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Before Watchmen: Comedian/Rorschach (Beyond Watchmen) Hardcover – July 16, 2013

3.4 out of 5 stars 49 customer reviews

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Amazon.com Review

Before Watchmen: Interview with Brian Azzarello, Lee Bermejo, and J.G. Jones by Alex Carr

Before the prequels to Watchmen--the must-read, heralded graphic novel by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons--were even published, critics, fans, and the original creators all had their say. Soon, however, top-tier talent signed on to revisit the dark world of superhero deconstruction, and DC recently published all of the works across four graphic novels. To coincide with the release, DC offered us an extensive interview with three of the creators behind Before Watchmen: Rorschach and Before Watchmen: Comedian (now collected in one volume)--writer Brian Azzarello and artists J.G. Jones and Lee Bermejo. The frank conversation follows below.

There's no getting around the controversy surrounding the Before Watchmen project. Upon being approached to work on it, what was your first reaction?

Brian Azzarello: My first reaction was "You've got to be kidding," which was then countered with "We're serious." And I understood I was hearing this because they wanted me involved.

J.G. Jones: Dan [DiDio, co-publisher of DC Entertainment] pulled me aside at the Baltimore Comic Con and told me he was planning something audacious, and wanted to know if I would be interested. He said a lot of people may hate the idea, but I was intrigued by the opportunity to work with these iconic characters. Dan gave me my choice of characters (except for Dr. Manhattan, which had already been claimed by Adam Hughes). Naturally, I chose Comedian, based on the outline of what Brian planned to do with the story. I think I got the best character of the lot. Following up on a iconic piece of art like Watchmen can be very daunting.

Lee, J.G., were either of you intimidated at all by the prospect of working on these classic characters?

Lee Bermejo: Honestly, every project is equally daunting for their own reasons. I can't control the public's expectations or desires. I just have to do what I do and hope that it resonates with somebody.

J.G.: I wouldn't say any of us were intimidated. We all love the original Watchmen and, obviously, wanted to treat the material with the respect it deserves. So I would say that I was excited and energized to work on the Comedian book.

What do you think is the most compelling part about the Rorschach and Comedian characters?

Brian: I think the most compelling thing about Rorschach is his unwavering will—even when he's wrong about something. He's fascinating; a character that is made of so many shades of grey that sees the world in black and white. There's no room for Rorschach in Rorschach's worldview.

Lee: Rorschach is pure vigilante fetish. In certain circumstances, he is everything we wish we could be but also what repels us about that lifestyle. A fascinating dichotomy.

J.G.: [Comedian] is such a complex character. He can seem like a really jaded, hard-assed, indifferent character, yet, in the Watchmen graphic novel, he is the impetus for the whole story. If he had not reacted to Ozymandias' plot in such a human way, he would not have been killed, and Rorschach would never have investigated his death, unraveling the whole ball of yarn. He is a more complex character than the simple cartoon good or evil, and we wanted to explore how he became so jaded and willing to do the horrible things he does, while still maintaining a hidden core of humanity. A Vietnam tale seemed the right way to look at his hardening and the building of his facade.

Before Watchmen: Rorscharch features yet another Brian Azzarello/Lee Bermerjo team-up. You two have worked together around a half dozen times—what keeps you guys collaborating?

Lee: Finding a good collaborator is like finding a girlfriend. When it starts working good, you don't want to stop until it's over. Brian is a great partner because he leaves you your space and freedom but gives you everything fundamental and necessary for that freedom to be used well.

Brian: We don't know any better. That, and nobody else wants to work with us.

Before Watchmen: Rorscharch, maybe more than any of the other Before Watchmen prequels, dives into the depths of human depravity, and that's saying a lot. Lee, did you have any pause knowing how dark Brian Azzarello's script would get?

Lee: I looked at this book in a very fetishistic way. It was exactly that darkness I wanted to explore, so I was ready for anything.

With 100 Bullets, Wonder Woman, and a few of your other DC Comics/Vertigo works, Brian, you’ve been building to your ending. Was it a different writing experience for you knowing your main character had an ending you did not create?

Brian: Not at all—both these stories have their own endings for the characters. They're just not their final endings.

Brian, how do you continually go to such dark places with some of the most despicable characters in comics?

Brian: Well, I guess I'm drawn to darker stories. I believe it's in our faults where our humanity becomes most apparent—both for good and bad. Or maybe you just don't know me very well.

The Before Watchmen: Comedian story was steeped in American history. J.G., was it difficult to portray real-life figures like the Kennedys?

J.G.: Portraying the Kennedys was not all that difficult. I would say, along those lines, though, that I did spend a great deal of time researching Vietnam and the whole era of the 60's. The Watts riots, the cars, suits, uniforms, weapons, military equipment and camps, villages in Vietnam—everything had to be researched to the Nth degree so that I could be accurate with the illustrations.


