Tag Archive: Alan Moore


Review by C.J. Bunce

Fairy tales seem to be everywhere this past year, beginning with a TV rivalry of sorts between Once Upon a Time and the superb series Grimm.  Lost Girl, the Canadian TV series winding up its third season in the States, has been a brilliant series, full more of folklore than fairy tales per se, yet it truly highlights the “fae” of the genre.  Movies like Snow White and the Huntsman, Mirror, Mirror, and Red Riding Hood have shown that classic tales still have resonance with mainstream audiences, because the source stories are, quite simply, timeless.

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Review by C.J. Bunce

Whether or not you’d call yourself a fan of Watchmen, the graphic novel or film adaptation, or whether you’re interested in the new DC Comics’ prequel series, if you’ve seen anything about Edward Blake, the Comedian, you can tell he is a pretty complex character.  World War II hero, vigilante-turned-paramilitary agent, and sociopath.  In the parallel universe of Watchmen, we’re led to believe Blake was the sole gunman on the grassy knoll.  His character made to look like Burt Reynolds and his name a play on Blake Edwards, director of the Pink Panther comedies, the Comedian wore the famous smiley face as a badge, a symbol that has become synonymous with the Watchmen.  It was also the Comedian whose death sets off the mystery plot behind Alan Moore’s graphic novel, the question:  Who is killing all these superheroes?  Blake never appears in real-time in Watchmen, only in flashbacks, and ultimately we never get to know much about his motivations or the causes of his apparent psychotic state.  He’s billed as a hero, yet as he saves victims from the villain, he traumatizes the victims.  He alone saves the hostages in Iran, yet the hostages do not appear as joyous with the result as in our timeline.  He sometimes seems to know what is right and search out and be a superhero, yet something always gets in the way, he alters his own course heading, and everyone ultimately would be better off without him.

So writer Brian Azzarello and artist J.G. Jones have their shot here at expanding on the Comedian via his backstory in Before Watchmen–Comedian #1.  In Issue #1 we don’t yet have a clear picture of this character–maybe it’s too soon–but at least there is something minimally sympathetic about the guy who one day goes completely off the edge of the rational.  It is not he who is the schemer.  The evil mastermind in this issue is actually quite brilliant–it’s none other than the one and only Jackie Kennedy, angry at a husband wasting time with the other woman.  I’m curious whether older readers have the same reactions to this storyline as younger readers.  At one time the Kennedys were the American royal family, and JFK’s death the single worst event in the history of the nation.  To make the First Lady the person who instigates the murder of Marilyn Monroe?  Definitely some shocking stuff fleshed out here.

Blake begins his story, then, as a rube, maybe like Joaquin Phoenix in To Die For.  He maintains his respect for the Kennedy brothers, yet who really is pulling the strings?  The story begins with a not so friendly game of pickup football.  Jones’s art is not photo-real but he does enough to let you know Blake is a key element in the ultimate 1960s inner sanctum.  He is a superhero CIA assassin of sorts.  His missions?  To take out those who would make those in power look bad.  In Watchmen, this meant killing Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein before they dug their heels in to report on the ramifications of the Watergate break-in.  With all the oddities that have been said over the years about Watergate bit player G. Gordon Liddy, Edward Blake appears to be cut from the same cloth.  As Blake is about to erase another target, he learns of the events in Dallas of November 1963.  Which poses the question–Does Azzarello plan to alter or explain Alan Moore’s background on the Comedian?  As the Comedian sits on the bed of Marilyn Monroe after apparently drugging her to look like an overdose, he takes note of his surroundings.  Can this character ever be redeemable?  Is he any worse or better than someone like Hannibal Lecter?  Can someone like Nite Owl step in and at least try to fix him?  Does anyone ever try, or is he just another typical, hopeless villain?  More than any other single issue DC Comics has published this past year, Comedian #1 certainly has intrigue, and will leave readers coming back for more.

Unfortunately the actual hero of the Watchmen story doesn’t get as exciting a debut in Before Watchmen–Nite Owl #1.  Legendary writer J. Michael Straczynski and popular artists Andy and Joe Kubert don’t do much to particularly evoke the early 1960s, where Nite Owl’s origin begins as a kid named Daniel Dreiberg.  Danny’s beginning is that of a slightly more bleak backgrounded Peter Parker.  He has an abusive father, and upon his death he is taken under the wing of the former Nite Owl, Hollis Mason, now ready to retire.  The training and mentoring is skipped over in this Issue #1, and Nite Owl becomes a member of the Crimebusters with the Comedian, Rorschach, Dr. Manhattan, Ozymandias, and Silk Spectre.  The single thing I think readers want to know about his past is just not there.  Hopefully the creators will come back to this in later issues of this mini-series.

