I have to admit to going through a cycle of ambivalence to excitement and then uncertainty when it comes to the Before Watchmen books. On the one hand, Watchmen by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons is an example of sequential art perfection that is unparalleled in mainstream comics – an achievement for which both creators have been treated unfairly by DC Comics. On the other hand, we are getting more material from the Watchmen world, and who couldn’t be excited by that? My greatest concern was that the Before Watchmen books would be simple hack derivatives of Watchmen, with no originality or personality of their own.
This week sees the launch of the first in a four-week cycle of releases (with more to follow through July and August) of the Before Watchmen books. Appropriately, Minutemen by Darwyn Cooke kicks off the line. More and spoilers after the jump.
Minutemen #1 was awesome.
For me, it is everything the launch of this line should be. The first page acts as a reminder of the world we are operating in, but also as a statement asserting that we don’t know everything there is to know about that world. Cooke’s point is clear – there are still more stories to tell. The panoramic four-panel page layout – so reminiscent for me of All Star Superman (thanks Terrence) – follows the same slow pulling-out movement that the first page of Watchmen #1 did, pulling from the tight and personal of an infants point of view to the workings of the universe. I love how the shapes of the individual panels carry through to the others – the basinet turning into the tunnel turning into the sun turning into the forehead of Dr. Manhattan. It reminds us of the truths that Watchmen sought to teach us, and of the innocence from which we are starting in this series. It is that innocence that pervades this book. Remember that in Watchmen the Minutemen are the analogues of the Golden Age superheroes. This story elaborates on their origins and the excitement of those origins – in the narration, Mason even says of himself “For the excitement of putting myself on the line.” This youthful exuberance- both in the sense of the youth of the characters and the youth of the superhero concept at this time, in this place – is enriched by the knowledge of the fatalism that pervades the heroes in Watchmen.
And this is what I hope the Before Watchmen line will be: a series of titles that are not derivatives of Watchmen, but are instead enriched by the work to which they are referring. The first page of Minutemen works beautifully in this way – if you are not familiar with Watchmen then this final frame on the page is something that is largely unintelligible to you. It is only with the original story’s framework in mind that the structuring of this comic works for me. When reading, watch for the other examples of this – not cheap rim-shots, but silent nods to Watchmen itself.
Note: I will say that the back-up story, “The Curse of the Crimson Corsair”, was completely unnecessary for me. It added little to the existing narrative of Watchmen and seemed to be there just so that Before Watchmen could have a pirate story. I hope this is not indicative of what the rest of the line will be.