I finally got the last two issues of Three today, and I am absorbing the boulder-to-the-face that is their finale. At the fifth issue, finality. That’s several pleasant layers of verisimilitude mixed with economy of storytelling. I’m saving it for next month’s post.
Besides, I thought I might chime in on something that DC’s been doing that’s annoying me. No, not killing Batman. That was merely lame. No, not the whole New 52 reboot. That’s merely desperation. No, I’m talking about the whole “Before Watchmen” franchise, and specifically what it did to the Comedian.
On paper, the characters from Watchmen should be ripe for some prequel exploitation. They’re masked heroes who had a decades-long history in an alternate universe. Plenty of story to tell, and plenty of freedom to tell it in – provided you don’t abuse the chronologically-later storyline of the original graphic novel.
But this right here, this is garbage:
That’s how the first issue of the Comedian series of Before Watchmen ends, with Moloch and the Comedian hazing a sad when JFK died. This made me retch the first time I read it, and it’s gotten no better, and not just because I’m an inveterate Kennedy-hater. Sure, it’s true that my opinion of that infectious family is best summed up by this P.J. O’Rourke quote from “Mordred had a Point – Camelot Revisited”:
Here, for those who have forgotten or just love to hear it all again, is the fulsome scurvy truth: Old Joseph P. Kennedy was a liar and a greedy thief, an ignoramus, adulterer, vile anti-Semite, coward, and pompous ass. His wife, Rose, was a frigid martinet, unashamed to suckle at the teat of shabby lucre, awash in pietism and Tartuffery, filled with the letter of Catholocism and empty of its spirit. They raised their nine whelps in an atmosphere of brutal pride and stupid competition. When the hapless Rosemary turned out to be retarded, they had her lobotomized and parked her with the nuns. The remaining eight turned out to be foolhardy, arrogant, unprincipled, and wholly laking in a sense of consequences. This last trait caused Joe Jr. and Kathleen to die in airplane crashes and allowed Jack to get his PT-boat T-boned by a Japanese destroyer (A tale of heroism was manufactured from that incident. The family wasn’t so lucky with Teddy’s Chappaquiddick skin-diving efforts three decades later).
Harsh words, to be sure, but even I don’t think Jack Kennedy deserved to get shot. What I can’t abide is the attempt to soften and humanize the Comedian by shaping him into some rough-but-leal knight of Camelot.
And even if the softening and humanizing was done by making him favor something more to my liking, it still wouldn’t scour. The Comedian should not be softened or humanized, period. The whole point of the Comedian is that he’s a horrible person, but a horrible person with a point. Like many such, he’s prepared to speak unpleasant truths, deal in harsh realities. He’s politically, morally, and socially incorrect, and he does not give one gold-plated damn whether anyone happens to like it. In the world of Watchmen, no one actually likes him (who could), but even his worst enemies respect his intuition and skill.
To take such a character and give him a dopey man-crush on JFK (complete with him playing football with Kennedy boys on the compound) is thus both inane and numbingly obligatory. Especially since this frame appears in Watchmen:
This is part of a scene insinuating that the Comedian wacked Woodward & Bernstein to keep Watergate quiet (in this alternate reality, Nixon uses superheroes to win Vietnam and then gets elected to four terms). So the JFK gag is really quite suggestive, isn’t it? But never mind, everybody went from being heartbroken over our brave young president in 1963 to telling mordant jokes ten years later, right?
Which is why this felt more right (skip to the 2-minute mark):
If the Cold War really did create a unique level of paranoia in the American body politic, such that the doughtiest Cold Warriors were prepared to commit regicide rather than let that paranoia slide, then the Comedian represents a self-aware segment of that Cold War spirit. “The world was tough,” he said once to Moloch, “And you just had to be tougher.” That was the generation that fought Guadalcanal and, if anything, nodded grimly when Nagasaki died in a flash of poisoned light, that did not really give a damn how much collateral damage had to happen to keep America safe from its enemies. Would he have fired from the grassy knoll? If he thought it necessary, sure. People have been taking shots at the POTUS since 1835, four times they’ve gotten lucky, to the dismay of the nation. All of those times, the murderers have been Americans.
Something in the blood, you might say (which rather undercuts the notion that the Cold War was unique). Let’s not pretend we’re nicer than we are. It makes a bad joke out of our history.