Before Watchmen: Dollar Bill One-Shot

Before Watchmen: Dollar Bill One-Shot

Steve Rude’s art in this Dollar Bill one shot is amazing. That won’t come as a surprise to anyone who’s familiar with his work, though his appearances in comics have become more and more infrequent. This is a gorgeous issue and his illustrative style suits the era of the story, the glamorous 30s and 40s. Rude’s line-work is evocative of actual comics from that time, simple but charismatically drawn characters and eye-catching colours by Glen Whitmore. Though each Before Watchmen title has an iconic look, Dollar Bill emulates the timeframe the story takes place in better than any of the others. Even if you don’t read a word in this book, it’s worth the purchase based on Steve Rude’s art.

Bill Brady, the man behind the Dollar Bill mask, had a familiar back-story for a handsome guy in the 30s/40s. Sports hero in school who got a scholarship and a shot at the big leagues until an injury killed his football career before it really started. With the help of his friends he managed to not flunk out of school but ended up with no real career options after graduation. Some failed attempts in show biz later, he responded to an ad that would change his life. He became the face of Dollar Bill, National Bank’s mascot capitalizing on the super hero trend. Never intending to really become a hero, Brady was honest from the start that the very idea terrified him.

When the Minutemen put out a call for new caped crusaders to join their team though, Dollar Bill answered the call at the behest of the men who paid him. It would be good for sales. Not really expecting to become part of the team, Brady was surprised to find out the Minutemen had room for someone that would bring them more publicity, even if he didn’t have the requisite ass kicking skills usually required. The Minutemen were heroes but also a brand, a very modern take on heroes in that era.

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If you’ve read The Watchmen, you know how Dollar Bill’s story ends. If you haven’t, browse onto another part of this website before I spoil it for you.

I didn’t realize quite how young Brady was when he dies so embarrassingly after getting caught in a revolving door. Only 30 years old, he barely had a chance to do anything beyond be Dollar Bill in his life. Not that that’s a small achievement but you get the feeling that he wasn’t incredibly happy about it. It’s a sad tale of a man who starts off shilling for a bank but comes close to actually becoming a hero before his untimely death.

Overall Dollar Bill is a decent read with spectacular artwork but it doesn’t really add anything new to the Watchmen mythos. It’s ironic that it’s the book that appears to belong in the Minutemen era most but it isn’t essential reading. Still worth a look for the art alone though.

Before Watchmen: Moloch #2 Review

Before Watchmen: Moloch #2 Review

The way Eduardo Risso draws Moloch in the first page of this issue is perfect. His posture, the almost demure expression on his face as he listens to the man who has essentially guaranteed his release from prison, describe the kindness he is granting him. It’s the face of fear, of knowing enough to realize that nothing is truly free in life, especially from this man. Mr. Veidt has taken him under his wing, assuming he is willing to do penance for his misdeeds and as a newborn catholic, save his mortal soul in the process. Moloch agrees but it’s unclear whether he’s doing so to do right or simply out of sheer terror of the man so unafraid of his enemies he no longer needs his secret identity.

Why he’s brought him there is a simple but odd task. Moloch has apparently demonstrated great concentration skills during his villainous past and Veidt wants him to focus them on strings of equations to find errors. Every error caught is potentially a life saved, though he doesn’t specify how these equations are being used. It’s a stirring enough speech that in the following panels we watch as Moloch ages, devoting years to this task in the hopes of his redemption. Despite all the terrible things that readers know he’s done, it’s still painful to see him waste his remaining years helping an even greater villain yet to be exposed. Everything he does, whether he’s aware of it or not, is now in service of Veidt’s plan.

The rest of the story unfolds in a way that should be predictable considering how much of it we already know from the Watchmen book but the final twist caught me off guard. The interconnectedness of Moloch with the rest of Veidt’s scheme is new to the Watchmen mythos, which makes his involvement all the more tragic. To have come so far personally and through a legitimate desire to right his past wrongs, he manages to spread perhaps even more suffering than he did previously.

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The one complaint I had is that Moloch is described as a very intelligent man, both in the original Watchmen book and in this series, yet he misses things and doesn’t question others that should raise red flags. Then again Veidt’s plan was nearly overlooked by everyone except Rorschach so I can’t really fault this man who so desperately wanted to believe he was atoning for his sins.
It’s a really gripping tale, especially since it could so easily have been a fluff, throwaway book riding the coattails of the Before Watchmen name. J. Michael Straczynski and Eduardo Risso made this two-part title into something special that’s worthy of its addition into the Watchmen universe.

Before Watchmen: Moloch #1 Review

Before Watchmen: Moloch #1 Review

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.