Before Watchmen – Minutemen 3

Today, Shelby and Peter are discussing Minutemen 3, originally released August 29th, 2012. Minutemen is part of DC’s Before Watchmen prequel series. Click here for complete Before Watchmen coverage (including release dates).

Shelby: Hollis Mason is a good man. He believes in the quaint and simplistic ideas of right and wrong, good and bad, as laid out in the Golden Era-esque comic books of his childhood: the heroes are upright and moral and the bad guys always get caught. You know: truth, justice, the American way, etc. The truth is especially important to Hollis. He writes his book in order to make the truth known. His time in the Minutemen taught him a hard lesson about the difference between his perceptions (and the perceptions of the rest of the world) of the caped life, and the realities. He is going to share that truth of the reality of the Minutemen no matter the cost.

The team is coming apart at the seams. The men of the group vote to give the Comedian the boot after he attacked Sally; he gets mad, kicks the shit out of Hooded Justice, and calls the whole lot of them “fags” on his way out the door. Sally and Silhouette are at each others’ throats at a bombshell pinup photo shoot. Mothman is increasingly unreliable, and Dollar Bill has some pretty negative things to say about what Metropolis and Justice are up to behind closed doors. Through all of this, Nite Owl and Silhouette are still trying to do good, except Mason is following his naive and simplistic ideals of right and wrong while Ursula has a darker, more vengeful drive. Also, poor dumb Hollis is in love with his lesbian lady friend. When Silhouette is badly wounded trying to rescue a little girl from a “gentleman’s club,” she calls the police box number Hollis gave her and he rushes to her rescue. At her insistence, he takes her to the home of a lady “doctor” instead of a hospital. This look into the past was prompted by retired Hollis getting a visit from a “friend” of Metropolis, who insisted he not publish his book of garbage and lies. Sorry for all the quotes, I’m just trying to convey the thinly veiled goings-on in this title.

Darwin Cooke is tackling a lot of heady, interesting, and complicated ideas in this title. I am especially intrigued by his exploration of the concept of “the good” in this issue, specifically the juxtaposition of the perception of the Minutemen as representing what is good about America with the realities of these regular, incredibly flawed individuals. Cooke illustrates this idea beautifully with the introduction of the ultra meta Minutemen comic book… found within the pages of Minutemen 3 (I shall refer to this nesting comic as “Meta-men” to avoid confusion). The jarring differences between the outward perception and inward realities of the Minutemen are shown with inset panels from Meta-men: a Meta-men panel describing Minutemen H.Q. as a “shining example of virtue and justice” is at the center of the Minutemen discussion of whether or not Eddie should be kicked out for attempting to rape Sally. A somewhat more chilling example is Silhouette and Sally swooning over Comedian, billed as the perfect “red blooded He Man to defend [their] virtue.” Not only do we have the attempted rape to try to fit into that scenario, the next page shows the two ladies posing for a photo shoot in a porn studio.

The focus on sexuality in this series is really interesting to me as well. I really like the various levels of taboo at play. There’s the obvious, with the relationship between Nelson and H.J. Considering how narrow-minded people can be now about homosexuality, it’s not surprising at all the negativity those two garnish. Their actions are those that everyone knows about, but no one acknowledges. Ursula is a different story; her sexual preferences seem more mysterious. She’s further under the radar than the boys, which is highlighted by poor dumb Hollis and his big ol’ crush. There’s almost an undercurrent of danger to her lifestyle; Nelson and H.J represent the evil we can see, Ursula and her ilk are a secret danger no one wants to talk about. Silk Spectre obviously represents the unhealthy attitude straight men and women adopted about their sexual roles towards each other. She is a sex symbol. The end – that is all she is. She fully recognizes it, and runs with it because she’s good at it. This is a dangerous position for her to be in, because it’s so easy to cross the boundary between being the vulnerable and helpless victim to the tart who secretly wants it. As the guys are discussing Eddie’s fate to the team, Dollar Bill makes the point that it wasn’t that big of a deal, because look how she dresses. Did no one in the 40s have a healthy and respectful attitude towards the sexuality and preferences of others?

I am so impressed with what Cooke is doing with this title. I thought I knew everything I needed to about these characters, but he is proving me wrong. Cooke fills them out in ways I should have seen coming, but didn’t. Minutemen deals with complex issues of morality, truth, sexuality, perception, and the dangers of idealism. This title just gets better and better; every issue astounds me more than the last. Peter, what do you think? There’s a whole slew of heavy ideas I didn’t even begin to touch on in this, I’m dying to hear what you have to say.
Peter:  It’s no secret that I love Darwin Cooke’s work. I made a comment the other night about how, with few exceptions, Before Watchmen is letting me down. This is one of those exceptions. Cooke has taken characters that we didn’t really know that well before — people like Dollar Bill, Hooded Justice and Silhouette — and breathed new life into them. Hell, it’s not so much new life, as it is just life.

The team dynamic of The Minutemen is interesting. Some of them really care about the team, and the image and the money. Others are in it to ogle the the Silk Specter, or to find that special someone. And then there is Hollis. He seems to be the only one that actually likes being a hero. My favorite shot of this book is not one of the emotional action-packed sequences, but this:

This one panel basically defines Hollis. The others are have a very serious discussion, and he’s reading a comic book. He likes being a hero. Yeah, he clearly enjoys some of the perks, like being written into a comic book. But he knows right from wrong, so for Hollis, there is no debating Comedian’s continued membership. This whole sequence draws out the generation gap between the members, and the different philosophies that come with age. I am, however, not discounting what the Comedian did. I’m beginning to see why the Minutemen fell apart.

