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…And the Superhuman Review – Before Watchmen: Comedian #1

Every week, Chad Nevett and I will be reviewing an issue of Before Watchmen through a discussion of each issue. We continue with Comedian #1 by Brian Azzarello (writer), J.G. Jones (artist) and Alex Sinclair (colors).

Chad Nevett: Well, if there’s an issue that will get Watchmen purists pissed off, I can’t think of a better one since Brian Azzarello’s interpretation of the Comedian seems to fly in the face of what we learned of him in the original series, especially regarding the assassination of JFK. In Watchmen, it was heavily implied that the Comedian had SOMETHING to do with it and, here, he’s actively placed away from Kennedy to prevent him from possibly saving a man that he loves respects and admires. Yet, oddly, besides that factual difference, I don’t think Azzarello’s take on the character is at odds with Moore’s, at least not ideologically. Of course the Comedian would be buddy buddies with the Kennedys! They’re fun-loving, ‘play hard’ type of guys, the exact sort that Edward Blake would be drawn to. There might even be something there about Blake’s cynicism and world views. He was always a bit of a bastard, but, when he was with the Minutemen, there wasn’t necessarily a suggestion of the crazed, dark cynicism he displays later in his life. Like America, the death of JFK could have really affected him and helped make him into the guy we saw in Vietnam. In that way, it seemed oddly appropriate — no less so than him being in on the assassination of Kennedy, merely something that produces a different effect, showing the character in a slightly different light. Was he always like that or were there events that helped make him like that? Azzarello clearly chooses the latter…

Brian Cronin: I saw it a bit differently in that I think that Blake was always a scumbag. I don’t think 1940s Blake is any different than 1960s Blake who is nothing different from 1980s Blake. All that has changed are his circumstances. Here, he allows himself to see the Kennedys and Camelot as his way out, a way to get past his crazed, dark cynicism. Only, of course, it ends tragically and only re-confirms what he always knows about both the world and himself. For instance, before Kenendy is even killed, Blake is more than willing to assassinate Marilyn Monroe and not even blink any eye about it. Heck, he takes his time with her after he does it! This is not some guy who was changed by Camelot – he only wishes he could be. But he can’t, because deep down, he knows that he’s the guy you keep around because he’ll always be ready to silence the “drugged-out blonde bitch” or whatever else that needs to be done and no one else will do. Look at his reaction to Kennedy getting assassinated. Is he upset? Sure, but look how quickly he adjusts. He just calmly notes the angle. “Ohhhh, okay, so they drew me out here so they could kill Kennedy without me getting in the way. Duly noted.”

Storytelling-wise, though, Azzarello and JG Jones did a great job. The reveal of where he is at the beginning of the issue is handled nicely and JG Jones is as effective drawing the action sequences as he is drawing the character moments.

I really liked how well Azzarello captured the “star fucker” angle of the Kennedys. They were practically royalty in and of themselves, but they also loved to surround themselves with famous people and the idea of being close friends with a superhero roughly their same age is totally in keeping with their personalities.

CN: Okay, I think your reading is a lot better than mine, so I’m going to pretend that it was ALWAYS my reading of it and move on… Although, the worst question I will ever ask: did Blake have sex with her before or after?

The ‘star fucker’ bit makes sense, because, while the Kennedys are romanticised now, they weren’t always held in such regard, especially while JFK was still alive. I mean, he was popular and there was a youthful celebrity sort of thing surrounding him — but, he was still the president, and that means around half the country hates your guts at any given moment. In death, he became something more and the whole notion of Camelot has taken on another shape. But, yeah, they were definitely the sorts who used their positions to hang out with famous people… something that still happens to a degree, though it’s become accepted.

Of all the writers involved on Before Watchmen, Brian Azzarello is the one whose work I love the most (by far) and the one who seems closest to Moore in his own way. The way that Azzarello uses language to drive scenes forward and transition is so purposeful and skillful. He’s a little too fond of puns at times, but there’s a strong root in the English language and how rich it is that he seems like an appropriate choice for a project like this.

