Brian Azzarello and Lee Bermejo working together on a Rorschach miniseries was the launch pad for the entire Before Watchmen project, and they’re a logical fit for the gritty intensity of Watchmen’s standout character. Azzarello doesn’t try to do anything revelatory with the antihero in Before Watchmen: Rorschach #1 (DC), he’s simply telling a hard-boiled urban vigilante story with one of his most reliable creative partners. Rorschach on a violent rampage through the streets of New York is something that could have easily unfolded in the original series, and focusing on events completely separate from Watchmen is the book’s greatest strength. There aren’t any of the continuity questions of Azzarello’s Comedian and the book doesn’t rehash old Watchmen scenes like many of the other prequels, it’s just Rorschach doing what Rorschach does best: fighting to stop the neverending wave of crime that is drowning his city.
Bermejo’s New York City is a place teeming with life; hookers and junkies populate streets that are packed with cars stuck in traffic. This is Rorschach’s battleground, and he charges into porn shops and sewers with the same level of unerring determination. That aggression gets him in trouble when he tracks down a group of thugs who have lured him into a trap. As Rorschach gets beaten by the gang, Bermejo breaks the panels from their formerly neat layouts and scatters them on the page, capturing Rorschach’s growing disorientation with each hit. His attackers make a big mistake in leaving him alive, though, and Rorschach’s heightened intensity at the end of the issue promises bad things to come for evildoers, which should prove quite enjoyable in Azzarello and Bermejo’s hands.
At last month’s Fan Expo, DC Comics announced that J. Michael Straczynski will be writing a Before Watchmen: Moloch two-issue miniseries with Eduardo Risso on art duties. It’s an unnerving move by the company that shows they’re going to milk Watchmen for all its worth, and giving Stracyznski even more creative responsibility is puzzling considering his work on Nite Owl and Before Watchmen: Dr. Manhattan #1 (DC). Like Nite Owl, Dr. Manhattan rehashes a lot of material presented in Watchmen, specifically in #4 where Dr. Manhattan flees to Mars in self-imposed exile. This isn’t Before Watchmen so much as it is During Watchmen, except Stracyznski chooses to directly contradict what Alan Moore wrote in the original.
In spite of the story’s flaws, Dr. Manhattan is an attractive book, thanks to the artwork of Adam Hughes, who demonstrates why he needs to be doing more interior work. His characters are realistic (yes, Dr. Manhattan’s blue penis makes an appearance), but don’t appear posed or overly rigid, and he adjusts his artwork to fit the tone and time-jumps of the script. The strength of the artists who work on Straczynski’s books makes the quality of the writing even more distressing; these are talents that could be better applied elsewhere.
Murakami and his tank driver distract Godzilla long enough for civilians to make their way out of the city, shooting at the lizard as it rips through buildings as if they were cardboard. Stokoe’s pacing at the start of the issue is fantastic, slowly revealing Godzilla over three pages. Murakami’s first glimpse of Godzilla is the lizard’s giant foot stepping on cars like they were pebbles beneath its feet, and when it turns the corner, readers are treated to a breathtaking full-page splash of the monster surrounded by the fallen buildings that were once the Tokyo skyline. Godzilla’s signature screech is depicted through giant orange letters shaded with small black lines that give motion and substance to the sound. It’s a dramatic reveal, showing just how massive the threat is and how small the resistance.
Everything Godzilla does is huge and catastrophic: His energy beam vaporizes everything in his path and his tail can slice a skyscraper in half. And yet there’s beauty in the destruction, courtesy of Stokoe’s draftsmanship. The laborious amount of detail is extraordinary, and everything from the clothing to the architecture, vehicles, and weaponry is drawn with the same level of care. Future issues promise even more destruction as Murakami fights Godzilla for the next 50 years, and while the distilled carnage is breathtaking, the book excels because at its heart is a story about personal heroism in the midst of unbeatable odds.
James Asmus and Clay Mann know what Gambit’s major appeal is, and in Gambit #1–2 (Marvel) they have their title character without a shirt on as often as they possibly can. In an industry where female characters are consistently oversexualized, it’s interesting to see a male hero through a more exploitative lens. What begins as a fairly standard thief story takes a sci-fi turn at the end of #1, and by the end of #2 it’s clear what to expect from this book: lots of heists, explosions, and beautiful people. Mann is turning out the best artwork of his career on this title, with a realistic style that makes the book look like a high-budget action film. Gambit isn’t the most challenging title, but it’s a strong update for a character who has struggled to find his place in a less extreme comic-book market.