“Anybody could have done it.” (The Last War in Albion Book Two Part Fourteen: Before Watchmen: Rorschach)
Previously in The Last War in Albion: Perhaps surprisingly given his pedigree as a creator, Brian Azzarello’s two contributions to the Before Watchmen line were largely disappointing and unoriginal. The first, Before Watchmen: The Comedian, frames the charater largely in terms of the Kennedies, essentially opening with the assassination of JFK and closing with that of RFK, committed by the Comedian to cover a war crime he committed in Vietnam.
|Figure 895: The Comedian assassinates Bobby Kennedy. (Written by Brian Azzarello, art by J.G. Jones, from Before Watchmen: The Comedian #6, 2012)
It would be overstating the case to say that Azzarello simply allies the Comedian with Kennedy-style New Frontier liberalism: the ending makes that a hard sell, after all. Rather, it’s that Azzarello uses the two Kennedy assassinations as the poles in a fairly traditional account of the decline of 1960s leftist idealism, from JFK’s death as a tragedy that stuns the Comedian to RFK’s death as the Comedian’s own doing, with the engine of that transition being the Vietnam War. Azzarello does not do anything so crass as suggest that the Kennedys are some sort of unalloyed good, of course. He portrays them in line with the historical reality of their considerable corruption. But their corruption is ultimately paralleled with the Comedian’s; he even refers to Robert Kennedy as a “way more effective” crime fighter than he is at one point. They’re all of a type; the sort of morally compromised hard men who flooded superhero comics in the wake of The Dark Knight Returns, and that Watchmen is so often misunderstood as being about. This is even echoed in the art; J.G. Jones, doing his first significant interior work since his awkward exit from Final Crisis three years earlier, imbued the series with what Azzarello called a “masculine realism,” framing this sense of masculinity as central to the Comedian’s character.
This is, to say the least, a bizarre take on the Comedian. Over and over again Watchmen stresses that the Comedian is essentially a nihilist; he understood the same existential darkness that Rorschach did, and, as Rorschach puts it, “chose to become a reflection, a parody” of the fundamentally dysfunctional and broken world. Unlike Rorschach’s absolute belief in justice, however, the Comedian was fundamentally amoral, ultimately driven only by a desire to be tougher than the world (hence his ultimate breakdown when he realizes that Ozymandias’s pragmatic nihilism vastly exceeds his own). Simply put, he’s almost fundamentally impossible to use as the symbol of any sort of idealism, even one in terminal decline. Azzarello’s character, who sulks that “the one thing – the abso-fucking-one thing that no one ever got about me is that I am a patriot” is, in this regard, virtually unrecognizable. As for the idea that the Comedian represents some sort of masculine ideal at any point in his career, it’s difficult to see where this comes from within Watchmen, where one of the first things established about the character is the fact that he raped the Silk Spectre.…