JG Jones… I always enjoy the chance to see him do interior work. He draws real people here and it doesn’t look like he simply copied photos — the Kennedys are integrated into the scenes and look like any other character, which I really like. As you said, he does great action scenes. I can’t remember if Marvel Boy was my first exposure to his art, but it was when I learned that he draws the hell out of movement. Solid compositions and conveys the sense of quick movement and pacing without sacrificing clarity.

BC: Yeah, I am always impressed by how well JG Jones integrates likenesses into his work. It never distracts from the story and, best of all, his characters actually EMOTE. Far too often, artists who do strong likenesses end up with situations where the characters look like the people they’re supposed to look like but that’s the end of it – they are like rubber masks of famous celebrities (think the Richard Nixon masks in Point Break). Here, Jones actually makes them real character who just happen to be famous people. This is most obvious in the Jackie Kennedy scenes. Jones does a great job showing the variety of emotions Jackie is going through, from disgust, anger and, ultimately, pragmatic detachment.

I know you are a big believer in Azzarello as being one of the few writers that you can just always count on to deliver a professional, well-written comic book and that is certainly on display here. He’s not breaking any new ground here, but he managed to do an introductory issue without it being a big info dump. He got everything you needed to know about Edward Blake by simply integrating it into the actual story. Still, this is very much a set-up issue and I imagine that we’ll be seeing even stronger work from Azzarello in the later issues of the series.

As for the sex question, Blake is depraved, but I don’t think he is so depraved as to have sex with a corpse. Heck, I think he’d get off on the notion that he was going to be the last man to ever have sex with Marilyn Monroe.

Here’s a question for the readers out there (as I don’t feel like looking it up and I’m sure neither do you) – did Marilyn Monroe ACTUALLY keep a signed baseball by Joe DiMaggio with her? And was the prescription bottle the actual one she used to kill herself in real life?

CN: Yes, Azzarello is my little club of ‘Professional Writers’ in mainstream superhero comics who doesn’t seem to have any underlying affection for these pre-existing characters (something that is often used to sell people on a particular creator and I’ve never understood entirely), but can always be counted on to produce strong work, because, well, he’s a professional hired to do a job and previous affection or lifelong love for a character doesn’t mean a thing.

I’m curious where this series will go from here. The other two we’ve seen so far had a bit more of a clear path ahead of them: the people who will make up the Minutemen will actually meet and form the team and Laurie goes on her youthful rebellion journey away from her mother, eventually returning. What exactly happens next with Edward Blake isn’t as clear. Vietnam is on the horizon and we’ve seen a bit of that. But, Azzarello has a lot of room between the end of this issue and that war, so there’s a lot he can do without touching on anything we’ve seen previously of the character. For that reason, out of the three series we’ve seen so far, the second issue I’m looking forward to the most is Comedian #2. Well, and my affinity for the creative team…

BC: I think that is fair. Of the three series released so far, I am also the most interested in Comedian #2. Which is saying a lot about the job Azzarello and Jones did, as I did not think I would be as interested in Edward Blake.

By the way, I think Wein and Higgins are continuing to kill it on the back-up series. The art is excellent and the story manages to hit a number of strong points in just two pages.

CN: I understand people not picking up these books, but it’s a shame that the almost completely unrelated pirate back-up gets ignored/villified in the process, because Wein and Higgins are really doing some great work. I didn’t expect to enjoy this as much as I am. They’re putting on quite a show of what can be done with two pages each week. I particularly love Higgins’s colouring, the muted tones with bits and pieces of strong colour popping up here and there. Hopefully, it will get collected on its own and people who have been avoiding the other titles can pick it up because, as I’ve said before, it’s quite a different thing from the rest of the BW stuff without any of the ethical baggage… unless something happens down the road, of course.

