Brian Azzarello, J.G. Jones, Lee Bermejo, Before Watchmen: Comedian/Rorschach (2013)

Before Watchmen

Author: Brian Azzarello (writer), J.G. Jones, Lee Bermejo (illustrations)

Title: Before Watchmen: Comedian/Rorschach

Format: Hardcover

Pages: 256

Thank gods for libraries! Because if I’d bought this, driven by nostalgia, authors’ fame, or some misplaced need for adventure, or a revisit of the universe before HBO’s TV series scheduled for next year, I’d have been furious. All right, I knew the Watchmen prequels were a shameless money grab, there was no doubt about it. But I also hoped for some kind of tribute, a homage, or a thoughtful reimagining of the ideas and social commentary presented by Moore and Gibbons in the story and characters from Watchmen.

Watchmen

Need I say more? I probably ought to 😉 So, first things first, Moore’s and Gibbons’ Watchmen are on my list of favorite graphic novels of all time. Gritty, subversive, digging deep into the American superhero mythos and collective identity, Watchmen became at once the grist and the mill of the pop culture, simultaneously giving it lasting imagery and the tools to analyze it. We should probably do a Two-shot post on Watchmen here at Re-Enchantment, but because our views on the work of Moore and Gibbons are very similar, there wouldn’t be much suspense or tension. We might only have some differences of opinion regarding certain characters and plot devices (the fated pirate story, ekhm…), but our overall reviews would be quite alike.

I have been circling around Before Watchmen for a while now, at first dismissing this idea as a blatant and ill-conceived effort to capitalize on Moore and Gibbons’ work – and DC’s already done more than enough bad things in this regard. However, when I saw the Comedian/Rorschach book in my local library, I decided to finally give it a chance and overcome my prejudice – after all, I thought, Azzarello of 100 Bullets and Batman fame wouldn’t butcher Moore’s ideas.

I couldn’t have been more wrong.

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Yuki Urushibara, Mushishi (1999-2008)

Wow, it’s only a second appearance of manga on Re-enchantment… After Yotsuba&!, it’s time for Mushishi, another of my favourite series. Created by Yuki Urushibara and published for ten years in serialized form in Japan, now it’s available both in English and Polish, collected in 10 volumes.

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This is the only manga I own a whole set of. Well, this and Azumanga Daioh, but the other is just one 700 pages omnibus. Also highly recommended, from an author that later gave us previously mentioned Yotsuba&!, but that’s not for today.

Mushishi is a story about Ginko, a wandering mushi-shi, occult specialist protecting people from mushi, ethereal, supernatural beings not perceived by regular humans, but capable of influencing their lives in usually pretty dangerous ways. Partly a shaman, even more a scientist, Ginko uses his knowledge of the supernatural to help people as he travels through Urushibara’s version of XIX-century rural Japan of the late Edo period.

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Jean Van Hamme, Grzegorz Rosiński, Thorgal (1977-2006)

and several other, not as good, writers, from 2006 onwards, and maybe they should stop, but it started great, and continued strong, for three decades 🙂

When I was a kid, I did not have easy access to Marvel, or DC, comics. Some Batman storylines, The Amazing Spider-Man published in Poland by TM-Semic… I’ve actually only come to really appreciate comics in my early twenties. On title that was always around though – Thorgal. One of a few comic book series hugely popular in a comic wasteland that Poland was, and perhaps still is – we have notable authors, sure, but the scale is small.

Thorgal is a science fiction Viking fantasy (!) series written by (first, and best, 29 issues) a Belgian author Jean Van Hamme and illustrated by a Pole, Grzegorz Rosiński. Belgian, part of the big universe of Francophone comics, the biggest force in the European comic book scene and well worth your while. Smart, pretty – often in a rough way, less polished, and less uniform, than their American counterparts and also less prudish than American publications. I would argue – on average, more sophisticated. With no luck in the film adaptation department, as recent unremarkable Tin-Tin and messy Valerian prove.

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Greg Park, Carlo Pulayan, Aaron Lopresti et al., The Incredible Hulk: Planet Hulk (2006-2007)

Piotrek: We did not like Thor: Ragnarok. I was unimpressed, Ola hated it almost as much as Wonder Woman.

Ola: That’s right. Only almost :P.

Piotrek: As we’ve mentioned, one of the reasons was the lack of respect towards the material it was supposed to adapt to the silver screen. Another – a feeling that it could easily be more entertaining, but also much, much deeper.

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Bill Willingham, Peter & Max (2009)

I’ve already mentioned that I love Fables, a comic book series by Bill Willingham.

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Fables are real. And, exiled from their worlds by (initially) unknown Adversary, they live in our world. Mainly New York, as usual ;), but not only. Centuries ago a huge army started to conquer one world after another (in a kind of multiverse where every legend has its place, and Earth acts as an Amber of sorts, the core reality where mundane people live, creating and remembering stories*). Many Fables were killed, most subjugated, some serve the new regime, but some escaped to Earth – and dream of regaining what they lost. They formed a government of sorts, with HQ in NY, and they live among us. At least those of them, who can maintain human-like form, the rest live on animal farm in the wilderness of New York State countryside.

*Willingham uses popular system, where the strength of belief in something influences its power. Popular Fables are really powerful, forgotten – decline in time.

Yes, so the comics are great, and I also recommended most of the spin-offs. The novel occupied its place on my shelves for a few years, but I’ve only read it recently. Not that I was worried it would be bad – there just always was something else. Now I’ve read it and I’m quite happy about it, but convinced Willingham should stick to comics.

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A comic book for the little ones.

Raising small geeks is a lot of fun. For me – definitely, but my nieces also look quite happy about it. I do not always get it right, and showing Coraline to a three year old… hopefully won’t come out in therapy later in life a source of some major issues 😉 And Brave, after which she was afraid her mother would turn into a bear, was not actually my idea (and Madzia enjoyed both, it’s just that there were some after-effects)

spidey

Anyway, there are better and worse ideas. I keep them supplied with Ghibli movies and Marvel plushies and make sure there are plenty of books, carefully screened for artistic value and gender equality issues.  I read them age-appropriate manga, we play games and tell each other stories. There even is a very special book she can read me!

It’s a chance for me to revisit some of the childhood’s favourites and find some new and exciting books. And in this area I’m not handicapped by living in Poland. Our fantasy is mostly mediocre (with notable exceptions, but still…), our s/f tends to be politically too far to the right for my liking, but kiddie books – we have plenty of the highest quality stuff. There are even some internationally recognised names, take a look.

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Stan Sakai, Usagi Yojimbo (1984-?)

Popular culture gives us many great samurai figures. There are probably almost as many live action samurai movies as westerns, and The Magnificent Seven Samurai duo of wonderful classics show us how close these genres could be.

But I want to introduce one of my favourite comic books, so no more about cinematic depictions (hmm, who would have won if guys on the left fired on the guys on the right :D?).

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In a world of countless great mangas, my favourite graphic novel Japanese warrior is an anthropomorphic rabbit by Stan Sakai, who, though born in Kyoto, is undoubtedly an American artist. I’m not going to argue it’s the most accurate vision of the medieval Japan, from the stuff I’m familiar with the honour goes to Vagabond, probably, and Rurouni Kenshiin has some great moments – usually just before going for silliness and fanservice. And then there is Samurai Jack, a hero whose story recently concluded, after years of waiting.

But Miyamoto Usagi from Usagi Yojimbo, he is my favourite!

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