Thursday, June 28, 2012

Moore Goes Head-to-Head with New WATCHMEN

It had to happen sooner or later, I guess.

The Before Watchmen line continued yesterday with NITE OWL #1, the fourth new title released in this prequel line of comic books based on Alan Moore's WATCHMEN characters. With a new title streeting every week, that's no surprise in and of itself, but this week a new Moore comic also arrived; namely, THE LEAGUE OF EXTRAORDINARY GENTLEMEN: CENTURY 2009. And thus was the stage set for the most public (if not exciting) geekdom Beef battle since, well... the last time Lord Alan got something published, I guess.

The verdict? Alan Moore wins this round hands down.

If Brian Azzarello's THE COMEDIAN #1 failed for taking too many liberties with the source material as it is understood by the fans, J. Michael Straczynski falls just a bit short for rehashing too much of what we already know and mixing it with original material that just isn't very exciting either on its own or in juxtaposition with the history as it's represented. His script is by no means bad, but it's not as exciting as either of Darwyn Cooke's books (MINUTEMEN and SILK SPECTRE) have been thus far. Rorschach fans will be delighted to find him in great support in the second half of the origin story, but I found the multitude of Hurms to be tiring and betrayed a use of the familiar to make up for a basic lack of understanding of the character.

Nite Owl was based on Charlton Comics' Blue Beetle, and JMS has really tapped into that for his portrayal of Daniel Dreiberg as Night Owl II. He is an affable, comical hero, which seems slightly at odds with his adolescent home life, but that would seem to fall completely in step with the personalities of stand-up comics of that era (the 60s), many of whom used comedy as a relief for the harsh circumstances of poverty or abuse. His partnership with the deadpan Rorschach makes for an interesting odd couple, and fans will want to see as much of this team-up as the space allows, which could get in the way of the narrative in a limited series.

I've said this before and I'll say it again: I feel that the page count is a serious handicap in this new line when compared with the original series. Eight less pages is a huge, possibly insurmountable deficit.

The original pitch behind this new line was in presenting the origins that we never got to see in WATCHMEN, but so far (with the exception of SILK SPECTRE #1) we are being rushed through those stories. So anyone expecting NITE OWL YEAR ONE will be sorely disappointed. Also, like with COMEDIAN #1, the cover art and the interior art is so different, that it's easy to feel baited and switched. Andy Kubert's cover is text book perfect comic art, but the interiors look much more like his dad's SGT. ROCK work. There's nothing wrong with that necessarily, but war books and superhero books have different looks and the interior pencils have a sort of schizophrenia as a result. This book doesn't feel very heroic, and not in a post-modern sense –which might have been a good thing. Still, it's got a solid backbone of readability that Straczynski brings to most of his work. His lack of feel for the Rorschach character might be a strength; by not allowing a secondary character to chew his way through the scenery, he positions Night Owl to shine. I'm looking forward to seeing what the specific plot of this book will be, and I hope it enriches the legacy of the original series.

The final chapter of Alan Moore and Kevin O'Neill's third volume of League of Extraordinary Gentlemen (BLACK DOSSIER was a stand alone one-shot) was also released this week. It had been so long since the last one (1969) that I had to go back and reread it and 1910 to get back up to speed. And I'm really glad I did because each of the previous volumes enriches this latest one, and vice versa. I prefer O'Neill's WARLOCK art that he did for 2000 AD and his brilliant MARSHAL LAW to his pencils on this set of characters (and I absolutely hate the cover of this last installment), but there is no doubting that his work with Moore is his best from a raw storytelling perspective. It's been a challenge for everyone who has worked with Moore to rise beyond his shadow, but fans have little choice but to give credit for the success of this collaboration equally among the partners.

Moore is in top form as wordsmith and conjurer. He has a gift with language and dialogue that knows few peers, and the meta-narrative employed here is presented unconfusingly and almost poignantly. It's refreshing to see an author rework themes from previous works to better effect, and to do so within the framework of a story that utilizes borrowed characters and confront our current reality in that mix is a work of genius. Where I found FROM HELL to be a beautiful but incomprehensible mess, I find CENTURY to be a clever, well-constructed ruse.  If it is hampered by anything, it is the inherent pessimism of the author's world view, but Moore doesn't really do "happy."

So if there really was a competition, Moore & O'Neill outpunched Straczynski and the Kuberts, and they landed those blows with more power, but there are no losers in this fight. The fans least of all.

Last and certainly not least is a reissue of one of my all time favorite comic book runs. IDW have placed the same love and care they put into their brilliant THE ROCKETEER: The Complete Adventures volume into David Mazzucchelli's DAREDEVIL: BORN AGAIN artist's edition. Curiously absent from the cover is Frank Miller's name, almost refreshingly so. If Alan Moore has been something of a curmudgeon regarding his opinion of other comic book professionals, Frank Miller has become a talk radio version of his former self (and rarely do his occasional right-wing rants do anything to endear fans to his cause), but there's no denying the impact he's had as a writer on the medium, and Born Again is one of his very best. By making this all about Mazzucchelli from the cover onward, we are afforded the opportunity to see the extent of their collaboration and just how powerful David's line work is. He brought a swashbuckler feel back into comics that had been missing since John Romita's run on THE AMAZING SPIDERMAN, but he also captured a film noir sensibility that perfectly complimented Miller's narrative. His heroes are beautiful the way that Milo Manara's women are beautiful, the way that Bernie Wrightson's FRANKENSTEIN was beautiful. Mazzucchelli mastered the compromise between telling a story and drawing a picture. His pencils and inks are a textbook example of everything that was wrong with the Image comics that followed. It's amazing how the time and space that passed since this was first published have done nothing to detract from it at all. If anything, this volume will make you enjoy it more -even if you forget what you're reading because you've lingered on the art.

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