The cover to the first issue of MOLOCH is incredibly striking. It really grabs you; the character (a magician) shrouded by darkness (you cannot see his face), save for the edges of his turban, his blood soaked white gloves, and several playing cards. It's a beautiful, detailed and really well done image that I felt was one of the best looking covers of the week. And work that artist Eduardo Risso put into this first issue doesn't end there. While different, stylistically, the interior pages of this issue are equally as well done as its cover. Risso's art is perfect for this book because it captures the tone and mood of the character really well. It's dark and gritty, and Risso's art is both. It's very brooding and the lifework is really beautiful.
The story, while cliche (which I will get into later) is well structured and organized. This is a pretty thick issue and there's a lot of story here, which is a good thing. Written by writer J. Michael Straczynski, this issue (and likely the second issue as well) are very clearly connected to the other BEFORE WATCHMEN books Straczynski is working on. First we see the appearance of Dr. Manhattan, and later we witness the introduction of Moloch's character to Ozymandias -- which we will very likely see in the second issue of this two-issue series.
The progression of the story is good. We are given a clear introduction to the character at the start of the issue, and we watch his progress from being a neglected, innocent child to taking the path of a hard-line criminal. It's interesting to see the way the story unfolds, and we learn a lot about the character. I think the decision to have Moloch narrate the story was smart, since the focus of the issue is primarily on him. Not only that, but through this narrative, it was a good way to learn about the character, too. The pacing of the story is really important; Straczynski has only two issues to introduce the character, highlight his motives and talk about where his life went wrong; and he does it in a way that is compelling because the issue is so well organized. You see the events that the character endures that shape his life, and the reader isn't just told that these things happen, they watch them happening to the character. I think that's very important.
Like I said above, this is a well written comic. Having said that, I think there are a lot of cliche events and a lot of character traits that we have all seen before that are used to tell Moloch's story. The idea that he was unloved because he was deformed and that he turned to magic because he wanted to "disappear," it all seems like a story I've heard before. Yet, even though a lot of the moments and scenes are really cliche, I still felt that Straczynski made this character his own.
I can't say I really enjoyed this story at its core mostly because I felt a lot of it was cliche. Having said that, I think it has a lot of redeeming qualities. It's very clear that Straczynski took the time to break down the character. He highlighted not only who the character is, but what pushed him to make specific decisions. He explained through the character's actions the different things that propelled and shaped him. I felt that although I wasn't crazy about the story itself, I can't deny the fact that it was really well written -- because it was. This issue is organized and structured in a way that is easy to understand. Straczynski doesn't write in a moment and explain a life event without thinking about the bigger picture. How does this moment shape the character and his actions? You can tell these are things the writer thought about and for that reason, the issue was executed well.
Yes, there were cliche plot points and plenty of things I could have done without seeing, but at the end of the day I think Straczynski really managed to successfully find the character's voice. He used the life events to shape that voice and he understood it well. Every moment that is captured in this issue is important in shaping the character, and I found that compelling. Great jumping on point for new readers, and if you've been reading BEFORE WATCHMEN: OZYMANDIAS and BEFORE WATCHMEN: DR. MANHATTAN, you may want to pick up this comic as a compliment to both those books.
Additionally, there are a lot of mature themes in this issue, so I can't recommend it to the "faint of heart."