Thursday, 16 August 2012

On "Rorschach" #1 (The Thursday Review)

In which the blogger attempts to review Rorschach #1, despite the experience proving a thoroughly enervating one. Visitors should be aware that what follows contains spoilers and, uniquely for this blog, a moment or two of what my mother would define as bad language. I seriously advise caution. If you're likely to be offended, please go no further.  Instead, why not give this one a miss and pop in for the Archer & Armstrong review that's going up soon instead? You'd be very welcome to do so, I assure you.

         
If you really are setting out to publicly piss in church, then the least you can do is make sure that your bladder's full to bursting before you do so. Yet Brian Azzarello and Lee Bermejo's Rorschach #1 is so woefully complacent, careless and insubstantial that it hardly seems worth their having attempted the heresy at all. You'd think that anyone taking the silver for a Before Watchmen book would at least want to balance out the damage to their ethical reputation with a bravado display of their storytelling chops. After all, even if you don't believe in the tenets of the church you're pissing in, you've got to be aware that it is a church and that folks are going to care what you do there. Finding a quiet corner and making just a tiny little bit of a mess while congratulating yourself on your daring isn't going to minimise the disrespect, but it will leave the sense that you didn't have the imagination, conviction and nerve to do anything more substantial with your moment of taboo-busting transgression.Yet Rorschach really is nothing more than a string of poorly told, grindingly obvious and misguided references to the character's starring role in Alan Moore and Dave Gibbon's Watchmen. Stripped of their ambition, wit, skill and integrity, Azzarello and Bermejo succeed only in transforming Rorschach from a tragically damaged victim into just another hard-done-by, heroically dysfunctional vigilante.

        
Rorschach #1 does begin with a homage of sorts, which proves at least that Azzarello's aware of Watchman's surface, if not its substance. Just as with the original's opening panel, the reader's presented with a frame which is at first glance confusing. In Watchmen, it swiftly became obvious that we were being made to look down on a stream of blood flowing off of a sidewalk and into a drain. In Rorschach, the enigma of an opening scarlet-filled panel is revealed, through a series of backwards-tracking shots, to have been a frame-filling droplet of congealed blood. There's a fierce irony in this, of course. Where Watchmen was concerned with the consequences of a murder, Rorschach revels in the detail of the process of murder itself. After a few more panels' worth of context, Azzarello and Bermejo present us with the sight of a serial killer methodically carving messages into the body of an entirely naked, pneumatically-endowed, dead woman. Tellingly, there's been no attempt made to emphasise the piteous situation of the murdered victim here beyond her obvious lack of animation. She's nothing but a canvas upon which clues are cut. She's dead, she was sexually alluring, and now she's the nude means by which the supposedly fiendish murderer known as "The Bard" can be introduced. The scene is focused on his perversity and her nakedness, but her life and her suffering are entirely irrelevant to the meaning of what's before us. It's a sequence which seems to want to advertise the supposed creative daring of both writer and artist, but all it does is emphasise how heartless, chauvinistic and fourth-rate their work is. Yet another by-the-numbers serial killer. Yet another beautiful, objectivised female victim. Yet another example of body-mutilating depravity. It's all as hackneyed and stupid-minded as it's sexist and cold-hearted.

The apologist's argument will no doubt that every woman in Rorschach #1 is portrayed as stereotypically sexualised object because that's how the title character and the Bard see them. But if a creative team can't represent prejudice without replicating the form of deeply bigoted work, then they're really not up to their jobs.
         
This apparently unthinking contempt for women reappears throughout Rorschach, an expression it seems of both writer and artist's reliance on empty-headed spectacle and unreconstructed thinking. There's no such thing as a female character who's not young, nubile, and peripheral in the comic's pages, although in truth, there's barely such a thing as a female character at all. Any attempt on Bermejo's part to inspire a measure of sympathy for the prostitute who appears trapped in a life of alley-way blow-jobs and pimply exploitation, for example, is killed stone dead by his inability to represent woman as anything other than sexual stereotypes. There's no individuality in his female characters beyond the slight gradations of allure which he offers. Even the supposed everywoman who we encounter during the diner scene at the book's close seems to be an eye-catching beauty whose glamour is barely masked by the presence of glasses and an air of table-washing weariness.

Similarly, Rumpish Flakkers will want to suggest that Rorschach was portrayed as a violent torturer who escaped the consequences of violence himself in "Watchmen". But if anyone can't grasp the difference in context between that and Rorschach, then debate would be quite impossible anyway.
        
Faced with the challenge of either creating a worthy, respectful adjunct to Watchmen or producing a vigorous and ambitious experience of their own, Azzarello and Bermejo have chosen instead to inexplicably eulogise all that's worst about the post-Watchmen vigilante fantasy. And so, without the slightest trace of irony in view, writer and artist enthusiastically collaborate on a sequence in which Rorschach savagely tortures a pimp whose masturbationary pleasures he's interrupted. (*1) It's a scene which dead-heartedly glorifies rather than undercuts the character's viciousness, and if there's any sense that Rorschach's behaviour is being criticised, it's only because he's far too trusting of the information he forces out of his victim. But then, everyone that Rorschach fights with in damn town is portrayed as irredeemably depraved. What does it matter what Rorschach does to these sub-humans, when his opponents have already disqualified themselves from the human race?

*1:- At least, that's what I think he's up to. There's a whole business with a piece of string which he's pulling tightly round his arm at the same time. Who knows what perversions & addictions mark the man? More importantly, who cares?

        
Where Watchmen was threaded with a host of ethical questions and delivered in the form of what was then experimental storytelling, Rorschach is focused on nothing but threadbare genre cliche and boy-man thrilling titillation. When a comic's single surprising shot is that of a trousers-round-his-ankles reprobate wanking himself off in a room hired specifically for the purpose, the creators can hardly be criticised for an excess of ambition and innovation. Yet for all his enthusiasm for the pruriently irrelevant, Azzarello can't bring himself to produce a plot which makes sense in its own terms. It defies belief that the gangsters who succeed in trapping Rorschach would opt not to unmask their victim. Similarly, it seems quite impossible that Rorschach should have survived the protracted beating that they dish out, let alone that he should overcome the fact that he's been left for dead in a sewer with his body on fire. Azzarello and Bermejo appear anxious to convince their readers that they've grounded Rorschach in a hybrid of righteously grim vigilantism and seedy NYC Seventies' excess. Yet all the semen-soaked tissues in the world can't transmit a sense of verisimilitude when the story itself is so carelessly bolted together. This isn't just a ethically unpleasant book. It's a poorly made one too.

        
With the script having forgotten to clarify whether the assault was intended to kill or merely maim Rorschach, and without a meaningful explanation of why the whole incident was organised in the first place, the reader's forced to find meaning in the ever-predictable rituals of how the indomitable hero refuses to capitulate to a severe thrashing. Grimace as Rorschach defiantly stumbles down the street! Cheer as he breaks into a chemist to guzzle down painkillers! Laugh as he re-appears with just  a few pity-inspiring band-aids to amplify his gutsy manliness! Within the space of what appears to have been a single day, Rorschach's even well enough to provide his straight-faced, vengeance-promising grimcracks. It's all such a well-worn and trite business that it's infeasible to accept that even Azzarello and Bermejo believe in the story that they're telling,. If they did, they'd have told it with a greater measure of commitment and precision. Instead, they've simply slung together the thinnest of genre conventions, seasoning the insubstantial and somewhat poisonous brew with men's magazine pulpisms and a nod to the New York film thrillers of the period. It's a combination of the stupefyingly obvious and the tiresomely ultramasculine which results in the likes of the comic's groan-inducing final few lines;

Kovacs:-  The muggers ... They made a mistake.
Waitress:- Meaning that you didn't have anything on you ...
Kovacs;- Meaning I'm not dead.

