Review – Before Watchmen: Minutemen #1

June 30, 2012

SPOILER ALERT!  This post may include SPOILERS.  Consider yourself warned.

This post marks the beginning of my new project to review each and every (sheesh!) book from DC’s Before Watchmen event.  I will begin by reviewing Minutemen #1–art and story by Darwyn Cooke–because it was the first one I read.  Minutemen #1 is the first of six books focusing on the Minutemen, the original super-hero team (from the 1930s and 1940s) in the Watchmen universe.

The first thing I noticed about the book was the feel of the material.  The cover is glossy and substantial, the pages a little firmer than your typical magazine (it is worth noting that all of the books have this same quality, this was just the first one that I read).  It may seem like a small deal to some, but DC clearly decided to print on slightly higher quality paper and that is something that I appreciate.  It sets this event apart from their regular titles by saying “hey, it may be a little more expensive but we are putting a lot into it”.

Golden Age styled art transports the reader back simpler days.

The cover, by artist and writer Darwyn Cooke, portrays Hollis Mason, the first Nite Owl, holding the key to the city at a ticker taper parade in his honor.  He is draped with a sash which reads “In gratitude”and smiling broadly.  On the cover, Cooke uses very simple, classic comic book art reminiscent of Golden Age Jack Kirby: angular face, clean lines, and proportional body.  The coloring is  subdued, almost faded, subconsciously signifying the passage of time.  There is a spotlight on the smiling Nite Owl that’s shape and color is eerily similar to the famous blood stained smiley face pin from the cover of Watchmen #1.

“Is that bean juice, or..?”
“That’s right. Human bean juice. Ha ha.”

The story begins four days into Hollis Mason’s retirement as he struggles to write an epilogue to his autobiography, Under the Hood.  Staring at a black and white photograph of the Minutemen (which should look familiar to fans of Watchmen) he nostalgically recalls the beginnings of masked crime fighting, in 1939, leading up to the formation of the Minutemen.  In a number of passages presumably from Under the Hood he narrates about each of his companions–the mysterious Hooded Justice, the sultry Silk Spectre, the rabid Comedian, the tortured Mothman, the phony Dollar Bill, the relentless Silhouette, and the calculating Captain Metropolis–as well as  his own career.

Cooke takes characters, all of whom except Nite Owl, Silk Spectre, and to some degree Comedian, are very briefly discussed in Watchmen and aims to flesh them out a bit more.  By telling their tales trough the perspective of Hollis Mason in Under the Hood he has a little background from the excerpts of Under the Hood presented in Watchmen.  While Cooke does not stray from the source material (thankfully!) he does add a new perspective.  For instance, readers know from Watchmen that the original Silk Spectre was kind of an act, but Cooke makes Dollar Bill into a movie serial icon (Captain America: The First Avenger anyone?) and Captain Metropolis into a calculating–almost business-like–leader.  This adds a whole new dimension to the dynamics within the group.  There are the phonies, like Silk Spectre, Dollar Bill, and Captain Metropolis.  There are the lunatics; Comedian, who we already know Mason doesn’t like, and Mothman, on whom we gain new perspective.  And there are the genuine heroes; Hooded Justice, who inspired Mason to become a mask, and Nite Owl himself.

Cooke’s art throughout is similar to the cover.  It is old style art which brings the reader back in time.  In that way I really liked it.  It felt particularly Golden Age when he was talking about the early days.  This is achieved in large part to the subtle coloring which tends toward earth and sepia tones.  My hat off to colorist Phil Noto!  I would have liked to have seen the present drawn a little differently, perhaps a bit more modern or in the style of Dave Gibbons.  That way the sections in the past would have felt very disparate.  But, all in all, the art in this book was very effective, dynamic, and enjoyable.

Minutemen #1was an interesting issue that adds new perspective to the history of the Watchmen universe.  I will be interested to see whether each subsequent issue takes up a new narrator or continues with Mason.  And the good news is that I am still interested to see where it goes!

While each book contains a two page chapter of The Curse of the Crimson Corsair I want to wait to review that story in its entirety.


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