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.

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