Before Watchmen: Rorschach #1

Written by Brian Azzarello

Art by Lee Bermejo and Barbara Ciardo

Lettering by Rob Leigh

Published by DC Comics

Review by David Pepose

'Rama Review: 7 out of 10

Walter Kovacs might one ugly son of a gun, but Before Watchmen: Rorschach may be one of the most visually impressive out of DC's controversial line of prequel books. With Lee Bermejo forcibly throwing David Gibbons' cartoony artwork into a terrifying hyperrealism, these are meaner streets than you might expect, even if the point of this exercise remains as fluid and unclear as the unhinged crimefighter's mask.

The timing of Brian Azzarello's story is unclear. So is the theme. In fact, if you're looking for that deep directed insanity that Alan Moore instilled in Rorscach, well... that's not this book. It's a cover of a classic track, for sure, and for Azzarello, letting Rorscach loose in the modern-day Sodom and Gommorah is enough.

Out of all the Before Watchmen books, this feels the most like a "traditional" superhero comic, or maybe even a hard-boiled supercop like Clint Eastwood's Dirty Harry. (Particularly with Rorschach's sense of humor — let's just say he's a little funnier than I remember him. Dark, but funny.) I think the highlight of this book has to be the unseen antagonist Azzarello builds up, a killer named the Bard who likes to leave his works etched into his victims.

But the real draw here is artist Lee Bermejo, who sets the tone of this book with some intense imagery. His introduction to the Bard is one of the most effective openers I've read in a long time, with the harsh lighting evoking the kind of monsters that can hide in the shadows. Rorschach himself has some nice moments, particularly when he winds back his arm to start pummeling a hapless crook. There's some real power behind that swing there.

But beyond the characters, Bermejo also does some fine work really building a world. New York is a beast here, filled with details like glittering lights and city dwellers that shuffle in the background like dogs. This is Rorschach's city, we're all just living in it, and Bermejo definitely doesn't skimp on the layers for this Serpico-style grunge metropolis. Colorist Barbara Ciardo deserves a lot of credit for making these scenes work, whether it's the eerie red-on-ice-blue during the Bard scenes, or the hot, sick reds that light up city streets and porno shops.

The thing that's holding back Before Watchmen: Rorschach isn't so much technique or execution, but direction. This is an inkblot test that has no answer, which is certainly a change of pace from the philosopher vigilante that ignited everyone's imagination back in 1986. Does it add to Walter Kovacs' myth? Not quite, and the reunion factor alone will probably not be enough for purists. But based on sheer looks, I'm willing to stay on board for a second chance.


Avengers vs. X-Men #10

Written by Ed Brubaker

Art by Adam Kubert, John Dell, Laura Martin and Larry Molimar

Lettering by Chris Elipoulos

Published by Marvel Comics

Review by David Pepose

'Rama Rating: 5 out of 10

"I fight, therefore I am." That might be the philosophy of Avengers vs. X-Men #10, a comic that exists just to keep the fight going between Earth's Mightiest Heroes and the Phoenix-corrupted Children of the Atom.

It's... well, it exists. It's not particularly memorable, although it looks great and has all your favorite characters (even if most of them are stuck in the background somewhere). As Ed Brubaker describes, it is the turning point for this one-sided war, but it's more of action figure combat rather than a war story with real thematic heft.

Brubaker, to his credit, really tightens the focus of this sprawling story, with Cyclops squaring off primarily against Iron Man, the Scarlet Witch and the power-absorbing mutant messiah known as Hope. Any pretense of the X-Men being anything close to heroic is kind of out the window at this point, as on the first page you have Cyclops ostensibly trying to incinerate a teenage girl.

Yet if fisticuffs are what you want, fisticuffs are what you'll get. Brubaker does step outside his comfort zone a bit with how crazy the fighting can get, as he combines power sets and mythology to create a brand new set of "moves" for continuity enthusiasts to clamor over. The mythology of K'un-L'un still feels a little shoehorned, considering Iron Fist's stock in the Avengers versus the Phoenix looming large over the X-Men all these years, but the directions Brubaker takes can surprise you.