BC: You mean like the pirates meet the ghosts of the Newstand dealer and the young boy and they go on an adventure with them?

CN: I was thinking that the ‘pirate’ from the original shows up or something, but, hey, you never know. Maybe this was the first pirate comic the boy read and every month he was there, rereading the latest issue over and over again.

BC: Oh! Oh! Or it turns out that the explosion did not kill the dealer and the boy, but actually threw them back in time and they end up on a Spanish galleon for wacky hi-jinx?

CN: You having way too much fun with this…

43 Comments

Man do I hate Azzarello’s “clever” banter. The guy is really becoming a parody of himself. It’s weird, I think his banter is as annoying a tic as Bendis’s, if not worse, but he doesn’t really have as bad a rep. I guess it’s more obvious with Bendis as he writes so many more books a month. But…ugh.

Before I read this post, I’d just like to say HOW DARE YOU READ THESE AND PAY MONEY FOR THEM DON’T YOU HAVE A SOUL DC SUX AND ALAN MOORE IS TOTALLY GOD AND IS NEVER WRONG ABOUT ANYTHING AND ANYONE WHO READS THESE SHOULD BE BEATEN WITH A SOCK FULL OF QUARTERS AND WHAT’S WRONG WITH YOU WHY ARE YOU SUPPORTING THE MAN YOU TOTALLY STINK LIKE STINKY SOX!!!!!!

Can we please just discuss the actual comic now? Yes, we know Brian and Chad are soulless monsters. If they can live with it, can’t everyone else?

I’m actually surprised by how lousy Jones’ art looks. It seems fairly lifeless, and I don’t know if it’s bad coloring or what, but when I looked through this book at the store, I almost didn’t recognize it as Jones’ art.

Let’s just think of it as a “Brian and Chad read Before Watchmen so you don’t have to” sort of thing and go on…

And, morality aside, from an artistic standpoint, we’ve known all along that these books were, as was once (apocryphally no doubt) said of the contents of the Library of Alexandria, either redundant or heretical. Looks like this one is the first of the latter class.

Perhaps I’m reading too much into this but… is there a strong implication in here that The Comedian was gay for JFK?

If THAT’S what led the character down the path to self-destruction and immorality then I’m sorry, but that’s pathetically bad. Azzarello: what’s happening to you!?

If THAT’S what led the character down the path to self-destruction and immorality then I’m sorry, but that’s pathetically bad. Azzarello: what’s happening to you!?

I think it’s like some other writers who I won’t name: it’s not that they’re getting worse but rather that they are as bad as they ever were and the audiences are just now noticing because the new car smell is wearing off.

"O" the Humanatee!

June 21, 2012 at 7:34 pm

FB_Mancy: I didn’t read the comic, but I looked it over at the store, and we have these two pages in front of us. My impression is that Azzarello was implying not that the Comedian was “gay for JFK” but rather that he was of an uptight “manly” type, common for his time, for whom any implication of any sort of love between men smacked of effeminacy, which in turn smacked of weakness, etc. The “love” here, it seems to me, is more like the love Shakespeare, for example, would have male characters feel toward other men.

I suppose one can always make the argument that “hypermasculinity” like Blake’s – not to mention his sexual violence – was a defense against homosexual feelings, but I don’t think that’s what Azzarello’s going for. Only future issues will tell.

I agree with Greg, by the way, about the stiffness of Jones’s art.

Azz touched on the Monroe/DiMaggio story in 100 Bullets, too, remember?

Good call, Sandra.

Agree with T. Thanks for the review gents. This confirms my worst fears, that these books are doomed to fall into the trap of trying to out-Moore Moore. Can’t imagine how the above writing could be considered good by any standard.

