There's been a lot of ruckus over Before Watchmen but let's lay that aside before we begin this review. Deep breath, let Alan Moore's rants and the fan-boy rage and/or excitement fade away. Alright, ready to go?
Moloch is the latest book in the Before Watchmen series, a somewhat unexpected title given the focus on heroes in all the other books. With J. Michael Straczynski and Eduardo Risso (!!!) at the helm, it went from being an easily skip-able book to worth a read. If there was a story to be told about Moloch, those were the two who could tell it.
Unsurprisingly Moloch's origin story is filled with cruelty and violence but his role begins as the recipient, not the aggressor. Born a "freak", Edgar William Jacobi grows up constantly harassed by schoolmates and dismissed brutally by the girl he likes. The perfect first step on a villain’s path to destruction. That is, of course, until he discovers Magic during a wander through the county fair. What kid wasn't smitten--for however brief a period--by the mysterious world of illusions and parlor tricks? Eddie starts taking lessons from Fantastico the Magician and soon after performs his own mini-shows for kids in his school. The shows transform him from a freak into a magician. He begins making friends and gaining the attention of the girl he's been smitten with for years. Just in time for the inevitable betrayal you knew would come. Moloch is already established as a villain so it’s obvious that at some point he crosses the line. It’s a brutal moment and not at all how I expected it though.
From there, we jump ahead a few years to the beginning of his career as a professional magician and the moment he coins himself Moloch. I liked the reasoning behind his choice for the name; another detail I didn't contemplate much previously but works very well with the mythos. The life of a magician then is much the same as it is today; underpaid and entirely lacking the on-stage glamour once you step offstage. His descent into crime is the obvious next step and he pulls off some of the biggest heists with more flair and intrigue than any other thief could claim. It's not enough though. It's never enough, is it?
The Minutemen make their appearance but they're almost an afterthought. The focus of Watchmen and Before Watchmen, they're just a note in Moloch's story. Straczynski explores Moloch's psyche in a way that doesn't excuse his crimes but makes you sympathetic to the character. One line in particular felt like it belonged in the original Watchman book:
"I was ugly, a freak. But the world... the world was uglier."
That statement and the scene that follows actually gave me chills. His actions are a brutally honest declaration to the world and the violence he perpetuates is as much of a message to everyone else as it is to himself. Chilling and very captivating for a character I don’t think anyone gave that much thought to. It's a satisfying read, as you get to see the character grow and change, not always part of a villain’s story beyond their origins. The best part of his origin is that although it is technically the end of his reign of crime, it's just the beginning of Moloch's tale.
The art is amazing. That's standard for Risso though. Moloch's physical characteristics lend themselves to Risso's wavy line work and the women are drawn with such simple sensuality they approach Manara level sultriness. However briefly, it is interesting to see the Minutemen in that style too, though it suits some more than others.
It's a solid book, more so than I expected. Only a two-parter, let's hope the conclusion to Moloch's story lives up to his introduction.