         
Where Moore and Gibbons playfully and purposefully examined the Mr A stereotype of the remorseless, unstoppable super-brute, Azzarello and Bermejo revel in the chance to roll out all the tropes of the little-guy-fights-back revenge fantasy. It's a process that suggests that both men either simply didn't understand Moore and Gibbons work, or that they thoroughly disagreed with both its methods and its values. Why, beyond the obvious inducements, did DC commission this team to work on this title with this story? Watchman remains one of the finest examples of a sadly almost inconspicuous genre, namely the superhero comicbook of ideas. It's not concerned with any spurious representation of reality, but it is clearly focused on how we come to frame our preconceptions of what reality is. By contrast, Rorschach is a depressingly stupid and reactionary book, concerned not to make us think so much as to revel in the uber-masculinity of it all, and that's as true for Bermejo's art as it is for Azzarello's scripts. What have they actually added to - rather than removed from - Moore and Gibbon's work? Tapping into the visual iconography of Seventies film - from The Wanderers to Taxi Driver - isn't a sign of innovation and challenging thinking so much as the post-modern equivilant of desperately stuffing a rotting chicken full of a host of hastily selected, taste-masking spices.


In that, Rorschach doesn't so much offend in its adoration of vigilante-porn and callow sexism as it inspires pity and contempt for its creative and editorial team. Is this really the best that these blokes can achieve? Really? When Azzarello told USA Today that he wanted to make the Watchmen characters "vital again",  did he understand "vital" to mean banally chauvinistic and dead-heartedly vicious? Did he somehow think that the characters in the original Watchmen had ceased to be "vital" because, for example, Moore and Gibbons had carelessly forgotten to include dead, debased and yet still-shapely bottoms and breasts in their original work? Could it be that someone believes that Watchmen failed to present Rorschach's excesses in a sympathetic enough way for the tastes of today's hang-them-all readers?

Could there possibly be a person so crass that they regard Rorschach's disordered behaviour as an opportunity to exalt rather than question our culture's adoration of frontier justice?

Yet Rorschach #1 has all the signs of a product created quite specifically to pander to exactly the same prejudices that Watchmen itself was designed in part to challenge. In some ways, that would be a preferable explanation to one founded on the belief that this is the work of men who are enthusiastically and wholeheartedly expressing their creative ambitions and abilities. Better, I suspect, this be cynical rather than sincere.

At least then the creators have a hope of producing better work in the future.


            
Rorschach should appear to be far more offensive than it does, but it's so obviously pathetic when compared to Watchmen itself that it's hard to do anything more than sneer. It certainly is as abhorrent as it's inept, and yet, what better karma could there be for its creators, than for everyone to know that they've produced this? There's little point in worrying too much about lambasting either writer or artist further when they've already done so much to damage their own reputations. For Moore and Gibbons, Watchmen was a glorious opportunity to deconstruct and celebrate the superhero sub-genre. By contrast, Azzarello and Bermejo's Rorschach is a profoundly unambitious, smugly self-satisfied, sexist, torture-celebrating, macho-centred con-trick. It's shockingly poor work, it really is, and that's even by the standards of the pitiful Before Watchmen line as a whole.

By your own works etc etc ...

         
Faced with the choice of pissing hard or not pissing at all, everyone involved in Rorschach # 1 has opted to do neither. A little distasteful puddle of a comic book is all they've managed to squeeze through, although from all the smugness and hype, you'd be forgiven for believing that it's the very best that they could possibly achieve.

But, no, Rorschach's so wretched a comic that that couldn't be possibly be true. Could anyone be as shamelessly heartless and stupid as this?

Not by BA and LB
        
Other, predominantly positive reviews of Rorschach #1 are also available, as can be seen here, here and here. 

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55 comments:

  1. Hi Colin,
    Personally I've never rated Azzarello since enjoying Jonny Double. It quickly became apparent that all he could do was trot out the cliches tropes and stereotypes of crime fiction and dress them up with puns, hard looks, quiet panels full of MEANING, characters not completing sentences (because that increases the MEANING), characters completing other characters sentences (for increased MEANING) and elliptical nonsensical dialogue which is full of MEANING. That his BF comic seems as surface and ridiculous as you describe surprise me not in the slightest.
    A word on the artwork. I know I'm at risk here being a far less talented artist than Bermejo, but that's some awful comics. I have a hard time with the obsessively illustrated art that passes for 'real good drawing' in so many comics. Comic art should be about pace, and rhythm and movement, it's about moving the story forward and presenting information in subtle ways that guide the eye and only ask it to linger when the story demands it. Bermejo's art says little more that look how well I draw. It is possible to be an illustrator and a comic artist, off the top of my head Steve Rude and Sean Phillips are very different examples of artists who can do this.
    Anyway, I've tried to avoid even mentioning BW up to now, so I'm going to shut again!

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    1. Hello Paul:- I've never really known much about Azzarello until the past few months. A few issues of 100 Bullets seemed interesting, but it never seemed to be compelling stuff on an emotional level. Still, there was more of enough of quality there to interest me in collecting the Deluxe editions, and I still feel that way. But Wonder Woman has been at first a thin and then a patently sexist comic, with inexplicable plot-holes and the kind of pulp lines which throw me right out of the book. And now this, which is just a terrible, terrible comic book. It's indistinguishable from a brilliant satire of what no-hoper, shiny-surfaced creators would do with Rorschach if DC was mean-spirited enough to empower them.

      I feel a degree of sympathy for Bermejo, in that he can't be blamed for the script he's been given. But boy is it facile work. I agree entirely with your analysis. There's hardly ever anything either of the real or a unique take of it in his pages. Instead, there's just these great indigestible lumps of learned-it-from-comics "homages".

      I've not mentioned BW either! But I have been reading it, because the Q column does depend on my doing my best to know what's going on across the range. But this was so terrible, and there are some shockingly good reviews for the book which mention little or nothing of the storytelling, let alone the vital ethical, issues in play here.

      Not that I'll ever get the hits to affect the debate in any way, and I suspect that that's quite right too! But really, it's just despicable work ....
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    2. Luckily for me I don't have to read BW... phew! DC own the rights and can do what they want. The BW creators are more than welcome to work on company owned property (as Moore did), in fact, I have more of a problem with, say, Seth taking over (eventually) from the Los Bros Hernandez on Mr X than I do on the BW creators. In the word of capes and big time comic publishers these things get revamped, rebooted, sequelled and prequelled, if folk read Superman or the Fantastic Four with a lack of guilt then BW is fair game (ugh, I sound far to close to JMS there). For all it's merit I find Watchmen a bit of a dead end, not Moore's finest work (the ideas/themes/structure of Watchman always held the least appeal for me) and a product of the 80s that doesn't need revisiting. I found the angry antiBW stance as annoying as the proBW stance, much easier to try and keep my trap shut and make my opinion know by the silence and lack of purchase.... for me at least.

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    3. Hello Paul:- I think one of the problems with Watchmen is that it wasn't allowed to exist in its own terms. As you say, it's a "dead end", and yet, why should it be anything else? Watchmen wasn't intended to be a road map for how the superhero book should develop. It wasn't his last word on the subject, let alone a definitive one. At the time of starting writing it, Moore was more than happy to be writing superhero tales, and he still had Twilight for one ahead of him. Yet somehow Watchmen became regarded as a kind of guide book for what superhero books should be. As you say, it's nothing of the sort and it wasn't expected to function that way. Where Watchmen is important, I think, is because it was a book of ideas. To copy the ideas expressed in a comicbook of ideas is of course to REALLY miss the point. If Watchmen had a point, it was that creators ought to develop their craft, push their boundaries and engage with the world of ideas. I'd never pretend that Watchmen is a fixed form which shows how it should be done. I think Moore would be appalled by that!

      I think we may disagree about the Before Watchmen books. I think they're appalling because it's a matter of record that Moore and Gibbons were promised the rights to the books and then denied them as a result of a contract which permitted that promise not to be kept. DC certainly have the legal right to publish Watchmen books. They don't have the ethical right.

      Moore has never once complained about the rights to Superman, Swamp Thing and so on because he knew what the situation was when he went into those books. Watchmen was sold to him as a project he would certainly own. That's the problem, because that's the difference.

      And those creators who are working on these books are working on a situation very different from that which face folks who are given the chance to guide Legion Lost or whatever. The Before Watchmen creators all well know that Moore and Gibbons were promised something that they didn't then receive. There's a legal right to work on the Watchmen books, of course, but there's not an ethical one.

      Of course, just talking about this then raises the question of where that line is drawn between ethical and legal rights. It's a kettle of fish and no mistake. But I do believe strongly that these books should not have made, and the folks who involved themselves in that process have opened themselves up to criticism for doing so.

