Posts Tagged ‘j.g. jones’

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So, this is it — the end of the line for both Before Watchmen, and for my reviews of same. I guess that means you’re doubly lucky today! Seriously, though — to those of you who have stuck this out (assuming there are any of you — frankly, I have no idea), I offer my sincere thanks, while to DC, I offer my sincere middle finger for taking up a lot of my time and money on a project that, ultimately, was of even less worth than it appeared to be going in.

Yeah, I know — I was the one stupid enough to keep buying these things, so to myself, I offer a swift kick in the ass.

Anyway, after numerous delays, the sixth and final issue of Brian Azzarello and J.G. Jones’ Comedian mini-series finally hit the stands earlier today, and while I can say it’s probably the best-written issue of this book since the first, that’s really not saying much. At best, this is merely an average “mature” superhero comic, with an ending that, let’s face it, those of us still left reading this thing have been able to see coming for quite some time now (and even if you didn’t, the cover pretty much telegraphs it  from the outset). I’ve been saying for quite some time that the whole BW debacle was ending with a whimper, but I had no idea how literally true that would be — this issue wraps up with Eddie Blake crying after he does what he feels, I guess, he has to do (again, see cover), and there ain’t no grand finale; no shocked, rapturous awe; no stunned silence — nothin’. DC’s promo tagline for this issue (the story title for which, incidentally, is “Eighties” — something I’m embarrassed to admit I don’t understand in the least , and given that Azzarello isn’t exactly known for his subtlety, I’m feeling doubly stupid for my slowness on the uptake. Perhaps one of you good people could explain it for me?) is “Do you remember how Before Watchmen began? Because you’re never going to forget how it ends,” and if there’s any better proof that they need some more competent PR folks down there at 1700 West Broadway, I’m hard-pressed to think of it. They’re essentially admitting that the whole experience has been a pretty forgettable one right from the outset, but promising that, 37 comics (in total) later, they’re gonna do their best to make up for lost time and missed opportunities.

Talk about too little too late. Truth be told, I probably will   forget Before Wathcmen‘s ending as surely as I have its beginning, since it’s about as pre-formulated and predictable as, say,  the breakfast special at Denny’s. And probably about as good for you, too.

Still, the issue itself’s not a total waste — there’s a nifty little scene where The Comedian has a strictly-off-the-record meeting with G. Gordon Liddy that’s enjoyable enough and also hints at the fact that Blake may end up setting Liddy up vis a vis Watergate — but then you remember that Watergate never happened in the “Watchmen Universe” since it was made clear that it was Blake himself who killed Woodward and Bernstein, so Azzarello’s supposed “cleverness” with this sequence is, alas, ultimately wasted. Rather like the talents of everyone who participated in this project and the money of everyone who supported it.

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Jones’ art is, us usual, perfectly nice in its own standard-superhero-book sorta way, as is his cover (shown at top) and the variant by Rafael Albuquerque (shown immediately above), but again, nothing terribly memorable, just competent. And maybe that’s the saddest, and most telling  indictment when it comes to Before Watchmen : Comedian —  it got so damn bad so damn fast that here, at the end, even a mildly competent effort seems like an improvement. Seriously, you don’t even need to compare this with Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons’ original Watchmen series for it to fall up short —- just compare it to any other books out there on the racks. After an absolute  barn-burner of a fist issue, this series quickly settled into a parade of dull, pointless, hopelessly lazy and unambitious flashback stories that were lifeless and unimaginative when set in Viet Nam, and even worse when the “action” returned Stateside (remember the flat-out atrocious third issue, set during the Watts riots?) — all presented with little to no plot escalation or dramatic tension. It all reads as if Azzarello knew that he wanted to bookend things with the assassinations of the Kennedy brothers, but didn’t much care what happened in between. That would be bad enough with a four-part series, but in a six-parter it’s absolutely inexcusable.

Still — it’s over, right? Before Watchmen has come and gone, and we’ve all somehow survived. The universe didn’t implode in on itself, and if you’re one of those people whose fondest wish was to see the characters from what remains, to this day, the best superhero comic ever conceived of (and how said is it that in over a quarter-century this particular genre still hasn’t offered up anything better?) put into bog-standard, go-nowhere, typical-at-best stories, then hey — you’re probably pretty happy right now, and I’m happy for you. For the rest of us, the best thing that Before Watchmen did was to finally end.

