First Impressions: Before Watchmen: Comedian
By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder
Before Watchmen was off to a promising start with the first installments of the Minutemen and Silk Spectre books. Neither was perfect, but they both had great art, and the stories were pretty harmless, if not incredibly compelling. I attribute that in part to the involvement of Darwyn Cooke, who did the entirety of Minutemen and wrote Silk Spectre. Cooke is an all star, and if you’re going to lead with somebody, he’s as good a choice as you’re ever going to find.
Brian Azzarello and J.G. Jones are all stars too. Nevertheless, with Before Watchmen: Comedian #1 they’ve created something more akin to what I was worried Before Watchmen was going to be: Some mildly offensive content mixed with unneeded backstory.
In this issue we learn that Edward Blake, a.k.a. the Comedian, is very close with the Kennedys. Early in the story we see him playing football with them on the White House lawn. Moments later, Jackie Kennedy pulls him aside and in so many words, asks him to kill Marilyn Monroe for having an affair with her husband. In the scene, Kennedy calls Monroe a “drug addled peroxide whore” and a “blonde bitch.” Our “hero” goes through with it, apparently causing the drug overdose that killed the American icon.
Neither of these moves offend me personally. But the scene with Jackie Kennedy seems needlessly tasteless, doesn’t it? It casts the former First Lady as a hellaciously vindictive, murderous woman. And for what purpose? To demonstrate the Comedian’s impact on American history? Okay, fair enough. But this move puts more heat on Jackie Kennedy than it does the Comedian. Why make her the villain? I understand why Azzarello put the Kennedys in this story, as what happens to them could potentially add more background and depth to the Comedian’s “life is a joke” philosophy. But why this way? Why leave us thinking more about what an evil woman Jackie Kennedy is than what a sadistic bastard the Comedian is?
This issue also succumbs to a trend that I hate in prequels: Giving us unneeded, unnecessary character connections. Remember Moloch the Mystic? In Watchmen, he was the former supervillain that Rorschach interrogated about the Comedian’s murder. In Watchmen #2, we learn that a week before he was killed, the Comedian broke into Moloch’s bedroom and literally cried to him about something neither the characters nor the reader understand until we reach the end of the story. It’s the only time we see the Comedian be emotionally vulnerable, and it’s a great scene. I always thought part of the beauty of it was the implied randomness of it. The notoriously cynical Comedian needed someone to confide in. So he simply found a familiar face who wouldn’t necessarily have a lot of credibility, and let himself go. That element speaks to the character’s often spontaneously violent nature.
This issue ruins the spontaneity in that scene by giving the Comedian a precedent for being open in front of Moloch. When the Comedian bursts in on Moloch at one of his crime scenes, news of the John F. Kennedy assassination has broken and Moloch is in tears. It’s a role reversal used to create a connection between the two scenes. He even gives the Comedian line to harken back to the Watchmen #2 scene, with “Got any booze in this place?”
To me this is in the same ballpark as having Chewbacca in Revenge of the Sith, or having Clark Kent meet half the Justice League in Smallville. It’s why I can’t get into Wicked because I can’t buy the idea that the Wicked Witch was somehow connected to the Scarecrow, Tin Man and Lion before The Wizard of Oz. Establishing these pre-existing connections tarnishes the joy of the simple random encounters between characters that shape the way a story moves along, i.e. Dorothy happens across the Scarecrow in a field. In this case, it’s the Comedian finding Moloch to vent to. Logically, it’s not supposed to make sense. There’s no precedent for it. In Watchmen, Rorschach even says: “Enemies for 40 years. Why would he visit you?” Moloch doesn’t have an answer, and I don’t think we were supposed to either.
I can’t complain about J.G. Jones’ art, except to say I wish the Comedian would spend a little less time with the cigar in his mouth. He doesn’t have it when logic says he shouldn’t, like when he’s playing football, when he learns about the Kennedys, or when he for some reason decides to kiss the backside of a deceased Marilyn Monroe. But in just about every other scene, he’s got the damn cigar. Yes, this character smokes. It’s one of his trademarks. But he doesn’t need to have it when he’s jumping around a warehouse shooting at gangsters, does he? That’s not exactly ideal for enjoying a smoke.
Comedian #1 is the first miss of the Before Watchmen line. Its use of historical elements is needlessly tacky, we don’t necessarily learn anything new about our title character and it taints a great moment from the original. And this is only the first issue! Let’s hope Azzarello and his old buddy Lee Bermejo fare better next month with Rorschach.
Front page image and interior image 1 from geek-news.mtv.com. Image 2 from comicscavern.com. Image 3 from bleedingcool.com.