Before Watchmen: Minutemen #1
And so the end is now no longer nigh but upon us, the horsemen ride and the bacon have hit the sky besides them; Before Watchmen is here, look upon it ye mighty and despair – as a certain Pharaoh’s poem once said – for if the hype is to be believed it brings with it the end of the industry and perhaps existence itself. While weeping may be one valid response to the sight of this issue on your local stores stands there is another much saner one, one that will despite all of the debate be the standard reaction: buying it. That is exactly what I did, then I read it and now I am here to write a little about what I thought of that experience; kind of like I would if this were just another new title, which is exactly how I am treating the series.
Watchmen was the first comic book that I ever read and so it does mean a lot to me, but so does Batman to a whole host of boys and DC release new Bruce books monthly without any uproar, it’s just accepted as what they do. Maybe if I were also someone who saw the cultural impact that comic had on the industry, or maybe if I were more of an obsessive personality (One of my greatest disappointments in life is that I am too tempered to ever go into a zionist rage over an art announcement) then I would think differently, but I don’t so here we are. As with those Batman books some of these Before Watchmen titles will be good while others are sure to be bad and so I aim in future to simply say of the issues in which camp they fall and why, with a bit of metaphorical deconstruction thrown in for fun; there won’t then be so much of an intro for each issue. So now to the issue itself.
The title band of this book by Darwyn Cooke, The Minutemen, are probably as close as we get to title characters in the panels of it’s progenitor; they, if anyone, are ‘the Watchmen’ of the title and so I guess that it makes sense that they alone initiate the run; that their book, like Nite-Owl on the cover, cuts the ribbon and sets the series in motion as confetti rains from the sky in celebration. Though because this series has become about so much more than the books their singular release (similar to the one had by Justice League at the launch of the New 52) stretches to also ask some other questions.
Is this issue being shoved out solo because it’s the finest of the comics and will instantly dispel all the diswill or as cannon fodder, something to sop up the damage and allow the others an opportunity to escape out behind? Ultimately I think the answer is a little of both; Minutemen is such a strong and singular book that it can stand to bear the brunt of the blame and will still set a standard that the rest of the books will surely struggle to match. It’s the equivalent of starting the New 52 with Snyder’s Batman #5 but that’s not why it comes first and the real reason is what makes it so magical.
For me the priority in art, regardless of medium, is story, story comes first, and based on this book Cooke and the Before Watchmen editors feel the same way; Minutemen #1 comes out first because it is an introductory issue that lays a foundation for everything that is going to come from this expansive run of comics. It spends the majority of its page space telling a series of short sort-of origin stories, each member of the squad given a two page spread that shows them to us as if they were entirely original creations.
For fans of the original book that fear this will feel repetitive or boring know that Darwyn also delivers daring and not at all decompressed stories within each of these: His Hooded Justice vignette is the most vicious vicarious Batman story that I’ve seen. So informative are these intros that after them I felt as intimately familiar with the Silhouette as I did Silk Spectre but so involving are they that I also felt just as intrigued by the Comedian as I was Capt.Metropolis. They not only left me wanting to read a whole book based on each character, but made it feel as if I almost had.
Just as impressive as Cooke’s scripts though are his scribbles; the man pulls double duty and serves as both writer and artist, but what really impresses is the way that he then divides himself even more by drawing each section with a slightly different version of the one core style. There is nothing jarring about it, he keeps those small cartoony lines and bright colors throughout but slightly skewers them every now and then; like, say, in that Hooded Justice section the characters take on more of an old crime book feel and the colour is sucked out of whole pages to be spewed up in a single panel, a Miller homage by way of Mignola.
The most striking homage in his art though comes on the first page where he lays out a beautiful, dutiful bow to Moore’s notorious motif work in the original comic by composing each panel around a slowly receding circle and setting some pseudo-philosophical narration over the top of this. It’s a deft touch that could easily have felt forced in less fair a pair of hands and an instant sign of just how much thought has gone into this issue.
The actual content of these panels is particularly important; the very first is that of a newborn child (another sign that this in the perfect beginning) and the last reveals to us the form the series will take. Specifically that All of these origins occur within the framework of Under the Hood, a book written by Original Nite-Owl Hollis Mason. Those who have read Watchmen are nodding at that, those who haven’t are squinting their eyes trying to make sense of it like one does the past twenty years of Power Girl continuity. This book though requires no such straining of memory or studying up of minutia, it’s not simply here to service fans of Moore’s work but to make some of its own.
I certainly wouldn’t say that you should forget everything you know about these characters, as that would be a critical shame, but Cooke has written a book that works just as well regardless of whether or not you know them at all, one that stands on its own as a spectacular introductory issue to a story that I am starving for more of. Did we need more Watchmen? Maybe not, but do I want more Before Watchmen after this? You bloody bet ya. To go to another famous quote, I think this might be the beginning of a beautiful friendship.