Before Watchmen: Minutemen #1

Written by Darwyn Cooke

Art by Darwyn Cooke and Phil Noto

Lettering by Jared K. Fletcher

Published by DC Comics

Review by David Pepose

'Rama Rating: 8 out of 10

Who reworks the Watchmen?

With this opening salvo, it's Darwyn Cooke, and while he and his colleagues are taking plenty of fire over the newly launched Before Watchmen series, Cooke manages to use his prodigious talents to create a comic that doesn't set out to reinvent the wheel, but to breathe new life — and even new directions — to characters that never really had their own lives to begin with.

And I think that's the big difference between this book and the immortal series that inspired it: Watchmen was a work of deconstructing heroism. Before Watchmen plays it straight. That's the big failing of this book, but that's also a relative judgment — Cooke isn't bringing that same ambition that Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons did, he's just out to flesh out these characters more, to give them a heart and voice many of them lacked in the sidebars of Moore's vision.

Is that effort justified? Right now, that's unclear. But Cooke approaches the page with both humility and panache — he knows he's not Moore, and hand-waves away the angry comparisons from the very beginning. Once he gets into the structure of introducing the Minutemen one by one, you really feel the rhythm of the writing. In particular, Hooded Justice, Silk Spectre, and especially Mothman get solid introductions that inform either their basic characterization or the tone in which they operate.

Cooke's artwork, meanwhile, is flawless. There's no other word to describe it. He does evoke a bit of Dave Gibbons's style, which would focus more on composition and storytelling than it did flashiness and style. That said, Cooke also brings that "Greatest Generation" optimism with his square-jawed lines, which really does wonders for the overall tone of the book. It's a nice clash, for example, to see Sally Jupiter hanging out with the police on a bright sunny day, all while the Chief starts muttering ethnic slurs to her agent. But Cooke also brings some pizazz to the action sequences, especially a fast-paced car fight featuring Nite Owl, or a tense, do-or-die struggle with Silhouette.

There's a lot going on in this book, which ultimately feels as dense as the original Watchmen, if nothing else. There are some moments that don't feel as compelling as others, if you can call that a critique — Captain Metropolis and Dollar Bill are two heroes that even Cooke hasn't cracked yet, in terms of making them sound interesting — but the thing that makes this book even more slippery is that Darwyn Cooke is a top-notch creator who can bring excellent execution to a perfectly simple, straightforward introduction. Before Watchmen might not add any luster to Moore and Gibbons's seminal work, but it also doesn't take anything away. Maybe that's the big shocker for this title — for a prequel book, Before Watchmen: Minutemen #1 stands, surprisingly, on its own two feet.

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