Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Before Watchmen: Comedian #1 of 6

Writer: Brian Azzarello
Artist: J.G. Jones
Company: DC Comics

Three out of three so far, that’s how I feel the Before Watchmen score card reads right now. Before Watchmen: Comedian is probably the first one of this series that I had any real cause for alarm with, as even though Azzarello is one of those writers that seems to be on a hot streak with the various titles that he is in charge of right now, he can be a very obtuse writer. Still, his specific style does seem to jibe with the Comedian’s outlook on life, so there was always the possibility of it being one of those match made in heaven/hell kind of things.

First and foremost, the art. J.G. Jones is a talented artist. He has a gift, but it’s been awhile since we’ve seen any interiors from him. The last thing that I can think of from him, not counting his tremendous effort on the glorious covers of 52,  are the interiors from the first few issues of Final Crisis. It's a little worrisome with his sometimes slow speed, but I would imagine the lead time on this book was big enough that such a thing won't prove to be an issue. The interiors provided here are all quite nice. His knack for the softer stuff, meaning character emotion and conveying the importance and emotional level of a scene, is really put to the test here. The way that he captures both of Edward Blake’s ability to be the bastard-y bastard in all of the land, while at the same time conveying his inward humanity, is a pretty phenomenal range. Where his art breaks down, minutely so, is in the action. The heavy realism vision, from era cars to the interiors of the White House, are perfect, but the action can at times feel static. There were a few panels where Comedian is pouring some lead on some unsuspecting bad guys, where I had to check back a few times to form the picture in my mind.

The story, on the other hand, is quite close to brilliant. From page one we are whisked away into the land of Edward Blake. This specific take on Blake is classic while at the same time adding a new spin on it. Now that sounds strange, but this expansion doesn’t feel jarring, it feels very in character for this person that we know and love to hate. In these pages, Azzarello also wraps our “hero” in the Watchmen’s world so well, embroiling him in the history and tying some major historical figures in with him. I hate to say which ones, because the moments are so good, but the relationship that is set up here between JFK, Bobby Kennedy, & Blake is so interesting and complex and important to what makes this first issue so good. What most of these prequel comics have done so far is to project the human quality that each of these characters have, the essence that Moore gave them, and expand on it. Here, simple scenes that involve Blake and Jackie Kennedy (not painted in a great light) have humungous overtones of both horror and humor, but the dialogue is crisp and meaningful that it is completely and utterly believable. 

One of the most impressive things about it is, besides the dialogue that in a lot of ways feels very un-Azzarello, is that for all intents and purposes this is a single issue story. Yes, Azzarello sets things up and throws a few conspiracy elements that feel 100 Bullets-y, but there is a beginning, a middle, and a very satisfying (if humbling) ending to the proceedings. I still think that this is one of the hardest things to do in comics, a lost art if you will, and Azzarello really surprised me with doing it in the fashion that he did.

Truly, the ending of this issue is really one of the best endings that I’ve seen. It’s like a gut punch, both physically and emotionally, and Azzarello and Jones deliver it with such brilliance. The world of Watchmen continues to grow, and it’s quickly becoming an addiction that must be sated. Each week I need that hit and I look forward to it immensely. Ultimately though, Before Watchmen: Comedian fires one hell of a first shot and easily hits its target with a hearty laugh.

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