Book Review – Before Watchmen: Comedian/Rorschach by Brian Azarello, J.G. Jones, Lee Bermejo

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In my review of Minutemen/Silk Spectre I mentioned that I hoped I didn’t start off with the best one, but after reading Comedian/Rorschach I fear that it may be the case…

Comedian:

Comedian’s story starts off by showing his relationship with the Kennedys and his years in Vietnam. The story attempts to show how he became so jaded and fatalistic, and it’s interesting that these two characters are coupled together because they both share a loathing of humanity yet they take the measures of wearing costumes and fighting crime. Comedian gets to a darker and darker place as he witnesses bureaucratic bullshit and ends up saying a big ‘fuck you’ to his superiors in Vietnam.

I feel that this story will mean more to American audiences because of the whole Vietnam thing and there are a couple of other events that are deeply entrenched in American cultural history. Yet the story doesn’t tell us anything we didn’t already know from Watchmen. Yes Vietnam was a horrible place, yes Comedian has a very unique stance on morality and the American way of life. But the story seems to want to be its own thing and feels shackled by having to fit in with the continuity of the original work by Alan Moore & Dave Gibbons. It’s clear that even when Eddie Blake was sixteen he already had a formed morality and I find it difficult to believe that someone with his views would be such good friends with the Kennedys. Even some of his dialogue with them didn’t make sense, like the opening conversation with Jackie – it seemed to want to have a double meaning but came off as meaningless.

So the story is okay but it doesn’t do anything new with the character. There’s a lot of history since he was a part of the Minutemen as well, and I think it would have been interesting had they paralleled Hollis Mason’s views, and had Comedian reflect on his life from his own point of view. After all, Hollis Mason was one of the more plain decent characters and it would have been interesting to see what Comedian thought of it all. Heck, it could have even been him reflecting on how meaningless his life had been after he finds out Adrian’s plans and then could have directly led into Watchmen. This feels like a huge missed opportunity and I’m sad to say that it does feel like it was written just for the sake of being written.

The artwork is gorgeous but that doesn’t make up for everything else, and even in the artwork there’s not really anything that’s inventive or unique. Comedian is just average, and that isn’t good enough.

Rorschach

Rorscach is the most iconic character from Watchmen and he is many people’s favourites. I’m sure this is one that alongside Minutemen, will be anticipated the most. Yet, like Comedian, this feels unnecessary and it doesn’t add anything new. Rorschach was given a lot of focus in Watchmen and his background and reasons for why he did what he did and this story just feels like it’s repeating something we already know. There’s a hunt for a serial killer and an attempt to take down a gang but it all feels very repetitive and insubstantial.

It’s not an origin story but you get the sense that it’s early in Rorschach’s career as he makes mistakes in his hunt and misjudges his escape routes. He lingers around the darkest parts of the city and some familiar locations come into play. However, there are a couple of moments where he is captured and in seemingly inescapable situations yet he does escape, because he has to, because he’s in Watchmen. Yet the criminals are painted as ruthless and they let Rorschach live far longer than they should, so these parts didn’t quite ring true for me.

This one perhaps should have felt most like Watchmen since Rorschach’s journal was such an integral part of the narrative, and while it makes a return here it doesn’t quite feel like Watchmen. It doesn’t attempt to be anything more than it is and there’s no depth or ambition, so by the end of it the story feels flat. Again, the artwork is gorgeous and there are some clever ways they implement the image of Rorshach’s mask, but other than it’s pretty lifeless and doesn’t offer anything new.

As a result you read this volume and yeah it’s decent, but this is Before Watchmen. Decent isn’t good enough. It should strive to be a worthwhile companion piece to the original and this just isn’t. Both stories in this collection offer nothing new. They don’t add to the understanding of the characters and it gives the impression the whole endeavour was a simple cash grab. Unless you want to collect all of them I’d suggest you avoid this volume. I found it very disappointing and shallow in nature.

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