How does a kid who would break into the original Nite Owl’s headquarters to learn his secrets become the conscientious superhero he later becomes–and remains–after the Keene Act’s ban on superheroes?  Character building and development is left aside here where readers could use an explanatory, novel, origin story.  Nite Owl doesn’t bring a lot of uniqueness as superheroes are concerned.  As influenced by Ted Kord’s Blue Beetle or Batman…  either he remains sort of bland as created by Moore, or Straczynski and team Kubert could really expand his story into new dimensions.  With a powerhouse creative team like these guys, I’m just left wishing for something more.

One place that could have been an opening for some creative freedom is the buddy relationship of Nite Owl and Rorschach.  We get to see a glimpse of that toward the end of this first issue, but perhaps an entire issue showing us why Nite Owl and Rorschach make the best team-up is worth pursuing.

The first four issues of Before Watchmen have certainly been interesting, with first issues of Azzarello’s Rorschach, Straczynski’s Dr. Manhattan, and Len Wein’s Ozymandias remaining to be published over the next few weeks.  With artists Adam Hughes, Lee Bermejo, and Jae Lee drawing those series, we’ve got a lot more to look forward to.

Review by C.J. Bunce

Writer/artist and New Frontier creator Darwyn Cooke is the visionary of Before Watchmen in the first two books released over the past 8 days, Before Watchmen: Minutemen #1, and Before Watchmen: Silk Spectre #1.  In Minutemen, he serves as writer and artist, and he shares writing credits on Silk Spectre with Amanda Conner, who also serves as artist on Silk Spectre.

We know Amanda Conner from her run as artist on Green Arrow/Black Canary during the duo’s attempt at marriage.  My take was that her art style was a bit too cartoony for the serious story of Oliver Queen’s doppelgänger trying to kill Dinah on their wedding night.   Here, her artistic style is perfect for Silk Spectre, and this is high praise considering I had pegged Adam Hughes as perfect for the Silk Spectre standalone mini-series (but we can look forward to his work on the coming Dr. Manhattan series).  In this retro/throwback world of Before Watchmen, when innocence reigned in America, the young Silk Spectre and her new boyfriend would easily fit into the pages of Archie Comics.  That may not sound like a good thing but it works perfectly for the story being told.  In fact, this may be Conner’s breakout project, showing her character depth as we’ve seen with Gail Simone’s complete command of Barbara Gordon as Batgirl and Oracle, and the retro portrayal skill we’ve seen from… Darwyn Cooke.

Cooke’s artwork on Minutemen reminded me over and over again of his retro look at the golden age of DC Comics in his New Frontier series.  It had to have been the easiest decision in the world to tap Cooke for the retro world circa 1939 of the Watchmen back story.

Skipping over the contrived controversy surrounding Before Watchmen, anytime you mess with people’s icons you’re going to get people who won’t even check it out (like someone I knew who loved Star Wars the original trilogy so much they completely ignored and avoided any subsequent books and movies), they’ll give it the ol’ college try, or if it’s good, flat-out embrace the nostalgia of it.  Unlike my pal Jason McClain, I don’t hold Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons’ Watchmen with any particular reverence (see Jason and my earlier discussion here), so my hope is a story like this could stand on its own.  Presumably the entirety of this new line of mini-series will intersect according to some grand master plan, culminating with the Watchmen series itself.

  

I have read Watchmen twice across a span of time so I do not remember all the nuances, other than Gibbons’ nine panels on a page that had symbology and often contrasting images with dialogue.  I caught enough in Minutemen to know I am missing a great amount of the subtlety and symbology that I assume is present here.  For those reading Before Minutemen before trying out Watchmen (yes, I am sure those people are out there!) I won’t give up spoilers here.  But the future of Nite Owl and Silk Spectre, to me, was the best part of Watchmen, and these two were my favorite characters in the movie adaptation.

As to Minutemen issue #1, Cooke excels at giving us a Justice League-worthy back story for some Captain America era characters.  The dialogue in both Minutemen and Silk Spectre is appropriate to the time period, better than I am finding in Ed Brubaker’s noir Fatale series, for example.  Minutemen #1 introduces these Minutemen superheroes through the eye of an aged Nite Owl and his tell-all book Under the Hood.  The innocence quickly fades as we meet Edward Blake, the Comedian, a seemingly well-intentioned do-gooder with serious psychological issues that forecast his ultimate downfall.  Other characters are less familiar but entirely interesting despite getting less time devoted to them: Dollar Bill, who might as well be Captain America, a very cool Space Ghost mixed with Batman-type character called Hooded Justice, Mothman Byron Lewis who seems to foreshadow a sad and brief story, the slick-looking and tough avenging angel Ursula the Silhouette, and Captain Metropolis, wealthy ex-Marine who will put together the team.

