Every week, Chad Nevett and I will be reviewing an issue of Before Watchmen through a discussion of each issue. We continue with Comedian #2 by Brian Azzarello (writer), J.G. Jones (artist) and Alex Sinclair (colors).
Chad Nevett: This was a fine comic. Not great, not bad. Fine. I don’t know… I find I didn’t have much of a reaction to it really. The Comedian goes to Vietnam before the war really starts and seems to like the idea of a war starting. He’s a bit of a jerk and… yeah. Was your reaction stronger?
Brian Cronin: Fairly or unfairly (and I tend towards “unfairly” myself), I think that this comic suffers from coming out so soon after Garth Ennis and Goran Parlov dealt with the same era in their excellent Fury mini-series. Ennis said pretty much everything you can say about this era in that series and therefore, while obviously Azzarello was not influenced by Ennis (as the projects came about too close to each other for that to be the case), it just feels like well-trodden ground. Again, that is quite likely unfair to Azzarello and J.G. Jones, but that is all I could think about while reading this issue. Yes, it is certainly a solid story, but I don’t think we got anything “new” and/or “unique” about this particular story, which is my guess as to why it did not resonate for me or you (as I assume you’re a fan of the Fury series, as well, right?).
CN: The ‘connection’ to Fury did occur to me. Azzarello shows a different approach, focusing more on the Americans already a larger presence in Vietnam and preparing for war, but, yeah, that’s two comics in the last three months to jump into the same place/time period — and Ennis will return to Vietnam later in Fury as well. And, well, one of those comics has Garth Ennis writing Nick Fury and the other has Brian Azzarello writing the Comedian and I think we can all guess who does the better job. Ennis is just so fucking good at writing about war and events leading up and leading away from war. More than that, it’s more interesting to see a guy like Fury in a place like that than Eddie Blake. He comes off almost silly with a lot of the shit he says in this comic. Even the painting of the smiley face on his helmet is goofy as hell. He’s so over-the-top that this is more of a comedy — and, usually, not where it’s intended to be, I imagine. Azzarello can be subtle, but he’s not here.
BC: True, it does hurt that while we have in the other series the idea of Fury being ill at ease over the idea of the “new” version of war, here, Blake is just happy to be involved in any kind of war. So yes, it does rob the work of a lot of the drama when Blake in the comic is essentially an ironic version of Super Green Beret.
I think it hurt, also, that Azzarello really did not develop any of the secondary characters in Vietnam, so we couldn’t even really get a good feel for how Blake is perceived over there. Do they look at him as a joke? Do they look at him as a superhero? There were some hints, but nothing that I could actually reasonably discern either way.
I liked the art, though. I think Alex Sinclair’s colors really worked well in the Vietnam scenes.
CN: A character like Blake, happy to be in any war, is something with some meat on it. This simply wasn’t a good showcase of that idea. Having him directly involved in starting the way would have been lame, but a more active role perhaps? A more enthusiastic role? What little he does here, he does with gusto, but it feels rather tepid. It’s not helped by JG Jones not having a style that suits itself to this type of story. His figure work is a little too mannered in places. When Blake and the soldiers get into a firefight, there isn’t a visual chaos that you’d normally see with that sort of scene. Blake almost seems bored by it. And, again, maybe that’s the point — but, then, what does he want? I guess that’s part of the problem: he seems bored by what ‘war’ there is and, yet, doesn’t seem particularly enthused when the war becomes big and real. Maybe he doesn’t know what he wants. But, that doesn’t make for an engaging read necessarily.
BC: I do like the notion that the Comedian is just fully and truly empty as a person and he is constantly searching for new avenues to amuse himself and keeps finding himself frustrated that whatever new activity he involves himself in does not fully amuse him. But even there, do we even truly get that in the comic? I mean, he sure looks happy when he is killing Vietnamese soldiers, doesn’t he?
So I really don’t know – is it that he is only happy when he is committing violence or is he just good at covering up his problems with the over-the-top violence and over-the-top attitude (“It’s Pol Pot Time”)?
I liked the opening which continued the Kennedy connection. I like the idea of framing Comedian’s journey to the mid-80s in terms of his relationship with the Kennedys, as I imagine RFK’s death will play a major role in the series. Do you think we’ll see Blake interact with Ted Kennedy at all? I don’t think Blake could be involved in Chappaquiddick, but perhaps Kennedy’s ill-fated 1980 run for the Presidency?
CN: It would be funny if that’s what Azzarello has decided to hone in on. It’s definitely a James Ellroy type of approach and one that makes a lot of sense. I could see Blake wind up on the other side as Ted Kennedy. Partly out of disappointment, partly because he just doesn’t care anymore. Given that Nixon was still president in Watchmen, there’s definitely a possibility of seeing Blake’s role in that. At what point does he go over to the Nixon camp? I’m oddly intrigued by Blake being out window into the politics of this alternate America. Screw the Comedian, I want Before Watchmen: Tricky Dick.
My token words towards the back-up strip: same as always. Great art, writing that’s leaving me colder and colder. I guess at two pages a week, our opinions aren’t necessarily going to change much week to week.
BC: Good point. It will be fascinating to see how Blake handles the 1968 election, as obviously he’d be with RFK to start. Will he end up with Nixon, though? I wonder if they will address how Nixon managed to stay President in 1985. Maybe RFK doesn’t die in this reality? That’d certainly be ballsy on Azzarello’s part.
And yeah, the story on the back-up has really been disappointing the last few weeks. Luckily, the art is still excellent.
CN: I’d say that maybe the war will change him, but hes been through wars. It would be interesting if he falls out with Bobby over the war. He could easily fall in with Nixon because Nixon had no problem keeping the war going. I guess we’ll see…