Before Watchmen: Dollar Bill 1 (March 2013)

It’s Steve Rude doing forties superheroes, so Dollar Bill always looks phenomenal. But it’s Len Wein writing and apparently he had a bunch of homophobic statements he wanted to make so he gave them to this forties superhero so he could get away with them. Lots of anachronisms–oh, and some good, old fashioned Jewish banker jokes. But besides being mildly offensive, Bill isn’t a bad comic. The story of a newsreel superhero pretending it’s for real makes for an interesting read. Rude has beautiful compositions, whether static shots or action scenes. It’s just occasionally offensive. Well, maybe more dumb than offensive. And…

Before Watchmen: Comedian 2 (September 2012)

Yeah, Azzarello definitely enjoys writing Comedian. There’s a lot of Vietnam War history here, a little American political history and almost no Watchmen connection. The Comedian could just be anyone. Azzarello never gives him anything superhero specific. So, as a comic, it’s good, but–and I can’t believe I’m saying it–it fails as a Before Watchmen title. Eddie’s a corrupt, kill-happy advisor. Azzarello gives him no special personality, not even a real character moment in the entire issue. There’s a little with him hanging out with Bobby Kennedy, but not enough to make an impression. It’s a war history comic. Jones’s art isn’t…

Before Watchmen: Comedian 1 (August 2012)

I thought J.G. Jones was a better artist. I don’t know why exactly, but I did. His figures in Comedian are terrible. People change size, make no sense when standing next to one another. And his faces are even worse. It’s an ugly comic. I guess the editors didn’t think they could tell him to actually work at it. Reading the creator team, I thought I’d have the problems with Brian Azzarello, but no. It’s all Jones. Azzarello does a really good job with the writing. Eddie’s still unlikable, but Azzarello gets how to make an unlikable character interesting to read. There’s…

Before Watchmen: Rorschach 1 (October 2012)

Wait, am I really supposed to take Rorschach seriously? Brian Azzarello’s writing of the narration suggests he’s never even seen the Watchmen movie, much less read the comic. It’s like he heard there was crazy narration and did a terrible job approximating it. The series is set in 1977, in New York City. Taxi Driver would be the most obviously influence on Lee Bermejo’s art, except the art is slick and shiny. Rorschach looks desperately fake. There’s an inexplicable, goofy lack of reality to the writing. Rorschach gets his ass kicked, but the bad guys don’t kill him. They don’t make sure…

Before Watchmen: Ozymandias 6 (April 2013)

So Adrian has constant video surveillance of Dr. Manhattan but he gets important news from the newspaper? Shouldn’t he have agents or spies or… own a newspaper? I’m being too kind. I mean, if one assumes the finished scripts represent edited versions of Wein’s original draftings–assuming this situation might be a stretch, given the terrible editing on this series–I can’t imagine how bad Wein’s first drafts must read. How exceptionally insipid. After suffering through five issues of this tripe, all Wein does with the last issue is do scenes of things Alan Moore summarized in the original series. The content’s no different.…

Before Watchmen: Ozymandias 5 (March 2013)

A few issues ago, Wein did a bunch of foreshadowing of the eventual reveal in Watchmen–Adrian’s master plan. This issue he has Adrian trying to figure out that master plan, which means all the obvious details from before were just for the reader’s benefit. Wein never can figure out how or when to make Adrian the smartest man in the world. This issue covers the police riots, sadly not doing much more with them than the original series does, only with Lee’s too design-oriented view of New York. He sucks the personality out of it, though Adrian’s tropical island works out. There’s…

Before Watchmen: Ozymandias 4 (January 2013)

Where to start… when Wein brings up Rorschach in 1960 but then later says he doesn’t show up until a few years later? I hope the editors didn’t get paid for this one in particular. The only distinct thing in the comic is Wein’s handling of the Kennedys. Adrian’s very judgmental of them, but then turns around and tries to solve the assassination. In another of Wein’s dumb moves, Adrian can’t figure it out. Wein sets up everything for Adrian’s easy success; Adrian actually having to think would be a nice change. The dead girlfriend pops up. Apparently she’s been haunting him.…

Before Watchmen: Ozymandias 3 (November 2012)

Len Wein has been writing comics for decades. He’s definitely an adult. Why does he write dialogue Yogi Bear would find infantile? Except the stuff with the Comedian making gay jokes about Adrian. Those comments read a little meta given Wein’s awkward handling of Adrian’s sex life. Though Wein does write Eddie’s double entendres like he’s just seen his first “Dynasty.” Ozymandias is so poorly written, it’s occasionally embarrassing to read. There are a few red herrings to kill time before Wein makes his big reveal–Adrian had the plan for Watchmen way back in 1959. Because he’s so smart. This series would…

