altogether (which is also the case with John Higgins’ color, this book being a strictly black and white affair). That’s a move certain to offend purists, and perhaps even a fair number of more casual fans, but are members of either camp all that likely to be interested in a project such as this in the first place?  Exactly.

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Admittedly, then, Shitty Watchmen is a book with a decidedly narrow focus that will appeal to a perhaps-even-more-narrow readership. For what it’s trying to do, though — and for those interested in what it’s doing — it’s a borderline revelatory experience. If you’ve ever wondered “could Watchmen still be good — even if it wasn’t?,” then here’s your answer, and it’s a resounding yes. Turning the most celebrated work in the history of the graphic story medium into a sorry, sloppy mess may be a “shitty” thing to do, but it’s also a brilliant one.

 

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Now that I think about it, maybe this isn’t right at all. Maybe I should reserve the “Animation Sidebar” series — which is anything but a “sidebar” at this point, for which I must sincerely apologize to grindhouse and exploitation fans out there who read, or at the very least check in on things at, this site, either religiously or occasionally, but rest assured I’ll return to treading more familiar territory  in the very near future — should be reserved solely for flicks that are, well, animated. Which this isn’t — not fully, at any rate.

Not that it’s not good — it is. in fact, it’s really good. But then, so is Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons’ original Watchmen comic, and that’s pretty much exactly what this is. Only it’s narrate. And the pictures move — a little — courtesy of an animation studio called Juice Films, who pretty much took Gibbons’ art “as is,” threw in a few motion effects here and there, and called it a day. All of which is my by-now-traditionally roundabout way of saying that even if you love the book on which this — errmmm (sorry, Rorschach) — “film” is based, you might not actually need to ever watch, much less own or rent, this so-called “motion comic.”

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Don’t get me wrong — it’s cool to see Rorschach’s mask moving and shit, but beyond that there’s really nothing about watching a semi-animated Watchmen that reading the printed Watchmen doesn’t offer. In fact, it gets a little weird in that actor Tom Stechschulte, who provides the narration, voices all the characters, and while that’s gotta be something of a tall order and he does the best he can to differentiate them in ways both subtle and obvious, he really doesn’t pull of Silk Spectre very convincingly because, well, he’s a guy and she’s (obviously) not.

Still, if even Zack Snyder’s celluloid riff on Watchmen didn’t hew close enough to its source to satisfy you, there’s no doubt that this will, because it’s not so much an “adaptation” as it is a beat-for-beat, note-for-note, word-for-word, image-for-image translation of said source into a new medium. And that’s pretty cool — even if the novelty wears off , for the most part, after a handful of its 20-or-so-minute “chapters.”

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If it’s all the same to you, dear reader, I’m not gonna bother with a plot recap or anything like that here, not so much out of laziness as because I covered Watchmen so extensively when it came out in theaters (and later on DVD and Blu-Ray), and because most of you are probably so familiar with the story already, that there’s just not much point.

I won’t skimp  on the background info, though,how does that sound? This was released in a two-disc DVD set and as a single-disc Blu-Ray by Warner Premier in late 2008 as part of the promotional run-up to the at-the-time-still-forthcoming Watchmen movie. I’ve seen bits and parts of it on both formats, and for the life of me can’t really tell the difference between them apart from the fact that the Blu-Ray crams it all onto one disc. Widescreen picture and 5.1 sound for both are outstanding. Neither iteration features any extras, and in fact this was included as an extra with both the DVD and Blu-Ray versions of the Watchmen : The Ultimate Cut package, and that might be the most natural home, all told, for material of this nature.

Oh, and it’s worth pointing out that even this was too “Hollywood” for Alan Moore and he asked to have his name removed from the credits for it, as is generally his custom these days. Love him or hate him (you know where I stand, the guy’s an absolute genius in my book), you have to admit there’s absolutely  no slack in his act.

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Inna final analysis, then,  as the news vendor in Watchmen would say, this is an interesting and cool thing to watch through at last once, I suppose, but only if you’re a die-hard fan of the original work — and only then if you’re feeling too lazy to pick it up and actually read it.

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So, this is it — the end of the line for both Before Watchmen, and for my reviews of same. I guess that means you’re doubly lucky today! Seriously, though — to those of you who have stuck this out (assuming there are any of you — frankly, I have no idea), I offer my sincere thanks, while to DC, I offer my sincere middle finger for taking up a lot of my time and money on a project that, ultimately, was of even less worth than it appeared to be going in.