And speaking of endings — the BW books might be over with, but my dissection of them isn’t. Well, okay, it is here, but it isn’t in a more general sense — if you want to read more of my dripping-with-disenchantment thoughts on the whole fiasco, I’m in the midst of a series of weekly postings over at http://www.geekyuniverse.com that takes a post-mortem look at each of the Before Watchmen mini-series in turn, so if you found my issue-by-issue ramblings either enlightening or annoying, my more generalized wrap-ups/analyses over there may be to your liking, as well. Other than that, I’m all written-out on this subject, and I honestly don’t see myself giving any of these books a secondary reading anytime in the near — or even distant — future. The end feels like a relief.

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Anyway, here we go — the long-delayed (it’s been something like two months since the last issue) answer to the question “what exactly did the Comedian do that had the other guy so freaked out last time around?” is finally here, and it’s about as surprising and unpredictable as, say, a Denny’s omelette — evidently, he committed some mass-scale, My Lai-ish massacre on innocent villagers in Viet Nam. Women, kids, all that.

Ya know — the kind of thing that was pretty much hinted at way back in Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons’ Watchmen #2. At least give writer Brian Azzarello and artist J.G. Jones credit for consistency, then — this issue is every bit as pointless as all those which preceded it. “Azz,” as he is known to his hopefully dwindling legion of fans, throws in a last-second piece of supposed intrigue involving some machinations vis a vis Eddie Blake between the Nixon and Bobby Kennedy  camps — my best guess at this point is that Bobby never runs for president in the “Watchmen universe” and may indeed still be alive, but who really cares — but that’s some final-buzzer shoehorning that rings pretty hollow after four installments of nothing but useless flashback material that has, despite an admittedly promising start, managed to reveal exactly nothing new about one of Moore and Gibbons’ most interesting characters.

Honestly, it’s a pretty tight race at this point between OzymandiasRorschach, and Comedian for most redundant (and therefore useless) Before Watchmen min-series, but this one might hold a slight edge just because it’s also the most lazily scripted. At least over in Ozymandias Len Wein is determined to give us our money’s worth by drowning his plotless reverie in a sea of shamelessly purple prose. Azzarello can barely manage 20 words of script on most of his pages.

Shit, though, what am I complaining about? As hackneyed and pedestrian as his dialogue is, the less we have of it to deal with, the better.

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The variant covers by Jones and Gary Frank (respectively, as shown) aren’t too bad, I guess, nor is Jones’ interior art, but it’s all far short of being memorable or even involving enough to look at twice. Four bucks, four minutes, and Before Watchmen : Comedian #5 is firmly in your rear view mirror — and you aren’t even bothering with so much as a solitary backward glance; you’ve ( I sincerely hope) got better things to do. Heck, this book doesn’t even linger around long enough to fade into the distance — this is strictly “poof! It’s gone!” stuff.

So,  we’ve got one more to go with this series, and only five BW books remain in total across the board. And just in time, as far as I’m concerned — I’m running out of creative ways to say “this book sucked.” Hell, at this point I’m running out of uncreative ways to say it.

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Well, after last time around, things really couldn’t get much worse, could they?

If you’ll recall — and even if you don’t — the third issue of Brian Azzarello and J.G. Jones’ Before Watchmen : Comedian is a book I had literally nothing good to say about whatsoever. Not only did it mark, in my mind, the low point (at least to date) of the entire BW enterprise, it was , no exaggeration, one of the very worst comics I have ever read in my life, period.  It’s pretty rough to imagine that the next  issue would lower the bar even further, and while I’ve learned never to underestimate the ability of a good many of these titles to be even more pointlessly lame than I imagined going in, I’m relieved — even pleased — to report that this book  has, at least for the time being, pleasantly interrupted this particular series’ post-debut issue downward spiral.

Following Eddie Blake’s rather public meltdown on the mean streets of Watts the last time we saw him, it seems that Uncle Sam has decided that the best place for their top psycho-for-hire is back in the jungles of Viet Nam, and while his first go-’round there in issue two was a rather listless and bog-standard affair, this time around scribe Brian Azzarello has taken the time to actually develop some supporting characters for the Comedian to interact with (particularly a couple of local kids that Blake is teaching to play cards, among other things) and has even gone to the extent of having his title character do something actually interesting, which is always a plus in any comic.

