“Before Watchmen: Comedian” #1 is a prime example of why people decried "Before Watchmen" from the very first leak. If a publisher plans to continue a legacy like "Watchmen," it should only do so if it can improve on the original or add something amazingly excellent. This issue does neither with a well-constructed issue that holds no elite level of craft nor story. In short, this comic offers very little and so, as a follow-up of a classic like "Watchmen," it disappoints on nearly every level.
If you thought a book about the Comedian written by Brain Azzarello was going to cut to the sinew of the most morally reprehensible character from the original sacred tome, then you will be drastically disappointed. It is not fair to say a book is no good because it doesn’t fit the hole we carve for it with our expectations. No, this book is no good because it isn’t exactly great at what it is. The insertion of President John F. Kennedy is jarring, but making him a supporting character/plot point just doesn’t feel right. Annoyingly enough, the character is then used as the cliché you might expect.
The strangest thing about this issue is that ostensibly none of it means anything. The much-spoiled Marilyn Monroe sequence gives readers some indication of character, but it’s ultimately a throwaway. It doesn’t drive the narrative much and we already know what kind of character Eddie Blake is. It feels like posturing, inserting some celebrity cameos just to raise eyebrows through familiarity. It’s cheap and while this sort of shorthand might give us some idea that Blake is a connected guy with friends in high places, the concept itself isn’t very interesting.
The final sequence of this issue, involving the most horrid cliché of all fiction set in the '60s, drops like a lead zeppelin. Are we supposed to believe Blake nearly became good and then he was set back by this national atrocity? Are we supposed to believe this will spiral Blake into activism? Are we supposed to care that Blake had his heart torn out enough to stand solemnly with his hand atop a villain’s shoulder just to have somewhere to place his sorrow? None of it rings true and the cameo-filled pages strip the emotion of any timbre it struggles hard to hold.
The best part of “Before Watchmen: Comedian” #1 is by far the art pairing of J.G. Jones and Alex Sinclair. Sinclair’s colors hold pages together and unite the tone of each sequence while Jones brings a style comparable to Dave Gibbons that still feels wholly his own. Jones inhabits the universe while not being completely beholden to it, slickly telling his story and playing around with panel conventions on the page in a very modern way. This actually works to take you away from the source material, which might just be the best thing "Before Watchmen" could do.
The back up tale from Len Wein and John Higgins is still too thin to parse. Half an event happens here but at least it’s presented with style. Wein and Higgins are going for the overwrought comics of decades gone by and they match it with words and lines. The action is thick and the thoughts of our lead are thicker. This is fun, but little can be made of the story itself two pages at a time.
“Before Watchmen: Comedian” #1 isn’t necessarily a bad comic, it just doesn’t do enough sufficiently to warrant existing. The plot is thin, the emotion is borrowed and the direction is lacking. Great art can’t save a story that lacks a true center. Seeing such a lackluster book rise from the ashes of greatness is an unfortunate misstep. At least now we know it doesn’t ruin the original, it just makes us wish the standards were higher. If you were curious on this one, skip it and go spend your money elsewhere.