REVIEW: Before Watchmen – Minutemen #4 (of 6)

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Or – “I Honestly Forgot That This Wasn’t Over Yet…”

I was very surprised to find this book in my pull list for the week.  For the last couple of months, real world issues have caused me to focus on things other than my collection, and the weekly comics delivery has fallen somewhat low on my list.  Generally, if I haven’t been reviewing it, I haven’t read it yet, and for some reason, my brain thought Before Watchmen to be over already.  Is the general comic-reading public in the same boat as me?  Your Major Spoilers review awaits!

BEFORE WATCHMEN: MINUTEMEN #4
Writer: Darwyn Cooke
Artist: Darwyn Cooke
Colorist: Phil Noto
Letterer: Jared K. Fletcher
Editor: Mark Chiarello
Publisher: DC Comics
Cover Price: $3.99

Previously, in Before Watchmen – Minutemen:  Hollis Mason was once the vigilante known as Nite-Owl.  In his dotage, as his world runs down to crap, Hollis chose to write a tell-all autobiography about his days in a cowl, including some very unpleasant and damaging secrets about his colleagues-in-arms.  In previous issues, we’ve seen the horrifying events that occurred around the formation of the Minutemen, with a little bit of focus on characters who got next to no attention in the original book, like The Silhouette.  This issue, we get a look at the tragic life of Mothman…

I AM LESS AND LESS CONVINCED THAT THIS PROJECT WAS NECESSARY…

I was interested to see where the Before Watchmen project was going to go, and I admit that the idea of more Watchmen was enticing.  The original was pretty much game-changing comics, after all, and some of the first issues (this book’s included) were full of promise.  This issue picks up a great many threads from Watchmen from the Silhouette’s mysterious, unsolved murder to Mothman’s descent into alcoholism and the unseen past of Hooded Justice.  There are secrets revealed on almost every page of the book, and it’s a very successful bit of suspenseful writing, as we find a love-struck Hollis Mason dealing with the fallout of Silhouette’s death.  Her murder isn’t the most shocking part of the book, though, as the remaining Minutemen try to come to grips with her death (having ousted her from the group when the truth of her sexuality became public) and Silk Spectre takes revenge into her own hands.  Sally’s actions surprised the hell out of me, given her depiction as mostly a figurehead for the Minutemen in the original stories, and certainly not the Frank Castle-style bad@$$ seen in these pages.

COOKE DOES GOOD STUFF, THOUGH.

Darwyn Cooke will always be the guy who did ‘The New Frontier to me, and this series is very much in that vein, taking the various conceits of superheroes and breaking them down with some real historical context.  Of course, that Silver Age revisionism was itself partially derived from what Moore did with the original Watchmen book, making me unsure that this was all necessary.  Hollis Mason is a very strong central figure, and the story is compelling enough, but as with all the prequels, it takes what were mysteries and lays them out for all to see, which lessens them.  Seeing the horrors of war that Eddie Blake faced in the South Pacific up close will always be less terrifying than imagining what they might have been, and trying together the origins of Silhouette and Hooded Justice bothers me quite a bit.  Given that there are only a dozen or so lunatics in costumes in this world, having two originating from the same place doesn’t add coherence so much as it shrinks the broad scope that Watchmen was known for.  Darwyn’s art is breath-taking, though, especially in his depiction of Ursula/Silhouette and a moment where Sally Jupiter and Eddie Blake converse, a moment which is clearly building towards their eventual (if brief) coupling.

THE BOTTOM LINE:  IT LOOKS GREAT, AND READS WELL…

…and yet, I can’t help but feel somewhat conflicted about this issue.  Darwyn Cooke is an excellent artist, and he adds texture and nuance to bits of story that only existed as shadows of dialogue or insinuations with impressive skill, but I don’t know that this story is as timeless as the original was, nor do I know if it’s a story that I would have picked up had it not been under the banner of “Before Watchmen.”  Before Watchmen: Minutemen #4 is a puzzle for me, getting darker and more graphic at the same time it gets introspective, earning a very torn 3.5 out of 5 stars overall.  I can’t question that Darwyn Cooke is talented, and telling a heck of a story, but it feels too reverse-engineered for me.  Hopefully, his next book will be all about Darwyn’s brilliance…

Rating: ★★★☆☆

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