The BW Review : “Before Watchmen : Comedian” #3

Posted: September 19, 2012 in comics
Tags: , , , , ,

I admit that it’s been a long time since I followed any comic series from either of the “Big Two” publishers, so maybe this kind of thing is a more common phenomenon these days than I realize, but I swear to God, I’ve never seen the quality of a book fall as far as fast as Brian Azzarello and J.G. Jones’ Before Watchmen : Comedian miniseries. In the space of three short issues we’ve gone from promising to pointless to downright embarrassing, and frankly at this point continuing to follow this endeavor is getting downright painful. I almost don’t know where to begin the litany of complaints here, so let’s just go the usual dry nuts-n’-bolts recap route and hopefully I can get this thing finished without actively reliving too much of the actual experience of reading this pablum in my mind before I’m finished here. In other words, this this one’s gonna be quick, because I just plain can’t really stand to think much about this book.

If you’ll recall, last time around Eddie Blake, aka The Comedian, was dispatched to Viet Nam, got in a lazily-scripted gun battle at night, and then headed off with some other hapless souls into “the shit” at the end of the issue. Like I said, pretty pointless.

So where do we pick things up in this third installment? Do we go into “the shit” with ’em and maybe see how the war changed Blake and made him into an ever bigger amoral, sociopathic asshole than he was going in? Nope. That might threaten to actually be interesting, and we can’t have any of that. Instead, we’re dropped off in Hawaii, where Eddie’s trying out some of the lamest sexual innuendo you’ve ever seen on a waitress at a beachfront watering hole. I swear, Ron Jeremy wouldn’t even try this kind of shit with a straight face. Not that it stops her from leaving with him at the end, because women are basically nothing but interchangeable pieces of meat in this book. But in the 18  or so pages between that absurd start and even more absurd end, we are literally regaled with more or less everything a book that wants to be taken seriously, as this one obviously still does, shouldn’t do under any circumstances.

First off, Blake gets a call at the bar in Hawaii from Bobby Kennedy, who’s quite clearly displeased with how his favorite mercenary recently went about some rather dubious business in Watts, California. So you know what’s bound to happen next — it’s flashback time. We see The Comedian returning to the US, his actual adventures of any import in ‘Nam never expounded upon, and he’s greeted by some protesters upon his return, one of whom clearly reminds him of his estranged (to put it kindly, seeing as how she doesn’t even know who her real old man is at this point) daughter, Laurie. That particular scene is almost involving for a moment, but then all is shattered when the flower-power girl in question is — what? Well, it turns out she’s hit by a tomato pelted at her from some knuckle-dragging right-wing neanderthal, but Jones depicts it so fucking poorly that you think she might have been shot before flipping the page over. Anyway, it’s a decently-scripted little vignette, but so ineptly handled visually that any and all dramatic potential is lost.

From there, believe it or not, things only get worse. Eddie heads into Watts and, as you’d expect, ends up playing a key role in redirecting the notorious riots there from a genuine political uprising into a pointless looting spree. How does he manage this feat? Get this — he shows up with a yellow smiley-face grin painted on his face (I guess straight-up Al Jolson-style blackface would have been too unsubtle even for Azzarello, though the end result is essentially the same), scratches his armpits and “ooks” and “eeks” like monkey, shoots up the windows of some local shops so the folks will start helping themselves to TVs and stereos and shit, torches a throwaway sofa and pushes a black kid into it (what happens to the kid after that is never shown, but I hope he gets the fuck out of there with nothing but a burned shirt because nobody deserves to lose their life in a story this stupid), and then — wait for it, wait for it — throws dogshit at the chief of police.

So let’s just take a minute and consider the world according to Brian Azzarello, at least as presented in Before Watchmen : Comedian #3 (variant covers, as shown, by Jones and John Paul Leon, respectively) — the Watts rioters, who really did have about a million and one legitimate political grievances, were so stupid that one guy in overtly racist facepaint who commits heinous race-baiting crimes right in front of their faces and acts like a fucking monkey while doing so is somehow persuasive enough to get them all to start looting local businesses rather than revolt against the powers that were oppressing them simply by shooting up some store windows and saving his biggest insult not for them, but for the cops. Message? African Americans are stupid, and furthermore, they’re actually stupid and greedy ‘cuz at the end of the day they just want a bunch of electronics and shit for free. How DC’s editorial staff let this thing get published in this form is, frankly, beyond me. If I’m working DC editorial and I have a writer hand me a racist pile of nonsense like this, I’m sending it back to him with one simple note : “complete rewrite or you’re fired.”

Which is not to say that The Comedian, as portrayed by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons in the original Watchmen miniseries, didn’t do worse than this. He shot a woman pregnant with his own child, for christ’s sake! But it all comes down to authorial intent. Moore and Gibbons quite clearly were out to show us what a bastard Blake was — here, this much-less-thoughtfully-handled meltdown comes after two issues where Azzarello and Jones spend a fair amount of time essentially rehabbing, or at least softening up and humanizing, The Comedian’s image! All of which is enough to make you wonder — if Eddie Blake’s not, according to Azzarello and Jones, quite the monster we thought, then are they tacitly saying that this kind of racist behavior on his part really isn’t that big a deal?

It’s tempting to say yes, but you know what? That would require a level of thought about what they’re doing that I just don’t think went into this thing. Leaving Jones out of it since he’s just drawing the script he’s given in exchange for his page rate, and instead focusing all of our well-deserved contempt on Azzarello, I’m actually going to let him off the hook a bit — putridly racist as this script is, I don’t think it “proves” he’s racist on a concscious level at all : just that he’s so fucking lazy that he can’t be bothered worrying about how all this might come across, and DC’s editors are so sheltered from reality that they didn’t have enough smarts to nip this thing in the bud before publishing it.

None of which actually excuses the finished product here — it is the crap that it is — I’m merely trying to put my finger on the underlying motivations as accurately as possible, which have more to do with just churning out product, regardless of said product’s actual quality or message, than they do with openly promoting retrograde, horseshit racial attitudes. Azzarello just flat-out doesn’t care enough about his readers’ sensibilities to go beyond shock value for its own sake (which may be the only way he knows how to write stuff designed to shock, anyway) regardless of how lots of folks might perceive it, and DC’s “editors” don’t care enough about what they’re putting out under the auspices of their corporate logo to stop him. All of which begs the question — if the people making and publishing this book don’t give a flying a fuck about what’s in its pages, then why should readers, either?

Offensive on every level — artistically, culturally, politically, and even economically — Before Watchmen : Comedian #3 is well and truly one of the absolute worst comics I’ve ever read in my life.

Comments
  1. Aaron Babcock says:

    I’m just going to bow to your excellent review here because it hits on everything wrong with this issue. I think I actually blocked the horrible racism out because I remember being appalled during the Watts scenes but not why. Either that or I couldn’t conceive of how someone could actually write those scenes. Either way excellent work. I should just stop reviewing BW and leave it to you.

    • trashfilmguru says:

      Nah, don’t do that, I enjoy reading your reviews and frankly there’s so little discussion of these books online that I say the more the better. Besides, there are probably plenty of people out there who prefer your writing style to mine, this stuff is all a matter of individual opinion, so I wouldn’t ever recommend refusing to review something just because somebody else is already reviewing it. Most of our blogs would be more or less blank if we all adopted that policy!

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