When the "Before Watchmen" project was first announced, one of the numerous objections brought up was the question, "What's the point?" With some of the characters, you can see where readers might be interested in seeing their earlier stories (most notably the Minutemen), at least. But reading J. Michael Straczynski and Eduardo Risso's "Before Watchmen: Moloch" #1, all I could think is, "I can't imagine there being any demand for the secret origin of Moloch the Magician."
Moloch was a character that was only defined by two features in "Watchmen." First, his deformity meant that (with the notable exception of Dr. Manhattan) he was the closest the comic got to a costumed character that differed from the normal human form. Second, as the only "super-villain" kicking around, he served as a red herring. But Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons didn't seem to have fleshed out the character at all beyond that, and this comic reminds us that he was, at his heart, a one-dimensional character.
Straczynski's script is extremely by the book. There isn't a single character beat or moment that you haven't seen coming: rejected by family and peers, obsessed by magic and escapes into it, uses his tricks to gain revenge on those who wrong him, turns to crime and prostitutes but still never finds happiness. Perhaps the bigger problem with the script, though, is that there's no real style or flair that could somehow make this story stand out despite its basic trappings. The narration is unmemorable and there's nothing in the writing that stands out.
Risso's art at least looks great as always, although it's his jaw-dropping cover that is the high point of the comic. With the shadows hiding all but his turban, blood-stained gloves, cards, and eyes, those elements pop out at the reader and feels a little unsettling. Risso's a master of the comic medium, and this cover reminds us of that simple fact. The interiors are good too, mind you. Risso and frequent collaborator Trish Mulvihill turn out some beautiful pages; the soft hues match with Risso's gentle lines in the carnival scene, by way of example. With the semi-shadowed form of the magician and his assistant standing as a silhouette in front of the crowd, it's a moment that grabs your eyes and makes you stare. Little moments like a sword going through a coffin jump out at you and make you stop and linger, and it's a reminder that Risso's art makes everything a little better.
"Before Watchmen: Moloch" #1 feels like a comic that has no purpose. I'm always in favor of new art from Risso, but that's not enough reason to push this through the publication schedule. There's no hook here, nothing that makes you think, "I can see why they wanted to publish this comic, too." This is for Risso die-hard fans only.