Before Watchmen – Moloch 2

Alternating Currents: Before Watchmen - Moloch 2, Michael and DrewToday, Michael and Drew are discussing Moloch 2, originally released December 19th, 2012. Moloch is part of DC’s Before Watchmen prequel series. Click here for complete Before Watchmen coverage (including release dates).

Michael: Breaking the Before Watchmen project into character-specific series makes is a novel but logical way to approach the prequel. After all, each of the Watchmen characters are their own distinct protagonists, each with a different set of skills, challenges, ethics, and goals. And while the technique might be somewhat novel in the comic book world, the last 20 years of cinema have acclimated us to disparate, chronologically skewed vignettes that reveal more of the story as they overlap. It’s a fun narrative technique that can enhance a nuanced story, allowing the storyteller to layer information and keep the reader interested with shifting perspective. But what of Watchmen? It wasn’t initially conceived in that fractured vignette style and not all the characters are equally interesting. This was my initial concern when starting Moloch/Edgar, because I barely remembered who Moloch was from the original Watchmen. Once I did recall him, I got bummed out, because he’s a sniveling pathetic character, a witless victim, and a dubious subject for a series. However, the second issue — which mercifully brings us all the way to Moloch’s death — crystalizes the series as a sober portrait of a sincere, tortured pawn amidst the narcissism, swashbuckling, and grand-scheming of the other Watchmen characters.

Veidt welcomes a newly paroled Edgar to his company. Edgar seeks forgiveness and a redemption; Veidt eagerly plays the parts of savior and confessor. When he’s sure Moloch is ready for his penance, Veidt leads Moloch to a private office where his job is to do menial cross-referencing on laboratory reports — something Veidt claims is too important to be left to machines. Edgar pours himself into the work, leading a lonely existence, but content to give back. Veidt commends Edgar on a job well done and gives him another task — a delivery for Janey Slater. Edgar is touched but confused as to why he would be trusted considering his history with the Minutemen/Crimebusters. Ozymandias reiterates his new found boundless trust in Edgar assuring him he’s worthy of it. As Edgar weeps thankfully outside the office, Veidt purposefully makes an arbitrary mistake on a lab document and instructs his assistant to leave it on Edgar’s desk.

"Why would I use the mail when I have an indentured servant?"

When Edgar drops off Veidt’s package, Janey explains that Veidt has been sending her a special herbal remedy for bronchitis — her only lasting side effect from smoking according to her doctor — that can be smoked in cigarette form, presumably because that’s the easiest and most pleasurable way to medicate. Later, Edgar finishes his own physical with one of Veidt’s in-house doctors, who tells him his recent nausea is the result of a low grade infection of flu. When Edgar leaves with his diagnosis, the doctor hangs his head and confirms with Veidt that Edgar has cancer.  Edgar putting his coat back on in a borderless blue panel is unbearably meek.

Ugly AND cancer? Man, this guy can't catch a break!

Later, when Edgar experiences the full effects of his illness, the same doctor gives a diagnosis of stage three prostate cancer, baffling Edgar as to how it could happen so fast. The doctor’s text-book “nobody really knows” definition is glibly set to Veidt’s secretary planting radioactive pages of Edgar’s desk. Veidt offers to pay for Edgar’s treatment, a gesture that chokes up Edgar and brings him to his knees – he still feels unworthy of (what seems like) limitless kindness and forgiveness from Ozymandias.

Veidt is so assuring

Then we see Moloch’s perspective on a few original Watchmen sequences. Edgar wakes to find the Comedian sitting on his bed and blubbering that it’s all a joke. Later, Edgar relates this and the Comedian’s warning that he and Janey are on a “list”. Veidt dismisses the Comedian’s ramblings, assuring Edgar he’ll take care of him — we cut to the familiar panel of the Comedian plummeting from his apartment building. We see a quick succession of the funeral, followed by Rorschach jumping out of Moloch’s fridge.

Finally we see Edgar watching Dr. Manhattan get grilled on TV about his potential cancer-causing abilities. Now his disease and Janey’s make sense as an Ozymandias plot — Edgar is horrified. Just then Veidt appears in Edgar’s apartment, confirming that he is using Edgar to harness Dr. Manhattan’s teleportation to save the world. Veidt confesses that he would easily have just had Moloch killed to protect the conspiracy, but instead offers him something irresistible — a saviors sacrifice, true martyrdom, and ultimately the chance to be part of the greatest appearing act of all time with a world-peace prestige. Moloch accepts the offer and Veidt’s bullet through his head. Rorschach shows up too late to meet Edgar, finding him dead, with by far the most peaceful look we’ve ever seen on poor Moloch.