Silk Spectre #1 flashes forward to the origin of not the original Silk Spectre of the Minutemen group, but her daughter, and the elder’s priming of the daughter to take over the Silk Spectre superheroine role.  The elder’s public and disreputable past is thrown at the daughter from every angle, and we witness her breaking apart from the Kato-like training practice and peers that have casted her out of favor.  With the bits of darkness and tragedy, Conner’s pencil work also draws out plenty of humor surrounding the angst of being a teenager in 1966 (applicable to any other time period, too).

Other interesting features include a tucked in ongoing secondary story in each issue (not enough to make any judgment on yet) and a higher quality cover shiny card stock.

So far the scope of Before Watchmen is epic, and the storytelling poignant.  It makes this reader want to go watch the Watchmen movie.  Nice work so far!

By Jason McClain (@JTorreyMcClain)

I’ve gotten in and out of reading comic books several times in my life.  I couldn’t tell you where the comic book store was when I lived in Columbia, MO.  I found one when I lived in Delaware.  There wasn’t one for miles when I lived in the mountains (but I found a baseball card shop).  I knew of and visited at least six comic book stores when I lived in Kansas City and I visit about the same number in Los Angeles.  I’ve visited them when I’ve made brief stops in London, England and Austin, Texas.  I had subscriptions to several Marvel titles when I was in junior high and didn’t have to worry about getting my parents to take me to the comic store.  One day a comic would arrive in my mailbox covered in the plain brown paper wrapping that I would later associate closely with either comics or porn.

A map of comic book stores across the U.S.

Still, every walk into a store is like a step into a colorful, inedible candy shop and I start to wonder, what I’m going to take home in my brown paper bag.  I like recommendations quite a bit when I look for new things (and that’s why on Free Comic Book Day as I went to a few of my favorite stores, I picked up All-Star Western and Justice League Dark) but since my time in Kansas City, my main focus for when I look on the shelves of whichever store I find myself in, is new material by past favorite authors.  That’s why on Free Comic Book Day I also picked up Saga by Brian K. Vaughan, who has entertained me in several stories like Pride of Baghdad, Runaways and Y: The Last Man.  Saga looks to be a great start to another captivating yarn as I ripped through both issues I bought as I curled up to relax on Sunday night.

However, I must ask myself, is using the past a logical way to pursue entertainment?  Are past performances indicative of future returns, unlike financial instruments?  How can you tell when to jump off the creative train of a favorite author?

This reminds me of a game a friend and I play every now again based on the Fellini movie, 8 1/2.  The film deals with the creative process and my friend and I used it as a jumping off point to analyze the careers of creative people by asking, “Does X have eight unarguable classics to their name?”

It’s tougher than you think.  To be able to create eight works of art is an accomplishment in and of itself, and to make eight super-duper terrific things, well, that’s a rarefied air.  Of course, everyone has a different opinion of what a “classic” is, but we generally know that Jaws and Raiders of the Lost Ark are both Steven Spielberg classics, where War of the Worlds and Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull don’t come close to reaching the same height.  Even though I’m not a huge Spielberg fan, he gets to eight relatively easily as you could add E.T., Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Schindler’s List, Saving Private Ryan and Catch Me if You Can to Jaws and Raiders and you get seven, though there are a few flaws, but I quibble.  Finding an eighth movie among The Color Purple, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, Munich and Jurassic Park should be easy.  George Lucas on the other hand, I think he’s lucky to get two.  I suppose I’m saying that at this point, going to see a Spielberg film may be a bit more of a question mark than it was in the 90s, but if you gave me a choice between Spielberg and Lucas right now, there’s no question I would choose to see a Spielberg film.

Looking at my favorite movies over the past few years, Midnight in Paris has reinvigorated my belief in Woody Allen and I’m more likely to see his next film.  The quality of Marvel’s movies Thor, Captain America and The Avengers makes me more likely to go see non-sequels put out by Marvel Studios.  (Iron Man 2 still leaves a poor taste in my mouth. That’s what I get for licking the screen).  True Grit cemented my love of the Coen brothers, which I had before the movie as I’ve seen every one of their films.

My point?  If you like the creative work of a person, you’ll probably like their other work.  Looking at my bookshelf filled with several novels from Kurt Vonnegut, quite a few selections from Alan Moore and most every film by Wes Anderson, I probably didn’t need to do much thinking about it.  Still, it’s nice to come to that conclusion and know that when I roll into a comic store, I can find some Brian Michael Bendis, some Matt Fraction, some J. Michael Straczynski, some Neil Gaiman, some Jason, some Craig Thompson, some Daniel Clowes, some Kurt Busiek or many others and be happy when I get home, turn on the lamp and snuggle beneath my covers.  Plus, there’s always a chance I can stumble onto many more authors in the future through sheer luck, the recommendations of friends or the recommendations of the people I meet while wandering the aisles at my local comic book stores.

