SPOILER ALERT!  This post may include SPOILERS.  Consider yourself warned.

This post is about Comedian #1 (of six total), part of DC’s Before Watchmen event.  It is was written by Brian Azzarello and drawn by J.G Jones.  It focuses on the Comedian in the early 1960s, right before the Kennedy Assassination in November of 1963.  To tell this story Azzarello and Jones take what was a brief (albeit interesting) tidbit in Watchmen* and turn it into easily the strongest of the first three Before Watchmen books.

S&M Man…Oh wait! Never mind, that’s the Comedian.

The cover of Comedian #1 is fantastic.  It is grotesque, compelling, and unique.  If the leather S&M mask, cigar, and droplet of blood (the shape of which is a nod to the droplet of blood on the smiley face pin from Watchmen #1) dripping down his head weren’t clues enough, someone that was unfamiliar with the Comedian should still have a pretty good idea what they are getting into in this book.  The composition of the cover screams “villain”.  Unlike a traditional superhero book, where the character is posed in some heroically action-y pose  (think every Superman cover ever), Jones uses a tight shot of the Comedian’s face, slightly off-kilter, and smiling….menacingly(!?) a cover composition reserved exclusively for villains.  Don’t believe me?  Check out this classic Amazing Spider-Man cover from issue #55:

“Wow, that guy above me is waaaaaay scarier!”

It’s practically the same cover!  Except that the Comedian looks scarier (in my opinion) than Doc Ock.  Okay, maybe the Comedian isn’t a villain–though it’s debatable–but he certainly is an anti-hero.  If Captain America and the Punisher had a baby, and that baby was a nihilist, it would surely grow up to be the Comedian.  And this cover says that, and oh so much more!

Jones’ art on this cover is moody, expressive, and generally unsettling.  And I love it!  It sets the mood for what is presumably going to be a brutal six issues and, more importantly, will make people want to pick this book up and look at it.  Seriously, when was the last time you remember the hero of a comic book leering murderously on the cover?

This story takes something that you thought you knew about the Comedian and konks it over the head, drives it out the woods, and leaves it there.  In Watchmen, the Comedian killed J.F.K., right?  He joked about in issue #9.  Ozymandias reports in issue #11 that the Comedian was in Dallas “minding Nixon”on the day of Kennedy’s assassination and that “Nobody’s sure why Nixon was there.”  Conspiracy, right!?  Azzarello and Jones sure think so.  But not in the way you do.

The book opens with the Comedian sitting in bed, reminiscing about playing touch football.  With the Kennedys.  Teddy, Robert, and John.  President John Fitzgerald Kennedy.  (Aside: at this point–page 3–my brain broke a little and slowly began to reform, something that a comic book with the name Watchmen on it should do.)  The Comedian goes inside to take a break from the game and to have a drink and a smoke with Jackie Kennedy.  They chat for a while and we learn more about the Comedian’s relationship with the Kennedys.  Jackie says that he loves John (as a friend), he insists that he only respects him.  Still, their relationship is clearly positive (perhaps brotherly?) and it seems impossible that the Comedian would be able to blow Kennedy’s brains out in Dallas.

But this is the Comedian we’re talking about here.  A tangled mass of contradictions and violence.  And the conversation quickly turns as Jackie hires him to hit “that blonde bitch,” because she could hurt the President’s reputation.  Cut to the Comedian buttoning his shirt and leaving the room of an OD’d Marilyn Monroe.