A few points.
Jones is always much better on covers but still functional on interiors.
You can’t run the “he really shot Kennedy” thing in 2012. It is played out. Also we have enough distance from Stone’s JFK to accept that it was Oswald and the necessity of some Bad Ass is no longer there.
And finally I can’t believe that Moore has pooped on the memories of Wilde, Doyle, Barrie, etc… by taking their characters and writing new stories about them. You people should be ashamed of yourselves.

Once again, I’m not reading these. But, putting aside my dislike for this project, from a purely objective standpoint, those examples of J.G. Jones’ artwork seen here are really underwhelming. He has done much better in the past. Okay, as Michael Howey points out, Jones usually is better at bringing his A-game to hive cover artwork (absolutely loved his Doc Savage covers, what the hell happened to the final issue of that series anyway?) but even so I’ve seen better interior work from him. Even on Final Crisis, when he had health problems, his work was better than what’s on display here.

But here, even his cover skills fail him — look at that cover and tell me what about it attracts you to buying the book? It is repulsive in the fullest sense of the word.

Travis Pelkie

June 22, 2012 at 4:12 pm

@Ben, I just saw something the other day on bleeding cool that they’re going to release that last Doc Savage from DC…sometime.

As to this, Jones’s stuff is pretty bland here.

Let me commend T on being mum as to other writers that are always bad that people are just noticing. hee hee.

I liked this , a 3 star book , not as good as the 1st 2 books, but still enjoyable , 1st day and 2nd day sales were better at our store though then the other two , but a smidge , people that are buying seem to be buying all of them.

We were able to increase our orders some (had 140 for Wens) , so this was the 1st of the books that did not sell out in the 1st couple of days. Still looking like we will have to do another re-order , if the weekend is decent.

Only a couple of dropped reserves , but more people adding all of the books each day. The customer base seems to be enjoying these , noticed this really appeals to the Batman buyers. Seems to be a real crossover of people having BW on their reserve and at least 3 or 4 Bat titles.

Good time to be a “funny book” seller , summer off to a strong start.

PS Love the back-up , really reads well , reminds me of Sunday strip.
Go back and read the 3 strips back to back to back, works really well.

typo above: should read “reminds me of a Sunday strip”

Color me surprised that I loved this first issue of Comedian. He was fine in the original Watchmen but seemed a little too one-note to expand upon. The creative team did a great job of making him interesting. I particularly enjoyed the connection with the Kennedy’s. No way did I buy that he was gay for JFK. It seemed implied that it was a brotherly type love. The Marilyn Monroe part left me baffled if he did her after she was dead or not. I had no clue that each issue was it’s own series (mini-series, limited series?). I’m looking forward to the 2nd issue where his time in Vietnam can be covered deeper. I always looked at the character as tragic but deserving of his fate. The meaness seems ingrained in him from the beginning. And it seemed he matured somewhat until he offed her. I didn’t have a problem with Jones’ art here. His likeness’s were spot on. Maybe it didn’t seem as fluid as it could but it told the story including various expressions of people who were real. I had no problem whatsoever in this issue and think it was far and away the best of the Before Watchmen titles so far.

Azzarello’s writing has just been horrid, of late, and his increasing reliance on ridiculous puns just perfectly punctuates that fact. He’s clearly become terribly impressed with himself, and it certainly doesn’t help matters when critics fawn all over him. It’s clear here that he thinks he’s a cleverer bird than Moore, and that’s inexplicable. He tries too hard and it shows, frankly.

I’m sorry–but this whole ‘Before Watchmen’ thing is just…wrong. Period.

Sorry DSmithee , BW is totally right , selling really well and fun fun reads , and that is all that matters to Comic stores and DC fans

On the subject of whether or not Blake screwed Monroe’s corpse- Personally, I don’t think the guy would be so stupid as to do it before or after he killed her. Having said that, while the art does suggest that they did the nasty, I’d like to think that the only physical contact he had with her was the twisted, poetic peck on the ass.

Judge Fred MANSON

June 23, 2012 at 4:37 am

Damned!!! I am cursed!! I am waiting my comic books send monthly from the UK, and it is still raging to read comments before reading the comic bools… Goddamned!!!