      But in the end, who isn't compromised? I can explain to myself that it was part of my job to read the likes of Rorschach, and it is. But I still followed my own interest in doing so. I can say that I off-set the cost of those books with ethical purchases, and I have, but it won't stop the money I've spent going to DC.

      You see, if only the Before Watchmen creators and DC as a whole had done the right thing, I wouldn't have had to compromise myself!!!! It's all THEIR fault!!!

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    4. Hi Colin,
      I don't think we do disagree as far as DC's contractual/ethical obligations go, they have indeed behaved poorly. I'm a bit stuck for easy answers as I don't want to just shrug it off with a 'well, these companies behave badly, waddya expect' response, that would be wrong. However buying a lot of comics means treading on creator rights. I have bought very few Marvel comics for this reason, buying only when I felt supporting a title meant I got to read something I enjoyed as well as saying to Marvel 'Yes, this is what you should publish!' Of course, in the end, they won't change, and neither will DC, so ultimately I end up buying as few of their comics as possible whilst supporting creator's or titles I think are worthy of support. I don't want to criticise the creators either, they can do what they want, and I can disagree with them by not buying the comics, or disliking the comic if I do buy them. In the end I'm uncomfortable with what the publishers do, yet find the foaming that a lot of commenters indulge in on both sides of the fence often make it harder to understand the issues.
      The best I can come up with is that the existence of BW makes me feel icky. As does DC's treatment of Siegel and Shuster and their heirs, and Marvel's treatment of Kirby and his heirs. And so on. I consider myself an ethical consumer, but I'm never more aware of it when I'm justifying when it's ok to put those ethics aside.
      However muddied my own reasoning, that ickiness is enough that I won't buy the BW comics, something which for the most part is not a hardship as I'm not fussed about much of the talent involved, despite some of them being very talented, they just don't do it for me. But Darwyn Cooke is a creator who I thought I'd always follow, but even his BW title can gather dust on the shelf for all I care.
      My issues with Moore and Gibbon's Watchmen are that the structure and ideas are the least important part to me, although they are a wonderful springboard and an aspect of Moore's writing that is a big part of his appeal. For me, it's the humanity in Moore's writing that sells me on his work, and it's the humanity in Watchmen that I respond to more than what I find to be showing off (even if it's legitimate for Moore and Gibbons to do so in comic that came to be about saying look at what comics can do), Dr Manhattan is a beautiful example for me, Moore and Gibbons turn him into a living breathing person and although his origin and predicament provide an important anchor for the character study, it's the character that stays with me rather than the crosscutting overlapping of the structure. In Moore's essay on how to write I wonder if he reaches similar conclusions about trying to dazzle with cleverness when he revisits the essay to undermine his earlier ideas about using prose narration, realising it was a crutch, and a noticeable one, so he removed it. I suppose this is why I have fonder regards for Top 10, than Watchmen, or for the people in Watchmen rather than the book.... if that makes sense.
      Apologies if this po-faced rambling doesn't quite make sense, as I said, it's stuff I haven't really verbalised much, due to preferring to keep quiet rather than adding to the noise of BW in the hope that it would hasten the inevitable forgetting that BW even existed somewhere down the line.
      Now, I'm going to indulge in some Nigel Kneale and watch The Abominable Snowman!

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    5. Hello Paul:- I will admit to a certain degree of relief. Reading back over my comment, I was concerned that I hadn’t made my points nearly well enough. I raise my hat to you with gratitude for your persevering with a man that can express himself that woodenly.

      “In the end I'm uncomfortable with what the publishers do, yet find the foaming that a lot of commenters indulge in on both sides of the fence often make it harder to understand the issues.”

      Absolutely. I don’t think that I ever pontificated about creator’s rights in any other context except this one. This seems to me to be a case that’s modern-era, obvious and public. For DC to treat the property in this way is, I think, a watershed. It’s the last ethical taboo where the super-book’s concerned, and in that it represents a whole range of normally separate issues; ethics, storytelling, sexism, stupidity, poor editing, hype etc etc As such, I felt secure – though perhaps mistakenly – in having a go, when I’m usually convinced that my distance is the best option. I have already had a say in Q about events, so I don’t intend to return to the subject, though who knows? There may be something so wonderful down the line that hats must be eaten and pigs released from confinement so they may fly …

      “As does DC's treatment of Siegel and Shuster and their heirs, and Marvel's treatment of Kirby and his heirs. And so on. I consider myself an ethical consumer, but I'm never more aware of it when I'm justifying when it's ok to put those ethics aside.”

      Yep. I’m also uncomfortable when thinking of Bob Kane, who didn’t get screwed, and then screwed everyone around him. By which I mean, this is a mean, grey, dispiriting area.

      “However muddied my own reasoning, that ickiness is enough that I won't buy the BW comics, something which for the most part is not a hardship as I'm not fussed about much of the talent involved, despite some of them being very talented, they just don't do it for me. But Darwyn Cooke is a creator who I thought I'd always follow, but even his BW title can gather dust on the shelf for all I care.”

      And that was indeed something I was trying to refer in my comment. I was well aware that I was teaching grand-ma – excuse me – to such eggs, and also that granny – sorry – actually hadn’t bought any BW comics herself. Which meant I was babbling on to someone who had the morally superior position! There was something deliciously humbling about that.

      I think you’re absolutely right to note that the characterisation of WM isn’t always - indeed often - the book’s strongest feature. Dr Manhattan shines, as does Rorschach. I can’t say that anyone else really does, although Owlman and Silk Spectre have their lustful moments. I didn’t mean to imply that such wasn’t an important issue. It’s just that there’s far more examples of good character work in comics – for all that they’re relatively rare – than there of ideas being used well. When I said that was WM’s importance, I meant it in that context. Yet that doesn’t make up for what’s absent in the story. I’m really not too great a fan of WM , to tell the truth. Moments, such as the jail break, are just brilliant. But there’s other work by the Bard that I far prefer. Cpt Britain, Swamp Thing, Top Ten, for example; all, by no coincidence at all, work that’s touching as well as smart.

      “Apologies if this po-faced rambling doesn't quite make sense”

      I thought it made perfect sense, and as I say, I’m well aware of that your case is far stronger than mine, though I get no sense at all that you’re point scoring. I disagreed with what I thought was a point you were making, and now – thanks to you – I’ve got the perspective to grasp the point you were making.
      All the best, etc etc

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    6. As you say, the ideas are important in Watchman's context. Funnily enough I was going to mention my preference of Top Ten over Watchmen, as well as Halo Jones, which holds a special place in my heart.
      I think you chose wisely when to have a go - keeping it in the context of reviewing a BW title on it's own merits as well as what surrounds it.
      I also appreciate you getting your hands dirty by sifting through the actual BW comics for nuggets of gold or just more dirt, and I don't doubt that if any of the comics were actually good you would report that honestly. That seems as valuable as ignoring the titles. In other words, your moral position is absolutely secure!
      Clearly Kneale's Abominable Snowman isn't holding my attention!

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    7. Hello Paul:- I glad that snowman didn't compel your focus, because you reminded me of a strip that I'd somehow manage to forget when listing my favourite Moore work. Halo Jones is of course superb! How I could forget when she's on a list before me now on my noticeboard for a feature I'm doing ... Halo Jones was SUCH a highlight of the period. Like Mills and O'Neill's Nemesis, it was a weekly strip which delivered the punch of a summer special. (Ah, I'm showing my age there, aren't I?)

      Thank you for saying that about what my possible responses to Before Watchmen are likely to be. I absolutely would sign up what I thought was a good or even a fine BW work. For one thing, it would be incredibly good writing practise; how do you discuss the high quality of a book which you disapprove of? But it's also that fairness of it, as well as the fact that whatever validity the review has goes right of the window when I start lying to myself and/or others.

      In fact, I do find myself wishing that BW was better for that very reason now. That would be a challenge and a half :)

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    8. A Halo Jones feature? Excellent.
      A good BW comic to challenge/review? Well, anything's possible :)

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    9. Hello Paul:- Yes, Before Watchmen comics, C'mon!!!

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  2. Much as I've enjoyed the comics you've recommended to us, I have to admit there's something highly entertaining about seeing you tear a comic to pieces like this. Bravo.