By C.J. Bunce and Jason McClain

As we discussed yesterday, DC Comics has announced a new limited series to be released this year, Before Watchmen, focusing on the backstory, prequels, of each of the main characters of Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons’ classic comic book series, Watchmen.  Moore has been pretty vocal any time someone takes one of his works and converts it into another medium.  This happened with Watchmen when it was made into a movie, with From Hell when it was made into a movie, with The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen when it was made into a movie, with V for Vendetta when it was made into a movie (there’s a pattern here).  Moore’s a proprietary guy, yet the way publishing rights work, he has no legal control over the characters from books he created years ago.  To many, Moore is a comic book god.  An icon.  To others, he himself tears away at characters writers before him created, the definition of iconoclast.

This week he was quoted in the New York Times as saying of Before Watchmen, “I don’t want money.  What I want is for this not to happen” calling the effort “completely shameless” and adding “I tend to take this latest development as a kind of eager confirmation that they are still apparently dependent on ideas that I had 25 years ago.”

borg.com Hollywood writer Jason McClain and I have a lot in common, and a number of books and movies where we find ourselves on the opposite sides when it comes to analyzing works, especially ones receiving abundant critical acclaim.  Jason introduced me to the graphic novel Watchmen several years ago.  I read it and was not blown away by it.  I didn’t care about the characters, in part knowing the cast was all based on Charlton Comics characters that DC Comics decided in the end they did not want updated by Moore in his series.  In particular I didn’t care for either Dr. Manhattan, Moore’s take on Captain Atom, or Adrian Veidt, Moore’s take on Peter Cannon, Thunderbolt.  That said, I liked Rorschach–he was Moore’s take on the Question, a character I’ve always been a fan of.  I also liked Nite Owl, who although based on Blue Beetle seemed to me like a Batman knockoff–a good thing as some of my favorite characters fall in this category.  And I liked Silk Spectre, who was based on Nightshade but heavily influenced by Black Canary.  I liked these characters enough that I revisited the novel in advance of the movie premiering in March 2009 after Jason and I gazed at the cool Nite Owl ship at Comic-Con in 2008.  I really liked Watchmen, the movie. Jason didn’t.

So we decided to investigate each other’s views further.

CB:  Jason, why do you, and countless others, think Watchmen, the original comic book series, is such a major work?

JM:  I read your email during a basketball game at a sports bar.  It got me thinking so much that I realized I wasn’t watching the game anymore but thinking of a response.  Two things come to my mind.  The first is the design.  My friend Kevin Eib pointed out to me that the layout of the appropriately named chapter five, “Fearful Symmetry” as Rorschach investigates the death of The Comedian before he gets captured, has symmetry in the colors and the panel sizes.  If you start at the middle as Ozymandias hits his attempted assassin with a stanchion, you see the parallel in that panel, Ozymandias filling the left side and upright and in the right side, the villain, blood flowing out of his face as he falls to the floor head first and the “V” of “Veidt” centered in the background.  You saw a reason for the art and the design besides a “bam” and “pow” delivery system.

Second are the characters.  Before I read this, comics were pretty much the same, villain appears, hero stops him and everything is black and white.  This was different.  Were Rorschach and The Comedian heroes?  They certainly didn’t behave that way and they knew it too.  The Comedian got the joke.  He just defended the people with money.  That kind of grey reminds me of the Hard-Traveling Heroes stories of Green Lantern and Green Arrow that you introduced to me.  The landlord evicts a tenant who crawls back into his house to stay warm for the night.  In the eyes of the law, the ex-tenant is the bad guy and Green Lantern will stop him.  Green Arrow saw it differently, as the person with the capital had no compassion.  Who’s right?  Who’s the bad guy there?  I think Watchmen contemplates similar questions.  On the other hand, the movie, while it looked the same as the book, just didn’t convey that sense of moral ambiguity to me.  So, back at you, why did you like the movie?  Speaking of major works with bad movie adaptations, can you explain why you liked the movie version of From Hell (because I certainly didn’t)?  (I know we both liked the movie V for Vendetta and probably didn’t like the movie The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen.  I think I can definitely say there is a high Natalie Portman correlation between quality Moore adaptations and the non-quality ones.)

CB:  I do like your Green Arrow analogy.  In the comic book version of Watchmen, I just didn’t see the passion that the actors in the movie were able to bring to the characters.  I found the artwork bland in the comic book and it didn’t engage me.  I did recognize how either Moore or Gibbons liked the use of parallel panels, and I’ve seen that in other Moore works, but that seemed more like a visual gimmick to me.  In the movie, even what I considered the best part of the comic book, Rorschach, seemed to be a lot more than the character in the comic.  I guess I needed to see that facial special effect actually work.  His life is a disaster and you really feel for this guy.  And his relationship and past with Nite Owl was great.  Even Dr. Manhattan, who I didn’t care for in the comic, made me at least understand where he was coming from in the movie, and the struggle to have meaningful relationships with Nite Owl and Silk Spectre made me care far more about these characters than in the book.

