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?