Posted by Don MacPherson on June 6th, 2012
Before Watchmen: Minutemen #1
“The Minute of Truth, Chapter One: Eight Minutes”
Writer/Artist: Darwyn Cooke
Colors: Phil Noto
Letters: Jared K. Fletcher
“The Curse of the Crimson Corsair: The Devil in the Deep, Part One”
Writer: Len Wein
Artist: John Higgins
Letters: Sal Cipriano
Cover artists: Cooke (regular)/Michael Golden (variant)/Jim Lee & Scott Williams (variant)
Editor: Mark Chiarello
Publisher: DC Comics
Price: $3.99 US (print only)/$4.99 US (digital combo pack)
Truth to be told, I wasn’t among comics readers who are interested in new Watchmen-related comics. I am, however, keenly interested in new comics crafted by Darwyn Cooke, so picking up this controversial curiosity of comics was a no-brainer for me. I knew I’d love the artwork, and given Cooke’s affinity for moody, 20th-century period pieces (The New Frontier, Parker), I was interested in what he had to offer. The plot for the main story isn’t anything new or special, as it features a fairly typical gathering-of-the-forces setup. Fortunately, there’s plenty to chew on in terms of characterization. Cooke offers a new work that strives (and succeeds) to stay true to the source material but also presents something new that might even stand up on its own, outside of the context of the landmark comic series that looms large over it.
As Hollis Mason puts the finishing touches on his tell-all book about his life as a costumed vigilante and the others like him, he thinks back on his career and the early days of the fellow members of the Minutemen. The team was the brainchild of Captain Metropolis, aided by the public-relations savvy of the Silk Spectre’s manager. Mason considers how some of the so-called super-heroes did it for kicks, some did it for personal gain and a couple even out of a drive to see justice done.
Cooke grabs the reader’s attention immediately with a wonderfully paced and constructed series of panels in which every scene is frame by a globe, arc or circle. The method clearly reflects an approach Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons took at times in Watchmen, and I love how it reflects both the narrow and broad scopes of the philosophical bent of Hollis Mason’s prose. Cooke’s visual style is obviously a significant divergence from that of Gibbons, but it’s well suited to the historical backdrop. Cooke’s simple but dark figures and shapes create a film-noir look that’s perfect for the angry and melancholy undertones of the story and characters.
One of the highlights of the issue was the two-page backup feature, “The Curse of the Crimson Corsair,” run to set throughout all of the “Before Watchmen” comics DC is publishing this summer. Intended as a spiritual brother to the Tales of the Black Freighter comic referenced in the original Watchmen series, the connection is a thematic one rather than being based on a common character or plot. It’s a tremendously fun but dark couple of pages that quickly get to the point, advancing the story quickly. Wein’s script and plot paints a vivid picture of a harsh, unforgiving life at sea. Higgins’s art is richly textured and detailed. The first page, with its hint of supernatural horrors to come, is stylized, gruesome and impressive, and the second establishes a surprisingly realistic and detailed foundation for the story.
Cooke’s plot for this first of six issues focuses on how the Minutemen got together as a team for the first time in 1939, and honestly, seeing how these characters came together isn’t all that interesting. They gather just because they thought they should. There’s no common enemy here, no real purpose. Cooke is filling in a blank from Watchmen that really didn’t need filling in. But despite the plodding and inconsequential nature of the plot, it does serve a purpose. What I like about Cooke’s script is its accessibility. He doesn’t assume his audience knows the original source material intimately. He gives each of the Minutemen his or her time in the spotlight, informing his 2012 reader of each character’s story in a nutshell, never assuming the introductions from a limited series from 1985 is fresh in their minds. It’s a wise approach, especially when one considers the fact there are likely some viewers of the Watchmen film who haven’t delved into the original series/collection (or graphic novel, as so many people incorrectly describe it).
What I loved most about the book was Cooke’s expansion on the characterization Moore brought to bear in Watchmen. The Minutemen (aside from the Comedian) were secondary characters, but Cooke reaps the harvest of the seeds Moore planted. He even adds new elements. Of all of the Minutemen characters, Mothman was something of a throwaway element in Watchmen, but Cooke offers a much different take on him that’s consistent with what Moore did with him but makes him a much more interesting figure. The Hooded Justice and Silhouette scenes are incredibly effective as well. Hooded Justice comes off as a chilling, intense presence, and is presented as the most enigmatic of the bunch. His brutality is tempered by that of the Comedian. His unethical, ugly actions seem a bit too over the top here, so I hope Cooke explores him as something other than a brute in future issues. Silhouette was already a rather fascinating character, given her overt homosexuality in an age when it wasn’t accepted. Cooke presents her as a formidable and driven figure, and I loved the style he instills in her. 7/10
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