Yeah, I know — I was the one stupid enough to keep buying these things, so to myself, I offer a swift kick in the ass.

Anyway, after numerous delays, the sixth and final issue of Brian Azzarello and J.G. Jones’ Comedian mini-series finally hit the stands earlier today, and while I can say it’s probably the best-written issue of this book since the first, that’s really not saying much. At best, this is merely an average “mature” superhero comic, with an ending that, let’s face it, those of us still left reading this thing have been able to see coming for quite some time now (and even if you didn’t, the cover pretty much telegraphs it  from the outset). I’ve been saying for quite some time that the whole BW debacle was ending with a whimper, but I had no idea how literally true that would be — this issue wraps up with Eddie Blake crying after he does what he feels, I guess, he has to do (again, see cover), and there ain’t no grand finale; no shocked, rapturous awe; no stunned silence — nothin’. DC’s promo tagline for this issue (the story title for which, incidentally, is “Eighties” — something I’m embarrassed to admit I don’t understand in the least , and given that Azzarello isn’t exactly known for his subtlety, I’m feeling doubly stupid for my slowness on the uptake. Perhaps one of you good people could explain it for me?) is “Do you remember how Before Watchmen began? Because you’re never going to forget how it ends,” and if there’s any better proof that they need some more competent PR folks down there at 1700 West Broadway, I’m hard-pressed to think of it. They’re essentially admitting that the whole experience has been a pretty forgettable one right from the outset, but promising that, 37 comics (in total) later, they’re gonna do their best to make up for lost time and missed opportunities.

Talk about too little too late. Truth be told, I probably will   forget Before Wathcmen‘s ending as surely as I have its beginning, since it’s about as pre-formulated and predictable as, say,  the breakfast special at Denny’s. And probably about as good for you, too.

Still, the issue itself’s not a total waste — there’s a nifty little scene where The Comedian has a strictly-off-the-record meeting with G. Gordon Liddy that’s enjoyable enough and also hints at the fact that Blake may end up setting Liddy up vis a vis Watergate — but then you remember that Watergate never happened in the “Watchmen Universe” since it was made clear that it was Blake himself who killed Woodward and Bernstein, so Azzarello’s supposed “cleverness” with this sequence is, alas, ultimately wasted. Rather like the talents of everyone who participated in this project and the money of everyone who supported it.

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Jones’ art is, us usual, perfectly nice in its own standard-superhero-book sorta way, as is his cover (shown at top) and the variant by Rafael Albuquerque (shown immediately above), but again, nothing terribly memorable, just competent. And maybe that’s the saddest, and most telling  indictment when it comes to Before Watchmen : Comedian —  it got so damn bad so damn fast that here, at the end, even a mildly competent effort seems like an improvement. Seriously, you don’t even need to compare this with Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons’ original Watchmen series for it to fall up short —- just compare it to any other books out there on the racks. After an absolute  barn-burner of a fist issue, this series quickly settled into a parade of dull, pointless, hopelessly lazy and unambitious flashback stories that were lifeless and unimaginative when set in Viet Nam, and even worse when the “action” returned Stateside (remember the flat-out atrocious third issue, set during the Watts riots?) — all presented with little to no plot escalation or dramatic tension. It all reads as if Azzarello knew that he wanted to bookend things with the assassinations of the Kennedy brothers, but didn’t much care what happened in between. That would be bad enough with a four-part series, but in a six-parter it’s absolutely inexcusable.

Still — it’s over, right? Before Watchmen has come and gone, and we’ve all somehow survived. The universe didn’t implode in on itself, and if you’re one of those people whose fondest wish was to see the characters from what remains, to this day, the best superhero comic ever conceived of (and how said is it that in over a quarter-century this particular genre still hasn’t offered up anything better?) put into bog-standard, go-nowhere, typical-at-best stories, then hey — you’re probably pretty happy right now, and I’m happy for you. For the rest of us, the best thing that Before Watchmen did was to finally end.

And speaking of endings — the BW books might be over with, but my dissection of them isn’t. Well, okay, it is here, but it isn’t in a more general sense — if you want to read more of my dripping-with-disenchantment thoughts on the whole fiasco, I’m in the midst of a series of weekly postings over at http://www.geekyuniverse.com that takes a post-mortem look at each of the Before Watchmen mini-series in turn, so if you found my issue-by-issue ramblings either enlightening or annoying, my more generalized wrap-ups/analyses over there may be to your liking, as well. Other than that, I’m all written-out on this subject, and I honestly don’t see myself giving any of these books a secondary reading anytime in the near — or even distant — future. The end feels like a relief.