After a scene that builds the Comedian and Kennedy’s relationship (apparently they fought together in the Pacific Theater in the war) the Comedian confirms that he will meet Kennedy in Dallas later in the week.  Just before he boards the plane to Dallas though he is caught by an F.B.I. agent who says that they need him for a special mission.  Apparently Moloch the Mystic (remember him as a pointy-eared old man in Watchmen?) has become involved in narcotics and the F.B.I. wants the Comedian there when they bust him, both for help as well as publicity.  Instead of sticking to the plan and going in slowly, the Comedian barges into Moloch’s warehouse firing with both barrels (and looking really freakin’ awesome as he does so!).  He fights his way to the office above the warehouse floor to find Moloch sitting in a chair, crying.  Moloch, watching the news reports through tears, informs him that Kennedy was shot.  As the news continues to report, the Comedian asks Moloch about the drugs to which Moloch replies “Heh…That’s why you’re here? Then you shouldn’t be.”  The Comedian looks down in ashamed understanding.  The book ends with the grim looking Comedian standing with his hand on Moloch’s shoulder watching the news of the assassination.

I can’t say enough good stuff about this book.  Azarello took something that we took for granted about the Comedian and turned it on it’s head.  Not only did the Comedian not kill J.F.K., but he was best friends with the man!  The dialogue that builds that relationship is brilliant.  When the Comedian is interacting with Kennedy (and the other Kennedy boys) they speak in an exceedingly casual, friendly, and even vulgar voice.  Certainly not the way I would speak with the President, but most definitely how I would speak to a friend.  And it is hilarious to see the President telling Robert Kennedy to go “F–k himself”.  When the Comedian speaks with Jackie it is with the same casual voice, which she lightly chastises him for.  She, as a women, is much more comfortable discussing his and Kennedy’s relationship.  It is clear that he really does love and respect Kennedy but is too macho to say so (That being said, would you expect any less from the Comedian?  Y’know, the guy on the cover?  You probably didn’t pick up this magazine to see guys letting their emotions out.)  Still, before you even get to the meat of the story, through character development alone, you know that the Comedian can’t be the guy that kills Kennedy.  And that is brilliant writing.

I loved the way that Azarello tied Moloch into the story because it gives context to the Comedian’s drunken appeal to Moloch in Watchmen.  If these two men, who for all intents and purposes should be bitter enemies, shared the traumatic experience of Kennedy’s assassination, it would make sense that in some way they would be bonded and that the Comedian might once again seek him out in a time of crisis.

I will be very curious to see how Azarello continues this story.  He has to work in a way for the Comedian to get to Dallas and meet with Nixon.  If the J.F.K. Assassination was a conspiracy lead by Nixon it will be interesting to see how that effects their relationship with one another.  Perhaps Nixon will deceive him?  Or maybe there is something that he has on the Comedian to keep him in line?  Either way my bet is that it will be pretty fantastic.

Jones’ art throughout the book is exemplary.  The line work is simple and expressive.  The range of environments he draws (lawns and houses, bars, offices, manufacturing plants, and warehouses) are impressive, detailed, and consistent.  The action sequence in the warehouse is exciting and really cool!  But where his art in this book really shines is in the faces.  When you flip the first page and see the touch football game, before reading a word there is no doubt who the Comedian is playing with.  It’s uncanny.  He gets each Kennedy down so perfectly that you know exactly who each one is.  His Jackie Kennedy is right on the money too.  And the range of emotion, both subtle and blatant, that he portrays is spectacular.  When Jackie orders the hit she has a cold, seething expression that looks almost blank except for a slight curl of the lip and twinge of the nose.  When the Comedian hears of the assassination his bewilderment is palpable.  And as the realization that he was intentionally diverted to allow it to take place sets in, Jones captures an emotion that I can only describe as the Comedian’s understanding that he is part of the joke.  It is somewhere between sad, world-weary, and ever-so-slightly bemused.  My point is this, his art in this book shows a varied depth not often seen in comic books, and it works perfectly.

This was the last of the first three Before Watchmen books that I read.  If I had read this first I would have gone into the other two with ludicrously high expectations and would have been disappointed.  By reading it last I was pleasantly surprised, not just because it was better than the other two Before Watchmen books, but because it was a fantastic comic book all on its own.  It adds a new depth of understanding of the Comedian by taking one of the most interesting and complex characters of Watchmen and adding something new and valuable to the mix.  If you haven’t gotten a copy of this book go out and get one now.  You won’t be sorry.

