REVIEW: Before Watchmen – Minutemen #1 (of 6)

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Or – “Where We See How DC Plans To Follow A Very Tough Act…”

Watchmen has, for many years, been held up as an example of ‘comics done right.’  At least part of that appeal is the fact that the story has a beginning, a middle and a transition to a new beginning (because, as Jon Osterman reminds us in the text, “nothing ever ends.”)  25 years later, the world of ‘Watchmen’ is once again in play, without the original creators, and the comics community can talk about little else.  Major Spoilers wonders if they’re going to deepen the characters and story, or is DC merely gilding their lilies?

BEFORE WATCHMEN: MINUTEMEN #1
Writer: Darwyn Cooke
Artist: Darwyn Cooke
Cover Artist(s): Jim Lee w Scott Williams/Alex Sinclair/Darwyn Cooke
Colorist: Phil Noto
Letterer: Jared K. Fletcher
Editor: Mark Chiarello
Publisher: DC Comics
Cover Price: $3.99

Previously, in Before Watchmen – Minutemen:  In a world not unlike our own, the second World War brought more than paper rationing and Rosie the Riveter, spawning a wave of “mystery men” in the grand comic book tradition.  First the brutal Hooded Justice, then the noble Nite-Owl, following in quick succession by others, each of whom had their own reasons for doing something that even they admit was dangerous and possibly crazy.  Years later, the Minutemen are viewed as a passing craze, like phone-booth stuffing or the Lindy Hop, and the world has been forever transformed by a REAL superhuman, Doctor Manhattan.  What can you do when the world has passed you by?

VISUALLY INTERESTING…

It’s interesting to me to review this book so soon after Earth-2 #2, as both books are an attempt to do Golden Age-style heroes in a more modern context.  From the very first page, Darwyn Cooke maintains the visual metaphors that defined Watchmen (transitioning the view from a crib across several panels into the Doctor Manhattan watch-gears-as-metaphor-for-underpinnings-of-the-universe visual.  I am very happy to say that Cooke’s signature style lends itself well to this world, but part of me laments that the book isn’t done in the signature 9-panel grid that Dave Gibbons used in the original work.  In a nice touch, the narrative starts as the soaring prose that you’d expect from a Watchmen sequel, but then breaks down and the writer (Hollis Mason, the first Nite-Owl) takes a break from the writing of his autobiography.  It’s a pretty cool subversion of what you’d expect, and one that leads me to believe that these characters are in good hands with Cooke.  It’s hard not to compare this to his work on The New Frontier, especially as Hollis muses (or perhaps writes, it’s not clear) about his fellow Minutemen.  As I read this issue, I found myself taken by how much thought Cooke put into even the least-known characters, especially Mothman and The Silhouette…

WAS THIS TRIP REALLY NECESSARY?

The issue gives us the Minutemen as defined by Hollis, and aside from the nine-panel grid, there aren’t a lot of great disappointments within it.  I was troubled the the sequence involving the young Comedian, which pains him mostly as a thug and saddles him with dialogue that I couldn’t really reconcile with the Eddie Blake I remember from the original, and there is an overarching issue with the narrative, as well, as some of the information that Hollis is “writing” clearly isn’t in the finished product of his book, or else the original story would have gone much differently.  Still, given that there’s a sequence involving Silk Spectre’s husband/publicist questioning what he can and can’t put in the book, I have faith in Darwyn’s skills.  The backup story, Curse of the Crimson Corsair, is maddening, however, a two-page sequence of a story that will apparently be told throughout ALL the Before Watchmen titles.  I appreciate the parallel to the ‘Tales of the Black Freighter,’ but I’m bothered by the fact that I have to commit to purchasing all the books (or the inevitable collection) to find out what this is all about.  For what it is, though, it’s well-written and drawn, but not really something that I can objectively review as a separate entity.

THE VERDICT: HURM.

As our podcast discussions will attest, opinions vary on the Before Watchmen project, and I suspect that your enjoyment of this issue, and the project as a whole, is going to hinge upon how you feel about Alan Moore’s creative rights.  Looking at this book as an individual issue, it’s quite successful, fleshing out several characters in very satisfying ways, re-assessing others (Silk Spectre in particular gets a tiny, obvious moment that changes everything, yet fits perfectly with what we know of Sally) and including the necessary homages and references to the original text.  I did get a chill when Hollis mused over the Nite-Owl statue that will eventually play a role in the end of his story, and Darwyn’s art is smoothly wonderful throughout.  I can’t really make a decision for you, the reader, as to whether this comic is truly necessary, but it’s at least entertaining and well-crafted.  Before Watchmen: Minutemen #1 is interesting, mixing the new and the familiar in clever ways, and doesn’t create any major contradictions or dissonance to Watchmen itself, earning 4.5 out of 5 stars overall.  Certainly, if you feel the 12-issue original is sacrosanct and must not be trifled with, this isn’t going to change your mind, but if you’re able and willing to give BW: Minutemen a chance, it’s good work.

Rating: ★★★★½