Ever since it was first announced, http://www.craveonline.com/comics/interviews/192165-comic-con-2012-darwyn-cooke-before-watchmen-interview has been the main reason that skeptics and naysayers have felt compelled to give Before Watchmen a chance. Not only is he one of the best creators working today, but he's also writing AND illustrating Minutemen, which is about the only area of Watchmen that most people would agree has room for exploration – and the setting of the story is perfect for Cooke's slick throwback style. It's been with a mental disconnect between this project and the original Watchmen – assuming these are the Watchmen of Earth #143 or some such – that I've been able to check my discomfort with the creator's rights issues and read these books. With Minutemen #2, however, Cooke manages to make this whole thing feel kinda like Watchmen for the first time.
We open with Hollis Mason defending the integrity of his book to Larry, Sally Jupiter's husband and all-around PR sleaze, before we get into the beginnings of the Minutemen (including an 'audition' scene which, while amusing, also feels a bit overdone at this point). First, we see the ideal in action – a plan perfectly executed, using Silk Spectre as a distraction, Nite Owl, Silhouette and Comedian as infiltrators, Mothman as air support and Captain Metropolis and Hooded Justice as the cavalry. It works smooth like clockwork – except that the weapons being smuggled turn out to be nothing more than fireworks. Somehow, Larry spun it into a successful mission, and the public embraced the Minutemen. Their entire career founded on a lie.
Then, we get into the inner workings of the unit – the internal politics. Nite Owl doesn't like the Comedian, and when the Silhouette brings up her work on a child trafficking ring, Sally and Larry scoff at how that would be an awful association for the public to make as far as publicity and profitability go, thus illustrating why they're in the racket – much to Silhouette's surprise. When the meeting breaks, it's Nite Owl and Mothman who head out with SIlhouette to actually make with the crimefighting, while the others hang out and drink beer.
This is when that dark, ominous sort of twisting dread starts to creep in – that thing you felt when reading the original series when something gruesome was on the horizon. The trio's investigation takes a dark turn, and the secretive, unsettling sado-masochistic relationship between Hooded Justice and Captain Metropolis is laid bare, and yet remains uncertain as far as whether or not it actually involves two consenting adults. All in that Dave Gibbons nine-panel-per-page format.
Before Watchmen really never needed to exist, but the questionable nature of the property in no way affects Cooke's abilities with storytelling, and his talent is just stunning. He's not necessarily known for unpleasant subject matter, but Minutemen #2 shows us that he can work with the ugly parts of life just as well as he handles the bright and shiny elements. The quality is undeniable, no matter how much we might want to try.
Darwyn Cooke is bringing his A-game. That's always something to see.