Alan Moore’s Journal. September, 1986. With his story and the talents of artist Dave Gibbons, Watchmen #1 is released by DC Comics to rave reviews. Through the course of this 12-issue serial, the comic book industry is changed forever. Compiled into a graphic novel some time later, Watchmen is the only literary work in the comic book genre to be listed on Time’s 100 Greatest Novels of All-Time list. Endlessly imitated and never matched, it’s the book everyone in the industry wishes they had written.
Fast forward to 2012.
DC Comics announces it’s issuing a limited prequel series based on all seven characters (The Watchmen + Minutemen) to expand their backstory for some strange reason. Wait, no it isn’t strange, it’s a money grab. The audacity to think Watchmen isn’t perfect as is and must be broadened is incredibly arrogant, and I think Moore said it best when he told the NY Times that DC is “still dependent on ideas that I had 25 years ago.” Imagine a world where we feel a need to write a prequel to a movie like Halloween, because we need to know just how that Michael Myers turned out to be such a psychopath.
I know, I make it sound like my e/x girlfriend wrote the prequels and I don’t want anything she ever does to be a success because I’m bitter and she can’t ever experience happiness again. But really, I went into this first issue with an open mind.
Rorschach #1 picks up in July, 1977 in New York City, 8 years before the original Watchmen on the night the Comedian died in 1985. Prowling through the flashing lights and smut covered streets full of prostitutes, porn shops, and XXX theatres, the New York City of this universe doesn’t look too much different than that of Travis Bickle in Taxi Driver. Both characters balance their sanity dangerously, and the main proprietors of drugs and violence against women fuel their thirst for justice and bloodshed.
The cops are hot on the trail of a supposed killer of women known only as “The Bard.” He kidnaps them, strips them naked (possibly sexually assaults them), kills them, and carves an epitaph into their body with a scalpel. Meanwhile, Rorschach is hot on the trail of a possible drug den set up in the NYC underworld. He falls into a trap set up by a horribly burnt drug kingpin who goes by the name Crime (and he bears a strange resemblance to Tombstone in the Spiderman universe) and his goons put quite a number on Rorschach. Beaten, but not broken, our heroine picks himself up and.. I’ll let you figure out the rest from there.
The good is that Watchmen has never looked better. The art is absolutely beautiful and anyone caught complaining about this series won’t be doing it because of the art. Artist Lee Bermejo has teamed up with writer Brian Azzarello before for the beautiful Joker graphic novel released in 2008, and they hit this one out of the park in the art department. Unfortunately, the writing isn’t as strong, and it’s never more apparent than in this lousy piece of dialogue between Rorschach and a drug dealer.
Rorschach: Serious smack.
Drug dealer: Say what, clown?
Rorschach punches the dealer in the face.
Rorschach: I’m serious.
Some would say it’s unfair to compare Azarello to Alan Moore, but when you’re presumptuous enough to expand a masterwork, it’s only natural to expect some kind of comparability to the original. The bar has been set to a level that’s going to be unattainable, and while I’m not asking for Watchmen 2, the writing should be near the same level if you’re going to do the character(s) any justice.
However, it’s early, and to judge the entire 4 issue series on 25% of the story would be unfair. In an era where all my favorite horror movies have been remade, I’m less prone to the shock of my childhood heroes being adapted into modern times. There will be some who will hate this series on principle, especially those who worship Moore and puppet his actions, but Before Watchmen deserves a look from all fans if for no other reason than to have a basis for your hatred. I don’t know if it will end well, but I’m always open to being proven wrong.
Before Watchmen: Rorschach #1 is available everywhere now. Issue #2 hits stores on October 3rd.