Before Watchmen – The Minutemen #1 by Darwyn Cooke – If I had any interest in expanding the universe of Watchmen, this is it. I loved the idea of the golden age super team with an unbelievable dark side. In this first issue, Cooke re-introduces us to each member through Hollis Mason’s (Nite Owl I) book “Under The Hood”. It is a very effective technique. We are seeing this world from one character’s point of view and it helps guide you through and into this world. Like the original Watchmen though, there is a bit of an emotional distance because we are reading a book not hearing his true inner thoughts. There are familiar artistic motifs, specifically some recurring shapes in the art of the first couple of pages, that really make the book feel like it artistically ties into the original Watchmen. There’s even a panel of Hollis’ dog that is such an innocent portrait, yet brings to mind the final fate of a certain dog in Watchmen. Amazing where the mind goes. Did Cooke evoke that on purpose? Who knows. His art has always been amazing and continues to be so. It has that classic timeless animation feel and looks as if the Batman: The Animated Series guys were doing a Minutemen movie. For something that I felt should never have existed, I really enjoyed this book. It is primed for me though. A thoroughly dark and modern take on golden age comic book archetypes. All apologies to Mr. Moore (and my teenage self who loved that original work like it was a religion), anyone who enjoys Cooke’s work and liked these characters should love this book.
Before Watchmen – Silk Spectre #1 by Darwyn Cooke and Amanda Conner – Damn Cooke, did it again. This time out he is joined by Amanda Conner, who co-writes the script and supplies the art. Amanda’s art I am very fond of, but I had my concerns about it fitting the dark and gritty world of Watchmen. Cooke’s art is also more cartoony and energetic but I have seen him handle dark world’s like his Parker books so I had no similar concerns with him. I shouldn’t have worried. Amanda just knocks this one out of the park. She is perfectly suited for this character, and her conveyance of emotion in the characters is pitch perfect. There is a lot of emotion in this book. You can see every bit of Sally Jupiter’s anger, regret, pain, love, sorrow, jealousy, vanity and so much more. If this were to be a film, the major actresses in their 40’s would kill for this role. In Laurie, we see everything that must be going through the mind of a teenage girl who just wants to live but is struggling under the yolk of forced responsibility and expectation. Cooke and Conner have hit such a home rum with their work in this book. There is a part of me that is genuinely irritated with how much I am enjoying these books. Just a few months ago i was bemoaning their existence, now I can’t wait for the next issue. Like Cooke in Minutemen, Conner’s art sticks to the 9-panel grid that Gibbons adhered to in the original Watchmen. It works so well for these stories, because there is a LOT of story to get across here. Neither book felt rushed at all. They both were very satisfying experiences that left you ready and wanting for more.
Before Watchmen – The Comedian #1 by Brian Azzarello and J.G. Jones – Azzarello takes on the Comedian, which seems on paper like a perfect fit. Except on the paper the comic is printed on. That was a little harsh, but it really pales in comparison to the other two books. However, it does have one thing the others don’t, which I really enjoyed. The Comedian’s story is tied into real life history from the 60’s. One of the things the original Watchmen did so well, was to show how the appearance of a truly super-powered being would have changed the course of twentieth century history. It was something that I really loved about the original, being a bit of a history buff. This story seems to be using that to show a more humanized and likable Comedian. We know the Comedian is a horrid bastard, and the death of Kennedy may have disillusioned him and made him the truly evil bastard he was in the later eras depicted in Watchmen, but he seems too far from that guy at this point in his story. He does some shady, dark stuff (partially at Jackie Kennedy’s urging) but it just seems like there’s a longer row to hoe than there should be in that particular garden at this point. On top of that, J.G. Jones doesn’t really stick to the 9-panel grid structure established by Moore and Gibbons and used so effectively by Cooke and Conner in their books. Comedian is by no means horrible, but it doesn’t compare so well to it’s companions, nor it’s predecessor. Maybe they’re just getting started and things are really going to take off in the subsequent issues, I will give it a chance to get where it needs to go. It is worth reading, but not as good as Minutemen and Silk Spectre.
So, overall I am enjoying Before Watchmen much more than I thought I would. The pirate story back ups are hardly worth mentioning. You get two pages at a time and it’s mostly irritating. The main books though are definitely worth your time. If you are opposed to the books’ existence, skip ’em. The original is neither tarnished nor improved by their existence. At least at this point anyway. What do you guys think? Did you read them? Did you enjoy them or not? Drop me a line or leave a comment below.