*In issue #9 of Watchmen Laurie recalls an altercation with the Comedian at a state dinner in his honor.  At the dinner the Comedian is speaking with some men about the Watchmen universe equivalent of the Watergate Scandal and says “Nah…I’m clean, guys.  Just don’t ask where I was when I heard about J.F.K.”

While each book contains a two page chapter of The Curse of the Crimson Corsair I want to wait to review that story in its entirety.


SPOILER ALERT!  This post may include SPOILERS.  Consider yourself warned.

Another day another post!  This post deals with Silk Spectre #1 (of four total), another title that is part of DC’s Before Watchmen event.  Co-written by Darwyn Cooke (who you may recall wrote Minutemen #1) and Amanda Conner, with art by Conner, Silk Spectre #1 turns the clock back to 1966 where it focuses on the two Silk Spectres: the first, a middle-aged Sally Jupiter, and the second, her angst ridden teenage daughter, Laurie “Jupiter” Juspeczyk.  This issue intends to explore some of Laurie’s formative years to offer a deeper understanding of her relationship with her mother in Watchmen.  But I would say that it was easily the weakest of the three books that I read.

Something that no one wants to see: the Silk Spectre’s angsty teenage years.

The cover to Silk Spectre #1 has a lot and nothing going on all at once.  She stands largely in the center, fist clenched, looking…angsty? bored? detached?  Her fading body reveals figures from her past: her mother as the first Silk Spectre looms at the top, looking carefree and sensual.  Below her, Edward Blake, the Comedian…I think…looking lecherously ambivalent.  Then Nite Owl numero uno whose head is fading away for some unknown reason.  Her mother (again?) and her step-father, Larry Schexnayder, who looks bored, at their wedding.  Lastly, a fading version of herself as a young girl looking youthful and optimistic.  At the bottom is the snow globe from Watchmen #9.  What it is doing on the cover is beyond me.  Perhaps if it had been falling to the ground, moments away from crashing but frozen in time on the cover–an allusion to the “slow time” mentioned in issue #9–I might have understood.  But there it sits…conspicuously close to her crotch.

The art is modern–effective, but nothing to write home about.  The composition is not bad but certainly not good either.  Where this cover does shine is in the colors.  Paul Mounts (one of my favorite colorists!) provides a subtle nuance that the drawings lack.  The background has a quiet canvas texture while the costume looks fragile, as though it is made of parchment paper.  A touch that I love is that the yellow from the costume gradually changes into the skin of her young self, perhaps symbolizing the change from youthful optimism to teenage angst.  All that analysis aside, all I really pulled away from this cover at first glance–and let’s be real; first glance is all that matters for an item sold on a newspaper rack–was angst.

I will admit, this one was going to be a hard sell for me.  Silk Spectre is my least favorite character from Watchmen.  I have always found her to be needy, shallow, and less multi-dimensional than the other characters in the book.  Plus, I don’t really want to read about teenage girls who hate their mothers.  The story begins when Laurie is five, just after Schexnayder leaves and the snow globe has smashed (aside: wouldn’t it have been cool to see it careening on the cover and open the book to see it smash? C’mon editors!).  Laurie declares that she hates Schexnayder to which Sally rebuffs, “Oh sweetie, you’re too young to hate.  Wait until you’re older and the world gives you a good reason.  Trust me, it won’t let you down.”

Fast-forward to 1966, where a teenage boy, Greg, shows interest in Laurie.  Despite her daydreams about a relationship she tells him that she can’t go out with him.  We find out that she is alienated from her classmates because her mother believes that when she’s not at school she should be studying.  And when she’s not studying she should be training.  And when she’s not training she should be at school…you get the picture.