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Hmmm — maybe it’s just the so-called “soft tyranny of low expectations,” but the fact is that I wasn’t quite as offended by the sixth and final issue of Len Wein and Jae Lee’s Before Watchmen : Ozymandias  as I was expecting to be and it didn’t quite piss me off as much as the previous five had.

Oh, sure, it’s still more than fair to say that nothing actually happens here, and that we’re just spoon-fed a bunch of over-written flashback scenes that don’t even do much to flesh out events as initially presented by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons over a quarter-century ago — as a matter of fact, Wein even goes down the ultra-lazy route (one he’s traveled before) of including a scene previously written by Moore verbatim here (in this case it’s the Comedian’s famous late-night visit to Moloch’s apartment and it takes up two of this issues 23 story pages), which I hope resulted in a commensurate docking of his pay.

And Lee’s art still sucks, too — it’s as stiff, lifeless, and devoid of backgrounds as ever. How this book ever ended up getting behind schedule is beyond me, as his panels are the most basic thing you’ll ever see. His cover (as shown above) is decent enough as far as these things so, as is Ryan Sook’s variant (shown below), but honestly, where all the “ooh”ing and “aah”ing in fandom comes from in regards to the art on this series is absolutely beyond me.

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So, what did I actually like  about this concluding chapter? Well — nothing, I guess, but I actually don’t recall saying I liked  it, only that I didn’t actively dislike it as much as I had some prior installments. Look, Wein actually has Adrain Veidt say “heavy is the head that wears the crown” in this issue and seems to be writing the scene with a straight face! So, no, this isn’t a good comic. In fact, it’s a decidedly lousy, completely unnecessary one.

But hey — it’s not as lousy and completely unnecessary as parts one through five. The conversation Veidt has with writer Max Fisher, and the explanation Wein provides for the pretext under which he recruited the artists, writers, scientists, and other “visionaries” to work on his hidden island, are actually somewhat interesting — if not terribly surprising or imaginative. So this book has a couple of things going for it, I guess (sort of), and that’s more than you can say for the segments of the story which preceded it.

Yeah, I know — that’s definitely damning with faint praise.  It’s also the first and only praise I’ve had for this series — and since this is the final issue it’ll be the last, as well.

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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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Remember the first issue of this series? When it looked like, out of all the various Before Watchmen books, this one might be the most relevant? That it might actually fulfill the entire project’s supposed remit of “getting us to look at these characters in a new way?” That it might  have something  to add to our understanding not only of  Dr. Manhattan , but the entire Watchmen “universe” itself? That it might have some genuine ambition? That it might, at the very least, have something to say?

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Yeah, I don’t remember that anymore, either. J. Michael Straczynski took that intriguing cliffhanger he left us with way back at the end of the first ish and followed it up with a second installment that basically took us into Marvel Comics What If —? territory, with Dr. Manhattan filling The Watcher role, then gave us a third that was basically the Watchmen equivalent of (a very condensed) Crisis On Infinite Earths, with “Big Blue” as The Monitor, destroying all other possible realities to save our own, “real” one. Now we’ve come to the “big” finale, and — well, the whole thing just kinda limps out the door with a cheap, gimmicky, completely uninvolving supposed “plot twist” that tries, in a clumsy way, to bridge the variant endings between Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons’ original Watchmen series with Zack Snyder’s Watchmen film and ends up doing a disservice to both.

And speaking of cheap gimmicks, artist Adam Hughes — whose work on this project has been, and remains, generally superb — actually resorts to flipping his work upside down halfway through the book when the narrative perspective “flips” from Dr. Manhattan to Ozymandias. I don’t lay the blame on Hughes for this painfully obvious stunt, since it was likely and editorial call, but it’s certainly as dumb as it is unsubtle, and I hope that either the artist himself or at the very least somebody, somewhere behind the scenes kicked up at least a little bit of a stink about it.

Beyond that, there’s nothing much to report here. The alternate covers by Hughes and Bill Sienkiewicz (respectively, as shown) are both fine, even if Hughes’ makes it look like something interesting might be happening in this book when, in truth, nothing is, but that’s just basic comic book hucksterism 101 and again, I’m not gonna lay much blame for that at the artist’s feet when the writer — and editors — are clearly the ones with no vision here.

