The Last Laugh

September, 1987

Edward Blake awoke in darkness. He could feel the weight of the earth pressing down on him. He remembered the fall; shards of glass raining down on him as he struck the pavement several stories below. But after that-nothing.

Blake could feel the unnatural strength that had sustained him for decades coming back to him. With much less effort than it would have taken a normal man, he pushed up against the coffin lid and dug his way up through the dirt. Sunlight broke through the darkness, and Blake found himself standing next to his own grave.

In spite of himself, Blake grinned when he saw his tombstone. He hoped they'd given him a proper military burial. Did any of his old acquaintances show up, or had there been only an honor guard and maybe old Tricky Dick himself?

Doctor Manhattan. For some reason, the image of the big blue guy kept popping into his head, as did the words "Nothing ever ends…nothing." Osterman seemed to be saying it to someone, but not to him.

So, somebody had played another great gag on him. Blake was still dressed in the suit and tie he'd been buried in. He found a cigar in his pocket, and his favorite lighter. He lit the cigar, looked around at the cemetery, and set off. Somebody had pulled a fast one on him, and he wanted to find out whom. Ozymandias was the first name that came into his head, but this didn't fit Ozzy's style. Did Osterman bring him back? Something told him that Doc wasn't around these days. That was another thing-he needed to find out how long he'd been out of commission.

Lower Manhattan

It had been nearly two years since he'd bought the farm, and the city-hell, the world-had changed. Ozzy's name was everywhere, in the Millennium stuff he was selling these days; in the electric cars that people now drove. Posters and murals advertised peace and love with the Reds. Had Adrian's plan actually worked, then? But the city was different in other ways, too. It felt smaller, a lot less crowded. Blake wondered what happened to the dead. They seemed to haunt the rebuilt city, like he now did.

One thing was for certain-he needed to find Ozzy and settle things once and for all. The World's Smartest Man might have thought he'd pulled the ultimate gag on the world, but he probably never figured on the Comedian to show up to deliver the punch line, and then some.

Veidt's Headquarters

"Well, Mr. Blake. I have to say, after Rorschach you were probably the last person I ever expected to see again. It seems my past is continuing to come back to haunt me."

"Yeah, Ozzy? Well, I'm not a ghost. It's me, in the flesh." Blake clamped down on his cigar in classic style. He had to give Ozzy credit-the man knew how to keep his cool. "Okay, Oz, I'm gonna ask a few questions. Then I'm gonna find Rorschach. And together, we're both gonna come back here and kick your ass."

Adrian sighed. "You're an intelligent man, Blake. It's a shame you always had to be so…predictable."

Blake laughed. "Predictable, huh? Is that why you thought I'd be such an easy mark?"

"Easy? No. But I'd hoped you of all people had the foresight to see that my plan would work. And it has." Adrian gestured at the plate-glass window. "Take a look for yourself. A new city rises out of the ashes. I have created the Utopia that humans have wanted since Alexander the Great began his march towards Persia. You can still be a part of it."

Blake shook his head. "Sorry, Oz. Utopia's not my style."

Veidt's expression darkened. "I'm sorry you feel that way." Blake didn't see Adrian give any signal, but two large, bearded men suddenly appeared on either side of him. As Adrian turned away with an air of regret, they attacked. They were stronger than Blake had expected; but his old skills were intact and he relished each blow he gave them that would have pulverized a normal man's skull. He had just disposed of the second one by throwing him into a glass table when he managed to see Adrian pointing a small rod at him. Blake felt something sting his neck and suddenly felt woozy.

"So…you brought me back…to bring down the curtain…for a second time?" Blake managed to ask as the room began to spin.

"No, old friend," Adrian calmly replied. "I said you could still be a part of Utopia, and I meant it. When you wake up, you'll know what to do…" That was all Blake heard before he blacked out.

Los Angeles, September, 1987

From Kovac's Journal:

Meeting with Veidt made me uncomfortable. Attitude implied he had some sort of plan for me. Rorschach still had place in Utopia, he said. Told him I wasn't interested in being anybody's enforcer. Seemed to accept but still bothered me. Must assume he will be sending someone after me.

That's why I have come here to the City of Angels. But there are no real angels here, only people pretending to be such. Los Angeles is called city of dreams, but most dreams are broken by truth harsher than California sunlight. Ironically, came here by Veidt-financed bullet train. Trip was revealing about the mood behind supposed new age. On the surface people smiled; underneath could tell they were seeking outlet for still-violent and repulsive fantasies. Los Angeles has drawn these types, too.

