Before Watchmen: The Comedian #1
In direct contrast to the calm and cliche comic book trope of Silk Spectre stands The Comedian, a man who is in contrast and conflict with essentially everything and everyone in the world of the original Watchmen comic. He is a classic character, embodying exactly the eerie greys of Government influence, garish disregard for humanity and existential discontent that made Watchmen what it was; there is a reason that he is given front cover status, he stands at the core of the comic. Only, of course, he doesn’t really because he dies in the opening scene and unlike other superheroes he has the dignity to stay dead, unless of course you count memories and flashbacks as temporary resurrections. He is then a character whose entire presence exists in the the form of flashbacks: so surely then his past is potently explored, surely there isn’t much left for the prequel series to say? Though of course one should never be sure when dealing with the Comedian; for what’s a joke but a twist of expectations?
Issue One of The Comedian manages to not only shed new light on the characters history but also our own, it recalls most the opening credits sequence of Zack Snyder’s adaptation. We heard rumors of Eddie Blake’s enamored buerocrats, the politicians that hired him and channelled his hate for their own purposes but never would we have predicted that it was John F. Kennedy that he reported too directly and as a friend, nor that he would hit on Jackie Onassis or go on a secret mission for her that involves the era’s other iconic female figure, Ms. Monroe. Watchmen was, among other things, an alternate history book; conquering its canon and continuity was half the challenge and that is exactly The Comedian attempts to replicate. Though the way in which it does this is completely different, the execution blunt but befitting of the character.
As an author Brian Azzarello is known for the brutality and violence of his books and The Comedian certainly displays these two traits too, so on the surface this seems a perfect match; for me though, coming into this issue I had one pressing question: would he also be able to handle the thematic side of the man? After all his name comes not from his capability for quips or clowning around but for the fact that he saw the world as it is, infected with irony, a massive joke; it’s more heavy than hilarious. Interestingly Azzarello has chosen to write the man as more of the latter, taking the literal meaning of the name; his Blake has a line for every occasion and banter’s with the best of them, quite literally in this issue, and while this is fun I found it a little alienating as I did the tone of the book entire.
Darwin Cooke did his best to write a book that felt like an extension of Moore’s; his style, syntax and structure were his own but they owed a lot to the original, mirroring and mimicking in slight and subtle ways. Azzarello on the other hand has no such ‘respect’ or reverence for his book’s progenitor, he has clearly set out to construct his own comic in his own way, just using someone else’s character. This is after all exactly what the big two do and you need look no further than his own recent work on Wonder Woman for another example of this approach. Moore’s world was weird in a number of ways while Azzarello’s veers from ours in only one, Moore’s Comedian was a philosophical construction of post-modern malaise whereas Az’s is a charming rouge with a death wish. They are different, but that’s not a damnation.
The main trait that this issue has discarded is the complexity, you could pick this comic up as your first and read it without missing more than a beat or two of banter. It’s the least fanatic of the issues and the most fully formed because of that. If these characters are going to be treated like the rest of DC’s stable going forward then this is how their books should be written: bold, bawdy and big fun. Of the three titles out so far this is the roughest but also the one that I can see myself reading indefinitely instead; so once again the Comedian gets the last laugh.