We finally leave things off with the old “Nothing ends, Adrian. Nothing ever ends” line, and see Dr. Manhattan walking around on his new faraway planet, contemplating the idea of creating some new life form of his own. In other words, right smack-dab  where we started. Which is probably Straczynski’s point, I suppose, but it’s a point that Moore had already made 25 years ago and it renders these past four issues not only totally unnecessary, but meaningless.

Nothing ever ends? Fair enough. But I’m glad this series is over all the same.

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Anyway, here we go — the long-delayed (it’s been something like two months since the last issue) answer to the question “what exactly did the Comedian do that had the other guy so freaked out last time around?” is finally here, and it’s about as surprising and unpredictable as, say, a Denny’s omelette — evidently, he committed some mass-scale, My Lai-ish massacre on innocent villagers in Viet Nam. Women, kids, all that.

Ya know — the kind of thing that was pretty much hinted at way back in Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons’ Watchmen #2. At least give writer Brian Azzarello and artist J.G. Jones credit for consistency, then — this issue is every bit as pointless as all those which preceded it. “Azz,” as he is known to his hopefully dwindling legion of fans, throws in a last-second piece of supposed intrigue involving some machinations vis a vis Eddie Blake between the Nixon and Bobby Kennedy  camps — my best guess at this point is that Bobby never runs for president in the “Watchmen universe” and may indeed still be alive, but who really cares — but that’s some final-buzzer shoehorning that rings pretty hollow after four installments of nothing but useless flashback material that has, despite an admittedly promising start, managed to reveal exactly nothing new about one of Moore and Gibbons’ most interesting characters.

Honestly, it’s a pretty tight race at this point between OzymandiasRorschach, and Comedian for most redundant (and therefore useless) Before Watchmen min-series, but this one might hold a slight edge just because it’s also the most lazily scripted. At least over in Ozymandias Len Wein is determined to give us our money’s worth by drowning his plotless reverie in a sea of shamelessly purple prose. Azzarello can barely manage 20 words of script on most of his pages.

Shit, though, what am I complaining about? As hackneyed and pedestrian as his dialogue is, the less we have of it to deal with, the better.

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The variant covers by Jones and Gary Frank (respectively, as shown) aren’t too bad, I guess, nor is Jones’ interior art, but it’s all far short of being memorable or even involving enough to look at twice. Four bucks, four minutes, and Before Watchmen : Comedian #5 is firmly in your rear view mirror — and you aren’t even bothering with so much as a solitary backward glance; you’ve ( I sincerely hope) got better things to do. Heck, this book doesn’t even linger around long enough to fade into the distance — this is strictly “poof! It’s gone!” stuff.

So,  we’ve got one more to go with this series, and only five BW books remain in total across the board. And just in time, as far as I’m concerned — I’m running out of creative ways to say “this book sucked.” Hell, at this point I’m running out of uncreative ways to say it.

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Just when I’m starting to lighten up a bit on the entire Before Watchmen enterprise, along comes a one-two punch from Len Wein to fully hammer home this project’s essential pointlessness all over again. It’s honestly tough to pick which is a bigger gaping black hole of nothingness, script-wise — the Dollar Bill one-shot, which I savaged in an earlier review today, or the fifth installment of Wein and Jae Lee’s Ozymandias mini-series. I’m happy to call it a draw, bag and file both books away, and not think about either one ever again, thank you very much.

I know, I know — this is a review, so a plot recap of at least some sort is in order, but seriously : nothing fucking happens here. We continue with Adrain Veidt’s narrated recap of his life and exploits and more a little bit closer to and ending that was already given to us 25 years ago by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons. That’s it, barring a couple of admittedly somewhat interesting wrinkles, the first being that we get to see the origin of Ozy’s genetically-engineered super-cat companion, Bubastis, and the second being that we get to see how a famous episode of The Outer Limits that Moore’s often been accused of cribbing his conclusion to the original Watchmen from actually fits into the so-called “smartest man on Earth”‘s master plan.

Apart from those quick little touches, this is a dull and lifeless affair, in terms both literary and artistic, from cover to cover. Hell, even the supposedly climactic scene where Veidt reveals the secret of his dual identity to the press — and, by extension, the world — seems to catch none of the assembled media throng by surprise. And while Wein is bombarding us with his by-now-standard purple prose that says a lot but communicates nothing of any actual value, Lee dishes up 22 pages of artwork that frankly fits the bill perfectly by again being all style and no substance. Once again his work is completely stiff and lifeless, devoid of backgrounds, and he resorts to mere shadow-outline images whenever and wherever possible. There’s no flow to any of it, and it would all work so much better as a text story with an accompanying illustration or two on each page, because as a sequential narrative the marriage of Wein’s words and Lee’s drawings is a complete failure.

