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...