Written By: Darwyn Cooke
Pencils By: Darwyn Cooke
Publisher: DC Comics
Release Date: OUT NOW IN STORES & DIGITAL DOWNLOAD (VIA COMIXOLOGY)
So it happened. It didn’t fall apart. It wasn’t a bad dream or a prank. The brave DC prequel to Alan Moore and Dave Gibbon’s Watchmen, or simply “Before Watchmen” has arrived. Staring at the cover with the familiar yellow and black logo on the left hand side, under the all new DC comics logo, I can’t deny a flitter of excitement. Darywn Cooke’s celebratory image of the original Nite Owl AKA Hollis Mason holding the key to the city feels sort of right. The Golden Age heroes, The Minutemen, need Darwyn Cooke to do them justice and turning (or tapping) to the first page, the warm artwork, the sense that the writing is striving to live up to the legacy to all that is Watchmen is felt. When you realise this is actually an attempted epilogue to ‘Under The Hood’ this suddenly feels like going home but going home isn’t always a good thing. Sometimes it’s not the same as it once was.
Straight away there’s a sense of repeating imagery from the original Watchmen. Hollis’s dog looks surprisingly like the dog in Rorschach’s flashback (minus the cracked skull). Seeing Hollis’s ‘In Graditude’ award and the framed photography of the Minutemen in all their costumed glory, is Darwyn Cooke playing to his audience and it works.
From there we’re introduced to the team, Hooded Justice, Sally Jupiter, The Comedian, Mothman, Dollar Bill, Ursula Zandt, Captain Metropolis and of course Nite Owl. Each small tale gives a snapshot of the character’s persona and their image to the world around them. Of course Cooke’s work is fantastic. His cartoonist style fits this 1939+ era perfectly and the action set pieces he depicts feel lively and classic superhero, unlike the dark gritty scenes in the original Watchmen. This is very much a meet and greet. Filled with little insider nods to the original comics and plenty of expansion on what we know already for the most part.
For at least half of this first issue I was feeling great things towards it. The mixture of fun Sally Jupiter and dark Comedian reminded me how much I loved the glimpses of these characters in this era in Watchmen. The imagery of Mothman was particularly striking and gaining a fuller understanding of the coming together of the Minutemen, while not telling me anything all that significantly new, put images to my imagination and it all slotted together with ease. With all that said though, around midway through the book something else crept in and it was something that took the sheen off of this first issue a little.
At first I loved that each of these mini tales of the Minutemen were being lifted out of Under the Hood. At first this felt right. What better way to introduce the team than that? After all that’s how we came to know them originally right? However for that very same reason is why this first issue didn’t leave me with a smile on my face (and some bean juice on my forehead). All of a sudden this felt like I was just reading the stories that take place between the chapters of Watchmen. The straight forward expansion of Under the Hood that was initially great to see here in full colour and wonderful art suddenly felt like I wasn’t really reading anything new. I don’t mean I was expecting new characters or major twists this early in the game, I just mean there was nothing here I hadn’t felt with my past experiences with the Minutemen. This suddenly felt akin to what remakes of classic movies can feel like.
This is a tough one to explain, so stick with me if you will. The best example is King Kong. In the original King Kong, King Kong is an animal. He’s abused and he reacts. As the audience we lay on our human reaction on the giant ape. We feel he loves Ann Darrow. We feel sorry for him when he is killed by the men in their flying machines and this all happens in 100 minutes. Jump forward to Peter Jackson’s remake. With all the modern technology at his disposal he brings a living breathing Kong to to life but at 187 -201 minutes (depending on the version) we are told how to feel about Kong. We are told he loves Ann Darrow and that the build up to him climbing atop the Empire State Building is the beginning of the end. With all his best intentions, Peter Jackson took what fans felt about the original Kong and tried to make newcomers feel the same thing rather than let them find it themselves. It’s what fans do when they want you to love what they love and with Minutemen #1 this begins to happen the further you travel through the issue.
Now I’m not declaring this a bad thing (yet). One issue of many, many issues in this new Watchmen event is not enough to lose heart over and for the most part this first issue is solid in every way. I expected to feel negative towards this project. I don’t at all. I take that as a good thing. Now, rather than feeling worried about the project, I find myself worried for the project. This first issue has warmed me to the idea of ‘Before the Watchmen’ more than announcements ever did. I just hope this doesn’t end up being a pretty homage to the best comic book series ever created. So far it sure is pretty but I feel like I’ve read a ‘between a chapter’ story and while that sort of stuff supports the main story in the original Watchmen, it also built towards the whole. I hope ‘Before Watchmen’ is going to do the same thing. God knows mainstream comics need a good kick up the ass.
As for the ‘Curse of Crimson Corsair’ the backup story by Len Wein and John Higgins – two pages is not enough to even begin to comment on it. Other than it has scary looking pirates in it and an introduction to the character Gordon McClaclan, who I assume is going to be our lead.
All in all this isn’t spectacular (though elements are), this doesn’t feel important (though it hints at it) and while it feels comfortable already (thanks to the familiar visuals) the larger plans for this Minutemen series and indeed Before Watchmen are not even hinted at really. This is simply an issue #1 and it’s a strong one. Before Watchmen has begun and the best part is, I don’t hate it (phew).