Sorry “kingcomic” but DSmithee is right. The fact that something sells well in a tiny niche market like comics doesn’t make it a worthy or righteous endeavor. Fanboys will apparently buy anything as long as it’s trendy. That’s hardly a glowing tribute to this fiasco, or to fanboys.

I’m coming in totally new to this story. This is the first Before Watchmen comic I could actually finish and I am interested in reading more. I never read The Watchmen before and now want to because of this book. I hope a few of the other upcoming BW titles coming up are just as fun to read.

inside word: the best titles are yet to come , a fun summer coming !
and sorry “The Truth” people are coming to into this because the word of mouth is good and growing ,

the comic book buyer (which i know most of the negative neds posting here are not, they are the typical complainers who pop into our store and never buy anything anyway, seriously we just laugh these jack-asses out of our store ) are liking this and telling their friends how good these comics are

this is far from a fiasco and was one of the smartest publishing moves DC or Marvel made in the last year
Nu52 , AVX , WD trades , BW (these are the 4 things that have really worked over the last year)

No wonder direct retail outlets are closing left and right — I don’t think I’ve seen a “store owner” come out here yet who wasn’t openly contemptuous of his clientele.

Store owners are human beings too.

If a fan were to talk to one of them the way the way some people are venting on these boards, would you agree that the fan would deserve at least some of that contempt?

I have no doubt that there are jerks for customers — but their money is as green as the other guys — it’s a delicate balance between trying to get money out of them and not letting them drive others out of the store — a kind of balance that the store owners who have posted here the past few weeks don’t seem to have mastered, or care to master.

We’ve had three weeks of these threads now, and some of the nastiest, most venting, most troll-like commentary has been from store owners or managers — all about how wonderful it is to have people buying these books and that people who come out here to discuss and critique are just of folks, shall we say, pleasuring themselves, and not “real comic buyers”.

Too many similarities and too much hostility to be believable almost.

troll like??? please! , how about all of the knuckleheads posting an opinion about a book , they never read, they are the true trolls!!

@michael howley You think JFK was killed by Oswald–no larger conspiracy?

1) I think we are seeing a slightly more sympathetic portrayal of The Comedian. He was an idealistic warrior–thinking he is fighting for democracy and freedom. We are seeing his education in cynicism. He and Kennedy have a Bromance, he kills Marilyn to protect JFK’s exposure to Giancana–I wonder if Azzarello is going to wade into somewhat touchy political territory–will he name names in the conspiracy? It is an alternate history after all.

I’m interested in Brian and Chad’s take on the series, which I find interesting on a number of levels. Having recently read Stephen King’s 11/22/63, it’s fun to read another alternative take on the era.

It’s just sad that so many people are intent on flaming a book, its creators, people who sell the book, and even the people behind this post and this site, without even reading the book. We want publishers to treat creators well, but some have no problem interpreting simple statements as vile personal attacks. I’ve been reading an interesting thread that features commentary from Ed Brubaker and a load of writers who have worked for DC, Wildstorm, Tundra, etc., and their quite impassioned (yet factual) takes on the situation.

http://www.comicsbeat.com/2012/04/25/the-creators-position-viewed-through-the-lens-of-alan-moore/

There’s also a link to an insight about the Moore contract, which you may or may not choose to believe:
http://www.tcj.com/i-have-not-yet-had-any-conversation-with-any-creator-who-doesnt-agree-with-what-ive-said-an-interview-with-chris-roberson/#comment-43380

There’s one insight that I hope all could agree with: that if “Before Watchmen” succeeds, all of the fanboys who only know “Watchmen” and nothing about “Alan Moore” are more likely to read more about Alan Moore, discover other things that he’s written, read posts just like this, and ultimately form their own opinion about DC’s tortured relationship with the brilliant writer.