    Re: Rorschach #1 - Oh dear oh dear. Not much I can add to your criticisms except to say that Azzarello's Spaceman, though still problematic, is far more deserving of our limited budgets than the above. Spaceman only has one issue left and while I don't think it has delivered on the promise of the first four issues it has some good ideas, some social satire and features female characters who aren't either prostitutes (though one definitely is) or victims of fridging. It also has a competent cop and a total absence of 'nobly torturing' vigilantes.

    It's been interesting to see how even the most vocal supporters of Before Watchmen have really quietened down now that most of the books have started. While the usual suspects bend over backwards to shower praise on these prequels (as they do with any line-leading Big Two products) even the hardcore Darwyn Cooke fans seem muted in their response. Ho-hum. I guess the 'justified by artistic merit' argument has already been thrown out the window...

    It's also been amusing - for those with a somewhat twisted sense of humour like myself - to see how badly some of these comics seem to have missed the whole point of the original Watchmen.

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    1. Hello Ed:- I have indeed trying not to write any flat-out critical pieces for a good few months now. But Rorscach ... well, it tasked me,it TASKED me :)

      I have had Spaceman recommended to me, and your description does sound interesting. But you know, the very idea of "Azzarello" + "female prostitute" is just going to be an impassable obstacle after this. I'm sure I'll get around to it eventually. But I can't accentuate how bad this bubble-coated dog turd of a comic is, and I suspect that the Before Watchman debacle is going to hurt a great many of those involved in it accordingly. I suspected that was going to so, but I never imagined that seasoned professionals could produce work this BAD.

      Yep, the artistic merit excuse has flown right out of the window. The Emperor never did have any new clothes.

      I haven't yet made it to be amusing. I've been saddened by some books which show brief flashes of competence, and I've felt contempt for those which can't even do that. I think it's all been a terrible mess.

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  3. To begin, "Yet all the semen-soaked tissues in the world can't transmit a sense of verisimilitude when the story itself is so carelessly bolted together" may be on of the best lines I've read in a comic book review in some time. Well done, sir.

    I wonder to what end, though, such a savage attack on Azzarello and Bermejo leads? Certainly they should be admonished for both their cretin-like cashing in on this property, as well as their lack of originality or understanding -- but to go on at such length, with such vehemence, in such a savage manner, I think, tends to reveal more about the reviewer than what it is, in fact, he or she is reviewing.

    Don't get me wrong. I enjoyed the hell out of this review and found myself nodding continuously as I read it.

    This is just a question I have been asking myself a lot lately and would be interested in hearing your thoughts on the subject. What value does such a review have in the greater society and how can we account for it preponderance?

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    1. Hello Daniel:- Thank you :)

      The review of Rorschach itself is nothing more or less than a way in which I can practise writing. That's an entirely selfish motive, but I've never hid the fact that TooBusy is a project whose purpose is to help me learn something of how to write under pressure. I don't think there can be any other purpose to a blog such as this.

      I've been fortunate to luck into various writing jobs as a result of this blog, so I suppose the blog can occasionally open up the possibility that someone might think I've a spark of something that's worth fostering. Yet it's never reviews such as this which attract such chances. Indeed, each of the chances I've been lucky to get have come about because of posts which dealt with relatively obscure issues. So I don't think that the Rorschach piece could be of any use to me in terms of any slight "career" I might have either

      In terms of why it's useful to me to write such a piece despite that; well, trying to express ideas and feelings when the source material is so trying is a fairly challenging business. It's incredibly good practise, to try to bolt together a response to a comic which is - according to my own perspective - so callous and careless. To have to do so in a relatively limited amount of time adds an extra pressure and therefore pushes me further. By this I don't mean to suggest that the post is any good. But my next review might just be a little better because of the problems I faced writing this one.

      And so, I wanted to experiment just a little and see how explicit I could be in this review without it all degenerating into work that no-one could ever want to read. That's not to suggest that anyone would think well of it. But it is interesting to see whether it's possible to be both rational and yet - shall we say - purposefully crude too in places. I was aware of these challenges when I started the above off, and I think I benefitted a little from facing them.

      But in the general scheme of things? I don't think I can possibly have any effect on any scale. There may be a few folks who read the blog and enjoy it at moments. That would be heartening. Having folks read it and come back and leave comments certainly helps me think a touch clearer.

      But overall, this was a useless exercise in the wider sense. Thankfully I'm not measuring whatever little worth my efforts have with reference to the public discourse I'm engaged in.

      ....

      I paused there a moment to see if I could think of any broader good the blog can ever serve, and I don't think there is. That would require a better and more inspiring writer.

      But in terms of my own writing, and in terms of the pleasure which the business of blogging can on occasion bring, it's all worth it!

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  4. I'm fascinated by the panel where Rorschach seems to be under attack by an 80s rock band. In trying to imagine how this scenario came about, I had to assume Rorschach was heckling their show. "Hrm. Drum solo? Joking, of course." They made one mistake... they left their touring poster at the bar! Now Rorschach will follow them on the road to Concord, demanding they play "Free Bird!"

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    1. Hello Michael:- It's true, NYC's 70's criminal underworld was filled with nothing but prospective members of Survivor. It was a terrifying time.

      Actually, I'd far read THAT version of Rorschach.

      "PLAY FREEBIRD, OR I'LL LOCK YOU IN THE FREEZER!!!"

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    2. I could really go on about that one panel alone: the man wearing sunglasses at night; Fabio performing a high kick in jeans; or I could quote extensively from McCloud's Zot! trade where he chastises himself for indulging in the hoary old "muggers in New York" cliche.

      It is, as the kids say, "made of fail."

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    3. Hello Michael:- I hadn't heard the kids using that phrase, but it's wonderful isn't it? The words are made to relish. And, yes, Rorschach is indeed made of fail.

      I ought to make it plain that the chap in the shades is actually in an underground tunnel. Why, sunglasses are positively sensible when you're underground.

      Made-of-fail; no doubt words reduced to cliche and already discarded by the hipster elite, but for me, they're new and fresh and ready to be overused :)

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    4. As someone who wears prescription sunglasses, sometimes it's hard to plan out when you need to bring your normal glasses along with you. Maybe this thug/potential-Survivor member had planned on turning in early, but then his mates were all, "Hey, y'know that jerk, Rorschach? How bout we kick his ass?" And he at first complained about it and asked to delay it or if he had time to get his other glasses or put in some contacts, but his mates hassled him. Then after the beating they went and caught a movie which he couldn't enjoy fully because of the sunglasses.

      THAT'S the story I wanna read; 'Before Watchmen: During Rorschach: Nameless Thug.' If DC is gonna go into the minutiae of the Watchmen universe we need to see as much of the lives of every character in order to REALLY get a feel of the characters.

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    5. Another Colin Smith17 August 2012 05:19

      Has anyone made a Rorschach/Mr. A type character who rather than murdering criminals just spends his time trolling people? Because that deserves to be out there. V For Vexation.

      I've been forcing myself to read all the BW #1's, mainly out of curiosity as to how the creators would handle the baggage that comes with the project, and it has been quite dire for the most part. Cooke and Connor's attempts to engage with the original were at least interesting to some degree; everything else has pretty much been pratfalling on the shoulders of giants.

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    6. Hllo Joe:- You're right, a man of muscle can at any time be called away to beat superheroes up in situations which are surprisingly unchallenging re: the light situation. And REAL men can be terribly cruel when it comes to any sign of vulnerability. He was probably too ashamed to admit there was any problem at all.

      Finally, a sympathetic character in Rorschach ...

      I suspect that the next series will be something along the lines of "Before Before Watchmen". How many billions of live are there that could be celebrated on Earth-We-own-It-Screw-you?

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    7. Hello Colin:- V For Vexation - the very idea of V For Vexation - is worth more than every panel of every page of the whole Before Watchmen line.

      But then, so is the phrase "pratfalling on the shoulders of giants". That, along with "made of fail", is my favourite phrase of the past 24 hours.

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  5. I do pull your leg a fair amount Colin, but "if you really are setting out to publicly piss in church, then the least you can do is make sure that your bladder's full to bursting before you do so" is my new favourite sentence.

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    1. Hello Mark:- It's a honour to have one's legs hauled upon by you. That complete lack of bullshit is a relief, to say the least.

