So they’re finally here. The much-hyped, much-maligned ‘Watchmen’ prequels. (Much-maligned, may I add, months before any of these books had been released or anyone knew what they were even about.) The first book may be the “safest,” ‘Minutemen’ based on characters who merely appear in the background of the classic graphic novel and therefore are largely undeveloped and who are not as revered as the main cast. They are in the excellent hands, as Darwyn Cooke is the absolute perfect choice to chronicle their Golden Age adventures.
The book is narrated by Hollis Mason, the first Nite Owl, noted for penning the tell-all autobiography “Under The Hood” which provided a behind the mask look at the world’s first super heroes, including their dark sides. (It isn’t quite clear, but the narration may be intended to be the text from that book.) In ‘Minutemen,’ Mason is freshly retired and “Under The Hood” has just been completed. His is struggling to pen an epilogue for the book and his literary agent thinks he’s lost his mind, revealing so many secrets in it.
Hollis pulls out the famous group photo of the Minutemen in their glory and notes that all he wants to remember is the good in all of them. But, that proves difficult in a couple of cases. He thinks back to 1939. He was a cop and Hooded Justice, a brutal, masked vigilante had recently arrived on the scene. Mason and his fellow police officers are present when Hooded Justice goes after two men guilty of robbery and a triple homicide. (There were four men, but Hooded Justice already took care of them.) The scene, though a tiny bit graphic is actually more psychological in its brutality, but clearly spells out that Hooded Justice is no Superman. Hell, he’s no Batman. He might be worse than the crooks he punishes.
Silk Spectre on the other hand is a complete fabrication. A sexy red-head, whose publicist husband arranges her cases. Mason narrates, “Let’s say you knew about an uptown jeweler fallen on hard times who could use some free publicity.” (I’m sure it wasn’t free.) The husband, Larry Schexnayder, would hire actors to play villains, tip off the press and bribe the police chief all to make Silk Spectre (Sally Jupiter) a star.
Nite Owl’s own story comes next, a gorgeously choreographed and illustrated sequence of the hero stopping an armored car theft. It’s so harrowing and packed with energy, it couldn’t look better, even if it were animated!
Next comes The Comedian. Mason’s narration states, “As I said earlier, time has pushed the good in everybody to the front. Eddie [Blake] is the exception. Even then, at the age of sixteen, he seemed more like a thug than a hero.” Cooke then illustrates this in another psychologically brutal scene as Blake torments a business owner after foiling a robbery attempt… messily.
One of the least fleshed out Minutemen, Mothman is embellished next. Apparently, his flying harness is… temperamental. Every time he uses it, he is terrified and eventually spirals into addiction to cope.
Dollar Bill’s sequence is much lighter. Another manufactured hero, in the original book, he was simply a mascot for a bank with delusions of grandeur. His introduction here is appropriately campy.
Hollis (and Cooke?) pay special respect to Silhouette, the disgraced-then-murdered lesbian member of the team. He explains that Ursula Zandt escaped the Nazi’s invasion of Austria, but not without suffering at the Nazi’s hands. She and her sister were the only members of her family to make it to safety in America and she was driven to make a real difference. Mason questions whether the victims she rescued would care about her sexual orientation.
Finally, there was Captain Metropolis, a former Marine with grand ideas, noteably to bring these new masked adventurers together as a unit for the greater good. He even goes so far as to procure a headquarters for them. The first hero he is able to contact is Silk Spectre since she is the only one with an agent.
There’s also a two page “Curse of the Crimson Corsair” pirate backup, similar to the “Tales of the Black Freighter” strips in ‘Watchmen.’ It’s gorgeously illustrated and very well-written, but ‘Black Freighter’ is definitely my least favorite part of ‘Watchmen,’ so I’m not sure how interested I’ll be in this in the long run.
Darwyn Cooke has this dynamic style that is cartoon-y and hard boiled all at once. It’s fluid, cinematic, clean, gorgeously stylized… like I said, he’s the perfect person to handle this book! It’s excellently written, visually stunning… it’s a great book. If you had reservations about the ‘Watchmen’ prequels, this may or may not change your mind, but you’ll never know until you read it. But anyone who was thinking that these new books would somehow “ruin” the originals (which is impossible, by the way… case in point the Star Wars prequels), well… you’re wrong. If all of these prequels are as good as this one seems from the start, all DC is doing is further embellishing and fleshing out this pocket universe. I am not dumb enough to think that all of the other miniseries will be as good as this, but I’m keeping my fingers crossed.
BEFORE WATCHMEN – MINUTEMEN #1
Written, Drawn and Cover by Darwyn Cooke