Written by: Darwyn Cooke
Art by: Darwyn Cooke
Colors by: Phil Noto
Lettering by: Jared K. Fletcher
Cover by: Darwyn Cooke
Published by: DC
“Little did we know that poor boy would lead to the end of us all.”
There’s a lot of controversy that surrounds the Before Watchmen project. When it was first announced I was against the idea. Then I saw the creators involved and I thought maybe it wasn’t so bad. After witnessing the C2E2 Before Watchmen panel and sneaking a peek at some of the art involved I was a full-on convert. Now I’m not going to get into the debate of the ethics involved, as it’s already printed and out in the world. It’s a done deal as far as I’m concerned. I’m not going to change the mind of people who are hard-core against this, nor am I about to be a cheer-leader for D.C. Just like any other comic I’m going to take it at face value and judge it for the art and story.
The Minutemen by Darwyn Cooke is by far the book I was most excited about. I love Cooke’s Parker graphic novels and his work on D.C.’s The New Frontier. He has a way of tapping into late 50’s/early 60’s vibe that transcends the retro kitch, and makes you feel like you are reading a book from that era. Minutemen hits the mark in the way you would expect it. The subject matter here has a deeper level of grime and rawness and Cooke does not shy away from it in the least. In fact I would say he embraces it and uses the dark past of the Minutemen as a springboard for a Minutemen “Assemble” type of story.
Hollis Mason, the original Nite Owl is the lead, we are introduced to him trying to finnish a draft of Under The Hood. There’s a nice little self-referential joke after we read the long philosophical and pretentious conclusion to his book, and Hollis says “This is terrible.” “I’m just going to have to be myself.” That’s what Cooke does. He’s not trying to ape Alan Moore in style or content, and he’s working with these characters his own way. Hollis goes about introducing the Minutemen through character-defining vignettes that hint at the motives and vices of these heroes. Hooded Justice is a bit of a homicidal maniac killing mobsters. The Silk Spectre is a poser, an actress, and a tourist with an agent. The Comedian is a sick profiteering teen villain in hero’s clothes. In Australia he’d be known as a Toe Cutter, attack criminals in order to steal from them.The Mothman is a ultra-smart inventor, that paid a high-price for making a flying suit and is now addicted to painkillers and alcohol. It goes on to re-introduce the remaining characters, Captain Metropolis, Dollar Bill, and Silhouette. The most interesting reveal is that Nite Owl is in love with Silhouette even though he knows she’s a lesbian. There is plenty of conflict and potential drama is set-up in this first issue. My only critique on the actual story is that perhaps it’s told too much in a re-cap style for a first issue. I’d like there to have been a little more of the in-the-moment type scenes where we can forget about the narrator and just get into the meat of it. Cooke is careful in treating his subject matter with respect and restraint, never giving us anything cliché or on-the-nose. The violence, the sadism, the greed, the drug-abuse, the sexuality, the insanity…all these thing that made the Watchmen an interesting take on superheroes, it’s here. It’s in the pages of the Minutemen, it’s just not exploited in a cheap manner. For me, I could have used a bit more sleaze. I wanted this thing to read like one of the those dirty magazines for the 30’s and 40’s. You know the kind with the “photo clubs”. Perhaps we will get more of that in issues to come.
Just like he did with The New Frontier and Parker, Cooke knocks the Minutemen out of the park. So many of his character designs have wound being used for animated series, that his comics now sort of have that feel. But don’t get the wrong idea, he doesn’t do simplification for the easy way out, nor is it cell-shaded anime. His work is a stylish 50’s/60’s golden-age noir rife with Watchmen symbolism and intricate backgrounds. Each panel is well thought-out and composed in the most iconic way possible. Body expressions are dynamically torqued and are either going through an interesting action or posed with anticipation to do so. Phil Noto’s colors Minutemen with a wide range of era-appropriate palette, symbolically added subtext to each story while staying consistent to the overall style of the book. There is select desaturation on certain panels to make the panel pop, like the red cape of Hooded Justice. For other sections such as the Silk Spectre and Dollar Bill’s segment, the color is punched-up bright and sunny. Nite Owl’s story got more brown tones, and golden orche’s. All it is masterfully rendered in cut flats, with subtle gradation and airbrushing. It’s sophistication would make John Higgins, the original Watchmen colorist, proud.
Dismissing all the controversy and hype, I’d say this was a successful first issue. The story is solid with enough of hints of twists and turns on the way to keep you hooked. Visually, you couldn’t ask for a more stunning look at the Minutemen. From the sleek character designs to the composition, rendering, posing, and coloring this thing is just gorgeous. If wanted to just give one of these Before Watchmen’s a shot, this is the one to pick up, no doubt.
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