Before Watchmen: Comedian / Rorschach by Brian Azzarello – Graphic Novel Review [Bane of Kings]

Before Watchmen Comedian Rorschach

Bane of Kings reviews Before Watchmen: Comedian / Rorschach, written by Brian Azzarello and published by DC Comics.

“An immensely disappointing take on two of Watchmen’s most important characters. Watchman fan or not, this is one to avoid.” ~The Founding Fields

Writer: Brian Azarello | Art: J.G. Jones (Before Watchmen: Comedian #1-6), Lee Bermejo (Before Watchmen: Rorschach #1-6) | Collects: Before Watchmen: Comedian #1-6, Before Watchmen: Rorschach #1-6) | Publisher: DC Comics

Writer Brian Azzarello brings his gritty, nuanced storytelling to these two unforgettable characters. COMEDIAN, featuring art by J.G. Jones (FINAL CRISIS, Wanted), plants the famed war hero within the context of modern American history, as we discover the role he played in the Vietnam War and the Kennedy assassination.

In RORSCHACH, Azzarello teams with artist Lee Bermejo (JOKER, LUTHOR) to show how one of most dangerous vigilantes the comics world has ever seen became even darker.

Up until this point, I’ve had a pretty positive experience with graphic novels and comics. Rarely have I read a graphic novel that’s let me down, and what’s more – I never thought that let down could come from Brian Azzarello, of all people – writer of DC’s New 52 Wonder Woman, and whilst I may not be up to date on that series, I enjoyed the first volume a lot, so was hoping for some high quality work to come out of the Before Watchmen years of Comedian and Rorschach. However, I was massively disappointed, with the graphic novel simply not being as well written as it could have been.

Before I read this graphic novel, I was on board for the whole Before Watchmen thing. I managed to read the first issues of Ozymandias, Minutemen, Nite Owl & Silk Spectre but was unable to follow them through the entire mini-series, so I was going into the Comedian and Rorschach tales completley fresh. However, after having read these two,  I have to say why bother? It’s like Star Wars, the prequels. I would have much rather had George Lucas follow on from the events of Episode VI rather than going back and giving us Jar Jar Binks etc. Sure, in Watchmen‘s case, it would be very hard to tell a ‘what happens next’ storyline, but I for one – would have wished that they should have just left certain characters past’s alone. We don’t need to know the Comedian’s story, and neither do we need to know Rorschach’s. Both are given a perfect amount of depth in the graphic novel and the film, as they’re two of the key players. I’d like to say that Comedian and Rorschach’s storylines held my interest right the way through, but they didn’t. I barely managed to finish the Comedian one, however Rorschach’s tale was a slight improvement.

Before Watchmen Comedian RorschachThe Comedian story is the one that you’re given first, but in retrospect, it probably should have been the other way around – because at this rate, the reader will be so put off by the time that they’ve reached the end they won’t stick around for more. I almost always find something that I like about a book even if I disliked it as a whole, but that was not the case here. Sure, I know Eddie Blake isn’t a nice guy, and you’re not expected to find him to be a rootable character – but it’d be nice to have a character you could get behind in this series. We’re drawn more to the brief appearance in #1 of John F. Kennedy then we are of Eddie in the entire mini-series. It doesn’t help that I’m not a big fan of J.G. Jones’s art, either, which is, like the whole graphic novel, a let down – and I’m somewhat glad that they changed the artist for the Rorschach tale – I just wish that they’d have found a better writer for these two characters than Brian Azzarello, as he doesn’t seem very capable of handling these two anti-heroes.

The Comedian introduces us at the beginning of the story to Eddie Blake, and one thing that I like about this is that there’s a clear difference between the character now and the one that we meet in Watchmen. He hasn’t yet experienced Vietnam, nor done the things that we witnessed him do in the various flashbacks in the graphic novel/movie. The Comedian issues feel like Azzarello is being a bit experimental, seeing what works and what doesn’t. As a result, the issues really don’t work as well as they should – which is a shame.

When you’ll reach the Rorschach half of the book, you’ll discover that it of course warrants the inclusion of the standard Rorschach’s Journal tale that we’ve come to expect from the character. As he’s one of the more iconic figures in the filmI couldn’t help but read his narration using the voice in the movie – and I expect Watchmen fans will also do this, particularly if they’re a fan of the character – who chances are, will be most people’s favourite. There are comparisons in the Rorschach tale to some early scenes in Batman Begins where Bruce is still learning the ropes as Batman. Remember the sequence where he sneaks into Jim Gordon’s office to get him to contact Rachel Dawes, and then escapes over the rooftops, falling down the ladders as he tries to do so, clearly not as experienced as he is by the time The Dark Knight Rises comes around? Well, that’s kind of the case here. Rorschach thinks he’s going to burn a stash of drugs, but is instead confronted and almost beaten to death by attackers. The kind of difference that the character

The Rorschach storyline was probably one of my most anticipated of the Before Watchmen series, yet by the time I finished Comedian, I approached it with dread rather than anticipation, and I didn’t find anything to lift my spirits whilst reading this.  The mystery and the story is more straightforward, interesting and gripping than Comedian, It doesn’t really stand out. Before Watchmen should be spectacular, and the creative team should be trying to match the original work set by Alan Moore. That’s far from the case here, but I am in the process of reading Nite Owl / Dr. Manhattan, which has started pretty well.

Therefore, you’ll want to avoid this. People who want a complete collection and die-hard Watchmen and Rorschach fans will no doubt pick up this graphic novel anyway, but if you’re wanting to read it, I recommend waiting for the trade paperback releases. That way, if you want to read the Rorschach storyline, you can read that  without bothering with the Comedian.  No recommendation for Comedian, then – but a cautious one for Rorschach. 

VERDICT: 2/5

Milo, aka Bane of Kings, is a SFF/Comic reader, and watches a lot of TV. His favourite authors are Neil Gaiman, China Mieville, Jim Butcher, Brandon Sanderson & Iain M. Banks, whilst his favourite TV shows are Battlestar Galactica (2003), Person Of Interest, Firefly, Game of Thrones, & Buffy the Vampire Slayer

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  • Conner Nielsen

    I thought The Comedian sucked. Rorschach was one of those so-bad-it’s-good stories. Just crazy violence for violence’s sake, over the top, ridiculous, flashy, but still entertainingly trashy. Until the end, that is, when it tries to be about something: too little, too late.

    • http://www.thefoundingfields.com Bane of Kings

      Fair point. From what I’ve seen so far, the Comedian and Rorschach ones are pretty much the most disappointing.

      • http://sonsofcorax.wordpress.com/ Shadowhawk

        Len Wein’s Ozymandias is much worse than either Comedian or Rorschach.

    • http://sonsofcorax.wordpress.com/ Shadowhawk

      I suffered 2, maybe 3 issues of Comedian before I decided that yeah, this sucked. The Comedian guest stars in Silk Spectre and I thought that cameo was better done than the entire titular series! Azzarello, for me, just didn’t seem to have a good grasp on how to make both Comedian and Rorschach exciting and not boring. His Wonder Woman run was good for about 10 issues or so before it too became BAD. I finally gave up on issue 15.