Is the COMEDIAN Getting a New Punchline?

Reading the second issue of Brian Azzarello & J.G. Jones‘ COMEDIAN made me wonder if I was a little too harsh on their last outing. So I reread that first issue and I stand by my criticism that the kinder, gentler Eddie Blake rang false. The Kennedy cameos were forced and exploitive, and interaction between the Comedian and Moloch belittled a pivotal scene from Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons‘ original series. This second installment of the Before Watchmen prequel corrects all of the overstepping of the first but by the absence of the titular anti-hero.

Observant consumers will immediately notice the Vietnam-shaped bloodstain trailing the river water behind the Comedian on the cover of issue #2. If the previous front cover promised macabre sadomasochism undelivered, this would seem to indicate a high body count that (here) continues unfulfilled. However, the arrogant man of action we’ve been expecting is finally in full attendance –when he is present at all, that is.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it until I’m blue in the face: the page count (or rather lack thereof) is a detriment to accomplishing a complex narrative.

The comics that have proven Azzarello’s greatest successes have been prestige format books where he’s been able to lay out a pace that rewards patience by bunching scenes of extended violence that would otherwise be out of place or too concentrated in a short page-count title. The counterfactual history lesson we are given in this month’s COMEDIAN is well written and necessary for setting up what I expect will be Blake’s great disillusionment, but it doesn’t tell us anything about the main character. I like that the Greek chorus of real American politicians has been toned down; in fact I sort of wish that this had been the first issue, and the connection between Blake and the Kennedys could have been left unspecified. That might have added a Machiavellian mystery to the Comedian’s nature allowing loyal readers to speculate on exactly what involvement (if any) he’s had in the JFK assassination. As a first issue this type of set-up would have been perfect; as a follow-up issue it’s a bit less satisfying.

I would be remiss if I didn’t articulate to the greatest of my ability that I prefer this issue to the first by a ratio of no less than ten to one, but the covers for the two remaining issues have been posted online and seem to indicate that this entire series takes place in
Vietnam. While the J.G. Jones we all know and love is back in top form and Brian Azzarello has seemingly found his bearings with the character, with one quarter completely wasted by half time, what can we expect for a final score except for something anecdotal at best? It all seems very reminiscent of the issues of Marvel’s ‘NAM that guest starred Sargeant Frank Castle (aka The Punisher), which I challenge anyone to remember in any detail.

I’m along for the ride, and at least I feel a lot better about the proceedings now than I did after closing the back cover on the last entry. Also on a positive note, this issue’s two pages of Curse of the Crimson Corsair were the only thus far that made me want to see a third page, so perhaps Len Wein and John Higgins are finally catching their stride as well.