In the movie, The Comedian was vile.  I didn’t have that reaction so much from the book.  My wife and I were discussing the movie for weeks afterward.  Don’t get me wrong, I am not saying that I prefer movies over comic books.  Definitely not the case.  I have read other comics over the years that dazzled me.  As much as I don’t care for most of what Frank Miller has created, Batman: The Dark Knight Returns was a standout for me–it was incredibly interesting, novel and clever.  The same goes for what I think is Moore’s best work: V for Vendetta.  I don’t think Watchmen the comic book was presented as well or had as compelling a story.   Hey–was Natalie Portman in any movie based on a Moore work other than V for Vendetta?

JM:  No, my own little joke at the expense of the other Moore movie adaptations.

CB:  Nice.  As for From Hell I am not a “big” fan of either the book or movie, although the movie is better in my mind because the mood is well done and Johnny Depp performed well in this period piece.  Frankly I am tired of Jack the Ripper stories and think it is the most over-done subject choice for retelling in any medium.  I think the best achievement in Jack the Ripper story is Malcolm MacDowell’s Time After Time, a retelling of H.G. Wells’ The Time Machine, with David Warner as the Ripper.  That is a compelling story, and a great spin on a classic Wells tale.  And The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen was fun as movies go, but I agree it could have done so much more.  But some of that blame has to go to Moore for trying to do too much, I think.  But I don’t feel that work is trying to be as serious as his other works, so I am less critical of it.  Because of the jumbling together of all these figures, I always took it as more tongue in cheek.

JM:  I’m beginning to think it is a case of our feelings for the source material.  I really like Alan Moore’s writings and therefore don’t care much for the adaptations.  You’re probably not completely opposite, but because your feelings aren’t as strong for his written word, liking the movies become easier.  (Though I have to admit that I didn’t read From Hell before I saw it – that might have made the movie even worse for me.)

CB:  I love that you used the phrase “his written word” to describe his work (he really has that “comic book god” mystique, doesn’t he?).  But Moore seemed hypocritical to me in his comments in the New York Times last week.  In V for Vendetta, he re-worked England’s Guy Fawkes story.  In The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, he re-imagined the characters of Mary Shelley, Jules Verne, Ian Fleming, Edgar Rice Burroughs, Bram Stoker, Oscar Wilde, Mark Twain and countless others.  In From Hell, he retold the real-life case of Jack the Ripper.  In Lost Girls (which makes my “all-time worst money spent on a book” list) he probably caused Lewis Carroll, L. Frank Baum, and J.M. Barrie to turn over in their graves for not just sexually exploiting classic beloved characters Alice, Dorothy and Wendy, but for writing a boring tale.  He did the same to Barbara Gordon in Batman: The Killing Joke (although this is a great book).  And Watchmen itself is a re-working of several Charlton Comics characters’ stories.  Moore is in the business of writing retellings (he himself has called it “stealing” characters), so who is he to criticize writers decades later for re-working characters he himself adapted?  Am I off-base here?

JM:  I think you make a valid point.  I hadn’t thought of it like that until you mentioned it.  At the same time though, Alan Moore definitely made quite a few of these characters better after he played with them. He created new worlds, new stories and fresh dialogue.  (I try to go back to read some of the dialogue of the comics of my youth and can barely get through a few pages before I wonder what I was thinking.)  Anyone who creates something feels a sense of ownership.  It’s like Krusty the Clown says in “Krusty Gets Kancelled”, “If this is anyone but Steve Allen, you’re stealing my bit.”  How many retellings of Hamlet, Romeo and Juliet, MacBeth or Othello have there been over the ages?  Or for more recent public domain works, A Christmas Carol or Emma?

I think Moore comes across as a crotchety old man who tells the kids to get off his lawn, but I think we all do that.  If I may extend the lawn analogy, what makes these characters popular is what he did to them, kind of like the weeding, fertilizing, watering and care that go into an old man’s fine lawn.  Before he took in the characters, they were mostly unrecognizable under the slew of ever-increasing publishing weeds overshadowing them.  (I may be overstating the lack of popularity of some these characters.)  If they were still in their old forms, they’d have less of a market and right now he’s probably fighting an uphill battle to get more money (or control if you want to call it by its more genteel name) for his contributions though he didn’t create the grass.  As I wrote this, I found myself thinking of Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster.  They created Superman, but because they did it under contract for the longest time they and their estates didn’t get any of the royalties associated with it.  I’m sure Moore’s doing fine in comparison, but you still have to fight for what’s yours, even if you sound like Scrooge.

