Before Watchmen: Minutemen #3

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: 9 out of 10

For the first time since reading the Before Watchmen prequels, I feel like the authors have actually added something to Alan Moore's seminal work. While it's not a critical expansion by any means, Darwyn Cooke really nails the anxious, twisting tone of Watchmen, and it's that achievement that makes this book so fascinating to read.

Slipping in between the scenes of the Comedian's thwarted sexual assault on Silk Spectre, this issue really is at its best when it shows how unpredictable and lethal these characters can be. As a result, the Comedian gets the best moments in the book, showing off his petulant side as he avenges himself against Hooded Justice, the behemoth who stopped him from raping Sally Jupiter in the first place. Youthfully nasty like a schoolyard bully with a gun, the Comedian steals every scene he's in, as you can almost hear the hiss in every line.

Yet Cooke also gets a little experimental here, going for the dynamic cartoony look instead of Dave Gibbons' more static designs. By following the Silhouette on her rampage against a cadre of pornographers, Cooke cranks the intensity up to 11, cutting back and forth between Ursula opening fire and dodging bullets to an unsettling scene of blood and needles and a bath. Brrrr. Storywise, you sense where Ursula and Hollis's relationship is going even if you haven't read the original series, but artistically, Cooke's Fleischer-influenced designs really add a new layer to deconstructing the superheroic archetype.

There are two things that this issue struggles with, however. The main hurdle is the pacing of the Silhouette-Nite Owl subplot, since the bloody panels don't quite have the size or intensity to really jar you or drag you through to another storyline. The result is a slightly hallucinatory sequence that does mirror Ursula's blood loss, but at the cost of clarity and reader investment. The other issue is a hook for the next installment — there aren't many big questions that are left unanswered here, which leaves me wondering how Cooke will draw us in next.

The minor hiccups aside, Before Watchmen: Minutemen #3 is the real deal, a well-crafted narrative that manages to work within the air-tight confines of Alan Moore's original work. Great artwork, visceral characterization and a nice dose of stakes keeps this book hopping way more than you would ordinarily expect.


AvX: Vs. #5

Written by Matt Fraction and Jason Aaron

Art by Leinil Francis Yu, Gerry Alanguilan, Sunny Gho, Tom Raney and Jim Charalampidis

Lettering by Joe Caramagna

Published by Marvel Comics

Review by David Pepose

'Rama Rating: 2 out of 10

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I'm as big a fan of the Avengers vs. X-Men fight comic as the next guy, but this installment was one of those rare comics that didn't just disappoint me — I flat-out actively disliked it. With a lackluster opening act followed by second act that needed to go completely back to formula, this issue is one ugly fight, and not in a good way.

When I started reading this issue, however, I did have some hope, as writer Matt Fraction and artist Leinil Francis Yu pitted the high-flying Angel against master marksman Hawkeye. Yet immediately the loose ends start to show, as this is a haughty rich kid Angel, rather than the amnesiac student Rick Remender and Jason Aaron turned him into months ago. Fraction falls back on his smart-alecky Defenders tone here, with captions like "them feathers is sharrrrrrp," but it comes off as a throwaway line rather than something that actually fits the tone of the artwork or the narrative.

There are a couple of good action beats here — two spring to mind, to be exact, both from Hawkeye — that are a nice tag-team effort from Fraction and Yu. Watching Clint dodge and deflect a point-blank volley of razor-sharp feathers is the best moment of this book, bar none, as Yu fills the panel with detail. It's almost like a strobe effect or even Matrix-style bullet time, and watching Hawkeye pull a few rabbits out of his hat is a flicker of fun. That said, Yu's Angel does seem a bit old compared to his current status quo elsewhere, and occasionally his storytelling from panel to panel — particularly trying to accommodate the abrupt conclusion — can stutter.

Feeling a bit underwhelmed by the starting bout, I was hopeful that Jason Aaron's take on Black Panther versus his wife, the weather-wielding mutant Storm, would give us some emotional content to go with the gorgeously rendered fisticuffs.

I was wrong on both counts.

I doubt Aaron meant for this to be the effect, but I felt dirty reading this fight. Having a high-flying, tech-savvy, mystic king of an African nation against the mutant mistress of the elements? That's a ton of potential for some crazy combat. What you probably didn't want to see? T'Challa and Ororo punching and kicking each other in the face, pulling on each other's capes, thinking to themselves how glad they are they never had children. Motivations be damned, to be honest, this is way worse than Hank Pym and Janet Van Dyne. It's hard to read this chapter and not think "domestic violence," you know?

Part of that can be attributed to Tom Raney, as well, whose figures come off so loose as the chapter progresses you can't help but think maybe he was getting disheartened by all this brutality, too. His characters are particularly clean as the fight starts, and the Panther's streamlined design lets Raney play up his wiry physique. But as the fight quickly turns from lightning strikes to chokes, head butts and punches, his characters' bodies start to warp — Storm does a flying kick, for example, that doesn't have a full extension for either leg, doesn't really have an arc that would connect with T'Challa, and gives her a head that looks disproportionately large. Combine that with the Panther's mask and Storm's glassy eyes robbing this story of much of its emotional impact, this is a story that needed to be reworked from scratch.

Fans of the Black Panther and Storm should steer clear of this story, which is not what you want to hear about the stars of a comic. But as a whole, there's not much more spark than throwing random sets of action figures together. Other installments of AvX: Vs. have managed to pull off some cool fights with quirky combinations — heck, Aaron and Fraction have written plenty of them — but this is worse than a dud. It's a bomb.

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