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Hell, even the covers this time around — by Lee and Jill Thompson, respectively, as shown — suck. This series has been struggling to prove its relevance from the outset, and with its fifth issue, Before Watchmen :Ozymandias seems to have finally given up altogether and Wein and Lee seem happy to just cash their checks and run out the clock.

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The fine comics blogger J. Caleb Mozzocco, whose work can be found at everydayislikewednesday.blogspot.com, among other places, had this one pretty much pegged : he said that the very existence of a Dollar Bill one-shot as part of the Before Watchmen project is proof positive that DC comics in 2013 has become effectively immune to parody, because they’re spoofing themselves without even knowing it.

It makes sense, when you think about it — Dollar Bill, after all, isn’t even so much a character as he is a quick little cautionary tale in Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons’ Watchmen : he’s the guy who got shot by bank robbers when his cape got caught in a revolving door. That’s pretty much all we need to know about him. Expanding his story into a book-length tale literally can’t be seen as anything other than an exercise is complete and utter fan-wank. It’s a move that would only be made by a company absolutely bereft of anything that even smells like a new idea.

Still — who knows, right? Maybe writer Len Wein and artist Steve Rude have something up their collective sleeve when it comes to Bill Brady. Maybe there’s something we don’t know about the guy that wasn’t revealed in Moore’s “Under The Hood” text pieces back in the original series. Maybe, just maybe, there’s a treasure trove of great stories to be told about the guy who was a superhero-for-hire employed by the fictitious National Bank chain.

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Or, hey, maybe not.

Honestly, Before Watchmen : Dollar Bill makes the two-issue Moloch series look relevant by comparison. There is quite literally nothing in the 26 pages of story and art in this book that Moore doesn’t cover in a couple sentences back in his “Under The Hood” backup text pieces, which I’ll prove in the wrap-up to this review (no skipping ahead). What’s even worse, Wein hasn’t even bothered to disguise the fact that he’s completely mailing in his effort here. While playing college football for Dartmouth, for example, Brady suffers a career-ending injury, and his team then “declines an invitation to the Rose Bowl,” because they know they have no chance to win without him. Excuse me? No college football program has ever turned down any invitation to any bowl game for any reason, even if they know damn well they’re probably going to lose, and sorry, but even in the “Watchmen Universe” it seems unlikely that an Ivy League team would play in the Rose Bowl — that’s been strictly a Big 10-vs. Pac 10 (now 12) affair from day one. And while little touches like naming the three executives who run National Bank Misters How, Dewey, and Cheatem, respectively, is a clever little touch, it also shows just how “seriously” Wein is treating this assignment.

The same, fortunately, can’t be said for Steve Rude (who also, for the record, handles the lettering chores on this book). Ever since his days drawing Nexus, “The Dude” has been, well, the man in my book, and he absolutely knocks it out of the park here. For proof of how far and wide this guy’s artistic influence has been, look no further than the work of Minutemen writer-artist Darwyn Cooke (who just so happens to be responsible for the second variant cover, shown directly above, for this book, the first — at the top of the post — being by Rude himself, and the third — reproduced below — being the handiwork of Jim Lee), whose style owes a very heavy debt to Rude’s retro- visionary stylings.

As a matter of fact, it’s a pretty sad commentary on the state of the mainstream comics industry in 2013 that Rude has to stoop to this level to find work. If this were a just world, he’d still be ranked among the top talents in the business and names like Jim Lee would be forgotten to history. He hasn’t “lost a step,” “fallen behind the times,” or any of those other quasi-polite ways of saying “this guy just plain can’t draw anymore.” His work still looks as crisp, fresh, and vital as ever. Seeing him waste his talents on a project like this is, frankly, depressing.

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And now for that wrap-up I talked about earlier that will prove the utter pointlessness of this one-shot beyond any shadow of a doubt — Bill Brady was a star college athlete who was hired by a bank chain to be its resident “super hero” as a PR stunt. He got shot by some robbers when his cape got caught in a revolving door. That’s what we knew about Dollar Bill going into this book, and that’s what we know about him going out. We get some very pretty Steve Rude illustrations here to accompany these two sentences’ worth of information, but that’s it. Waste. Of. Time.

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.

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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.