Before Watchmen: Ozymandias 2 (October 2012)

Wein seems to think giving Adrian very purple narration suggests intelligence. It doesn’t. Adrian’s of “sleek” as an adjective is laughable. Then there’s the problem of the thugs oscillating between ostentatious dialogue and traditional moronic thug dialogue. Wein is trying really hard; it kills any chance the series has–which isn’t much, given Lee’s painfully static art. Speaking of Lee, his rendition of the Comedian is some of the worst comic art I’ve seen in a while. There’s only the one reveal page, but it’s truly hideous. Wein rips off some details from the Shadow–the agents of Adrian (maybe Moore had those too)–but…

Before Watchmen: Ozymandias 1 (September 2012)

I don’t know what’s more amusing in Len Wein’s wordy exposé of Ozymandias–the idea of majoring in Alexander the Great in post-graduate work (seriously, did no editor explain to Wein how higher education functions) or Adrian being ashamed of his homosexual dalliances. Wein has Adrian recording his memoirs during the final events of the original Watchmen and Adrian hides the gay adventure. Jae Lee’s art shows it while the text obscures it. If you’re going to be vaguely homophobic about it, why put it in? Unless it’s because Adrian’s just the bad guy. Speaking of Lee’s art… It’s bad. Every page is…

Before Watchmen: Nite Owl 2 (October 2012)

Why didn’t they just combine this series with the Rorschach one? Straczynski probably gives Rorschach a third of the issue anyway. He’s juxtaposing Dan and Rorschach’s differing Mommy complexes, which would work for a combined book. But for one called Nite Owl? Doesn’t make any sense. There’s not a lot of callbacks to the original series here, except Rorschach getting his sign. Why doesn’t he get in his own series? Because Straczynski doesn’t have a story for Dan, not really. He’s got Dan chasing down some leather madam–gratuitously topless woman in a DC regular comic alert–because of his Mommy issues. There’s also…

Before Watchmen: Nite Owl 1 (August 2012)

Given the problems, Nite Owl is a lot better than it should be. Straczynski writes Rorschach and Nite Owl well together. The humor of a gentler Rorschach helps it. Now for the problems. It’s trite and obvious; no surprise from Straczynski. He’s got Dan blathering about his fate with Laurie. Then there’s a line to tie-in to the Minutemen series, only that series didn’t set this one up. Then there’s the retcon regarding Dr. Manhattan perving on Laurie. Oh, and Dan’s abusive father. It reads a little like “Dr. Phil meets Watchmen” for the beginning. Straczynski introduces one bold move but then…

Before Watchmen: Silk Spectre 2 (September 2012)

Cooke and Conner set up Laurie as a hippie superhero; it’s kind of cool and definitely a decent look at sixties San Francisco. What’s interesting–and something I don’t think the original series ever established–is Laurie goes the “with great power” route. She turns into Silk Spectre because she can help people if she does. It deepens the character quite a bit. And she needs it, because Cooke and Conner spend almost half the issue on the supervillains plotting to get kids tripping and consuming. It’s an incredibly boring scene and it goes on forever and ever. Her boyfriend’s not much of a…

Before Watchmen: Silk Spectre 1 (August 2012)

For Silk Spectre, Darwyn Cooke and Amanda Conner go the romance comic route. Or at least closer to it than I was expecting, but it makes sense given Laurie’s age during the high adventuring days of Watchmen. She’s got her teen story going while Sally deals with aging and raising a kid to be a costumed adventurer. Cooke and Conner make both women utterly sympathetic, but it only works on Sally’s side because the reader knows her story. Without it, she’d come across as a tiger mom. Except maybe the phone call to Hollis, which is as close as the comic gets…

Before Watchmen: Minutemen 2 (September 2012)

And now I’m not sure with where Cooke takes things. He turns Minutemen, in its conclusion this issue, into a really tough, uncomfortable book. It’s like I can’t decide if it’s homophobic, if Cooke’s just using the material or if he’s just being straightforward about it. There’s probably no comfortable way to handle it. I’m talking about the superheroes, not the bad guys. For the bad guys, Cooke goes even more subtle and poetic even. He’s really playing with his format this issue; not just how his style doesn’t seem to lend itself to grit, but also how he occasionally mimics the…

Before Watchmen: Minutemen 1 (August 2012)

