Clearly I have some angst about all this but before I switch into full rant I want to say a couple of words about Darwyn Cooke. I like Darwyn Cooke. I’ve enjoyed his work. I loved his Catwoman. There’s no denying his talent, and my ire isn’t directed at him, even though I think he failed to deliver a satisfying book. I think his style is suited to sharp, fun, seemingly effortless superhero adventure and when he’s in his element he is fantastic. But he’s no Alan Moore. He doesn’t have that depth, or grit, or cunning, resourcefulness or ruthlessness. Above all, what I’m getting at is that they have different strengths and are both trying to achieve very different things, and I don’t think that one is an appropriate substitute for the other.
It’s the DC executives who are to blame for thinking that this was a good idea, and going against the creator’s wishes. I am sure they wheeled a large wheelbarrow full of money up to Darwyn Cooke’s house and asked him to do this and Darwyn accepted. And if someone wheeled a large wheelbarrow up to my house then I probably would have accepted to. But it was unfair of DC to put anyone in that position. By doing so I don’t think they’re serving Darwyn, they’re not serving Alan, and I don’t think they’ll even end up serving themselves. I can’t imagine this series keeping new readers beyond the initial burst of curiosity, for reasons I will elaborate on in a moment.
But there’s no escaping it. Before Watchmen is here - the genie is out of the bottle. So what purpose does Minutemen #1 serve?
Sadly it’s really little more than a fluff piece. There’s barely any new information and if we get any sort of nostalgic buzz of all it’s only because Cooke evokes the greatness of those that came before him and repeats their iconic imagery. But what does he really add to the characters or the world that made this a story worth telling?
Cooke adopts an “old man rambling” approach as Hollis reflects on some brief, fan-fiction vignettes which re-introduce characters - all of which we already know everything we’d ever need to know about. And that’s really all this is. Like some sort of supplemental dossier. There’s no sense of ongoing story or mystery to hook us in. This is a six-part series and yet you could close the book right here and go, “Well that was that, I suppose.”
The flashback vignettes are very run-of-the-mill superhero fare. Some robbers are foiled. A kidnapped child is saved. Fair enough. But it didn’t make me feel and it didn’t make think.
There’s little subtlety or subtext here beyond ideas that are leeched from the original. Characters are either over or underwritten and Cooke provides a surface level reading, often failing to capture their essence from the original. Moore gave us fleshed out humans. Cooke gives us broad caricatures. If you honestly think that we will remember Comedian’s menacing pickled egg scene in 30 years time then you are adorably sweet and naive and I want to hug you.
I particularly feel that he fails to capture Hollis’ narrative voice. For me, Hollis was a rather pragmatic, world-weary man who viewed the silliness of his past with a great deal of sadness. Here, however, Hollis is somewhat of a sensationalist, serving up overwrought comic book thrills and at times even reveling in the grotesque, narrating the violence like a wannabe Rorshach.
So what impact will this series have?
As with the New 52, I don’t think DC really does anything here to keep new or lapsed readers beyond the initial gimmick. If you’ve been away from comics for a long time and pick this up then you will probably be scratching your head as to what all the fuss was about. It’s so benign and typical that you may as well be reading an average issue of Batman Adventures. And Batman Adventures is good. But it’s no Watchmen.
There’s absolutely nothing present to elevate this book to anything adult, memorable, or really worthy of a second thought. Its biggest crime is being unambitious. I’m taking a guess right now that you will never find anything from Before Watchmen in Time’s list of 100 greatest novels. It won’t be a must-buy for your library in 2042. And that’s exactly what it should have been aiming for. Already I have no desire to ever read this again, and I’ve read Watchmen many, many times. There’s just not enough here to think about.
Apart from the flashy Timm style art, this one is average. If you’re someone that buys and read 50 plus comics a month then you may be satisfied simply because it’s better than this month’s issue of Red Hood and the Outlaws or Rob Liefeld’s Deathstroke or Bloodface and the Screaming Bloodshitters. But if you’re looking for a mature, innovative work that challenges the way you think about comics then I’d give this one a miss.