After thwarting a home invader (who turns out to be her mother in disguise.  Why? To train her, of course…yeah, I know.  That $%*# is messed up!) Laurie has it out with her mother and sneaks off to do teenage stuff with Greg.  After some late night parent bashing (and smooching) they retire to a cliché teeny-bopper diner where Laurie gets picked on by the most popular girl in school.  The girl says that everyone knows that her mother was the Silk Spectre and says some choice things about her mom, going so far as to call her a tramp.  Laurie punches the girl out and runs home, where Sally has been sitting, worrying, and drinking.  After another fight, Laurie runs away.  Feeling alienated from her peers because of her mother, she tells her “You make me ashamed.”  Finally, she meets back up with Greg.  The two of them hitch a ride with a hippie van heading to San Fransisco.

Well, that was a lot.  I will say this much for Silk Spectre #1, it may be one of the only comic books–ever–to feature multiple mother/daughter fights (both verbal and physical!).  I could see what Cooke and Conner were going for in this book.  They wanted to show why Laurie and Sally don’t get along so well in Watchmen.  But was this the best way?  Sure, her mother is manipulative and crazy in this issue, but teenage girls are not known for their objectivity.  All I am saying is that if they want to show what created such tension between the two of them they are going to have to try harder.  Hopefully not all four issues will revolve around her running away in 1966 and will instead contain a number of vignettes, throughout their lives before Watchmen (see what I did there?!), that portray several events that caused them to be distant.  A scene that I thought worked well was directly after the home invader training exercise.  They go from literally beating the crap out of one another to yelling at each other, and then, just as quickly as it began, the anger melts away and we see them acting like normal people; a little motherly concern and well intentioned daughterly indignation.  After all, in Watchmen they still interact with one another, they just don’t seem to like each other all that much.

The art throughout is serviceable.  It isn’t bad, it isn’t great.  It’s biggest flaw is that it isn’t consistent.  In some panels Conner conveys subtle emotion very well, while in others the characters look plastic.  Sometimes panels have dynamic energy, and sometimes they seem wooden.  And sometimes they are just poorly drawn (it is infrequent, but still, in a book that is part of a flagship event, I expect more).  I really liked Laurie’s little daydreams throughout the book.  Each one was done in a different style and each captured what it intended to very well.  I was also impressed with Conner’s commitment to detail.  From the castle in the snow globe to the photograph of the Minutemen to the original Silk Spectre costume, everything from Watchmen is just so.

As I suspected from the cover, Mount’s colors throughout were good.  Subtly textural and realistic.  The daydreams pop because of their cartoonish nature and bright, blocky coloring.  I was particularly a fan of the hippie van at the end.  It looked like it was straight out of Yellow Submarine!

Silk Spectre #1 was certainly not bad, but it wasn’t great either.  That is the third time I’ve typed that phrase (or a similar one) in this post and frankly that disappoints me.  In an event as ambitious and important as Before Watchmen I don’t want serviceable.  Or even good.  I want great.  And Silk Spectre #1 just didn’t deliver “great”.  The story was largely predictable, the art was consistently inconsistent, and when I finished it I was not blown away.  Even though I went into Silk Spectre #1 expecting not to be blown away, I hoped all along that I’d be proven wrong.  Here’s to hoping for issue #2.

While each book contains a two page chapter of The Curse of the Crimson Corsair I want to wait to review that story in its entirety.

SPOILER ALERT!  This post may include SPOILERS.  Consider yourself warned.

This post marks the beginning of my new project to review each and every (sheesh!) book from DC’s Before Watchmen event.  I will begin by reviewing Minutemen #1–art and story by Darwyn Cooke–because it was the first one I read.  Minutemen #1 is the first of six books focusing on the Minutemen, the original super-hero team (from the 1930s and 1940s) in the Watchmen universe.

The first thing I noticed about the book was the feel of the material.  The cover is glossy and substantial, the pages a little firmer than your typical magazine (it is worth noting that all of the books have this same quality, this was just the first one that I read).  It may seem like a small deal to some, but DC clearly decided to print on slightly higher quality paper and that is something that I appreciate.  It sets this event apart from their regular titles by saying “hey, it may be a little more expensive but we are putting a lot into it”.

Golden Age styled art transports the reader back simpler days.