CB:  Thanks, Jason.  Next time maybe we’ll have to chat about Shawshank Redemption and The Green Mile.

I’m probably not going to be the first to say it, but I think it is great that DC Comics is going to pursue prequels.

Did I really write that?

When was the last time you saw a good prequel to anything?  Godfather 2 was sort of a prequel and a sequel all in one.  Hrm.  I’m not thinking of much else.  OK, Star Trek 2009 was fun and good for an odd-numbered Trek film.  And Enterprise is a decent TV series if you give it a chance.  The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly was the prequel to A Fistful of Dollars, so there’s a good one.

   

The Star Wars prequels—you either like ‘em or hate ‘em.  But would you rather never have seen them, or were they more fun as an experience than the other films out of that decade?  (Hold your answer for a later discussion).

So last week DC Comics announced prequels to Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons’ highly regarded (and revered, by some) Watchmen comic book series.  The new series will consistent of seven titles, all under the banner Before Watchmen.  Mainstream press has reported that comic book readers are all “up in arms” over this—“the debate rages” they say.  I call baloney.  I know more comic book fans that will be interested in checking out Before Watchmen than not.  Lots of highly regarded works have been revisited time and time again.  Why not Watchmen?

The mainstream press says Before Watchmen is all about money.  I call baloney again.  Sure, everything is about money to an extent.  Business is business and comic books are a business.  But what comic writer or artist wouldn’t want to get their hands on the Watchmen characters?  Why do some people think Watchmen is sacrosanct?  Our greatest superheroes are constantly re-imagined.  Does anyone really value Dr. Manhattan and Nite Owl over Superman and Batman?

   

Personally, I’m not a big fan of the Watchmen comic book, but I see the possibility for some cool things from the prequels.  If anyone is angry I’d think it would be other DC writers and artists that don’t get to work on this project, as there is a lot of doubling up at least as writing duties are concerned.

By way of background, DC Comics announced the following details of who will be creating what books:

RORSCHACH (4 issues) – Writer: Brian Azzarello. Artist: Lee Bermejo
MINUTEMEN (6 issues) – Writer/Artist: Darwyn Cooke
COMEDIAN (6 issues) – Writer: Brian Azzarello. Artist: J.G. Jones
DR. MANHATTAN (4 issues) – Writer: J. Michael Straczynski. Artist: Adam Hughes
NITE OWL (4 issues) – Writer: J. Michael Straczynski. Artists: Andy and Joe Kubert
OZYMANDIAS (6 issues) – Writer: Len Wein. Artist: Jae Lee
SILK SPECTRE (4 issues) – Writer: Darwyn Cooke. Artist: Amanda Conner

CRIMSON CORSAIR will be an added story in the various series.  Writer: Len Wein. Artist: John Higgins

I will be checking out two of the books in particular.  First, Rorschach, because I think he is the best character from Watchmen.  I thought Lee Bermejo did a great job painting the standalone work Batman: Noel last year.  I had been looking forward to his next project and Rorschach should be an interesting subject for him to take on.

Second, Adam Hughes is doing not just covers, but an ongoing series. (!)  One of my favorite things about the New 52 is Hughes’s covers for Batgirl.  His style is very 1940s, so he is a perfect choice for this retro-era comic book series, and since Silk Spectre must factor in greatly to Dr. Manhattan and his backstory, this might make the whole project worth doing.  My question is why Hughes isn’t drawing the Silk Spectre title? I wasn’t a fan of Amanda Conner’s work on Green Arrow/ Black Canary and Silk Spectre was in part based on Black Canary, so I can think of a lot of other artists I’d like to see on that title.  But I won’t pre-judge this one—her work on this new series may be great so we’ll just have to check it out when it is published.

   

All of Azzarello, Straczynski, Cooke, Lee and the Kuberts have their fan bases, so I am sure they will be pleased with these picks.  But honestly, to join–for a second–the other camp, you do have to ask, if you really want to see what these characters are up to, why not check out the characters Alan Moore based these characters on, in their current, New 52 or other recent books?  If you want to check out Dr. Manhattan, check out the awesome current Captain Atom series.  If you want to read about Nite Owl, check out Blue Beetle (especially Ted Kord back-issues).  If you want to see Silk Spectre, check out Nightshade in recent Suicide Squad back-issues, or Black Canary in the current Birds of Prey.  Want to see the Comedian?  Just look at Peacemaker in the pre-Flashpoint Blue Beetle series.  Want to see Rorschach?  There are tons of great series featuring the Question, and the recent Question, Renee Montoya, is as great a character as any.

