The new series Before Watchmen has come across like the Heaven’s Gate of comics. Nobody wanted it, everybody hated it, even before they read it. I’m guilty as well. At first, I found the idea of shilling new cash off of Alan Moore’s iconic series to be in poor taste, but when I heard about some of the talent involved, I was curious. I wanted to see if DC would even try to respect the source material. The first of the Before Watchmen series is Darwyn Cooke’s Minutmen, an ode to how the whole mask hero affair got started.
Is it any good? Yes. It’s quite good. Cooke is a great storyteller, he also has a flair for the Golden Age feel, which plays perfectly into the first Minutemen’s era. Minutemen #1 opens just before Nite Owl releases the tell-all book that is shown in sections throughout Moore’s original script. From there, Nite Owl unravels the story of the original Minutemen through flashback. Easily, the most effective of the flashbacks have to do with Hooded Justice. Ironic seeing as how he’s barely even noticed in the original Watchmen. Cooke makes Hooded Justice the first mask. A vigilante killer not unlike Batman, except he kills and he does it in an ugly way.
Nite Owl’s origin is interesting because it shows him as a cop before he became a mask. Remember, this is the first team, the original crew from the '40s, not the heroes Moore focused on in his series. There’s a section that shows a teenage Comedian, who is at the earliest stages of being deranged in that complex way. By the end of issue 1, the players have been set and now the game begins. How far into the future this series goes is anybody’s guess, that’s all up to Cooke.
What works here is Cooke’s natural writing talent. Minutemen #1 has the same rhythms as a Golden Age book. The dialog is spot on and all the situations speak to crime of a different era. The only problem is that it isn’t Watchmen. I don’t say that to be snide, I say it as a statement of fact. Alan Moore’s Watchmen set a specific timeline, and it carved out a particular world in which all of the action took place. It was a serious book that just happened to be in comic form. Minutemen is just a comic book, albeit a great one. It doesn’t feel like it has anything to do with Watchmen outside of the name.
None of that is Cooke’s fault. This isn’t something he could have written or improved on. Alan Moore’s Watchmen is its own unique entity. It doesn’t work with any other comic, not even one that tries to expand on it. The genius of Moore’s work is that it only exists in that series. The movie, these comics, the video games, none of it feels like Watchmen because Moore somehow sheltered his story from any outside interference. I really enjoyed Minutemen #1, but the same way I would any comic. I don’t now nor will I ever see it as part of the Watchmen world.
Cooke’s art is gorgeous. It helps that I love Golden Age work, so Cooke’s ability to marry that era with the modern world is always exciting for me. Even if you don’t love the era, Cooke’s work is still exciting. His pacing is good, his action jumps right off the page the same way Will Eisner or Jack Kirby’s work did. I’m happy Minutemen came out simply because I love Darwyn Cooke and he’s done a great job. That being said, this isn’t going to become part of the Watchmen lore because nothing outside of what Moore wrote ever will.
4 Story, 5 Art