Continued from Part 1.
Before Watchmen: Comedian #1
In the 1960s, Edward Blake works as the Comedian, a masked vigilante operating under the government. He’s so high in status he’s even chummy with President John F. Kennedy, tossing a football around with him and his brothers on the White House lawn. Blake draws a line in the sand when Jackie Kennedy attempts to seduce him, however, citing that he’d never to anything like that to someone he respects. Later, the publicity-hungry Blake picks a routine drug bust and arrest of mastermind Moloch the Mystique over another friendly bout with the President, and soon learns of the commander-in-chief’s untimely demise. The story is followed by “Curse of the Crimson Corsair” Part 3 by Len Wein and John Higgins.
The Comedian is a tough character to crack, but Azzarello and Jones come closer to doing him justice than probably any other writer/artist team short of Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons. In the original Watchmen, there’s not much about who the Comedian is, so much as what he did and how he died. Here, Azzarello sort of outlines the character’s moral standings, and what lines he WON’T cross. It’s an interesting introduction to the character, one which I hope pans out enough to integrate the anti-hero’s trademark black humor and twisted mindset in later issues.
I also liked how the relationship between Moloch and Blake is handled. Fans will of course remember the sequence in Watchmen when Blake breaks into Moloch’s home and rambles about a secret island and a catastrophic plan. Azzarello appears to be aiming to explore what exactly led Blake to trust Moloch with that information, a fascinating prospect.
With Azzarello’s inclusion of President JFK as a character, I’m reminded of this sequence in the original Watchmen:
In a bit of a contrast, Comedian #1 sees Blake absolutely mortified upon hearing of the President’s assassination. You’d think it wouldn’t be something he’d crack a joke about later on in his life, especially after being close friends with the guy. Perhaps we have yet to see the character develop his black sense of humor in this series, but at this stage, the minor inconsistency seems a bit glaring.
I get a sense that Azzarello and Jones’ Comedian miniseries could potentially be building up to something really special. For now, it’s certainly the best #1 Before Watchmen issue I’ve read so far, and worth checking out.
Before Watchmen: Nite Owl #1
Young Dan Drieberg grows up with a dream of becoming the next Nite Owl, even developing his own state-of-the-art technology and tracking down the first Nite Owl Hollis Mason. Dan’s violent father discourages his pursuits, but after a particularly brutal beating to Dan’s mother, he dies of a heart attack. Soon after, Mason announces his retirement and agrees to train Dan as the next Nite Owl. We flash forward to several years later, when Dan has fully donned the mantle and become the city’s new hero. He encounters fellow vigilante Rorschach, who approaches him with the offer of a partnership. Later, at the first meeting of the Crimebusters, Dan meets Silk Spectre, whom he suddenly feels a strange connection to.
Honestly, I expected Nite Owl to be one of, if not the best miniseries of Before Watchmen. If Issue #1 is any indication, this is far from the case; Nite Owl #1 is the first truly mediocre title of the series. While the Kubert’s artwork suffices, J. Michael Straczynski’s writing is sub-par; the author doesn’t even bother setting the narrative in a discernible time period, keeping the issue bereft of any meaningful sense of setting. It’s the least of the issue’s problems.
JMS writes Hollis Mason as a dark, edgy, almost Batman-esque vigilante, and a stern, grumpy old man. It’s completely uncharacteristic of the former Minuteman; in Watchmen, he’s good friends with Dan, and the two share a relatively chummy relationship. Nite Owl #1 turns Mason into a stern, frowning mentor figure for young Dan, a huge deviation to say the least. Then there’s a news sequences where a reporter labels Mason’s Nite Owl “the light in the darkness”. Go figure.
Really, the entire issue is far too damper to be about the good-hearted Mason and his earnest protégé Dan. If the mentor/successor arc was truly the only way to go, it might’ve at least helped to look to, say, similar stories of training future torch-bearers for inspiration, like Mark Waid’s The Flash: Born to Run. Instead, JMS steeps the story in unnecessary grimness, and it just doesn’t work.
Perhaps the most insulting moment of the issue occurs during the Crimebusters meeting, when Nite Owl and Silk Spectre meet for the first time, and Dan claims to feel some kind of connection with her, as if they were destined to be together. It’s easily one of the most pathetically lazy prequel conventions ever, knowing that they of course do hook up in Watchmen. There’s certainly no mention of the two being brought together by fate in that comic, so why a talented writer like JMS would resort to such cliché is beyond me. At least “Curse of the Crimson Corsair” is starting to pick up in this week’s Part 4.
A missed opportunity and a hefty disappointment, Nite Owl #1 is lazy, unnecessary, and far too dark. JMS has done good work, and yet here he comes dangerously close, closer than any other Before Watchmen author, to tarnishing the legacy of the original. Ironically, Nite Owl #1’s failure to deliver proves that impotence is a recurring problem for its title protagonist.