Ben, Travis, I saw today that DC has released the final issue of Doc Savage as a digital-exclusive on Comixology.

Jake Earlewine

June 23, 2012 at 6:54 pm

Are there still people out there who believe Oswald killed JFK? Even after all the evidence to the contrary? Even the tiniest amount of open-minded research shows otherwise.

Even the government finally admitted it was a conspiracy. Just google “House Assassinations Committee”. In 1979 they issued their final report, concluding that JFK was very likely assassinated as a result of a conspiracy.

The “Magic Bullet Theory” was the biggest fraud ever perpetrated on the American public. Anyone with any ballistics knowledge can look at the Zapruder film and see JFK being shot from the front. It doesn’t take a genius.

As for this Comedian comic — meh. Not that good, not that bad, certainly better than 98 percent of the NuDC vomit.

ABC News did an incredible documentary about a decade ago that dismantled the conspiracy argument pretty conclusively. I suggest people watch that before they conclude belief in Oswald’s guilt unfounded.

I don’t think there’s any inconsistency: “Just don’t ask me where I was when JFK was shot” (or similar) was all he said about it in Watchmen. The joining of the dots happens only in the listener/reader’s mind. The statement IS open to other interpretations, and I think the demonstration of that is the strongest part of this issue. The murder of Monroe leads us further up the garden path of expecting Blake will turn out to be JFK’s assassin, so the surprise is doubly effective.

I also found it “future-spectively” touching that it was Moloch, who shared this overwhelming shock with him, that Blake goes to in Watchmen to express his horror.

Watching the “Watchmen” motion comic to get up to speed on the “Before Watchmen” comics. I just finished chapter one and I must say I’m really enjoying the story. Theres added depth to the original “Watchmen” story by reading the “Before Watchmen” stories at the same time and makes the original even more intriguing. Heres the link for those that want to reacquaint themselves with the graphic novel for free
:
http://www.thewb.com/shows/watchmen-the-complete-motion-comic/chapter-2/e16b1296-e451-4248-a2c2-cbe14e016fda

Side note: Theres no mention of Alan Moore in the credits.

For me, this has been the worst of the Before Watchmen comics so far. After a disappointing Minutemen (and i was so looking forward to that one) and a very nice surprise with Silk Spectre, Comedian is just bad. Not only, as the reviewers remarked, we seem to have a different history happening with the Kennedys, but Azarello has definitely gone downhill. Was never a huge fan of his, but this has to be one of the less compelling stories i’ve ever read from him.

And what happened to GJ Jones? This guy used to be a fantastic artist. Has he been drawing with his left foot? or did he rush the project? And knowing how bad he’s with deadlines (Final crisis anyone?) will he be able to deliver 6 issues in a row?

Very disappointing

ttttttttttt……..

Joe S. Walker

June 24, 2012 at 1:47 pm

Nobody used “disrespect” as a verb in 1963. And re that cover, I imagine there’d be few experiences more uncomfortable than smoking a cigar while wearing a leather fetish hood.

At least Azzarello understands that Comedian = Frank Sturgis
Then he gets everything entirely wrong. No mo’ DC for me.

Here’s Sturgis disinfo-ing a young Bill O’Reilly.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QXWyFHFhimA&feature=autoplay&list=UUPDv4EMga0CgkmheCLEYG1w&playnext=2

Alan Moore discussed Sturgis in the excellent (and overlooked) ‘Brought to Light’ GN
http://www.amazon.com/Brought-Light-Docudrama-Flashpoint-Shadowplay/dp/091303567X

[…] CBR – Before Watchmen: Comedian #1 […]

@Bob The Comedian does reminds me of Sturgis, but there’s a little bit of Ted Shackley in there too. I actually didn’t like it the first time I browsed it, but after reading some of the comments on the blog I went back and boight it along with the Silk Specter. I finally made the Sturgis connection on my third reading. I blame all the acid.

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