Comic Review: Before Watchmen: Dollar Bill

Published: January 30th, 2013
Written by: Len Wein
Art by: Steve Rude, Glenn Whitmore
Based on: Watchmen by Alan Moore

DC Comics, 27 Pages

Review:

This installment of the Before Watchmen series only spanned a single issue. I’m fine with that though, as it’s the least interesting chapter, overall.

I don’t really care about the Dollar Bill character and I don’t think anyone else really does either. The only thing that makes this interesting is how he joined the Minutemen and the fact that those characters also make appearances here.

I wouldn’t call this story a waste of time but it was most definitely filler.

This may seem really short and sweet, as I usually have a lot more to say, even about a single issue of a comic but this was just pretty damn meh.

I don’t blame Len Wein for this not hitting any sort of mark, he’s a talented writer and always has been but this was probably thrown in his lap by DC trying to milk Watchmen for everything it’s worth.

While I’ve pretty much loved the Before Wathcmen releases I’ve read thus far, this was the first one to seem like a cheap attempt at chafing the cash cow’s teats.

Rating: 6/10
Pairs well with: other Before Watchmen stories, as well as Watchmen and Doomsday Clock.

Comic Review: Before Watchmen: Crimson Corsair

Published: July 4th, 2012 – March 13th, 2013
Written by: Len Wein
Art by: John Higgins
Based on: Watchmen by Alan Moore

DC Comics, 57 Pages

Review:

I actually wasn’t expecting a prequel to The Black Freighter part of the Watchmen story when I started reading the Before Watchmen series but low and behold, we were given one and it was written by the great Len Wein with art by the always solid John Higgins.

Out of all the Before Watchmen stories I have read, thus far, this one is my least favorite. That’s not to say that it isn’t good, I enjoyed it quite a bit but it resonated the least with me, even though I’m a big fan of swashbuckler stories.

I think the problem with it is that within the context of what Before Watchmen is, this doesn’t really fit. The Black Freighter was a comic book within the comic book. In the Wathcmen world, it is fiction and read within the comic’s own pages. It was also made into an animated film to be spliced into the motion picture but was cut from the final version and later released on DVD and then edited back into The Ultimate Cut of the film.

So with the other comics in this series fleshing out the backstories of the main characters, this one just seemed unnecessary. It’s still cool that it exists but the story here isn’t anywhere near as good as The Black Freighter. And this doesn’t really add anything to that tale either.

If you are a fan of dark, swashbuckling comics like The Black Freighter, then this will probably be interesting to you. But if you want to know more about the Watchmen world itself, this isn’t a necessary read.

Rating: 7/10
Pairs well with: other Before Watchmen stories, as well as Watchmen and Doomsday Clock.

Comic Review: Before Watchmen: Ozymandias

Published: July 4th, 2012 – March 13th, 2013
Written by: Len Wein
Art by: John Higgins, Jae Lee
Based on: Watchmen by Alan Moore

DC Comics, 156 Pages

Review:

I have been loving this Before Watchmen series. I previously read the Comedian and Rorschach stories, so this one is my third installment.

Out of the three I have read, this is my least favorite. But it’s still damn good and really captures the spirit of Alan Moore and Dave Gibbon’s original Watchmen series. All the ones I’ve read thus far have also been written by top notch writers, however.

This volume really works well for the Ozymandias character. Len Wein understands him, his motivations and does a fine job of painting a vivid picture of what made Ozymandias into the man he became, a true villain but one with noble intentions willing to cross the line in order to mold the world into what he perceives as something better.

John Higgins does some of the art and his work in other Before Watchmen books has been great. The bulk of the art here is done by the great Jae Lee, though. Lee is a guy that never gets the credit and props he deserves, in my opinion, and he did such a fine job with the art here that this is one of my favorite pieces of work he’s created.

This story also sees other Watchmen characters show up, where the Comedian and Rorschach volumes mostly just focused solely on them. Here, we see Ozymandias’ first encounters with the Comedian, Dr. Manhattan and Nite Owl. We even get a very brief Rorschach cameo.

Overall, this was a really good read and it just increased my interest in the expanded Watchmen universe. Something I wasn’t too keen on when first hearing about it but have started to accept and have surprisingly enjoyed. But I give credit to the fact that DC Comics put their best people on these stories.

Rating: 8/10
Pairs well with: other Before Watchmen stories, as well as Watchmen and Doomsday Clock.

Comic Review: Before Watchmen: Rorschach

Published: August 15th, 2012 – March 6th, 2013
Written by: Brian Azzarello, Len Wein
Art by: Lee Bermejo, John Higgins, Barbara Ciardo
Based on: Watchmen by Alan Moore

DC Comics, 111 Pages

Review:

I needed about twenty minutes to collect myself after reading this four issue story arc by Brian Azzarello and Len Wein. This shit took my breath away, which comic books don’t do very often.

This was the second story arc I read in the Before Watchmen series, having just read the one about the Comedian before this. As great as I thought that one was, this one just grabbed me and didn’t let go until well after I closed the cover.

The story here is very personal and very intense. It helps to humanize Rorschach, a guy that comes off as kind of one-dimensional in how he exists within the original Watchmen story. That’s not a knock against Alan Moore’s work but Rorschach was really just a force of nature in the most famous piece of work that featured him and here, we are able to understand him with much more depth and emotion.

Reading Watchmen, we already know about his childhood but here, we see things that happened to him as an adult that helped to shape him even further.

This is dark and gritty but not in some sort of ’90s edge lord way that is trying too hard to be like the work of Alan Moore or Frank Miller. This is dark and gritty in a way that builds off of Moore’s work in an interesting and meaningful way. It improves upon this character in a fantastic way and if I’m being brutally honest, it made me have to shut up regarding whatever criticism I once had for other people touching Moore’s work.