Drew, I’d be interested to know if you think Moloch is a successful narrative in the Before Watchmen series. I find it unusual to focus on a character who never really amounts to much as a villain and who’s so thoroughly broken as a civilian, he can hardly be considered to be in the came league as the rest of the Before Watchman crew. Once I finished this issue, I decided the Moloch series is great purveyor of context, mood, and tone — not the usual superstars of the comic-book world. We know Ozymandias to be a coldly rational megalomaniac — he transported that squid…cold, bro — but his relationship with Edgar underscores how heartless he can be in the name of the greater good. This broken man submits completely to Veidt, like a God. And Veidt, so sure of himself and his mission, accepts his pleas for forgiveness as a god! With that kind of context, it almost felt like you were reading gospel — given the momentous nature of Ozymandias’s plan, their relationship is not unlike a powerful righteous god and loyal follower. At the risk of too much editorializing, I’m really glad they included this little tragedy in the series.

Drew: Unfortunately, Michael, I was not as pleased with this issue as you were. In contrast to your experience, I remembered everything about Moloch’s few appearances in Watchmen, and the story arc those imply, which I think explains our different reactions here. Where you could get invested in Edgar’s tragic tale, I was anticipating every single story beat, which left little else to sink my teeth into. Worse yet, the information here radically alters a crucial development in Watchmen, turning Rorschach into a completely ineffectual crime fighter.

That development is Veidt’s hands-on involvement in the hiring of Edgar. In Watchmen, Rorschach gathers the vital clue that Edgar is on Dimensional Development’s payroll, but it isn’t until much later that we learn that Dimensional Development was a subsidiary of Pyramid Deliveries, which was itself a subsidiary of Veidt Enterprises. Veidt’s connection to Dimensional Development and ANY of its employees (including Janey Slater and Wally Weaver) must be absolutely secret for his plan to work. Otherwise, Rorschach would have picked up on it. Straczynski offers an out here, suggesting that Edgar used a secret entrance so nobody ever saw him, but Edgar still knows. Don’t you think he might mention his buddy-buddy relationship with Veidt when he’s desperately trying to convince Rorschach he’s gone straight? Because he doesn’t, I always assumed he simply didn’t know, but Straczynski seems to be positing a different theory: Edgar just isn’t afraid of Rorschach. Given the way Rorschach treats every other criminal he encounters, fear seems like a reasonable response, but for whatever reason, Edgar decides to withhold information.

Then again, Straczynski’s grasp on what makes sense in a story has never been all that strong. Take, for example, his understanding of Veidt’s plan. Veidt simply needs to get reports leaked that Moloch has cancer — not stage three cancer, just “cancer” — so the fact that he withheld information from Edgar just to have his cancer advance to terminal status doesn’t make any sense. It seems like bringing a doctor into the fold seems like extra hassle: just one more loose end he’ll need to tie up before his plan can truly be safe. BUT, if he was going to do that, anyway, why go through the trouble of actually giving Moloch cancer? They could just tell him he has cancer (since, you know, they don’t really seem to have qualms lying about people’s cancer status)? But fooling Jacobi isn’t even important — the news just needs to get to Dr. Manhattan during that TV interview (there’s really no reason all of that shit couldn’t have been made up). Conversely, Veidt could have just exposed Edgar to carcinogens at work, and let him find out about it when his doctor detects it. There’s no reason his doctor couldn’t have just lied and told him it was stage three cancer, if that was somehow important to the plan, but I really don’t see why that would have been necessary. My point is, this plan is needlessly convoluted, and smacks of padding out a story that was satisfactorily told in Watchmen.

Now, I understand that the entire Before Watchmen idea is an exercise in padding out a story that doesn’t need it, but some have managed to find new compelling stories to tell with their characters. The rest have revisited the same plot points, hoping to gain mileage from fresh perspectives, but mostly paling in comparison to the original. Moloch 2 falls very squarely in the latter category, much to the detriment of the story. The story is told in a series of increasingly absurd stakes-raising reveals, but since I already knew how it ended, exactly none of them were effective. Edgar is hired by Veidt to (surprise) do a pointless job so he can (surprise) keep secret the cancer that (surprise) he intentionally caused…and then he (surprise) shoots him in the head. I just got tired of scenes ending in Veidt twirling his mustache and laughing maniacally.

I would be interested in seeing Edgar’s small role in Watchmen retold as a tragedy, but this issue completely fails to tell me that story. It’s interesting how our familiarity with Watchmen has affected our reading of this series. I should be clear: I don’t think my reading is in any way better — honestly, I probably need to get a life — but it’s fascinating how variable our experiences were based on our prior experience. I’m curious to hear how others reacted in the comments.

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?


7 comments on “Before Watchmen – Moloch 2

  1. The abstraction of the story is smart, which is why I find the execution so disappointing. After issue one of Moloch (which, fuck that thing, by the way) I was so ready to write off the mini completely. But the grain of truth behind it — that Moloch could come to view his own sacrifice akin to that of Jesus — is interesting and compelling and even something not well-explored by Moore. In fact, Moore’s original work goes out of its way to trivialize a traditional God with the suggestion that Doctor Manhattan effectively achieved that status by accident. So there is a spiritual void in the Watchmen narrative that could be filled.

    • Yeah we did forget to single out that first issue as total garbage. I do agree that my fuzzy memory of Moloch allowed me to accept inconsistencies and easy-outs with little to no agita.

  2. Pingback: 100 Bullets: Brother Lono 1 | Retcon Punch

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