Before Watchmen – Moloch 1

Today, Shelby and Patrick are discussing Moloch 1, originally released October 7th, 2012. Moloch is part of DC’s Before Watchmen prequel series. Click here for complete Before Watchmen coverage (including release dates).

Shelby: Moloch has appeared in a few of the Before Watchmen titles. While it’s been kind of nice to see him referenced, I’ve never really thought he fit in these prequels. Alan Moore’s stage magician criminal mastermind represents a comic book villain trope; to see this caricature inserted into the realities of Before Watchmen has been jarring at times. Even though introducing a new mini-series at this point seems like a cheap cash-grab, and even though it’s written by J. Michael Straczynski, I planned to keep an open mind as I read it. Moloch is an important character in Watchmen, I was mildly intrigued by his origin. Then I read the issue, and now all I can think is how I never want to read anything like it ever again.

Edward Jacobi was born looking kind of like a troll. His parents hated him, kids beat him up, he became a misunderstood loner, etc. A travelling carnival came to town and he became enamored with magic. Edward started to earn the other kids’ respect with his tricks, but when he found out a girl he liked was stringing him along in order to humiliate him, he killed her boyfriend and ran away to the big city. Being a stage magician don’t pay shit, so he started using his tricks to rob banks. Now known as Moloch, he became a crime boss, blah blah blah, ran into trouble with the Minutemen over and over again, and was eventually put away by Doctor Manhattan which CHANGED EVERYTHING. Moloch found Jesus, and got out on parole, only to find Ozymandias waiting to give him a ride and a fresh start.

This issue is a piece of garbage. JMS perfectly demonstrates the trite and meaningless storytelling I’ve come to expect from what I’ve seen in Nite Owl. This issue drags on and on, and nothing ever happens. It’s a story I’ve heard over and over: outsider turns to crime to find power, but in the end still has to face himself in the mirror at night. I’m not familiar with the artist Eduardo Risso, but I don’t like his style. There’s this immature, almost childish quality to it that does not sit right with me. But of all the many, many problems I have with this issue, they all pale in comparison to the offensively unhealthy treatment of women and sex. Never in my life have I seen women so obviously vilified through their sexuality.

Red Lantern Shelby: Every woman in this issue is a whore; they are either passively accepting of being objectified, or aggressively bitchy. Their power is through their sexuality, and they’re all using that power for the dark side. The girl at the beginning is the first and worst example. She rejects Jacobi’s advances, then seduces him only to eventually use the power she has gained over him to humiliate him later. We learn all this in a conversation she has with her actual boyfriend, because everyone always has extended conversations while having sex in the middle of a field. You see, we had to find out while she was having sex with someone else, because how else would we know she was a whore who deserved what she had coming?

Moloch spends the rest of the issue treating every woman he encounters like a piece of trash slut to be used and discarded. The only woman he shows any sort of  “kindness” to is a prostitute he overheard telling another prostitute she had an abortion because she didn’t want to carry his freaky-looking baby. This is the most abnormal, unhealthy, and dangerously unrealistic depiction of women I have ever encountered in a comic book. I am incredibly offended. Risso’s art does NOTHING to help the matter; all his women have these vacant, dead eyes and inflatable sex-doll mouths. It’s like the entire book is populated by Real Dolls, just waiting to lie back and stare blankly at the ceiling while you do what you have to do.

Never in my life have I encountered such blatant and needless misogyny. I am extremely offended by the hateful and hurtful way JMS has written the women in this issue. Despite three issues of Nite Owl, I cannot believe the damaging attitudes towards sex and women seen in this title. This is only a 2 issue arc, and I can tell you right now, I will not be reading the second one.

JMS, how can you think this is acceptable? How can you believe this is an appropriate way to talk about half the population of the human race? Is this truly how you think women think and behave? Shame on you for perpetuating this hateful, harmful stereotype.