      And thank you too :)



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    2. I found this article while sifting with increasing bemusement through all of the more positive reviews Google kicked up, and I must say that I'm very happy that I did. Kudos to you for producing one of the best point-by-point critical breakdowns that I've read for both this title and Before Watchmen as a whole. I've only just managed to dredge myself back from semi-incoherent WTF-heavy key-smashing this title reduced me to and here you are roasting away with wit, pinpoint accuracy, and a damned good extended metaphor about piss, to boot.

      One of the things I've been scratching my head over is the wide disparity between the mostly positive industry response and the mostly horrified-to-the-point-of-amusement reaction I've seen in the various fannish circles I run in (to the point where many who haven't read the issue have been wondering whether the leaked panels are real or photoshop-produced gags). I don't know whether the gap is generational (comics-wise), professional, blog-platform-based, or merely the result of people with similar approaches to reading/producing/interacting with comics grouping together and ending up on opposite ends of the spectrum. Certainly everyone is entitled to their own tastes, but when faced with so many outlets praising Azzarello's handle on the voice and characterization of the Watchmen characters it's refreshing to find somebody else cringing just as hard at Rorschach's treatment--both here and in a broader social context.

      And that dialogue. What the hell.

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    3. Hello Slip:- Thank you! You're an encouraging good egg and I'm appreciative of that :)

      I too am baffled by the presence of so many folks on the net who are enthusiastic about the Before Watchmen books. I can understand why the Silk Spectre book might appeal to some, though, beyond some of the art, not to me. But as a whole, it seems to me inconcievable that these books should be being hailed as they are. I find myself wondering how it is that such folks come to their conclusions. Some sites have a vested interest in being nice about the powers that be, of course. But I struggle to believe that many if any folks are actually grovelling just in the hope of staying on the review copies list.

      ....

      I just paused for a second as I typed this to see if I could make sense of how Before Watchmen has so often been received. There is no accounting for taste, and yet, these are all ennui-inspiring books. Oh, well. Horses for courses.

      Mind you, I do get entirely baffled at why there's so little reference to matters of gender, sex, race and class in the comics blogosphere. Even the detail of storytelling seems to be a topic of relatively little interest where the pop end of the market is concerned. It's all a great big mystery. As such, I just think myself very fortunate that the blog gets the hits that it does. If nothing else, it's heartening to think that no matter what so many sites great and small declare, there's still some folks who can spot the Emperor's pants-less behind.

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    4. Hi Colin - really enjoy your work, both positive and slammin' what deserves slammin'.

      A slight quibble: shouldn't "...the tenants of the church...." be rather "...the tenets of the church..."?

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    5. Hello MaxVel:- I AM THE KING OF STUPID TYPOS!!!!

      Thank you. Of course that's what I thought I'd written. So, five hundred + folks visiting that post in a single day and I've left m'self looking that stupid. It is to weep ...

      Thank you for pointing that out. It's a good corrective to righteous blogger syndrome - RBS - to be reminded once again of a built-in capacity for PANTS!

      Thank you for your kind words too. A generous visitor bringing much needed advice is always welcome. Thank you :)

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  6. Well done, Colin! You may have been wary of putting up this post but you really should be proud of taking apart this shoddy excuse for a comic book, vituperative your review may seem yet you are, in fact, completely correct. If I were to offer a criticism it's that you provide links to *three* contrastingly positive appreciations A and B's tiresome abortion, now you are a nice chap but as your powerful article is but a *single piece* this seems like overkill! It's curious that "negative" criticism - no matter how brilliant, reasonable, and/or strenuosly balanced - is often attacked on the internet (fear the dissenting opinion!!) while raves - no matter how dunder-headed, conservative, or conformist - seem to get a free pass. I think that by offering *three* positive reviews to your *one* you do your fine work a disservice, it isn't as if you are being unfair, after all, and it could be construed as you not *owning* your well-thought out arguments which isn't fair ti *you* never mind anyone else! Now of course you rightfully stand by yr work but who are you serving by offering "three against one"? I admire your eork and would rather you provide two other reviews/pieces that *support* your work (I mean *links* to said pieces, of course!) if you are going to link to 3 positive reviews, after all you don't link ti 3 negative reviews when you put up a positive piece, do you? I hope you don't think I¿'m being combative here but it seems the nice have to bend over backwards even when they are saying something humane and true while the unpleasant act in whateverway they see fit ;-). Did I mention I liked the review?! Once again we see the pointlessness, the vacuum behind BW, without the careful way that Moore reveals Rorschach and his past all we have is "The Adventures of a Righteous Psycho in a Mask". And yet nore dwelling on the doings of a serial killer rather than on the humanity of his victims... But Hey Rorschy will Make Sure He Gets His (presumably, I don't know - or care), So That's All Right Then !(?). Vile. How pointless these Ante Watchmen Products are. Your voice is an important one Colin, hits are beside the point. If something rightfully riles you you are justified in saying so, and don't worry about not mincing words because you do such a good job calling Crap Crap. Viva Toobusy!
    Regards, Ranting Robert (Big Mouth Strikes Again)

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    1. Hello Rob:- Thank you :)

      You raise some very good points about the idea of the links at the end of the piece. My feeling is that no matter how puzzled I am by those pieces, they do constitute a significant body of opinion. If I acknowledge them, I'm reminding myself that I'm not speaking for anybody but myself, which is always and yet ... it's possible to loose sight of a degree of self-awareness when writing a piece like this. I think it's really good to recognise that there's not a consensus even before the comments - if there are any - appear. It also feels far fairer to the creators and publishers involved, though why would they care anyway? And as a habit, it's a good way of checking myself at the point of posting. I don't seek out and read reviews before I write my own, but it's a really good way of making sure that I'm thinking before I post.

      I like the idea of publishing reviews which think badly of the books I praise! I'll try to remember to do that. Perhaps in those cases I'll not go for 3 examples unless the blogosphere seems particularly down on a comic that I think is splendid. But again, I think that would suggest that I'm aware there's a debate out there and that I know that I may not be being in agreement with anyone else!

      I do like folks who speak as they find, but I'm never too comfortable reading the reviews of someone who believes they speak for other people as well as themselves. Recognising other opinions seems one way of avoiding that.

      And I think it can funny to steam away on the page and then admit that, yes, there are folks who ENTIRELY disagree!

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  7. Loved the review. I am all for you letting loose like this - just to show that it can be done intelligently. :)

    I knew to stay away from the Rorschach series as I have been frequently unimpressed with Azzarello, and I could only imagine it being another example of not getting the point regarding Moore's depiction of the logical end to the anti-social loner violent "hero" - thinking that the violence and crudity is the point for its own sake.

    I am, however, enjoying Darwin Cooke's Silk Spectre

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    1. Hello Osvaldo:- That's very kind. Thank you :)

      As I've said in one of these comments, I could fully understand how Silk Spectre could be enjoyed. It's not to my taste, but it's clearly the best of the BW books by a considerable distance. I think it's repeatedly terribly underpowered as a story, and that's in its own terms rather than comparing it to Watchmen, but I fully recognise that there are moments in Amanda Conner's storytelling which are both charming and involving.

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  8. About the positive reaction to "Before Watchmen:" I'm sure some of it comes down to the fact that many people seem allergic to the very idea of writing a bad review of a comic. Some of it is cuddling up to the industry, and some of it is the under-siege mentality that some fans seem to have developed, where critiquing or speaking negatively is somehow an act of sabotage against a weakened and ailing industry. "My country, right or wrong" for comics, if you will.

    But a lot of it comes down to how a lot of fans look at the material. Comics readers aren't trained to value individual stories. Single issues or arcs have no inherent value in the world of corporate superheroes; or, at least they have much less value by themselves than they do as just one mere step on a continuing cycle. The worth of a character is measured in how many continuous issues s/he can appear in. But "Watchmen" isn't like that, in fact it runs counter to it, and a lot of the audience just doesn't know how to deal with that. It's one thing for some corporate bean counters to decide that there's money to be made in trotting out the WM characters, but it's something else entirely for the readership of the material to get excited about it. The fact is, the characters from "Watchmen" are almost entirely worthless separated from the context they originally appeared in. It's not about THEM, it's about them interacting with each other and the world they live in, and how that story is told. The individual pieces of "Watchmen," especially the characters, aren't that interesting by themselves, especially after 25 years of sloppy and reflexive immitation.

