Azzarello, Brian, et al. Before Watchmen: Comedian/Rorschach.

NY: DC Comics, 2013.

Watchmen is one of the two or three greatest and most influential graphic novels ever, and I was delighted to come upon this prequel, which I somehow had missed hearing about. But now, having read it, I sort of wish I had never heard of it, it’s such a disappointment.

In the original book, specially concerning the psychopathic Comedian (real name Eddie Blake), Alan Moore didn’t really go into detail about all the stuff he was involved in, but you knew it was there — and just that hint was enough. It worked. Azzarello, though, wants to hit you over the head with it. Blake is a close friend and agent of the Kennedys, and carries out a hit on Marilyn Monroe on behalf of Jackie. (Say, what?) He himself is Bobby’s assassin, apparently on behalf of the CIA. (Sirhan was a patsy.) And in Vietnam, he’s responsible for My Lai. And there’s more: The U.S. Army doesn’t want the war to end too quickly because they’re making a ton of money from the Southeast Asian drug trade. Even if this is an alternate world (as in Watchmen), that’s simply too extreme a re-imagining. And nowhere is his motivation for all this amoral mayhem explained. This simply doesn’t feel like the same character as in Moore’s story. (Also, he’s already well into middle age in the 1960s, graying at the temples and all, which makes him rather too old for his role in Watchmen in the late ’80s.)

The second half of the book, about the background of Walter Kovacs, a/k/a “Rorschach” (exemplified by the unexplained shape-shifting hood he wears), is somewhat better — partly, I think, because there are no real-life historical figures in it. “Rorschach’s Journal” documents his efforts to single-handedly bring down a violent and powerful gang in New York City in 1977 (part of the story takes place during the Great Blackout), with numerous murders being committed on both sides along the way, and that’s pretty much it. While the art is of generally higher quality than in the first half of the volume, and the dialogue is better, the narrative is still somewhat confused as Walter tries to deal with his own internal demons as well as the demons on the street. Still, he’s a considerably more sympathetic character than the Comedian. Seriously.

This would have been a much better book if the author had simply deleted the first half.

Published in: on 5 April 2015 at 2:49 am  Leave a Comment  

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