And what is this interesting thing he has him do, you ask? Well, he has him drop acid. We don’t know how it’s all going to play out yet — only that it ends bad — but hey, between this and Hollis Mason getting high in the final issue of Silk Spectre, at least the various BW books are providing equal time to the onerous and predictable anti-drug message presented in the first two issues of Len Wein and Jae Lee’s Ozymandias.

The other notable thing about about what Azzarello’s done — finally! — with this fourth issue  is that the story actually builds on preceding events to show some sort of character trajectory for Eddie Blake going on. Even if it’s a rather simple tale of one guy’s gradual mental breakdown, and it arrives pretty late in the day (after the series’ halfway point), at least it’s there — which, again, is more than you can say for Ozymandias, which is still stuck in basic “career-recap” mode.

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To be sure, Before Watchmen : Comedian #4 (variant covers this time around by Jones and Brian Stelfreeze, respectively, as shown — is that getting to be my most predictable line or what?) is still far from a great comic . In fact, it’s very barely what I would generously term as a good one.  J.G. Jones’ art still does absolutely nothing for me, and while I really can’t point to anything actively bad about it, for the most part it just strikes me as being — well, kind of there, you know what I mean? As for Azzarello, he still has a tendency to mask out-and-out laziness as an “economy of words” or pseudo-“gritty” realism, and the fact of the matter is that biggest knock on this particular segment of his little six-parter is that not a whole lot actually happens in it. But hey, after that absolutely horrendous third issue, a story that’s  competently enough executed for the most part, even if it’s still miles away from the work of Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons on even their worst day, at least feels like a step in the right direction. Even if it’s just a baby step.

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.

What a difference an issue makes.

As you may or may not recall, on our first trip through the Before Watchmen titles, I was kinder to the debut issue of writer Brian Azzarello and artist J.G. Jones’ Comedian mini-series than I was any of the others. Okay, fair enough, I said Jones drew things in kind of a standard superhero-ish way that was certainly competent but in no way distinctive, and that rather tame “criticism” still applies to this second issue, but I was generally pretty complimentary of Azzarello’s efforts to tell something more, or at least other, than a typical origin or “missing adventure” -type story, which is exactly what pretty much all the other writers involved in this increasingly-obvious cash-grab seem perfectly satisfied with doing. Azzarello (whose writing I found sufficiently impressive to spur me into picking up another one of his books — the hardcover Joker graphic novel he wrote, which sucked) seemed to have a clear story — with a definite, if predictable, character trajectory— in mind that he wanted to tell, wasn’t afraid to buck the trend of simply filling in character “blank spots” pointlessly as the other titles had been doing (and continue to do), and even left us a nifty little cliffhanger in regards to the whole JFK killing with some lingering questions about why the not-so-good Mr. Blake was purposely yanked away from Dallas on that fateful day.

Along comes issue number two (with two versions of the cover this time around, by Jones and Tim Bradstreet, as shown above, respectively), and things start off decently enough with The Comedian and RFK attending one of the greatest matches in boxing history as  then-Cassius Clay defeats Sonny Liston (with Bobby implying that the fight was fixed), but pretty soon we’re skipping ahead, Blake’s in Viet Nam, where four pages of a 20-page book are taken up with a lazily-written, nearly wordless (and pointless) battle scene, and after some machinations involving the setup of an illegal drug-smuggling operation run through Air America to finance the war (which as we all know really happened, and was repeated in Central America less than two decades later), it becomes obvious that all “Azz” is likely to do here — although I hope to still be proven wrong — is duck and dive into various parts of The Comedian’s life and show us some scenes that don’t really amount to much, and that we could have pretty well guessed at ourselves anyway, that will supposedly “provide a greater understanding” of how these characters came to be the way they were when Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons first introduced us to them back in 1986.

In other words, it’s a big, fat, four-dollar dose of “whatever.” As of right now, after a pretty promising start, the Comedian mini-series is firmly back in the  pack with the other  Before Watchmen titles, content to do the same job that’s already been achieved by the numerous  better-written and better-drawn flashback sequences in the original Watchmen series. My patience is running pretty thin at this point. The writers and artists involved in this project are getting one more issue each to show me that they intend to do anything beyond what they so obviously seem ready to settle for — competently-enough-executed, but completely uninspired (and even more importantly, uninspiring), totally useless, needlessly extended “Secret Origins of the Watchmen” crap. To use a very apt, if painfully obvious,  metaphor — the clock is ticking.

