Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Before Watchmen: Minutemen

Before Watchmen Wednesday!

Now THIS is what the Before Watchmen project should have been like.

I’m not sure if it is because the Minutemen were largely unmined and therefore more fertile ground, or if it is just because Darwyn Cooke is so darn good at what he does. But it is clear that this series is the high point of the Before Watchmen projects.

Unlike the others, this series takes what we already know about the Minutemen and uses those moments to springboard us into new cases, new adventures, and new interactions for the characters. Using Hollis Mason, the original Nite Owl is a brilliant move, since he’s the most heroic and straightforward of the entire team. Hollis never comes across as an idiot, but he does come across as a simple man doing his best to serve the greater good. In the pessimistic, “smart” world of the Watchmen, it is nice seeing someone who just wants to do the right thing and isn’t blind-sided by the real world. (The Nite Owl series played Dan Dreiberg as sort of a doofus shocked that people engaged in adult activities.)

Cooke’s Minutemen is a mix of sub-teams, like any good super hero comic. Captain Metropolis and Hooded Justice spend most of their time to themselves. Silk Spectre and the Comedian have their complicated relationship playing out to one side. The bulk of the pages focus on Mason’s group of guys who actually want to do some good. Silhouette, Mothman, and Nite Owl actually go out on patrol and work cases when they leave the team, unlike well-meaning doofuses like Dollar Bill.

Cooke shows remarkable restraint throughout the whole series. While it is easy to dismiss the Minutemen as corrupt, stupid, or both, Cooke plays them as a conflicted, complicated group that basically was trying to do the right thing. When Hollis talks about Dollar Bill’s fate, he tells the reader he’s not going to laugh at the joke because Bill was basically a good guy and a friend. There is no need to mock the super-hero cape trope here; that can stand in the core series itself.

Like an actual, real miniseries, there are subplots and character arcs that play out over the series. Even the most mysterious member of the team, Hooded Justice, gets some time in the spotlight, although it is filtered through the lens of Nite Owl’s suspicions. The Comedian comes across as a sociopath and Silk Spectre as a faker, but they are the least of the team. Mothman has a quiet dignity and courage that wears him down and Silhouette is a hard-ass won over by Hollis’ earnest courage and openness.

The art is delightful, of course. Cooke’s classic style works perfectly on these characters. The Comedian’s early look shows the stark contrast between his sidekick style costume and the insane tendencies he uses to motivate himself. Nite Owl’s silly pants and suit look impressive and heroic, especially in the triumphant moments that Hollis gets during the series. Each of the characters has a different build and facial structure, making it easy to recognize people both in and out of costume, always a triumph in the comic medium. I shouldn’t be surprised that Cooke is able to take a rag-tag bunch of throwaway characters and make them into something I wish I could see more from.

The bravest thing Cooke does in the series is the conclusion. We all know how the Minutemen’s story ends. We know what happens to Hollis Mason. The Watchmen is a tragedy, we get it. But Cooke decides to take a different angle when ending this series and the book is stronger for it.

I am actually going to buy this series.



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