Before Watchmen: Comedian/Rorschach (DC Comics) Review

The deluxe edition hardcover of Brian Azzarello's contribution to the Before Watchmen universe is a mixed-bag in terms of advancing Alan Moore's original story, but a visually stunning work.

In all honesty, it makes perfect sense. The Crimebusters should get more adventures. A team that became a staple of the DC Universe in just 12 issues, the Crimebusters have never been in danger of overstaying their welcome. So when Before Watchmen was announced (without Alan Moore’s blessing) fans of the beloved miniseries stood on their toes.Sure, we really wanted more Watchmen. But did we REALLY want more? Did we really want to sink our teeth into Rorschach or The Comedian or Dr. Manhattan before the events of Watchmen, a narrative already jam-packed with flashbacks that left no stone unturned when it came to the origins and depth of its characters? My heart says yes, but my brain says no.More often than not, prequels don’t add anything new to the original stories and/or characters. Instead, they’re an opportunity for writers and fans to self-indulge on the things they love. The original Watchmen begins right at the moment when everything changes: The Comedian falls to his death after being thrown out of his apartment window. So one could argue (and I do) that everything before that moment was “normal” as in “If Alan Moore had thought there was a better way to start the story, he would have.” Do you really want to argue with Alan Moore?My point: things are a lot less interesting before the beginning. Before Watchmen isn’t about origin stories. It’s more like “Hey, this is something cool that happened once!” Over the weekend, I dug into the pre-pre-nuclear holocaust days of Rorschach and The Comedian, two of my favorite comic book characters. I’m relieved to tell you that, even though these don’t really add anything to these characters, we don’t get the nicer side of Earth’s greatest murderous sociopaths. In Before Watchmen, they are already accomplished douchebags—blurring the lines between crime and justice, irredeemable in their bloodthirst. The Rorschach and Comedian in these pages are very much the “heroes” we know and love. Brian Azzarello, writer and creator of 100 Bullets, presents these characters a few years before the breaking point that will send them head first to their bloody ends. Again, less interesting than watching them run around as completely-crazed maniacs.The Comedian, for example, is still very much an American hero, and a symbol of our good will, strength, and patriotism. He reminds the soldiers headed into the jungles of Vietnam that we are still the good guys and that our fight is just. That is, until you send that symbol into the belly of the beast to fight a war he doesn’t understand. As we all know, The Comedian’s time in Vietnam is the last straw. After that, he becomes completely unhinged and the violence is a mere joke. Azzarello’s social commentary might be the most reminiscent of Alan Moore’s original work, which really dug deep into the post Vietnam/Nixon syndrome that hit America in the ‘80s.Which brings me to my next question: if the original Watchmen so closely related to the ‘80s, how does its prequel relate to the present as a piece of social commentary? It doesn’t, which reveals the lack of depth in the narrative beyond “something cool.” Before Watchmen strays from its source material in that it’s not a smart series, but a showcase.Rorschach’s story gives us the mystery yarn we’re used to. This time, our favorite lunatic is out to stop a drug ring led by the hideously-scarred Rawhead, a Vietnam veteran gangster with a disco suit. Rawhead is obsessed with catching Rorschach and proving that he is a mere man. Add a serial killer that is stalking the streets and you have a pretty eventful night in NYC. In true Rorschach fashion, things get pretty gruesome before the end.I don’t want to leave you thinking that the merit is missing in these series. There is something that caught my attention in both: the heroes’ relationships with people that they “care” about helps humanize them…if only for a few pages. For the Comedian, his close friend, President Kennedy, is the epitome of an American hero. In the meantime, Rorschach worries about thanking a young waitress who cared for him in a moment of need. Both stories are truly at their best when they show us that there is something more to these characters than mindless violence.The art, on the other hand, steps up to the plate and hits a home run. J.G. Jones of Wanted and Final Crisis fame and Lee Bermejo, who worked on 100 Bullets with Azzarello, really give The Comedian and Rorschach fresh looks. It’s a blend of digital and ink illustrations that would make Watchmen’s original artist, Dave Gibbons, proud. Blood soaks these pages so that the redness is inescapable. But there’s also the green Vietnam jungle and the bright city lights (or lack thereof) that will keep you visually invested in these comics.All in all, I’m glad Before Watchmen exists, although I wouldn’t have missed it if it didn’t. I would take its iconic predecessor as a completed work of art.Story: 6/10Art: 10/10Overall: 8/10Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter for all news updates related to the world of geek. And Google+, if that’s your thing!