Patrick: Let’s not forget the magician’s sexy assistant who decides that — since she’s already fucking the magician — she might as well also try to fuck the child that walked in on them fucking. It is absolute garbage — shockingly so. I can see where JMS identifies sex and violence as topics explored in Serious Works of Fiction, Watchmen included. But he shows zero understanding of either of those concepts. His depictions of women don’t so much make Moloch look like a bad guy, as much as they make JMS himself look like a bad guy.

That’s almost an impossibly large dimension of the book to ignore, but let’s pretend that we can. Y’know, so we can register everything else that sucks about this issue. Its sins are myriad. The first thing that springs to mind (after all that horrible misogyny) is that there’s no story here. I loathe the “just recount anything from the character’s life” approach to storytelling. It’s a hodgepodge of pointless little vigniettes that actively refuse to inform us about the character or his world. What motivates Moloch? Well, he does magic to get girls and he commits crime… because… uhhhhhh…

What. The. Fuck? I mentioned this a few weeks ago when writing about Nite Owl, but not everyone in the Watchmen universe is a superhero. In fact — one of the main cruxes of Watchmen is that it takes a human being of extraordinary psychology to become a superhero. The same rule has to apply to supervillainy (otherwise, what are we doing here?) so Moloch has to be motivated BY SOMETHING REAL, and not simply a realization that he can rob banks. It is infuriating that JMS establishes a desire to be respected (even in a crass, pussy-hunt sort of way), only to give the character the respect he wants BEFORE he turns to a life of crime.

And he is leading a life of crime — so much so that he’s in and out of jail more times than he can count. It’s always a different jail, for some reason. And that in itself is a wasted opportunity: wouldn’t it be fun to see a career criminal’s familiarity with the staff and grounds of the New York State Penitentiary? But then Moloch inevitably breaks out of these prisons. This isn’t fucking Blackgate or whatever, this is a real prison, not unlike one that would exist in the real world and he just escapes? How? Wouldn’t it be an interesting story (particularly for a visual medium) that shows how a stage magician uses slight-of-hand, lock-picking, and escape artistry to Houdini himself out of jail? Failing that, wouldn’t it be interesting to have the courts unable to convict him because he’s always brought in by vigilantes? Or maybe he bribes judges? If he’s just BREAKING OUT, how the hell can he go back to being a legitimate club owner? The perpetuation of Eddie Jacobi’s criminal lifestyle is patently impossible, and worse yet, it’s boring as fuck.

That’s supposed to represent his decent into super villainy, but in characteristically unimaginative fashion, JMS doesn’t actually show Moloch committing any specific crime. Just “hurting the world.” This is his reaction to the prostitute he had no feelings for decided to abort his freaky-ass baby. There is no reason for the reader to believe this turn — we’re not invested in his relationship with the woman, we’re not invested in his desire to have a child, we’re not even invested in the idea of Moloch lacking power for whatever reason. When there’s no emotion at play and the action is abstracted to this level, any impact from this scene is lost.

While Shelby’s plea for respectful portrayals of women is totally noble, I’d like to put forth a plea of my own. I don’t ever want to read another story that covers 60 years of a character’s life and have that passed off as a Secret History or a Secret Origin. It’s bullshit. If I wanted the facts on the character, I would have traded my Little Debbie snack cakes for his baseball card, but I’m reading a fucking story, so tell me one. Pick an episode from the character’s life and play the emotions honestly. Checking in with this character every couple years is like being his friend on facebook — and that makes for one limp-dicked narrative.

I hate this issue so much I haven’t even gotten to my piddly complaints. Complaints like “if Captain Metropolis has a jetpack, in what way is Mothman special?” and “does it look like Dr. Manhattan is black?” and “why is there a giant crucifix in Moloch’s jail cell?” and “if you can’t draw that yellow-and-brown cross-hatch pattern convincingly, why do you dress so many characters in it?”

It’s also just frustrating that DC editorial would allow this sort of thing when the Before Watchmen experiment had been going pretty well. We may complain about Nite Owl, and be sorta mixed on Ozymandias and Dr. Manhattan, but there is an awful lot of commendable, exciting storytelling happening under the Before Watchmen banner. DC, don’t you realize that this drops the average considerably? Comic fans will look back and will see a risky publishing move — one that, unbelievably, started to pay off — and then they’ll all remember how more mini-series were rushed to production and mismanaged: hard-earned respect squandered. Hey, at least you were able to charge four bucks for it, right?