Azzarello and Wein proved my initial assessment wrong and wrote something compelling that enhances the rich world that I once wanted to remain untouched.

Additionally, the art style employed here is perfect.

This is a great comic book and even though it isn’t the masterpiece that Watchmen is, it deserves to stand right next to it. And I don’t say any of this lightly.

Rating: 9.5/10
Pairs well with: other Before Watchmen stories, as well as Watchmen and Doomsday Clock.

Comic Review: Before Watchmen: Comedian

Published: June 20th, 2012 – April 24th, 2013
Written by: Brian Azzarello, Len Wein, John Higgins
Art by: John Higgins, JG Jones, Alex Sinclair
Based on: Watchmen by Alan Moore

DC Comics, 148 Pages

Review:

When this was first announced, I wasn’t too keen on anyone other than Alan Moore working on anything Watchmen related. My stance on that changed before I read this but I still never thought that anything else featuring these characters would live up to the greatness of Moore’s masterpiece.

Before Watchmen: Comedian isn’t a masterpiece but it is still damn good and I was pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed it. It gives me hope that the other Before Watchmen installments will also be superb.

This was a comic book that I never wanted but I’m glad that I got it. I love the Comedian character and in fact, he’s my favorite from the Watchmen universe. Also, due to my love of Jeffrey Dean Morgan, it’s hard for me not to see him as this character, even in comic book form. And to be honest, I would be so game for an adaptation of this story with Morgan returning to the Comedian role.

I think that this was as good as it was because Brian Azzarello respected what came before. He made something very damn close to the tone and style of Alan Moore’s work. Len Wein also contributed to some of the writing, as well, and both of these men seem to have a real admiration for the source material.

I also thought that the art was really good. It captures the vibe of the old school Dave Gibbons atmosphere with a bit of a modernized twist to it.

This book, as well as the others in this series, serve to give thorough backstories to the key characters of Watchmen lore. Purists of the original material don’t have to read this or even consider it canon but I do, at this point. DC has been doing a lot with these characters lately and I’m kind of digging it, as long as their use works well with the original work they appeared in.

Comic books and comic characters evolve. It’s always been this way. Batman was created by Bob Kane and Bill Finger back in 1939 but dozens upon dozens of people have taken their turn writing the character. Some of them don’t hit the mark but many of them do. Comic books are a medium where this is the norm, especially with characters owned by DC or Marvel. So I’m not against prequels, sequels and other stories featuring Watchmen characters. I just hope that they can maintain a certain quality.

Before Watchmen: Comedian is quality. And if anything, it’s made me pretty excited to delve into the other Before Watchmen installments.

Rating: 9/10
Pairs well with: other Before Watchmen stories, as well as Watchmen and Doomsday Clock.

Documentary Review: Jack Kirby: Story Teller (2007)

Release Date: June 5th, 2007
Cast: Neal Adams, Jim Lee, Stan Lee, Jeph Loeb, John Romita Sr., Alex Ross, Tim Sale, Walter Simonson, Bruce Timm, Len Wein, Barry Windsor-Smith, Marv Wolfman

Marvel Studios, Sparkhill Production, 20th Century Fox, 64 Minutes

Review:

I’ve been watching through a lot of comic book documentaries on YouTube, lately. I came across this one that discusses the work and legacy of Jack Kirby.

I’m not sure if this was made as a special feature on a DVD, as it was produced by Marvel and 20th Century Fox. Maybe it was included on one of the Fantastic Four DVD releases a decade ago.

Anyway, if you appreciate and admire the great work of Jack Kirby, this is a really engaging documentary.

It is rather short, considering the long career of the man but it does cover a lot of ground. It also interviews a lot of other comic book greats that worked with Kirby or were inspired by him.

This feels like a quickly thrown together low budget fluff piece and if I’m being honest, Jack Kirby deserves a proper documentary or a real biopic. As much as this does talk about how much Jack did, I still don’t feel like it captures the real importance and scale of it all.

But this is still a worthwhile watch because there really isn’t anything better… yet.

Rating: 7/10
Pairs well with: other comic book industry biographical documentaries.

Documentary Review: The Phenomenon: The Comic That Changed Comics (2009)

Release Date: July 21st, 2009
Directed by: Eric Matthies
Cast: Malin Åkerman, Billy Crudup, Carla Gugino, Jackie Earle Haley, Jeffrey Dean Morgan, Patrick Wilson, Zack Snyder, Gerard Way, Dave Gibbons, Len Wein

Eric Matthies Productions, Warner Bros., 29 Minutes

Review:

I believe that this was originally included on the DVD release of Watchmen back in 2009 but I never owned the original DVD so I’m not sure.

This documentary is very tied to the movie, however, as most of the interviews are with the actors from the film, as well as its director, Zack Snyder. But we also get to hear from some comic book personalities, such as Watchmen artist Dave Gibbons, as well as Len Wein and Gerard Way.

Cast aside, this is not a documentary about the film adaptation, it is about the original comic book, which many consider to be one of the all-time masterpieces in comic book history. Carla Gugino even refers to this as the Citizen Kane of the comic book medium. She might not be wrong there and frankly, I’ve found few people that weren’t moved by Watchmen in some way.

This is a shorter documentary than it should be, as this great work deserves to be explored for more than 29 minutes. But still, it is informative and really gets into the messages within it, its philosophy, its style, the art and its cultural impact.

I’m not sure if there is a longer and more comprehensive documentary on the Watchmen comic but this is fairly satisfactory until one eventually gets made. Maybe HBO will do it, as they are now coming out with a Watchmen TV show.

If you love the comic, which you should, this is definitely worth a watch.

Rating: 7.25/10
Pairs well with: the 2009 Watchmen movie and other recent comic book documentaries.