Finally! I guess the third time’s the charm, because Before Watchmen : Comedian #1 finally shows that DC is capable of delivering on the “promise” — limited as it is from the outset — that I thought this whole Watchmen prequel project might have going for it (and I use that term with caution, since the idea that these to-my-mind completely unnecessary books have anything much “going for them” at all is highly debatable, to say the least) : namely, that while they probably in any just universe not ruled by the forces of predatory capitalism wouldn’t even exist in the first place, but since we live in this rather soulless and benighted one, the best we can hope for is some decent storytelling that has something interesting to say about some admittedly quite compelling characters.

To be sure, writer Brian Azzzarello and artist J.G. Jones aren’t adding anything extra to the figure of Eddie Blake, aka The Comedian, that we absolutely need to know, but it seems like they are, at least, interested in providing a fresh take on him that seeks to do a little bit more than just recount some story from his past that’s either complete retread material (a la Darwyn Cooke’s Minutemen) or simply the exact kind situation we could easily envision these one of these characters in ourselves, no problem (Cooke and Amanda Conner’s Silk Spectre).There’s no doubt that at his core, the Comedian as scripted by Azzarello and drawn by Jones (brief aside — my biggest gripe with this issue is, in fact, Jones’ artwork — it’s not actively bad, by any means, but it’s just standard, garden-variety superhero-type stuff that’s frankly the very essence of the term “nothing special”) is in no way fundamentally different than the character we were introduced by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons in the original Watchmen mini-series, but this story does, dare I say it, almost show something of a softer side to the guy. He’s still a rat bastard at heart, as shown by how he rather casually murders a famous woman he was only just sleeping with (I won’t say who, but if I tell you that the story is set in the early ’60s, you can probably guess), but he’s also shown here to be very nearly developing something of, dare I say it, an idealistic streak. He actually seems to believe in something — or, more specifically, in someone (again, I won’t say who, but again, given the time period in which this story takes place, you can pretty easily guess). He is, in fact, supposed to be on his way to meet that someone when he’s detained by an obviously hastily-arranged little time-waster of a “mission,” and while he’s tending to that pesky n’ pointless matter, that certain less-than-mysterious someone whose name I’ve studiously avoided mentioning is killed (and let’s face it — if you still haven’t figured out who I’m talking about by this point, there’s absolutely no hope for you).

And that’s probably where things are going to get dicey for a lot of Watchmen purists (what are you doing even reading this book in the first place?), because it directly contradicts something that was hinted at in the original series and that was explicitly shown in Zack Snyder’s film. However, it’s quite apparent that solving this “whodunnit?,” as well as its attendant question of “why was The Comedian kept away from it?” is going to be the driving force behind the plot of this six-issue series, which should be heavy on the political intrigue and conspiratorial overtones.

All that being said, it’s pretty obvious, it seems to me at any rate, where this whole thing is going to end up. The Comedian is going to find the perpetrators of the crime within our own government, be coerced or explicitly forced into helping them shape their decidedly right-wing agenda for America’s future, and what little idealism (there’s that word again) he was almost threatening to develop is going to be buried under the crushing wave of cynicism, if not outright nihilism, that solving this case engenders in him. He’ll go to Sally Jupiter/Juspeczyk for comfort at the point where he’s at his lowest, sire her daughter, and when she makes it clear she won’t allow him to play any part in his baby girl’s life, that decision, coupled with the loss of faith in pretty much anything and everything that will result from his investigations over the next five issues will result in Blake becoming the hard-assed, completely unlikable scumbag we’ve always known him to be.

Still, it’s a convincingly-written, thoroughly readable book (Azzarello seems to have something of a flair for solid, realistic dialogue), and it at least has some ambitions beyond DC’s apparent remit of “just don’t screw anything up.” I won’t be buying it in its three different variant covers (as reproduced above and drawn by Jones, Eduardo Risso, and Jim Lee, respectively), but I didn’t feel too bad about shelling out four bucks for the one copy I did get. Even though the ending might as well be telegraphed in more or less from the outset, I’m sufficiently intrigued at this point to see just how it is that we’ll arrive there.