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Namtar’s Comic Book Review – Before Watchmen: Comedian #1

Namtar here…

DC Comics continues this week’s Before Watchmen story arc with the release of the premiere issue of the mini-series “Comedian.” The third title in the prequel series follows the exploits and background of Eddie Blake a.k.a. the “Comedian.” Love him or hate him, his death was the catalyst for the events that took place in Alan Moore’s “Watchmen.”

Issue #1 of six in the series begins with Eddie Blake sitting on a bed listening to Dion’s hit song “The Wanderer.”  While examining an autographed baseball signed by Joe DiMaggio, Blake reminisces about a recent football game he played with the Kennedys: President John F. Kennedy, and his brothers Bobby, and Teddy.  During the game, they joke with Eddie about his line of work.  They are fully aware of his shady background, but treat him as one of the boys. John makes a friendly ten dollar bet on a football game with Eddie.  Eddie accepts and takes a break from the action and goes inside to have a drink where he unexpectedly runs into Jackie O.  A casual tête-à-tête ensues with Jackie hinting at a problem John may face if a certain “drug-addled peroxide whore” were to be allowed to have her tongue run loose.  Next, Eddie is back in the bedroom getting dressed.  The lifeless body of a blonde woman lies in the bed with prescription medication displayed next to her on her nightstand.  An open bottle of pills dangles from her hand, while Eddie casually strolls out the door tossing around his new souvenir baseball.

The setting moves to inside a bar where the clientele are watching a football game on television.  The Giants have racked up an impressive lead over the San Francisco 49ers. Blake is sitting and drinking while watching the action when he receives a phone call from the phone booth inside the bar.  He tells the bartender, “My Bookie’s on the line.”  The bookie turns out to be President Kennedy who is gloating over the impressive lead the Giants have in the football game.  The two banter a bit about their bet and about being heroes in their own right, and then Kennedy says, “I think, it’s a good time that all heroes unite…”  Blake internalizes Kennedy’s message and dives into deep thought over the request.

In this comic book’s final chapter, Blake is asked by the U.S. government to raid a warehouse, which they suspect is the narcotics hideout for the crime boss Moloch the Mystic.  In his Comedian disguise, Blake takes plans into his own hands and plows the car he’s riding in through the wall of the warehouse.  He shoots and kills several gunmen and proceeds to go after their leader Moloch (real name Edgar William Jacobi.) The Comedian finds Moloch in his office watching television.  Moloch is glued to the television set and pays little attention to Blake. Blake gives the old song and dance about putting up a fight, and then sees that Moloch is crying.  Blake is puzzled by this behavior when Moloch states, “He’s been shot.”  The person in question who has been shot is Blake’s friend President Kennedy.  This just happens to be the tragic day he was assassinated in Dallas.  Both Blake and Jacobi are beside themselves with shock.  They handle the news differently in their awkward moment together.  Moloch sits, while the Comedian rummages around the cabinets and file drawers looking for a drink.  The Comedian asks Moloch about the drugs.  But in his own roundabout way, he lets Blake know that there isn’t any drugs.  After the announcement that Vice President Lyndon B. Johnson would be sworn in as the thirty-sixth president, the Comedian rests his hand on Moloch’s shoulder, while Moloch comments, “What are we going to do now?” (to be continued)

Writer Brian Azzarello captures the seedy background of Eddie Blake.  To put it simply, he is not a nice guy. He is contracted to kill people and enjoys it, but his own personal motivation in this line of work is yet to be revealed.  Blake may feel that what he does makes him important, because his work has some form of historical impact.  Perhaps he views himself as one of the strings that the  man behind the curtain is pulling.  Azzarello is creative about fingering Blake as the culprit behind Marilyn Monroe’s overdose.  He adds a plausible explanation about the passing of the legendary actress in the “Watchmen” universe.  To this day her death is still shrouded in conspiracy.  What’s also interesting to see is Blake’s close political ties to the Kennedys, and as readers may remember from Alan Moore’s “Watchmen,” he develops a working  relationship with future president Richard M. Nixon.  After all, Watergate was never reported because Blake liquidated Woodward and Bernstein before they could publish the infamous break-in story to The Washington Post.

The request from Kennedy is the foreshadowing of the formation of the “Watchmen.”  Pulling this team together was a sign of the times, maybe Kennedy knew he was a likely target and put some insurance in Eddie Blake to help the country with its troubles by creating a team of heroes. Their methods were eventually frowned upon and rejected by the public. Unfortunately for the “Watchmen,” President Nixon signed The Keene Act in 1977, which outlawed vigilantism.  They were forced to disband.

What’s strange is in the film version of the “Watchmen,” Blake is seen pulling the trigger on President Kennedy from the grassy knoll in Dallas.  So how can he be with Moloch in the warehouse at the same time as the assassination? Also, there is one questionable item about the comic book cover itself.  The cover has the Comedian wearing a gimp mask while smiling with a cigar between his teeth.  Blake never wore a bondage mask such as this.  Maybe this is used by the cover artist J.G. Jones as an abstract reflection of the Comedian‘s sadistic personality. Whatever the case is, the drop of blood on the gimp mask’s forehead was a nice touch recalling the Comedian‘s iconic “Smile” button with blood depicted in the original “Watchmen” story.

Finally, there is an attached two-page back up story that is a continuation of “The Curse of the Crimson Corsair: The Devil in the Deep” (part three) story, which debuted in the first issue of “Minutemen.” The story follows a sailor, Mister McClachlan, who witnesses his shipmate being keelhauled for a petty theft. After the horribly mutilated body of his crewmate is pulled from the water, Mister McClachlan is outraged by the orders of Captain Chane, and the lack of compassion the captain has for the dead man. He decides to gallantly take matters into his own hands and points a gun at the captain while accusing him of “Cruelty and Butchery.” Unfortunately, the Captain isn’t worried. He is saved by another member of the crew who gets the drop on Mister McClachlan by pointing a gun at his head. Mister McClachlan is tied to one of the deck cannons in order to be administered the punishment of fifty lashes before his court-martial.  In the midst of being lashed, a Spanish frigate closes in on the ship and attacks.  The Captain is killed and the vessel is damaged.  The ship lists causing the deck cannon with McClachlan tied to it to fall into the ocean.  The next installment of this story will continue in the first issue of the “Nite Owl.” Until then, fans will have to wait.

Comedian” is written by Brian Azzarello, with art by J.G. Jones, coloring by Alex Sinclair, and lettering done by Clem Robins. “The Curse of the Crimson Corsair: The Devil in the Deep (part three ) is by Len Wein & John Higgins, and is lettered by Sal Cipriano. The comic is Rated M for Mature Readers.

Here are the other titles in the Before Watchmen series: “Minutemen,” “Silk Spectre,” “Nite Owl,” “Ozymandias,” “Rorschach,” and “Doctor Manhattan.”

Sources: DC’s “Comedian” comic book, Alan Moore’s “Watchmen,” wikipedia