Before Watchmen – Minutemen 1

Today, Peter and Patrick are discussing Minutemen 1, originally released June 6, 2012. Minute Men is part of DC’s Before Watchmen prequel series. Click here for complete Before Watchmen coverage (including release dates).

Peter: Watchmen is, to many, the best comic book ever written. The trade paperback is the #1 best-selling comic book. The feature film was overall well received by audiences and critics. DC Comics has made the decision to resurrect the franchise, leaving some fans excited, some skeptical, and some outright pissed. Minutemen 1 is the first of 35 books to come detailing the prequel tales of the Watchmen Universe. Hopefully it will be as well received the original material. Several months ago, Retcon Punch gave it’s initial reactions to the Before Watchmen project that you can find here.

Minutemen begins with Hollis Mason, the first Nite Owl. He unpacks his new home and works on his book: Under the Hood. This will be his tell-all book about his time as a costumed hero. As he unpacks, he comes across a picture of the old gang – The Minuteman: the original group of costumed heroes. Hollis thinks back to how each hero got their start.

Through flashbacks we see how it all started back in 1929 with Hooded Justice, striking fear into criminals. We see Sally Jupiter, the Silk Specter, and her manager Larry Schexnayder try to gain fame and fortune by staging a few robberies, taking a few photos, and greasing a few palms. Hollis recounts one of his own first adventures as Nite Owl, foiling an armored car robbery and saving a family from harms way. Eddie Blake, The Comedian was a childhood thug, who took to heroing, always made sure he got his cut along the way. Byron Lewis was an innovator in the field of aviation. He was also a little bored. As a thrill seeker, he manufactured the persona Moth Man, complete with a flying suit. However, this scared him, and he took to drinking to give him the courage to fly. Dollar Bill was the first hero with commercial backing. He was the mascot of National Bank Co. and appeared in their commercials at movies before striking out on his own. Ursula Zandt, otherwise known as The Silhouette got her start foiling a child pornography ring, then moving onto the child trafficking that went with it. The children she saved never cared that she was a lesbian. Nelson Gardner is the last hero Hollis reminisces about. A retired Marine who went by the name Captain Metropolis, Nelson is the one thought up the idea for the Minutemen, and contacts Larry to get Sally on board, confident that others will soon follow.

Oh man, was this a great way to start it all out! Darwyn Cooke is absolutely, without a doubt a perfect match for this book. His work on DC: New Frontier was top notch, and he doesn’t disappoint here. His style of writing and drawing fits this prequel-to-the-prequel like a glove. I especially like his drawing style. It reminds me of Bruce Timm’s or Joe Kubert’s style. The broad lines and shadowing effects portray a certain amount of grittiness and emotion, while keeping a distinct noir feel.

I really like the shadowing on Hollis’ face here. But also the expression that Cooke is achieving really convey the character in this shot, as he looks up and gets his first look at Hooded Justice up above.

The way this book is set up is very interesting too. Each character is treated with such care. Each of them receives their own style and coloring. Hood Justice’s panels are dark, with only the red of his cape sticking out. Silk Spectre’s are bright and colourful. This goes on for each of the other. The style reflects the characters, just has they affect the world around themselves. Even Hollis’ new digs are warm from the fire, rich with browns and deep yellows.

Darwyn Cooke’s writting is also great. Like the art, he gives each character an excellent voice that seems to fit their personality really well. Even the characters that don’t speak in this issue – like Moth Man or Hooded Justice – seem to already be developing voices of their own in my head.

This title is the first of the series of Before Watchmen books, and rightfully so. The Minutemen set the groundwork for the other crimefighters, both as individuals and as the Crimebusters. I really like that Hollis is narrating this book, as he kind of narrates much of the original work through the excerpts on Under the Hood that appear within.

Going into this book, especially since this one contains characters that don’t play large roles in the Watchmen book, I tried to keep as open a mind as possible. I almost tried to put all of Watchmen out of my head. I really have high hopes for this book out of the series, and this first issue doesn’t disappoint. It sets up the rest of the books rather well, introducing each character, and Hollis’ take on them. I do hope that the story picks up a little bit. There are only 6 issues for Minutemen, which means that there is a lot of ground to cover here. I like that it looks like we will be splitting our time between old man Hollis as he is trying to get his book published, as well as Minutemen’s beginnings. I just hope it doesn’t eat up too much time.

