Before Watchmen: Minutemen #2
Darwyn Cooke set this series of prequels off with a stunning book. While I only ended up liking it second best of the bunch i stand by what I said back in my review; that it was the perfect premiere issue in terms of style, content and quality. Not only was it a very good read but the issue also spent its time introducing to us (again, to most of us) the cast of characters who would go on to headline their own comics in later weeks. So it is that he was somewhat set-up to fail with this first of the second issues; for not only were expectations now high but the tricks tried there would not work a second time.
See A second issue brings with it new challenges: now we need the book to both stand on its own and step-out from the crowd, something easier said than done with what is essentially a ensemble piece. For seventeen pages I would say Cooke fails to meet these objectives, this issue feeling like an extension of the first, like more origin to already established characters and you almost lose interest but then he succeeds with the next few so well that not only do you forget all about Watchmen but you’ll barely remember reality or that you are reading at all.
Style, content and quality. Those, I guess, are the things that I look for in every book but here especially they feel important. The quality is consistent throughout, Cooke doesn’t write a bad book: the narration here is pithy, poetic and to the point while the dialogue is pitch-perfect for the period without ever becoming gaudy, a nostalgic homage. The stye too is simply superb throughout. Cooke opens the issue with another circle motif and I think it works even better the second time, as do the rest of his artistic tricks. The way that he paces the action scenes so that punches are punctuated by the headlights of a passing truck shows the kind of pedantic detail he applies to his art. Why then was i so worried early on? The comic lacked compelling content.
This isn’t a Nite-Owl book but he is our protagonist so in a way it only makes sense to compare this comic to that one; hell it also goes back to the boardroom to flesh out a famous meeting. The reason it was met with such disdain was because it provided only things that we already knew, it was a waste of panels, and while Minutemen #2 is perhaps not so drastically repetitive it does dedicate too much time to things undeserving of it. Nite-Owl was a good cop? got it. His book bares all? Ok. The Minutemen were formed? Can’t this be assumed? I guess you could argue that of all the stories show in this series, but there does seem to be a freshness to some that makes these others stand out. Thankfully those last five pages show exactly that, somewhat shaming those that come before.
The first half of the issue simply places the pieces together, but the second starts off the story proper and boy is it a powerful one. Cooke takes the two most challenging and controversial of the crumbs he laid out last month – child smuggling and closeted homosexuality – and makes them the central conceit of the book. There is an urgency and a dread to these pages that has you frantically eyeing the panels wanting to know what will happen next and constantly petrified of finding out. Partly this is because he employs a technique that effects the pacing, each page is made up of four cohesive triptychs, singular rectangular images split into three sequential panels by time, it’s stunning. The other part comes from the fact that they tell a tale that is both new and exciting; we haven’t seen this story before so we don’t know where it’s going.
The problem though is that I still don’t. I think i remember the context and connection but i’m not sure if this is supposed to be a cliffhanger or a climax and that isn’t really good enough. This is going to sound completely contradictory but the comic can’t be reliant on knowledge of its progenitor, it needs to spell these things out within its own pages, it just needs to do this without actually re-treading the same or similar territory provided of course that this is in fact a prequel and not simply a sequel set in the past ala Godfather 2. So yeah, the project kind of put itself in an awkward position to begin with and were it not for the standard of writer behind it the thing would be a bust. For now though it’s a fascinating intellectual exercise and for five pages it makes you feel like nothing else out there can so for me Minutemen is still a winner, though there may yet be dark days still to come.