Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Before Watchmen: Minutemen #1 of 6

Writer: Darwyn Cooke
Artist: Darwyn Cooke
Company: DC Comics

As I'm typing this I'm imagining Alan Moore sitting in a pub somewhere in England, his eyes little slits, his lips curled up in a snarl, filed teeth gnashing, his mane (and beard) furling and unfurling, and a magic infused cannon ready to fire Glycon tipped bullets at everyone. Why am I imagining this. It's fairly simple: Because Before Watchmen is good. DAMN GOOD, in fact. It's not an accident that they have Darwyn Cooke, a man who's track record for comics is one of the best that we have in the business, be the first out of the gate. His name is synonymous with a certain level of craft and skill. The Parker adaptations alone are bound pages of amazing and astonishing and many other adjectives that mean great, and then there are other things like New Frontier and Catwoman. Wow seems like the proper response for Cooke's talent.

Still, the controversy that's boiled up with this series is hard to ignore. More to the point, the controversy has become the story and the books, and whether or not they are good, has quickly become a moot point. So, let's get something out of the way. Is this as good as the original Watchmen? No. It's not. It would be hard to be that. It's an impossible comparison. But it is a good comic? One with a story that is interesting? In the end, that's what should matter, right? And the answer is yes.

Right off the bat with this issue, Cooke does a tremendous job of settling the reader back into this dark and grimy and complicated world that we all know and love. Using the original Nite Owl as our "main" character works, as he is the pinnacle of the superhero community. He was the best, and the way that he narrates the tale of the original heroes, the Minutemen, as they first started showing up on the scene is perfect. The take solidifies a laser on these new heroes and who they were and what made them be the way they were. It's the exploration that is undertaken which makes the story pop. There's humor and punch on every page, lighter moments that spotlight the lengths Sally Jupiter and her agent will go to make her mark on the city to the slightly less happy and infinitely more disturbing moments of Edward Blake. Cooke handles such a vast cast of characters with such a deft hand as we jump back and forth between them. The story bleeds together with so much skill and ability that you simply get sucked into it from the very first page, with its dramatic life allegory to the final page that you reach and feel the pang in your stomach, as you're hungry for more.

As Cooke not only handles the words, but also the art, the two mediums utterly work hand in hand. Cooke's animator style lines are deceptively simple on the page. That couldn't be further from the truth, as it takes such an eye to have simple lines tell such a story with amazing clarity. Every type of scene is on display here. The quiet moments, the zip and flair of nail biting action, back and forths between friends and enemies; Cooke gets it all and in every single panel, he sells it. From his characters that ooze personality and style, to his ability to draw the women of the era and the sexuality that they exude to the minute detail of a city drenched in snow (one of the hardest effects in comics to pull off, I think). I could keep listing things, but I think the better thing to do might be snagging a copy and experiencing these things for yourself.

For me, the most interesting thing that The Minutemen has done is that it captures the Watchmen feel. That vibe and level of thought is there, palpable in the pages. Seeing this world again and the characters in it feels both strange and great at the same time. Like seeing old friends, but in reverse, as we already know where they end up. Seeing their beginnings and essentially, MORE of them, doesn't feel wrong to me. If the same level of class that is seen here can be reached in the other books that are on their way every week, then I think we are in store for an experience.

I may not have been as wowed by the two page backup story by Len Wein and John Higgins, chronicling a new Pirate story, but I think the further we get into this event, the more sense that it will make. All in all, this is a stupendous item of entertainment. Perfection.

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