    PS I'm thinking of getting your "pissing in church" line tattooed across my chest. And I don't do tattoos :)

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    1. Hello Adam:- I can understand that allergy to writing bad reviews. I really do feel very uncomfortable about the process myself. It's always something that I have to force myself to do, in the sense that there's a significant part of me which just doesn't want to cause offense. Of course, then I write pieces like the above ....

      I suspect you're quite right about the my-country-tis-for-thee attitude. Studies have indicated that folks do have a habit of associating a brand's best interests with their own, which is as shocking as it's depressing. And as you say, there are some folks who just want to find a comfy place in the industry. The last one just curdles my toes.

      Of course, there must also be a huge number of people who just love these stories. On matters of taste, there is no arguing etc etc

      (Although they're clearly WRONG too!)

      It's so true to accentuate that the Watchmen characters have no existence beyond the meaning of Moore and Gibbon's work. They all has specific functions in that book. Remove them from it and you have generic superheroes and nothing else. THAT WAS THE *!$% POINT!!!!

      Excuse me. I can still get angry about this. The whole point of using the Charlton analogues was to show how super-heroic types could be used to represent a series of ideas concerning both power and storytelling. (I'm over over-simplifying for the point of brevity of course.) But to strip the meaning and keep the types ...

      That was one of those moments when the corruption of the whole business just became explicit again! Thank you, Adam, for reminding me of one more reason to get ticked off by Before Watchmen. Is there nothing the worst of the industry can't reduce to fast food super-people?

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  9. Thank you, Colin Smith, for writing this. The cover art makes it look like Rorschach's blowing steam out of his ears, which was my reaction while I was reading this book and apparently yours too. Your thoughts on the issue are frighteningly in sync with mine and, I'm glad to see, several other commenters.

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    1. Hello Jody:- Yes, that steam was coming out of my ears, and I'd like to think, Rorschach's too. If I may get all Grant Morrison comics-are-actually-real for a moment ...

      Thank you.

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    2. Thanks for the review. I knew of the ethical problems of BW, and the point-missiveness of such a project, but could not judge the books by there quality, and wasn't interested in them whatosoever, aside from as a cautionary tale in comics history.

      I don't like reading things that I don't like. I suppose there is a paradox there; you can't accurately criticize something if you don't experience (experience here standing in for reading a book, watching a show or movie, listening to a song, etc) it, but if you choose to experience something that you dislike then those who do like it can then say "then why did you choose to experience it?" In cases where one doesn't like something because of different taste, this is an alright question. It breaks down when the work is problematic, though. It is important to observe creations of questionable quality, and it's relieving (perhaps not as rewarding, though definitely more economic) that I can do it by proxy most of the time. Problematic creations should be dismantled. You did a good job at that.

      A laterally related question: do you recall a conversation in the comments section of one of your articles discussing the body language of the characters in Watchmen, comparing the particular way in which Nite-Owl adjusts his goggles to Human Torch's "Flame On", Green Lantern's oath, Wolverine's snikt, among others. Eventually it was concluded that all superheroes should have a gimmick that can be easily replicated by a little kid. I've searched for the conversation, but couldn't find it. Do you recall what the article above that comment section was pertaining to? Thanks!

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    3. Hello Yamandu:- I hope the addition of links to reviews which disagree to a lesser and greater degree with my own opinion helps that process of monitoring by proxy.

      I'm always rather curious to read books which I suspect I might not like. I've so often been wrong in my preconceptions that's I tend to assume I'm wrong, and it is always enjoyable to discover that a comic which would normally be ignored is actually worth the reading. Sadly, Rorschach did not prove itself to be unexpectedly entertaining.

      I have no memory of the conversation you refer to, I fear. I'm sure I'd recall their having been such a conversation in the comments, though that's expressing a faith in my memory which is more hopeful than valid. Sorry about that. I think there's a chance that that happened elsewhere .... But if it didn't, and you discover otherwise, please do let me know :)

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    4. Ah, yes. Challenging my area of comfort is what the library is for. I used to be terrified of Warren Ellis when I was young. A friendly library-user recommended Planetary. I am glad they did.

      OK, if I find it I'll let you know.

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    5. Hello Yamadu:- Libraries have been so essential to my life that it's impossible to over-state their influence. That goes for graphic novels in recent years too. Three cheers for public libraries, and a plague of locusts on those who'd regard them as luxuries to cut in the name of austerity savings.

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    6. So long as the locusts don't rack up collateral damage I'm all for it! Hip-hip hooray! Hip-hip hooray! Hip-hip hooray!

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    7. Hello Yamandu:- Oh, I quite agree. Targeted locusts are the way forward, or at least they seem to be until I recall all the dumb things I've done in my life, and until I start to imagine all the legitimate reasons why a Smith-specific Locust attack might be ordered.

      It's always easier imagining them locusts going after someone else ...

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    8. I believe I have come across the the page I was referring to.

      http://toobusythinkingboutcomics.blogspot.com/2011/10/on-stan-lee-jack-kirbys-thor-wonderful.html

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  10. Hi Colin,
    If I felt that I had to hold my nose just reading your descriptions of parts of the BW comics, I can only hope that you had a large box of smelling salts handy when you were writing...

    Good points from Ranting Rob above regarding the three links to "positive" reviews that you provided, but for me at least, whilst they were obstensively positive reviews, given what the writers chose to pick out and highlight and what they thought was "kewl" about BW:R they in fact provided me with several reasons NOT to buy the comic.

    As for your bafflement about the number of positive reviews - perhaps those people most likely to provide negative reviews are simply not buying the BW titles in the first place? However, just to ease your mind a moment, I will hereby give a negative review of the entire set of BW titles:

    Dear DC Comics, due to your complete disregard of the wishes of Alan Moore, the co-creator of Watchmen, I had already decided that irregardless of the eventual quality (or lack thereof) of the Before Watchmen titles I would A/ not buy any of them, and B/ read them in the library only - being careful to not check them out, because I know DC Comics gets paid a small fee everytime one of their titles is checked out of a library. However, given the reviews I have read so far, and the descriptions of, and extracts from, the individual BW titles, I have decided that I simply cannot be bothered to read them at all, because they are so entirely not to my taste that I refuse to waste my time on them. regards, Kiwijohn.

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    1. Hello Kiwijohn:- As I know I've said in the above, I feel much more comfortable about having the positive reviews linked to in the more recent reviews. No matter how I might disagree with them, and no matter how mystified I might be about their conclusions, the obvious fact is that there's no one POV here. I do hate the impression that can be transmitted with a passionately-felt piece that the writer feels there's no other possible perspectives on the matter. And the fact is, I've been very wrong about titles before, so it helps to imply that I'm aware of the difference between opinion and fact.

      I think that's a very good point about why there's less negative reviews than might be expected. (I have since read some wonderfully scathing responses, so they are out there, and many are, I fear, far better than the above.) I suspect that there's also a sense that the first BW books were so awful that there's no more to say. And while I respect that, Rorschach was another level of hell deeper.

      I wish DC cared more about the ethics of its stand on issues such as Watchman and the representation of gender and sexuality in some of its titles. I suspect that this isn't going to work in the corporation's interests in the long run. BW has really hurt DC beyond the short-term profit margins.

      And it's hurt the creators too. I've no intention of boycotting anyone's work, but by the same token, I'm going to have to especially motivated to buy into a project where the silver's previously been taken in this way. And that's a shame.

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  11. It's looking like the equivalent of replaying 'Taxi Driver' but replacing the alienation and patheticness with the great modern pillars of 'awesomeness' and 'badassery', which is just looking juvenile and misguided.

    While I appreciate the technical work on display in the art, it does make me queasy, it seems to be revelling in the good ol days of grubby, dangerous, exploitative 70's New York with a murder rate that was through the roof. Ah to be a pimp again on the Lower East Side back in '77, good times!

    Have to agree on your point that Watchmen shouldn't be held up as some great blueprint/roadmap, for me it's one of many projects a gifted writer came out with while on a white-hot run of invention and inquiry, it's nearly too architecturally perfect and doesn't have the heart to be found in 'Swamp Thing' and when it comes to deconstructionism is beaten to the post by 'MiracleMan'

    Probably sounding snobby, but regarding 'Before Watchmen' find it hard to swallow that so many people are happy to lap up the product without interrogating the content.