Patrick: One of the big questions that everyone is going to ask about Before Watchmen is “what’s the point of this thing?” Are we reading some fun stories about characters we already love or are we expecting to see a genius-level deconstruction of superhero tropes? Is it presumptuous to expect that there is a single point to be divined from this series? Is is extra presumptuous to be making declarations about The Point of a work of art 1/35th of the way through? That last one is the only question I can definitively answer.

But that “what’s the point of this?” question can sorta extend to this issue on a purely narrative level. Do we need to be introduced to all the Minutemen one at a time? Not really: we know these guys already. And with the exception of the Moth and the Silhouette, we don’t really get any new information about these heroes or their civilian identities. That’s the slower pace you mentioned showing through. So, that’s mostly complaints, right? Here’s the TWIST: I really enjoyed this issue.

Peter sorta dances around this, but I think the best thing this series has going for it is a firm footing in classic comic book style. The visual comparison to Bruce Timm is apt, but this extends to the plotting as well. We basically get 8 hyper-compressed stories that each demonstrate a fundamental characteristic about each of the Minutemen. So the whole thing feels like an ol’ fashioned anthology – the kind no one publishes because serialization is all the rage. It’s great: in many ways, reading this series is like looking through a portal back in time.

There’s also some really innovative artwork tucked away in what appears to be totally traditional layouts. Minutemen, like Watchmen-proper, employs almost exclusively rectangular panels, with very little bleed between them. But the flow is increased by these awesome visual similarities between the panels. The most striking example of which comes right at the beginning of the issue as Hollis waxes poetic about his entire life. These simple half circles elegantly tie these disparate scenes together and grant some admittedly clumsy writing some impressive gravity.

That’s another thing I liked about this – Hollis’ voice is compellingly self-aware. Immediately after spouting these non-specific true-isms, he concedes that he can’t write in abstractions – better to stick to the facts. Those he understands. His observations of his friends throughout the rest of the issue betray this idea a little, but I really like Hollis as the accidentally insightful narrator. It’s a really cool way to understand more about the relationship Hollis has with these guys – and I expect more of that in future issues.

Two more visual flourishes I loved. One is this rock and roll sequence where Nite Owl fights some bank robbers in a van that’s rolling on its side. Sure, the car is explicitly depicted as flipping, but the visual cue that sells the drama of this moment is the swirling reflection of some bystanders in the rear-view mirror. I’ll stop describing it.

And the other thing is that each character’s min-story is set-off my a small simple image of that character. Sometimes it’s a newspaper clipping or a trading card or a mug-shot (COMEDIAN), but it’s always a piece of diegetic art and it always serves to make the world a little bit realer.

Shit, man, I feel like we could talk about the art in this issue for ever and ever and keeping finding things to praise. I only hope Darwyn Cooke can keep this attention to detail while we keeps spinning out a compelling narrative about the rise and fall the original superhero team. Whatever the point the of this is going to be, I’m happy to go along on this ride.

For a complete list of what we’re reading, head on over to our Pull List page.  Whenever possible, buy your comics from your local mom and pop comic bookstore.  If you want to rock digital copies, head on over to DC’s website and download issues there.  There’s no need to pirate, right?


16 comments on “Before Watchmen – Minutemen 1

  1. I was actually a little underwhelmed by this issue. It could be because I just finished re-reading Watchmen less than a week ago, so for the most part the character rehash is old hat. I could see phrases where Cooke had taken the original writing and changed a few words around.

    That’s not to say this issue was bad. I especially liked the characterization of The Moth. In Watchmen, he’s a broken alcoholic; you don’t need to know anything more than that, it’s a believable state. To specifically see what lead to that was awesome, and handled really well. And of course, LOVE the art, especially Silk Spectre. The style is old-fashioned enough to suit the story being told, but revitalized just enough to keep contemporary fans interested.

    • Yeah, getting another introduction to these characters – especially using much of Moore’s original language sure is strange. But it’s nice to see the Minutemen actually out fighting crime and being heroic, instead of just getting medals and keeping from raping one another. For a first issue of anything, I find this pretty damn engrossing. I’m trying really hard not to play the “But it’s not as good as Watchmen” card. Duh. What is?