I’m a little surprised, but I only have one problem with Minutemen (at least the Darwyn Cooke material). Who the hell is Hollis Mason talking to? He’s basically summarizing his book, right? It doesn’t make any sense. The only surprises are Silk Spectre and the Comedian–she’s a model faking being an adventurer and he’s already a vicious psychopath. The revelation of a rough childhood reads like giving his behavior an excuse, even if Cooke doesn’t intend it. But it doesn’t really matter because it’s Darwyn Cooke doing period superhero art. There’s not much better, except maybe Darwyn Cooke doing really violent period…

The Untold Legend of the Batman 3 (September 1980)

Untold Legend limps across the finish line. Aparo’s art doesn’t even maintain interest (his “handsome man” standard is really boring and in this one a lot). But it’s mostly because Wein doesn’t have any interesting flashbacks this issue. There’s Commissioner Gordon, which should be more interesting–it briefly recounts Gordon’s time spent hunting Batman–but Wein doesn’t give it enough time. Then Batgirl gets a few pages. Again, not paced well and quite absurd. Gordon’s standing around his office talking to himself about his daughter being a superhero. Then the final flashback is Lucius Fox for a page. It’d be pointless if there were…

The Untold Legend of the Batman 2 (August 1980)

With Byrne gone–and Aparo taking all the art duties–Untold Legend actually becomes visually distinctive. While Aparo’s faces aren’t compelling, he does a lot of nice work this issue. Wein’s script covers a lot of events and Aparo has a particularly nice time with Alfred’s flashback. The war panels are excellent. This issue, Wein covers Robin and Alfred’s origins and also Two-Face and the Joker. The most interesting historical continuity details? Wein’s Joker isn’t insane, he just thinks being funny looking will scare people. Also Alfred… he wasn’t always the Wayne butler. Wein should have told the whole series from Alfred’s perspective. Somehow…

The Untold Legend of the Batman 1 (July 1980)

The Untold Legend of the Batman might have good art… but it’s hard to tell. Each page is packed with panels–except one pin-up page, which is pretty good–and it’s hard to get a handle of John Byrne’s pencils (with Jim Aparo inking). Some of the pages are pretty good though, but it’s certainly not a comic to read for the art. Sadly, it’s also not a comic to read for the writing. Untold Legend is a streamlined retelling of Batman’s original, adding in all the Earth-One origin developments. It’s excellent as a curiosity (I’d forgotten teenage Bruce Wayne was Robin to some…

Swamp Thing 33 (February 1985)

So while Swamp Thing has his adventure in “Pog,” Abby has her own one here. Except she’s mostly just in a framing sequence, not quite an adventure. For whatever reason, Moore brought the original appearance of Swamp Thing into continuity with this issue. So there’s a few pages of Abby with Cain and Abel–Moore’s starting to explore the nature of storytelling a little, something he’d later expand on in Promethea–and then a reprint of the Len Wein and Bernie Wrightson House of Secrets Swamp Thing. The end ties it all together, but the story isn’t consequential at all. It’s Moore mixing playfulness…

DC Retroactive: Batman – The ’70s 1 (September 2011)

Once one gets past Len Wein’s expository narration—and his way too self-aware Batman thought balloons—Retroactive is a good bit of fun. The story’s got two possibilities for predictable revelations and Wein plays with it. He fulfills one of them but then completely ignores the second. Instead, he does something utterly goofy in the context of a one shot but perfect if it were a “missing” adventure. However, having Tom Mandrake do the art for a seventies Batman book is a little odd. Mandrake’s artwork is utterly fantastic. His Batman is big and scary and his Bruce Wayne is urbane. He’s got some…

DC Special Series 27 (Fall 1981)

The issue opens with Len Wein’s nearly incomprehensible expository narration. While the comic is written almost more as a tie-in to the “Hulk” TV show and an introduction to Batman, one almost needs an English degree to figure out what Wein’s trying to say. But his plotting isn’t much better; in fact, it’s worse. At one point, Batman teams up with the Joker. You know, instead of arresting him for the mass murders and so on. Not to mention the big Marvel villain (the Joker’s partner) is this stupid space alien who looks like a jack in the box. Actually, it’s too…

The Phantom Stranger 14 (July-August 1971)

I don’t think I’ve ever seen pre-eighties Jim Aparo before. It’s absolutely stunning. The tight faces are present, but there’s also a bunch of energy. I never would have thought he’d be a great Phantom Stranger—or any supernatural story—artist, but he excels. Len Wein comes up with two good stories for the issue, though the Stranger one is better. This villain figures out a way to capture the Stranger and then takes out his heart, figuring transplanting it into his body will give him immortality. Of course, it doesn’t work out as planned (does the Phantom Stranger actually need a physical heart?).…