These comic book panels embedded in the story of this book are really fantastic. They develop the contrast between what the public thinks of the Minutemen, and what they actually are. The idealized version of the super hero team is portrayed, and The Minutemen are nothing like that. It is very interesting to think about.

I feel bad for Hollis Mason, I really do. He’s trying to write a book, but nobody but him seems to think that it’s a good idea. He’s also got a crush on a girl who doesn’t like men, which sucks. He also clearly believes in the fundamental right and wrong, while his teammates don’t. They just hate each other. As I was reading along, I had to keep reminding myself that this is being told from Hollis’ point of view. He’s telling these stories from his own perspective. So, in true Dr. Manhattan fashion, is this actually how everything happened? Regardless, I will continue to read this book with intense earnest. For my money this is the premier book of the Before Watchmen run (so far anyway). It does exactly what I wanted Before Watchmen to do; tell compelling stories about things from Watchmen proper that nobody really knew before, and doing a damn fine job of it. Plus, you know, Darwin Cooke.

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?


9 comments on “Before Watchmen – Minutemen 3

  1. That whole scene was super revealing for almost all of these characters. We see Dollar Bill’s super conservative side, we see more of Hollis’ persistent naivete about what’s going on with the team, but most importantly we get a real look at Eddie. Even in The Comedian, I think this is the first time we’ve actually seen Eddie. When he asks to please stay, because they’re all he has, you see he’s just a dumb kid who made a mistake. I felt sorry for him.

    • Especially when you factor in the path that lies ahead of him in his post-Minutemen life. Eddie never gets redemption, and while it’d be small minded to say that his troubles start here, the assault ends up ruining his life as well. It’s such a morally tricky space to occupy as a writer, but I think Cooke handles it incredibly well.

      • Man, what a sad thing to say: Eddie never gets redemption.

        It really colors the scene from Watchmen when he tries to talk to Laurie.

  2. The repeated use of those Robert Louis Stevenson poems – along with the on-going missing children case – bring a darkness to this series that’s a couple of orders of magnitude greater than the interpersonal drama on the team. DON’T GET ME WRONG: the little moments in this issue are my favorite – like Dollar Bill and Nite Owl’s distressingly familiar conversation in the limo. But the fact that their actual crime fighting keeps coming back to children in danger is a pretty clear reminder of what bigger things are at stake here. What does it say about us (as comic book readers) that we find the story of how a superhero team falls apart more compelling than Silhouette heroically rescuing children from murders and rapists?

    • That’s kind of how Cooke has framed this, though. The rescue of children (and the rest of the team’s disinterest) has so far served mostly as background for Cooke to tell the story of the team.

  3. Where the other Before Watchmen titles feel like pretty standard super-hero stories, Minutemen seems to really luxuriate in the “what if superheroes existed in the real world?” conceit of Watchmen proper. The warts-and-all approach Cooke has taken here works perfectly against our own sense of history being clean and quaint. The meta-men panels really emphasize this, giving us a distorted, tidy sense of the past along with the very frank realities of it.

    It’s interesting that Peter points out Hollis’ perspective here — it’s something I hadn’t considered, but is so central to what is going on here. The “realities” I mentioned end up being pretty subjective, especially filtered through the mind of a country boy who had been lectured by his grandfather as to the sins of the big city. I wonder if Hollis himself doesn’t have that kind of quaint view of how things should be, and if the fact that they’re makes his perception of what’s going on much darker.

    • It kinda goes back to Hollis’ role in the group meeting about kicking out the Comedian. Hollis is so morally black-and-white that he doesn’t take a second to consider what Eddie’s going through, or the effect that kicking him out of MM will have on him. I’m not saying that everyone needs to be a rape apologist (nor do I want to be one myself), but this Nite Owl doesn’t even see the subject as worthy of conversation. It’s those kinds of unexpected ‘warts’ that really have been impressed with this series.

  4. “Nelson and H.J represent the evil we can see, Ursula and her ilk are a secret danger no one wants to talk about.”

    Uh… excuse me?

    • We talked a fair amount in the last Minutemen write-up about the difference in both Cooke’s depiction of and his character’s perceptions of male and female homosexuality. At the time, I think Shelby called me out for making mountains out of mole hills, but given what’s happened in this issue, I might have been making mountains out of valleys. Hooded Justice and Captain M’s relationship is openly reviled throughout this issue by both Comedian and Dollar Bill – in this world it is fashionable (even moral) to find that behavior disgusting. But the team’s attitude toward Silhouette’s personal life has yet to boil to the surface – and not for want of knowledge (clearly Sally and Lawrence know she’s gay).

      This kind of double standard a complex and morally icky subject to explore. Teasing it out in our discussions means we may over-simplify or over-abstract ideas from time to time. And I invite you to engage us when you think we’re being too glib (or whatever you’re implying in your comment), but I really wish you’d offer more than “excuse me?” There’s a conversation to be had here, so let’s have it.

      Also, I’m pretty sure Itchy hit the same rib twice in succession but played two different notes. I hope someone got fired for that blunder.

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