   

Controversial news?  Sure.  A comic industry earthquake?  Umm…. no.  But they are prequels, so the odds are stacked against them from the get-go.  Ultimately, they will succeed or fail because they have good stories (or don’t).

Tomorrow, Jason McClain and I will dig a little into Alan Moore and Watchmen.

C.J. Bunce

Editor

borg.com

Review by C.J. Bunce

I like western movies.  I like the sounds of the Old West, the cattle, the clinking of spurs as the two guys slowly meet up in the center of the old western town.  I like epic western soundtracks and I like slow guitar soundtracks, and theme songs that sometimes tell a familiar story.   I also have read a little Louis L’Amour and love his writing and descriptions.  I’ve never thought of picking up a comic book about the Old West, mainly because they don’t make ’em anymore.

I almost didn’t pick up All-Star Western #1, one of DC Comics’s New 52 line.  Mostly because it had the crazy looking Jonah Hex on the cover.  All I knew of Hex was watching a bit of the Jonah Hex movie, which for whatever reason I didn’t finish on video.  But somehow (fate?) it ended up in my pull list.  I have read a super western-ish book recently called El Diablo: The Haunted Horseman, by Jai Nitz, Ande Parks, and Phil Hester, that was just awesome (to be reviewed here later on).  Intrigued by the idea of a current western comic in the midst of the Justice League superheroes, I read it first from the stack.

From a literary standpoint there is almost an unending supply of reasons to check this one out.

Unusual Setting

One would think a western comic took place in the Old West.  This takes place in Gotham city in the 1880s, which in my mind is more Old East.  The drawings have a nice old-time feel to them.  The colors offer more than just sepia tones.  There’s a little Mike Mignola and P. Craig Russell’s Gotham by Gaslight feel here for sure.  A good thing, as I wished that book had turned into its own series.

Narration

The narrator is none other than the founder of Gotham’s own Arkham Asylum, Doctor Arkham himself.  Arkham is our narrator, and he’s a bit odd.  His character, his mannerisms, and his creepiness might remind you of Clifton Webb as Waldo Lydecker in Otto Preminger’s Laura.  A further creepy scene may also make you think he’s a bit of Anthony Perkins as Norman Bates in Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho.

Familiar But Reliable Plot

To get us into this world quickly, the plot seems to be a mix of Clint Eastwood’s Unforgiven and a Jack the Ripper tale.  Pacing is reminscent of Alan Moore’s From Hell.  There’s also a bit of the outcast element of Danny Glover’s Mal in Silverado.  There’s a medical aspect of the 19th century as well, the sleuthing of an early Detective Comics of sorts, but again, familiar because of the similar treatment in From Hell.  The art here, however, is a lot more stylish and evocative.  The only downside will be if this continues to be just another Jack the Ripper story.  Too many stories end up there.

The Archetype Western Anti-Hero

Not only does the half-mangled faced Jonah Hex play the anti-hero, he talks a bit like Clint Eastwood mixed with Sam Elliott.  Hex’s confederate uniform really brings you back to Sam Elliot’s performance as Dal Traven in Louis L’Amour’s The Shadow Riders, but there is also a little of Elliott’s Ghost Rider’s Caretaker mixed with The Golden Compass’s Lee Scoresby.  To get me to conjure any incarnation of Sam Elliott in your character is a win in my book.  But then again there’s a spin on Eastwood’s Stranger from High Plains Drifter, as you can see the whole town of Gotham closing in on Dr. Arkham and Hex after only the 24th page.  Who would have thought Jonah Hex could be so cool?

If you want something truly different, pick up this book.

Comic-Con Panel:  Wild Cards or Recommendations from Friends

By Jason McClain (@jtorreyMcClain)

I know what I like and I think most people do as well.  We often don’t go looking for things that are going to go against that grain and instead look for things that reinforce our beliefs.  For example, people labeled with the generalization of “liberals” generally will not watch Fox News and conversely those labeled as “conservatives” will generally not watch Keith Olbermann or Rachel Maddow.  Why watch something that will just anger you or go against your beliefs that you have worked your whole life to create?[i]

Politics is an easy example as people tend to avoid the other side.  However, it is just as easy to see in popular culture[ii] or in comics.[iii]

We find what we like and we go with it.  How do we find what we like though?  Sometimes it is at home (my father brought home copies of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy trilogy for our bookshelf and I just started to read them) or school (isn’t that how we all find The Great Gatsby?) or a bookstore (I found The Perks of Being a Wallflower by just sitting on the floor in a Barnes and Noble and picking a book at basically random from where I sat).