      • Oh, yeah, I’m definitely not going to play that card. And I don’t think it was bad, it just didn’t live up to the expectations I imposed upon it.

        • I think expectations are going to play a big role here. I had very low expectations going in, so was pleasantly surprised by this issue.

        • In terms of expectations, I am respecting Watchmen-proper as source material, but taking a good look at each books interpretation of that specific character inside this universe. Obviously no one is Alan Moore except for Alan Moore, and expecting that these books will read like him or look like Dave Gibbons drew them would not be fair.

        • I hope that everything I read will do that too. I just don’t want to set myself up for disappointment with Before Watchmen. I think that, so far anyway, DC took a great deal of time choosing writers and authors for this project that would do their specific assignment justice. Cooke’s done a good job with issue 1 from the stand point that, in terms of the Watchmen Universe, this is where it really all starts. It starts with the Minutemen, and then the world changes to give us Watchmen proper.

  2. I was shocked (SHOCKED) that I enjoyed this issue as much as I did. It’s unabashedly inessential, but it’s still a lot of fun. Unfortunately, part of what makes this so good is just how much it owes to Alan Moore. Obviously, he created these characters and the world they live in, but this issue stays even closer to his vision than that, giving us virtually no new information at all. When Hollis says he can’t pull off being philosophical, it’s pretty obviously Darwyn Cooke admitting that he can’t write like Moore, so he’s not even going to try. Opting to put his own stamp on things is a tack I can absolutely appreciate, and one that feels necessary for this whole endeavor, but then Cooke does the opposite, spending the rest of the issue paraphrasing lines directly from Watchmen. But I still liked it. WEIRD.

    • Yeah, there’s something really cool about that humble moment where Hollis (Cooke) admits that he can’t write like that. It’s not an outright declaration of what the series will be, but it does seem like an overt acknowledgement of the size of the shoes which came before.

      • I just wish he followed through on that suggestion. The all match-cut opening is an overt reference to Watchmen, but I’m not sure it really serves any other purpose. In Watchmen, those cuts suggest that everything is connected and part of some bigger plan — which *SPOILERS* it turns out it is. I really doubt this series is aiming for that kind of connectivity (and I hope it isn’t), in which case, those match-cuts lose all of their thematic heft, and end up just being a flashy trick. It was a technique that made sense for the story that was being told, but I’m not sure it should be treated as an essential element of trying to tell a story in that universe.

        • Well and maybe that’s why the most obvious examples of the match-cutting happens right in the beginning, as the narration hits all those awkwardly verbose beats. Just a further assertion that this isn’t Watchmen, and Cooke is aware of that.

          Also, you’re hilariously considerate to offer a spoiler warning on Watchmen.

        • Oh, that’s an interesting thought — the match cuts are part and parcel of the profundity that Hollis discards after those first couple pages. I like that a lot. Kind of Cooke’s way of saying “this isn’t going to be that kind of book.”

  3. I really like the Moth Man character. His need to drink for courage is just line the Iron Man portrayed in Ultimates, and by some extent Marvel-proper. There is a great like in Ultimates, where Tony turns to Widow and says, something like “I would be crazy to get into this deathtrap sober.” It really speaks to Moth Man’s humanity. I hope that as his character gets used more, we will see more of this.

  4. Pingback: Before Watchmen – Comedian 1 | Retcon Punch

  5. Pingback: Before Watchmen – Rorschach 1 | Retcon Punch

  6. It sounds like a really interesting book, I’m excited to read it now. I’m just gonna say it and be a pariah. The original Watchman wasn’t the BEST piece of magic that surly had to be immaculately conceived just like Jesus but cooler. It was good. It was really good and it paved the way for other writers to start doing different kinds of stories. It gave permission for an insist and creators to do different things. But it’s not my favorite comic… Excise me… Gaphic novel ever. I probably enjoyed (of the top of my head.. This isn’t my list of best comic ever either) Y The Last Man, Walking Dead, Fables and I’m really looking what I’ve read of Saga. So for me it didn’t make me feel like someone just made a zombie version of my dead grandma.

    It is a great self enclosed novel. But there are decades of potential story that could be told before Watchman and an unlimite cast of interesting and fucked to characters that could have really interesting stories about the time they were part of some crazy I’m gonna become a super hero fad.

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