That might be damning this book with faint praise. But I know I'd be damning it a whole lot more if Adam Kubert wasn't on board. He gives the book its teeth, as the ground explodes and armored heroes lie on the ground in a smoking heap. Kubert, aided by some really lush inkwork by John Dell, is so on-point with all of the character designs that you really do want to see his take on Cyclops, Iron Man, Magneto and all the rest of the gang. Colorists Laura Martin and Larry Molimar add some nice warmth and energy to the scene, although the mingling magics at the end of the issue do look a little garish.

By the end of the issue, I feel like we've more or less gone in a circle, with Hope still being an all-powerful deus ex machina, the X-Men getting evil-er, and Cyclops and Emma both still living to fight another day. This book looks great, but 10 issues in, it would have been nice to be more than that. With a throughline that is stretching beyond the breaking point, this book has all of the blockbuster we've come to expect from superhero epics... but none of the heart underneath.


Pathfinder #1

Written by Jim Zub

Art by Andrew Huerta and Ross Campbell

Lettering by Marshall Dillon

Published by Dynamite Entertainment

Review by Aaron Duran

'Rama Rating: 8 out of 10

There is simply no way to get around it. Readers are going to compare Dynamite's Pathfinder #1 to IDW's well-received Dungeons and Dragons series. I tried, but as a player of both games and a reader of both books, it simply can't be done. That isn't necessarily a bad thing, as you could argue that both work harder to entertain when the competition is breathing down your neck. And while both titles share similar fantasy tropes, Pathfinder #1 is definitely able to hold it's own as a strong fantasy book.

Writer Jim Zub, who knows his way around crazy fantasy with his series Skullkickers, doesn't waste any time in pulling the reader in. There is no slow build, or tired caption exposition over panel after panel of sweeping landscapes. Nope. Page one, panel one, we've got magically mutated Goblins doing their best to skewer Valeros, the parties' fighter. In fact, the opening pages really set the tone for the bulk of this debut issue. The actions of the various members of the adventuring party, being the classic fighter, thief, and magic-user go a long way in revealing their personalities. It's a strong way for the reader to identify and latch onto character, without having to weave game mechanics into a narrative.

You won't need any knowledge of the Pathfinder game (or any game) to enjoy this comic. However, as this story revolves around Goblins acting, well, rather un-Goblin like, a healthy understanding of your basic European fantasy will help. In fact, that's my one real issue with Pathfinder #1 as a story. I was really hoping Zub would avoid the all too typical personalities found within the characters. The fighter is always the headstrong brawler. The sorcerer is always the aloof person of mystery. The thief is always the sexy scoundrel. I understand a comic based on an established property can't sway far from the source material. But I hope one day an RPG inspired comic will reflect the diversity that's possible within the game.

I'm not very familiar with artist Andrew Huerta, but his art is a great fit with Zub's flamboyant writing. His character designs fit well in line with the established look of Pathfinder characters, while maintaining just enough personal flare to make them feel distinct from the game. There are some quieter talking head panels where Huerta's exaggerated lines fall victim to “everyone is shouting” syndrome. However, as the bulk of this comic is one form of over the top violence or another, his line work is a real pleasure to read. These are indeed larger than life characters.

I do wish Ross Campbell's colors matched the same intensity as Heurta's linework. Many of the colors blend a little too much into each other and the reader loses some detail in the pages. This becomes very problematic in later tavern scenes where the bulk of the background characters and setting morph into one brown panel. Coloring is also a concern when the sorcerer or thief take center stage, as both look incredibly similar and their almost parallel color scheme can make their scenes hard to follow.

That isn't to say there isn't strong coloring work, but a greater attention to separations will really help this book pop in future issues. Another minor concern must be paid to Marshall Dillon's lettering. While narrations and characters read with appropriate font and design, there are more than a few questionable balloon placements that really throw off the readers pacing.

Still, my gripes with Pathfinder #1 are quite minor. Taken as a whole, this is one entertaining read and a more than welcome entry in the woefully small fantasy comic genre. Dynamite has a strong team on this book. Like the classic adventuring party, if this creative team can sync up their strengths, we're going to have one fine book on our hands. Pathfinder #1 is definitely worth your hard-earned gold. 

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