"Azzarello is a perfect fit to give someone as unbalanced as The Comedian a back story."— Huffington Post

"I should have realized that if there was any writer able to take a genuinely bad person and make him endearing, it's Azzarello."—IGN

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Product Details

  • Series: Beyond Watchmen
  • Hardcover: 256 pages
  • Publisher: DC Comics (July 16, 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1401238939
  • ISBN-13: 978-1401238933
  • Product Dimensions: 7.3 x 0.7 x 11.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.7 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (49 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #222,986 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I was originally against the idea of buying and reading the Before Watchmen books, partly because I imagined Alan Moore's horror and partly because I thought it was a blatant money grab by DC.

I'll be brief:

(1) The two best stories in these collections are the Ozymandias story and the Minutemen tale (both in other volumes).
(2) Brian Azzarello took on the two darkest and strongest anti-hero characters in the Watchmen universe.
(3) Both stories are overly simple -- the Comedian's story mostly covers a short span (1960 - 75) in his active life (the Comedian was an active hero from around 1939 until his murder in 1985). His relationship with the Kennedy's and his time in Vietnam form the core of the tale. Unfortunately, Mr. Azzarello makes the Comedian fairly one-dimensional: he is a murderous, drunken lout who is the product of his time and circumstance. I think he could have played up the heroic patriot angle more and given a deeper challenge to the readers.
(4) The Comedian was handled far, far better in Cooke's Minutemen and Wein's Ozymandias.
(5) The Rorschach story is just a pulpy tale from NYC in the late 70's. We learn nothing more about Rorshach. There aren't any new great scenes or dialogue (nothing even 10% as good as "you are all in here with me"). Like the Comedian, Azzarello took a fantastic character and made him more one dimensional.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Watchmen was the acclaimed work by Alan Moore and David Gibbons which re-set how many people view super hero comics. Along with The Dark Knight Returns by Frank Miller, it put a very modern darker, cynical and often ironic shading to the nearly 90 year old genre.

If you haven't read Watchmen there is not much point in reading any of these prequels - the homages, references and foreshadowing will not make any sense. The ironic quotes and images which echo the original work won't have any resonance.

This installment looks at the two darker and grittier characters: The Comedian and Rorschach. Both operate largely to their own codes and if it stretches beyond what is commonly acceptable, well, that's just too bad. The Comedian however serves the official government and is granted great license so long as he delivers and doesn't go too far off the prescribed script and path. Rorschach is unrestrained except by his own black and white right versus wrong view of the world - a rigid and often limiting way of thinking. Brian Azarello plotted both parts - JG Jones illustrated the Comedian section and Lee Bermejo did the Rorshach part. Without spoiling the work, be warned the illustrations are bold and graphic but consistent with the brutal themes. What seems off is the way the Comedian is portrayed as becoming disillusioned by the JFK assassination and Vietnam. In Minuteman, it would seem his experience in World War II started him down that path long ago. It doesn't seem to ring true that he would be a cozy supporter of JFK and RFK. He'd laugh at them for being soft rich kids backed by their family money and connections. In the original work, there was intimation that he might have been in the region of the grassy knoll or book depository and this is contradicted here.
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Format: Hardcover
Like the death (and resurrection of Jason Todd), fans will continue to debate the quality -- -- and even the legitimacy - of the whole "Before Watchmen" enterprise for years to come. Having discussed my views elsewhere, I feel no need to burden readers here with a repetition. In many ways of all the "Before Watchmen" series, Brian Azzarello's assignment was the most challenging; for various reasons, Moore's psychopathic take on The Question, Rorschach, grew into the overwhelming fan favorite. At the same time, comics from the villain's perspective are among the hardest to write, often descending into either boring recitations of crime or absurd, thin psychoanalysis to explain away bad behavior. Few writers have ever managed to hit the right cord. As for this volume, Azzarello performs a reasonable, perhaps even bold, execution on Rorschach, but produces an overwhelmingly banal and colorless take on The Comedian, turning that ultimate anti-hero into a hapless pawn of history.

When it comes Rorschach, that character's unique voice is just about everything and to his credit Azarello nails it perfectly. In Moore's original, Rorschach's psyche is... well... off, and his word choice reflects that lack of connection to reality. As in Watchmen, much of the plot moves through the vehicle of the character's journals, and here Azarello doesn't quite capture the irony of the original, but still does good enough. As for the action, we see Rorschach as he moves through his New York, this time set in those dark blackout, "drop dead" days of '77. It is an inspired choice. Equally inspired is the choice to show us the Rorschach beneath the mask in much of this story.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I just could not get into this book like the others in the Before Watchmen titles. I really could not and I'm not sure I can tell you, the reader of this review, why. It's wonderful artwork, magnificently drawn the story for both Comedian and Rorschach are dynamic and gripping but for some strange reason I just did not enjoy this book as much as the rest of them. And that is my honest review. It's good, but it was hard for me to get through this one, comparative to the rest. Thanks for reading and have a nice day.
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