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    1. Hello Alfie:- I agree entirely about the business of revelling in the urban squalor of the Seventies. I'm just writing about Steve Gerber's portrayal of 1975's Time Square in The Defenders and there's no sense there that this is all pimpish glamour. You'd expect folks would've got smarter with the passing of time ... The problem with BA and LB's work is that there's not a hint of smartness, not a trace of irony. Because of that, and despite any wit that they may have thought they informed the work with, it's an unpleasant comicbook.

      In many ways, Watchmen really is one of the least satisfying examples of AM's work in that wonderful 1982-87 period. Which of course makes it better than just about everyone else's comics from the period, of course! I would put Halo Jones, Swamp Thing, the Superman stories and Captain Britain all before it in terms of sheer enjoyment.

      I don't think that's snobby to wish that folks gave a touch more consideration to BW. Not at all ...

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  12. Colin, may I say how glad I am to have found your writing. I haven't read RORSCHACH yet but I have been somewhat keeping up with the BW books and I AM planning to purchase it, regardless of its quality (or lack thereof, apparently.)

    My thoughts on Watchmen itself have evolved over the years (and what a testament to the great work of art that Watchmen is to be able to say that.) I read it in floppies, back in the 80s and my actual "first issue" of it was chapter five. (I quickly went back and purchased the other four and kept up with it as it was published. But Yes, I spoiled the story for myself by jumping on almost half-way through.) Since then, I've read it five or six thousand times, at a guess. And I'm fairly well-versed in the controversy surrounding Moore, Gibbons, the rights, DC and such.

    The thing about the BW books, beyond the distasteful nature of the shameless cash-grab that they obviously are and that is indisputed even by those who defend them, is that they're not very GOOD or even up to the usual level of the creators who made them. It's been said that they're just fan-fiction written by professionals. (A case could be made that almost all superheroes comics are this but that's a talk for another day.) It's as if DC waved a cheque and a chance to play in the Special Sandbox, where they keep Alan's Special Toys and wouldn't you like to play with them? "Oh boy! I get to make up a story about the guy what breaks people's fingers!" If they were good comics and interesting stories and not just flipping through Watchmen, looking for plot threads to be exploited, then they were worth reading and worth producing in the first place. But they're not good comics.

    THE COMEDIAN, Azzarello's other BW title, is woefully bad and betrays a misunderstanding of the character that borders on criminal. And I've never been a fan of his sub-par Mickey Spillane style since Jonny Double, as someone said above. I find THE MINUTEMEN to be trite and offensive, if visually interesting. SILK SPECTRE is the stand-out for me, as it seems the most in line with what a Silk Spectre "case" would be like. (And the art is gorgeous.) NITE OWL, again LOOKS good but is empty calories, story-wise. OZYMANDIAS, which SHOULD be essential, is anything but. Again, looks great but that's not enough. Comics are words AND pictures.

    An interesting aside - in the house ad promoting RORSCHACH #1, it was mistakenly labelled #2. (I can't have been the only one who noticed that. At least it was in the copy of NITE OWL #2 that I am looking at right now.) Yep, there it is, in black and white. A mis-print in a house ad, promoting your gigantic event comic line. The cover is shown, a number 1 in the upper right corner yet the text below gives and in-store date and says #2.

    The point of this is not even DC comics wants to read their own comics. It's times like this that I think about Frank Zappa and Johnny Rotten. "We're only in it for the money." "Did you ever get the feeling that you've been ripped off?"

    As much as I love the Superman stories and Halo Jones, V for Vendetta has to be my favorite Alan Moore work. (For Moore at his funniest, the Bojeffries Saga, without question.)I can't stand Moore-haters who complain about him on the Internet. They're the equivalent of a fat guy in the stands, yelling "YOU SUCK!" at atheletes on the field. (Actually, scratch that - MIRACLEMAN! Totally forgot about that. THAT'S my favorite Moore work. Jeez, thanks, brain! For making me look stupid.)

    Again, I enjoy your writing and may I say, your commenters are a joy and a revelation as well.

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    1. Hello there:- Well, thank for popping in! I hope you’ll be able to find on occasion a post or two here to fill up a stray moment or two :) You’re certainly very welcome.

      I do agree entirely with you that the BW line just isn’t very good. In places, it’s shockingly thin, and even simply shockingly poor, stuff. Whether it was a love for the source material, a terrific chance to get on DC’s good side, or even the opportunity to pay for a leaky roof to get properly fixed, the motivations of all concerned have completely failed to generate worthwhile stories. For one or two able creators to produce poor work might be regarded as the law of averages, but all of them? If nothing else, there’s some poor editing going on here.

      Your analysis of the Comedian definitely parallels mine. At times, I find myself wondering whether BA’s work in particular might be some ill-conceived satirical prank, taking the money and influence and selling back nothing more or less than what the most cynical critic might have expected. Silk Spectre, as I’ve said above, has – to my taste – some lovely touches, but it neither works as fond nostalgia or a prequel to Watchmen for me. There’s work there which would have prospered in another context, but Silk Spectre isn’t that from where I’m sitting. Still, I would not deny, the best of the bunch undoubtedly.

      The question of why DC is doing this is an interesting one, isn’t it? We’ve heard so many rumours on private and public channels that it could be a mix of a variety of causes. Corporate insistence, DC editorial power-games, genuine ambition, short-term commercial gain. Whatever the causes, the shocking thing is how babdly done it’s been. As I was trying to say in the above, if you’re going to shatter a taboo, the last thing you want to do is do it with a pathetic gesture.

      I was never too great a fan of V, but I think much of that is just a matter of my politics. I wouldn’t deny that its powerful, or that the art isn’t gorgeous. Is it daring, innovative and so on? Absolutely. I’m glad it was done, I wouldn’t want to have ever not read it. But in the end, the values it argues for aren’t mine, and though there’s work I can read where that’s not a problem, V is so specific and so well-crafted that it’s hard to think “Hang on. I’m uncomfortable with this.” A great work, but not my favourite. The Bojeffries Saga is of course wonderful. As a far younger5 man – of course – I picked up every issue of Warrior as it emerged. Those were great days in comics, the edge of the third great age of superhero/fantastical comic books.

      As for those who see Alan Moore as a figure of contempt, I simply regard them as having disqualified themselves from the debate through their own ignorance. To not enjoy all of the man’s work seems to me to be unlikely. To loathe him because he dares to follow his own star and deny the worth of the Big Two seems to me the behaviour of a corporate toady. To not respect Moore even if you don’t enjoy his work is a badge of ignorance. Away with the Rumpers.

      The commentors who pop in and contribute to the blog are by far the most rewarding part of the whole process for me. My whole taste in comics has, for example, been rewired by folks’ suggestions this year, as the 2012 Golden Age posts recently will testify. But then, I’m tremendously grateful to anyone and everyone who’s popped in, whether to leave a word or just nose around. Sincere sounding? Yes. But true …

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  13. Thank you for taking the time to write about this! I've been staring at the rack all week, trying to decide which was worse, this or the latest AVX. With Rorschach, I opened up to a random page to see the title character rather uncharacteristically swearing up a storm while beating on people. With AVX, I opened up to a page where Captain America is shedding a small tear at Professor X's monologue about "his people."
    Both have a weird common denominator of ignoring the actual issues raised by the story lines, but I think this Rorschach thing is worse because of the apparent glee that everything is presented with.
    Ah well, mediocrity pays my bills, I suppose...

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    1. Hello randomwords:- I must admit, I'm only dipping in now and then to the AvX Event. I seem to have quite lost track of why I should be reading the comic. It doesn't seem very compelling at all.

      But I think I'd agree wholeheartedly with you about Rorschach. It really is an unfortunate comic.

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  14. Well done review. I have not read any of the BW issues yet, as the project is just not of enough interest to me to collect the monthlies. I am a pretty big fan of 100 Bullets, Spaceman and the fanstastic Wonder Woman, however, and I guess I like my noir crime tropes more than you do. I'm curious how I'll read Azzarello's Rorschach when I finally do.