The cover, by artist and writer Darwyn Cooke, portrays Hollis Mason, the first Nite Owl, holding the key to the city at a ticker taper parade in his honor.  He is draped with a sash which reads “In gratitude”and smiling broadly.  On the cover, Cooke uses very simple, classic comic book art reminiscent of Golden Age Jack Kirby: angular face, clean lines, and proportional body.  The coloring is  subdued, almost faded, subconsciously signifying the passage of time.  There is a spotlight on the smiling Nite Owl that’s shape and color is eerily similar to the famous blood stained smiley face pin from the cover of Watchmen #1.

“Is that bean juice, or..?”
“That’s right. Human bean juice. Ha ha.”

The story begins four days into Hollis Mason’s retirement as he struggles to write an epilogue to his autobiography, Under the Hood.  Staring at a black and white photograph of the Minutemen (which should look familiar to fans of Watchmen) he nostalgically recalls the beginnings of masked crime fighting, in 1939, leading up to the formation of the Minutemen.  In a number of passages presumably from Under the Hood he narrates about each of his companions–the mysterious Hooded Justice, the sultry Silk Spectre, the rabid Comedian, the tortured Mothman, the phony Dollar Bill, the relentless Silhouette, and the calculating Captain Metropolis–as well as  his own career.

Cooke takes characters, all of whom except Nite Owl, Silk Spectre, and to some degree Comedian, are very briefly discussed in Watchmen and aims to flesh them out a bit more.  By telling their tales trough the perspective of Hollis Mason in Under the Hood he has a little background from the excerpts of Under the Hood presented in Watchmen.  While Cooke does not stray from the source material (thankfully!) he does add a new perspective.  For instance, readers know from Watchmen that the original Silk Spectre was kind of an act, but Cooke makes Dollar Bill into a movie serial icon (Captain America: The First Avenger anyone?) and Captain Metropolis into a calculating–almost business-like–leader.  This adds a whole new dimension to the dynamics within the group.  There are the phonies, like Silk Spectre, Dollar Bill, and Captain Metropolis.  There are the lunatics; Comedian, who we already know Mason doesn’t like, and Mothman, on whom we gain new perspective.  And there are the genuine heroes; Hooded Justice, who inspired Mason to become a mask, and Nite Owl himself.

Cooke’s art throughout is similar to the cover.  It is old style art which brings the reader back in time.  In that way I really liked it.  It felt particularly Golden Age when he was talking about the early days.  This is achieved in large part to the subtle coloring which tends toward earth and sepia tones.  My hat off to colorist Phil Noto!  I would have liked to have seen the present drawn a little differently, perhaps a bit more modern or in the style of Dave Gibbons.  That way the sections in the past would have felt very disparate.  But, all in all, the art in this book was very effective, dynamic, and enjoyable.

Minutemen #1was an interesting issue that adds new perspective to the history of the Watchmen universe.  I will be interested to see whether each subsequent issue takes up a new narrator or continues with Mason.  And the good news is that I am still interested to see where it goes!

While each book contains a two page chapter of The Curse of the Crimson Corsair I want to wait to review that story in its entirety.

Hello to all you good people out in internet land.  I’m still alive.  It just seems that I am capable of producing only one of these posts every year or so.  I really intend to remedy that soon.  A lot has changed in the last year.  The biggest change is that I am now a college graduate living in my home town of Durham, North Carolina.  I am currently looking for work within communications/marketing/PR and hope to find something soon.

While I haven’t been blogging about comic books recently, I have been doing a lot of work about comic books.  During my senior year at the University of Rochester I completed a Senior Thesis under the guidance of Professor Norah Rubel called Apocalypse Nu.  This thesis postulated that the creation of the super-hero archetype beginning in comic books in 1938–and throughout the Golden Age of Comic Books–can be seen as a modernization and continuation of the Jewish themes found in apocalyptic writings dating back to the Second Temple Period.  I hope to present some of the work right here as soon as I am done with my initial posts about the history of comic books if I ever finish them.

