artist: J.G. Jones
I stopped reading Before Watchmen regularly a few months back. As it stands, I've read issues from Minutemen, Nite Owl, Silk Spectre, Ozymandias, and this one, Comedian, but not Rorschach, Dr. Manhattan, or Moloch. Eventually I will most likely read the complete story, in collected form (which was how I first read Watchmen itself), but for now I've limited myself to the story of Edward Blake.
So far Brian Azzarello has put a big stress on Blake's relationship with the Kennedys, his revision of Alan Moore's original suggestion that Comedian theoretically participated in the assassination of JFK. What Azzarello has done instead is put new emphasis on his moral development, from the idealism of Camelot to the quagmire of Vietnam, where we've been the last few issues. This issue, in fact, is more or less the birth of the Comedian we know from Watchmen (incidentally the one we know from his relationship with Silk Spectre might as well at this point be folded into his relationship with Jack Kennedy, himself a notorious womanizer, though not exactly the would-be rapist that all but defined Blake for Moore).
Comedian was the cynic's superhero, the one who looked at the world through a cracked lens, who saw the joke that was its idea of justice, which he quickly saw as not being particularly fair. (Although the cracked lens and fairness parts also speak to each of Moore's heroes. Edward Blake simply saw it before the rest of his old teammates, and not just Ozymandias's plans.) He was ahead of the curve, but in Vietnam he's behind it, at least as the civilian population goes. Last issue he memorably had a hard time reconciling his patriotic idealism with what was developing stateside. Now he's hoping for the war to end and finding it increasingly difficult to cope. The problem for Blake is that he's Captain American in the Vietnam War.
The drug culture introduced last issue (and at the same time in Silk Spectre) finally claims the Comedian, which is the major development of the story this time. Bobby Kennedy has declared his intention to run for the presidency, but won't accept Blake's calls, another sign that the times are indeed changing. Soon he's going to be everything we thought he was all along.
That's the value of Before Watchmen, revisiting and expanding on the familiar story so that new truths can be found. Why I keep reading about Edward Blake specifically is because in Watchmen he can almost be the boogeyman, the other hero-turned-villain who just happened to be eliminated by the other one, though granted a shot at redemption in the memories of those he leaves behind. He looms over the whole story, but almost entirely in the background. It's nice to see him at the front, and Azzarello is taking full advantage of the opportunity.