    Regarding different POVs, I am actually one of the seemingly few people who believe in objectivity to a certain degree. Surely we have established certain criteria in our culture for creating a story that works, for hitting a note when singing, for creating art in general. Every once in a while along comes a singular piece of work that challenges you to readjust that criteria, such as when an artist puts a urinal in a museum and everyone goes "Yeah, I guess we actually have to count that, let's rewrite some chapters in our theory books". But those are really the exception. I may decide that I enjoy Rob Liefeld's "Deathstroke" enough to spend money on it but I'm really not allowed to suggest that Deathstroke is the best comic on the stands right now, with highly detailed anatomically correct art and deep characters. That is not a valid POV, it is simply and objectively incorrect, me perhaps enjoying a b-movie type comic notwithstanding. Opinions are fine - but I do sincerely believe that there are wrong opinions.

    One note about "so little reference to matters of gender, sex, race and class in the comics blogosphere". I don't know about that. You do get a lot of simple reviews that bascially go "This is an exciting book, there's three big explosions and one cool cliffhanger, buy it", with no mention of anything else. But you also have quite a lot of "poritically correct" kneejerk reactions. You know, people posting a picture of Harley Quinn kissing Deadshot and 250 other people commenting on how sexist DC is and how they have destroyed Harley Quinn forever. As someone who has (for example) read both the Suicide Squad as well as the Catwoman series from #1 on, I get annoyed with people taking stuff like this out of context. I'm always happy to discuss the aformentioned well-informed POVs and interpretations, but you should at least give the creator enough of a chance to at least show you that perhaps he has included sex in a story because it actually plays a part in a character's journey. Yes, there are still not enough sites pointing out how insulting it is to open a Red Lanterns book and to see all these ridiculous ass shots of female aliens. It is unbelievable to me. This should not happen in mainstream comics, period. But I also suggest that there always might be a chance that a writer built up to a shock scene or to Harley and Deadshot making out really well and that it totally serves a purpose.

    I mean, this is the same internet community who has made a meme out of "the goddamned Batman", despite Robin pointing out how silly that line is on the VERY SAME PAGE of that comic. You know, Frank Miller had a character say something stupid on purpose so that anothzer character can let the reader know "That's not his real voice. Why is the talking like this? He's insecure. He's trying to convince himself. He's faking it." It's a point in the story. Maybe it's a stupid point, I'd be happy to discuss that. I'd just really like to see more quality reviewing of what an author actually tries to do, instead of this "Harley Quinn says something about her vagina in this one panel, LOL, this whole series is now automatically bull" stuff we often get on Comics Alliance etc. More focus on sex and gender would be welcome, but I'd rather that the people who focus on it first read the material in question with as much of an open mind as they can. They might be pleasantly surprised.

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    1. Hello there:- Thank you for your generous words. That's particularly so since you are a Brian Azzarello fan who suspects that he may well enjoy the book. I've never thought that a review's job was to agree with me, and I'm relieved that not everyone expects that either.

      As such, I feel safe to disagree with you about objectivity in criticism. I don't expect that anyone would agree with me about a point no matter how fiercely I believe in the principle being discussed. And I'm happy to accept in principle that there are aesthetics at play in Deathstroke that I can't recognise, but which others do. I won't agree with them, most likely but I'm cool with that. By which I mean, I do believe strongly in the values I'm trying to express, but that belief applies only to me.

      This is of course a rare wise move from me, since there are regular disagreements about what I say.

      I agree with you entirely about any kind of criticim which lacks a fair and appropriate context. I've only read a few issues of Suicide Squad and Catwoman post-2011, so I can't make any generalisations myself.

      I haven't read a great deal of the criticism you refer to. I tend to pop over to various sites when I've finished a review. So it'd be very unfair for me to say anything in that context. But I will repeat that context is everything. I won't deny that I've written a fair few reviews here in which sexism is a concern. A serious one. I hope I didn't just start slinging insults, I hope I tried to give the book a fair break.

      But then, I tried to give Rorschach a fair break. I doubt it looks that way. But hopefully it looks like there's been an attempt to engage with it before the harshness was pulled out. If I had been a comic I could respect according to my own taste, I'd've praised it respectfully.

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    2. Oh no, I don't doubt that you've given Rorschach a fair chance. And my ramblings certainly weren't aimed at you. I just scrolled through the comments and found it intriguing to see you and others go off about comics criticism in general. As I said, I'm somewhat torn when it comes to the critics. On one hand, there is an amazing variety of really good writers out there, offering all kinds of perspective. Really, what you do here, what sequart does, what people over at Comics Alliance and Popmatters do - it is often high quality feuilletonistic writing. On the other hand, there seems to be a (really well-meant) agenda to...protect comics from reverting to some sort of 90's extremes, I guess. Which I feel often leads to the unfair generalization I hinted at. I won't deny that I am a fan of dark and creepy tales, so this direction DC seems to be taking - with Scarecrow sewing his own lips shut, Harley Quinn putting Joker's cut-off face on Deadshot when she has him tied up, Catwoman facing the Dollhouse killer who, you know, makes these horrific dolls out of his victims etc. - this appeals to me. Yeah, I think it's cool. But I also think these dark and creepy tales are actually well-told and so I sometimes hijack a comments section and ask people to please don't dismiss everything as "only shock and awe" because of...well, one of the things I just mentioned.

      As far as the "unthinking contempt" for women: there is a problem there with Azzarello, I agree. I suspect he really does not think about it, meaning that it is no ill will on his part. I always assume he is on a strict diet of Hammet, Chandler, Bukowski and the comics of Frank Miller for his influences. When this is what you take in regularly, you might not even notice certain tropes anymore. The entire noir subgenre is problematic, as are all of the authors I just mentioned, as is the use of any femme fatale. Then again, I do happen to think that the femme fatale is one of the most fascinating archetypes we have, I love reading about those. I feel it's okay to enjoy it as an adult as long as I don't stop my critical thinking and as long as I'm aware that it's a cliche of sorts.

      I also still believe that the big controversy around Wonder Woman stems from Azzarello being Azzarello in the sense that of course he would want to completely break his hero/heroine down and turn his/her world into a dystopian nightmare. Right from the beginning I was waiting for him to turn Wonder Woman's world upside down. And I truly believe he would have done so with a male lead character as well. Of course that also means that, once again, he was not thinking whether presenting men or women in a certain light might have any problematic connotations.

      In closing, I do wish that Azzarello would create a strong female in one of his next projects who is neither a hooker, a murder victim or an evil seductress. I really hate to be so much on the defensive when discussing him, because apart from this one (important!) complaint, I still feel he's genuinely fantastic.

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    3. Hello there:- I couldn't say that I've an interest in "dark and creepy tales", but I certainly wouldn't subscribe to any programme designed to do away with them. If I have a problem with the New 52, it's that it appears to be exceptionally keen to nail down an audience that loves the flayed faces and so on. I think it's short-sighted to focus so hard on the body-trauma and so on, but the solution to that isn't to "ban" or stop in any way such books. The solution would be for more diversity in the markeplace. There are, for example, few Batman books which aren't cut from the same cloth, with only - to my knowledge - Batman Incorporated breaking the mold. I don't want less shock books, I want more alternatives.

      I can also think of a great many examples of "shock and awe" in a variety of forms that's splendid work. I'm unconvinced that I've seen much at DC that is splendid when it comes to bleaker stories. But then, you've obviously read more than me AND the work's to your taste. So I wouldn't dream of suggesting that such books can't be creative or shouldn't be produced.

      Again, I'd not argue that problematical genres can be engaged with ironically. I think I'd prefer more irony from the creators too than I'm seeing from Mr Azzarello. The material I've seen does seem to be remarkably lacking in innovation. It's as if the genre material he knows satisfies him so much that he doesn't feel the need to really deconstruct the forms. But I must say, that's based on a limited experience of his work. Perhaps the radical, smart-headed work is to found elsewhere.

      As such, I'll always be curious to see what BA, because I'm genuinely interested in what anybody does. And the year has found me finding a taste for writers and artists who's value previously escaped me. I love The Manhattan Projects, for example, when I've previously struggled with Jonathan Hickman's work. I always look forward to being converted. I have no desire to not enjoy any one's work. I'd happily live in a world where everything was fantastic and playing the critic quite redundant.

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