Before Watchmen: Minutemen #3

by deerinthexenonarclights

Alan Moore’s Watchmen has been given many honors over the years and heralded for initiating many changes to the comic medium, head amongst them is the fact that it popularized both the term ‘Graphic Novel’ and the act of buying these illustrated stories as books instead of issues. For me ten times out of eleven the trade is the superior way to read any story, regardless of its artistic intent, but I’ve slowly been coming around to the way of the floppy comic.

What DC have done with Before Watchmen though really showcases the flaws in the format: the writers they hired have mostly chosen to tell their stories slowly and over the course of the entire series, which has left many of these initial issues feeling a little lackluster and to top it off the prestige nature of the product and the constantly changing population of titles means that each individual book is now parceled out once every two months at most. This is a problem because any good serialized story will contain some complicated aspects, subtle character traits, hidden clues and dramatic cliffhangers; Cooke’s Minutemen has all of those, or at least I think it did but I can’t really remember now….

The most egregious example of the schedule slashing the impact of certain events has to do with the ending of Minutemen #2. Cooke closed the book with a weird high wire sequence that was ambiguous in its content but clear in its effect; it was stunning work that made mystery upon mystery and had me salivating for answers to the questions it posed between panels but come to time to crack open the follow up I had forgotten what most of those were and so getting the answers was no longer cathartic or exhilarating, it was just hype that came to nothing.

There is of course nothing that Darwyn Cooke can do about distribution, all he has control over is the words he writes and the images he draws and both of those are almost beyond reproach. This third issue in the series, the end of its first half, solidified its intentions rather strongly. Cooke’s task for the book was to use his cartoony style to order and elaborate upon all the mentions that the Minutemen received in the original test, to chart them from conception through corruption and into defeat. What he is actually interested in writing about though is what actually tore the squad apart: sex.

As the cover of the comic attests The Silhouette is really the star of Minutemen even though the book is structured around Hollis Mason, the original Nite-Owl. She was under explored in Watchmen, her character hinted at but never set in stone: all we knew about her was that she is foreign, potentially a lesbian and has no love for those who hurt children. The latter two traits form the spine of the story that Cooke has concocted; she, with the help of Nite-Owl, hunts pedophiles and rapists instead of performing publicity stunts, while at home The Comedian is caught trying to have his way with the young Silk Spectre and outs Metropolis and the Hooded Justice when they try to stop him.

The two stories then share a strong link – one stretched further through tragic scenes such as The Silhouette staring at a cold statue of Christ while she bleeds out in a church, wondering why he doesn’t love her – and so they work side by side such as they are. However they are not the only stories contained in the comic: there is also a stilted scene at the beginning set in the ‘present’ of Hollis Mason, circular cut-outs scattered throughout that depict the content of the in universe Minutemen comic and a section that intercuts The Silhouette in action and her speaking to some unseen observer. All of these are handled well on an individual basis but together they are perhaps a little too much: some pages switch between blue circles, beige circles, speech bubbles, white squares and interest logo’s to distinguish all the different layers of dialogue. Watchmen was a complicated book too, but there it always felt necessary and never forced.

The other disappointment for me was the way in which the comic closed; the second issue had a stunning and strange finale whereas this one was simply strange. It left so much unexplained and lacked impact because I lacked understanding. Why was that the scene to stop on? What answers did it give? There is so much to like about what Darwyn Cooke is doing here – his art in particular is both pretty and clever, no criticisms there – but so much of it is also mystifying in the wrong way. it could yet turn around, later issues could make sense of some of the messier moments but my problem is that later will be later indeed. I like each individual element of the book, but they’re yet to mesh as much of a team to me; in that way Minutemen too accurately reflects the group of the title.

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