Have decided to seek out Dreiberg and Miss Juspeczyk. Understand from Veidt they go by the name Hollis now. Good way to honor memory of former Minuteman. Also understand they have been targeting Los Angeles street gangs. Almost sounds like old days…almost.

West Los Angeles

"Come on, Laurie, we haven't seen your mother in months since we came out here. Besides, I thought you wanted to spend more time with her."

"Dan, it's not that I don't want to see her, even though we've managed to reconcile…I don't know. I told her once that I didn't want this life."

"Well, we can always settle down and have kids like she wants…"

Laurie "Hollis" laughed. "Yeah, that would really complete our crime-fighting family, wouldn't it?" She sighed. "It's also different out here. The gangs are bigger; everything's so spread out…"

"Would you rather be back in New York?" Dan sounded serious. "We don't have to stay. We could just take Archie and…"

Laurie shook her head. "No; that would only bring back too many memories. Of Jon; of what happened…and Veidt is still there. That would be too close for comfort."

Dan nodded. "Okay. Gang busting in L.A. it is, then." The doorbell rang. Dan frowned. "Who could that be at this hour…" Laurie saw him go to the door, and suddenly turn white as a sheet when he opened it.

"Dan? What's wrong? Who is it? My God, you look like you've just seen a ghost…"

"Maybe he has." The voice was unmistakable, and so was the figure that came with it. "Hi, kids," the former Comedian said. He was smiling, but there was something off about it. Laurie suddenly understood why as Blake struck Dan across the jaw and sent him flying backwards.

"Blake! What the hell are you…?" She didn't have time to ask how he had come back from the dead as well, as he turned his attention towards her with that strange, fixed expression on his face. It was as if he didn't recognize her, although he called her by name as he reached out to grab her throat.

Laurie was just beginning to struggle against his powerful grip while Dan was still trying to get back on his feet when they both got the second biggest shock of their lives. A familiar masked figure, the man whom Dan had always thought of as a real friend, crashed through the living-room window and came at Blake from behind. Caught off guard, Blake struck back, but his moves were more lethargic than normal as whatever influence he was under controlled him. That made it easier for Rorschach to subdue him as Dreiberg and Laurie watched in shock.

"Rorschach?" Dan asked. "Is that…really you?"

"Daniel." The vigilante looked at him from behind his ever-changing mask. "Good to see you and Miss Jupiter again. Help me restrain him." Dan instinctively moved forward as Rorschach jabbed the Comedian's neck with a small hypo spray. "Antidote," Rorschach explained. "Will counter-act Veidt's drugs, but will take time. In the meantime, should make him manageable." Rorschach tied Blake's hands together while Dan bound his feet. Then Dan stood up and stared at him.

"It can't be you," Dan said. "You're supposed to be dead." He looked at the unconscious Comedian. "And so is he."

"Hurnh. No surprised by reaction. You can imagine how I felt. But both of us are back for a reason, it seems."

"But I don't understand," Laurie said. "Did Jon…"

"Osterman may have played role in this. Would like to know, but hard to ask questions of man-god now in other part of universe. Suggest we wait until Blake recovers. Then we can talk."

"It's Veidt, isn't it?" Dan scowled. "His damned Utopia…and what it cost. Jon must have known neither of us would have stayed silent forever and that we'd need help…"

"Seems as likely an explanation as any." As they spoke, Blake groaned as he regained consciousness. He opened his eyes to find three faces looking down at him, one masked, the other two with varying degrees of suspicion.

"Laurie," Blake said, his eyes surprisingly turning moist. "Oh, God, I…"

"It's okay…dad." Laurie said the word without anger as she might once have. Seeing his reaction, she added, "Yes…I know. I figured it out when I was with Jon; on Mars…it's a long story. How do you feel?"

Blake winced. "Not bad, for a guy who just came back from the dead. Ow, my head! What the hell did that SOB give me, anyway?"

"Mind-altering substance…nothing that would cause permanent damage. Gave you counter-agent." Rorschach cocked his head at him. "Now that have regained control of faculties, we can talk."

"You're damn right we're gonna talk." Blake stretched his arms as Dan and Laurie untied him. "I told Ozzy I was gonna kick his ass. So…am I getting some help on this one from you kids or not?"

"Veidt must be held accountable," Rorschach stated.

"Damn straight," Laurie added.

"Yeah, I'm in." Dan stepped forward. "Well, Blake, looks like the Watchmen are back in business after all."

TO BE CONTINUED!