Oftentimes it is because of a recommendation of a friend.  Because a friend from college, Jason Teiken[iv], lent me Wild Cards I ended up going to the George R.R. Martin hosted panel[v] at Comic-Con this year. It has been probably 20 years since I read those books, but because I loved the stories of Aces and Jokers within each novel’s prose, I knew that sitting in a panel would be a great way to think back to that experience and maybe reopen it in the future.

However, at the time I first read the Wild Card books, I remember thinking, why would I want to read about superheroes in a book and not a comic?  Once I started reading, I remember thinking who in the hell is this guy Fortunato? Powers from tantric sex and building up a giant orgasm?  What the #$%?  Is this pornography?  Daredevil wouldn’t do this.  Oh God, can the villains out there sexually take advantage of Daredevil?  Won’t someone think of Matt Murdock?[vi]

Years later in graduate school, having drifted away from comics, I found them again thanks to “Kingdom Come”, a recommendation from a fellow student, Matt Massey, and it still is my favorite mini-series/graphic novel of all time. Moving around the country tends to prohibit you from accumulating things beyond what can fit in your car, comics included, and if you aren’t going to be buying comics, there isn’t a point to going to a comic book store to keep up with what is out there.

Coming back to comics at several different points always leads to new things. Once I had a more stable existence, a friend who worked in a comic shop[vii] turned me onto Brian Michael Bendis and J. Michael Straczynski.  My good friend, the editor of this site C.J. Bunce, turned me onto the Neal Adams/Denny O’Neil Hard-Traveling Heroes run of Green Lantern and Green Arrow which led to a great panel in the 2010 Con about Batman becoming a nocturnal hero instead of the campy cartoon of the 60s.  I loved listening to them talk about the behind the scenes moments that led to how we view Batman today.

This doesn’t just lend itself to comics either. Books (my friend David Popham recommended On Writing by Stephen King and it was a great read that I’ve recommended to other writers and my friend Jon Dunkle keeps a blog of book reviews at Rain of Error that I will go to when I hit a library or go crazy on Amazon and he led me to Aimee Bender’s “The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake”), movies (my friend Steve Sides recommended the wonderful Lars and the Real Girl and kept reminding me to watch until I saw it and loved it), podcasts (I thank Marcus Janzow for my exposure to the not-updated-enough, “The Memory Palace,”) and music (comps from my friend Scott Eggimann led me to “The Weakerthans”) have all entered my consciousness through friends.

Now, I feel I can recommend these items to people everywhere. Then I suppose they’ll recommend and so forth. I suppose I’ve really just outlined the inner workings of the ever-elusive word of mouth marketing in pieces of art that relate to me. However, it’s still my friends that end up giving me some of the best recommendations that I’ll ever have and those help to shape my tastes. When you start to think about it, isn’t that what friends are for on the larger levels as well?

So, thanks to friends I still see and friends that I don’t. I thank you for the time you take to let me know about the things you love and sharing them with me. No matter if it is forgotten how those loves got to me in the first place, they are there because of a good friend and that won’t be forgotten.

[i] Assuming people work for their beliefs because some might just take some beliefs and be happy not having to worry about working for them. It’s the whole division of labor thing.

[ii] If a friend recommends to you that you really need to give Justin Bieber a listen because you don’t understand the beauty in his music, would you be more likely to listen to the Biebs or refuse to listen to your friend talk about music?  What about Ke$ha?  Phish?  Lady Gaga? Motley Crue?  AC/DC?  Prince?  Oasis?  Nickelback?  Is there a band that would cause you to kick your friend to the curb?

[iii] I won’t say more than “Marvel or DC?”

[iv] He also introduced me to Twin Peaks and I’m enjoying watching those on Netflix streaming right now.

[v] The panel had all the different contributing authors talking about favorite characters and possible future routes of the series and it was pretty interesting to just reminisce. However, the people that were just waiting for the next panel with Nathan Fillion gained an interest in the series just from listening to the authors. That was probably the most intriguing part of the hour. I mean, isn’t Comic-Con just a big gathering of “friends” sharing their different loves of fantasy/sci-fi/comics/pop-culture with one another?  I would go on, but any pronoun use in this sentence with the verb “share” would just lead to an unintended double-entendre.

[vi] Yes, that is an overreaction on behalf of Matt Murdock because he can take care of himself.  Plus, the language was probably different from a generally naïve Midwestern undergraduate but the idea of reading about tantric sex, delaying orgasms or even mentioning orgasms felt weird within what I knew about comics. I think at that point I had yet to put together the meaning of the band name “Queen,” let alone read about sex in comics period especially when comic heroes are supposed to be saving the world and drinking their milk. Needless to say, I had yet to find Alan Moore. My friend Jason Vivone changed that later.

[vii] Kind of similar to the whole “is a drug dealer a friend” thing as the only times we interacted were in his comic store as he fed my addiction to “Planetary,” “Powers” and “Rising Stars.”