For a complete list of what we’re reading, head on over to our Pull List page.  Whenever possible, buy your comics from your local mom and pop comic bookstore.  If you want to rock digital copies, head on over to DC’s website and download issues there.  There’s no need to pirate, right?

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15 comments on “Before Watchmen – Moloch 1

  1. Just like in Nite Owl, JMS has invented a DARK AND GRITTY PAST that I just don’t believe. The reason Comedian and Silk Spectre have been so convincing is I believe these versions of the characters will grow into the Watchmen version I knew first. There is nothing about the Moloch I know that makes any of this garbage seem plausible.

    Patrick is 100% right, it’s the issues like these that will make Before Watchmen seem like nothing more than a corporate money grab, and completely detracts from some of the superb story-telling we’ve seen in other titles.

  2. It honestly feels like somebody once told JMS that sex, power, religion, and self-interest were powerful motivators, but without telling him how. He works overtime to include these elements into his story, but don’t synthesize them into anything remotely resembling a sympathetic character. It’s almost like he thinks the presence of sex is enough to make a story interesting (maybe he just wants to make porn).

    I tend to think that JMS has a shitty opinion of everyone — which would explain why the ability to rob a bank is the same as motivation to rob a bank — but Shelby’s right to point out that he totally singles out women. His parents reject him because he’s ugly, as do male children, but the only thing that seems to affect him are the rebuffs of women. We never see an adult man say anything about his appearance, but every single woman in this issue is so utterly vain, they can’t talk about anything else.

    The thing I’m most frustrated by in this title is the perpetuation of JMS’ approach to character development. These prequels are all about expanding characters we already know, allowing us to better understand what drives them, or how events we’re already familiar with have effected them. Essentially, it’s an opportunity to find the humanity in characters we’ve only seen tiny glimpses of, and good writers have taken full advantage of that. JMS, on the other hand, is happy to say that the tiny glimpses we’ve seen of the characters are ALL that there is to those characters, so Dan Dreiberg is obsessed with the twilight lady, Jon Osterman is obsessed with fixing watches, and Edward Jacobi is obsessed with crime. It’s both boring as fuck AND insulting to the characters. Why do they keep giving him titles?

  3. Not a ton of reviews for this one yet, but I suspect this won’t make huge wave. Why would the internet FREAK the FUCK out over Amethyst and ignore this?

  4. This was just dreadful. I hope Before Watchmen: Dollar Bill turns out interesting. In other news, ‘Rama is reporting that Vertigo’s Hellblazer is being cancelled in favor of a New 52 Constantine solo book. On the one hand, glad to have a DCnU Constantine solo. On the other hand, way to make the Vertigo fanbase despise the New 52 initiative more than some of them already do.

  5. Hey, who wants to tell me where the fuck that tit is supposed to be on the girl in the first picture Shelby posted? It’s like it’s floating around in the middle of her stomach or something. I imagine JMS: “Don’t forget to add a titty to that panel.”

    • Yeah, I actually appreciate Risso’s stuff throughout, but it doesn’t quite redeem a story that, to me, is the epitome of unnecessary. It stings particularly bad because I usually don’t appreciate the work of JMS (B5 and his Thor being the exceptions), and I associate Risso’s stuff with Azzarello – who I just LOVE. I have largely loved and defended these minis, but DC just needs to STOP giving JMS the keys to all the nice cars. He gets not 1, not 2, but 3(!!!) freaking Watchmen minis and is tasked with reinventing Superman? Who is it in editorial that loves this guy so much? Is his exclusive contract so expensive that they have no choice but use him as an elite writer? He’s like a designated hitter batting below .150 right now

  6. Pingback: Chat Cave: Late Additions to Before Watchmen | Retcon Punch

  7. Pingback: Before Watchmen – Dr. Manhattan 4 | Retcon Punch

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