I also continued to work at Park Avenue Comics & Games until my move in May.  We came into some great collections while I was there including a serious selection of books featuring first appearance of Silver Age Batman villains.  We also attended the Wizard World Toronto Comic Convention in March.  While there, we picked up some great stuff for the store and our own collections (a post about my haul is in the works.  I hope to have it posted before the time I have grey hair…).  If you are ever in Rochester, New York (and you aren’t frozen stiff) I suggest you stop by the shop.  Not only does the shop have a great selection of comic books, games, collectables, and other weird/cool stuff, it is one of the only comic books shops in the whole world that doesn’t give off that unpleasant we-haven’t-seen-the-light-of-day-in-years vibe so often associated with geek stores.

I am lucky enough to still be able to get my comics from the store.  They are shipped to me every two weeks and often include little surprises slipped in (like Dynamite’s Pantha #1).  I mention this arrangement because in this week’s shipment I received the first three books of DC’s Before Watchmen event.  For those of you who don’t know (is there anyone?), Watchmen was a twelve-issue limited series published by DC from 1986-1987.  It features brilliant art by Dave Gibbons and the unparalleled genius of Alan Moore’s writing.  If you haven’t read it GO READ IT NOW!

Seriously. Like, right now!

Are you back?  Good.  It was fantastic, right?  There is a reason that Watchmen is considered to be a classic.  It is easily my favorite super-hero story of all time and arguably one of the best comics ever written.  I first read Watchmen when I was about 14 years old.  I had borrowed it from a friend who had recommended it to me.  I read through it in one sitting, gripped in a way that no comic book or book had ever done to me before.  When I finished it I closed it and sat still for a few moments letting it all sink in…at which point I turned the book over and read it again.  I won’t spend time analyzing the book here (maybe I will in a future post?  I just create work for myself…); instead I will give my first impressions of the Before Watchmen event and set the stage for my coming reviews of the individual books that comprise the event.

As the name suggests Before Watchmen takes place, well, before the events of Watchmen.  The event consists of seven titles, each with between four and six issues.  Each book focuses on one of the heroes from Watchmen, therefore the titles are Comedian, Nite OwlRorschach, Silk Spectre, Ozymandias, and Dr. Manhattan.  There is also a book entitled Minutemen which focuses on the super-team from the 1930s and 1940s.  Each book contains a two page chapter of The Curse of the Crimson Corsair, a nautical tale which parallel’s Tales of the Black Freighter from the original Watchmen.

I must admit when I first heard about this event I was not excited.  In fact, at first, I was pretty angry about it.  I felt that DC was cashing in on sacred (to a geek) material.  In my estimation, the most beautiful thing about Watchmen was that it was finite.  In a scant twelve issues Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons were able to flesh out a story so intricate and captivating, full of characters so fragile and real that it consistently tops lists of greatest comic books (and book-books).  The idea that other creative teams were going to invade this universe–this sacred space–25 years later was more than I could stand.  I had felt the same way when Watchmen finally came to the big screen in 2009.  I felt (and still feel) that it had been called “the unfilmable comic book” for a reason.  And while I own a copy of the film (the deluxe director’s cut in fact) it has always seemed a crude attempt to copy greatness and therefore exists as an entirely separate entity from Watchmen the book in my mind.  Perhaps on its own I could consider it an enjoyable, even good, film, but when stacked up against the source material it–in my opinion–not only falls flat but also seems profane.

But Before Watchmen, much like the film, got under my skin and I just had to know what it was about, perhaps more so out of morbid curiosity than genuine interest.  So I added it to my pull list.  Seven titles, each with four to six issues…at $3.99 a pop.  Good show, DC!  You got me.  The first three, Minutemen, Comedian, and Silk Spectre showed up on my doorstep this week.  I read them and decided that I wanted to post about them here.  Because I have a blog and I should post on it sometimes.  I’m hoping to review each book in it’s own post in a timely (hah!) manner.  Hopefully I’ll have a new post soon.  But you know me…

I am the worst.