7 Jun 2012


Writer: Darwyn Cooke
Art: Darwyn Cooke & Phil Noto
DC $3.99

Matt C: Being that it’s the most contentious comics project in recent memory there’s no doubting that you’ll already have decided on which side of the fence you stand. The accumulated word count for everything written about Before Watchmen since it was first announced would run into the millions and it’s likely that nothing I say here will convince anyone who’s decided DC are committing sacrilege by going anywhere near Alan Moore and Dave Gibbon’s masterwork that picking up any of these books is a good idea. I’m not going to get into the levels of hypocrisy inherent in some peoples’ reaction to the project here as that will take things off point, suffice to say that while I can understand the anger, and the issue of creator’s rights as a whole, personally I think if you’re of that opinion then you should steer clear of any comics from the Big Two and their characters because there’s a lot of creators out there who’ve had a much rawer deal than Alan Moore. (And while you’re at it, don’t watch The Dark Knight Rises until Bill Finger gets his due!).

It’s an argument that will rumble on, and if you want to make a decision to turn your back on Before Watchmen, that’s your prerogative, but even the most staunch supporters of Moore (and let’s not forget it’s Moore, not Gibbons, who’s been vehemently opposed to anyone touching ‘his’ work) must have that nagging feeling that they could be turning their backs on some great comics, potentially some outstanding comics, and if there was any one miniseries in the line that would exemplify that feeling, it would be this one. Darwyn Cooke is one of the true geniuses of modern comics, a writer/artist who can filter the brilliance of the Silver Age into something that seems both wonderfully nostalgic and fearsomely contemporary at the same time. If ever there was a creator more suited to tackling Minutemen, I’ve yet to see his work. I imagine the thinking by DC was to lead with the strongest piece of work to make the most impact and if that is the case then while Before Watchmen may be a memorable enterprise when all’s said an done it’s highly likely that it won’t even remotely approach the seismic impact of its forbear.

First things first, visually Minutemen #1 is an absolutely gorgeous triumph of panel design and structure. Cooke’s distinctive style erupts here with an illustrative elegance few can match, and while his art is the main draw his script has moments that sear with their eloquent use of language. If this was an original series that came fresh out of the blue then my kneejerk reaction would be to proclaim it as the best book I’ve read this year such is the level of storytelling craft on display in this first issue. But, as we know, it’s not an original series, and it’s standing underneath one hell of an enormous shadow.

And there’s the rub. At this point, no matter how much of his genius Cooke applies to this project (and yes, he IS a genius!), it still seems unnecessary. At this point there’s nothing I feel I’ve learnt about these characters that Moore didn’t already tell me a long time ago. Essentially we’re just getting introduced to the various members that will eventually make up the Minutemen and while there are some undeniably fantastic sequences there’s no indication at this stage that there really is a story here that needs to be told. There’s no question that I won’t see this particular miniseries through to the end based on Cooke’s involvement alone, and it is incontrovertibly a fine comic by even the most hardened critic’s standards, but unless it can shake the nagging doubt that it really needs to exist then I don’t think I’ll ever really fully engage with it. Obviously it’s way too early to make any sweeping statements and I may well change my mind completely over the next few months, but at this moment in time I’m thinking that if Cooke can’t convince me beyond a shadow of a doubt that Before Watchmen is a worthwhile endeavour, then who, in all honesty, can? 7/10


Andy C said...

Nice piece. And you've totally hit the nail on the head for me.....what's the point? I haven't read this issue but my problem isn't the Moore debate just that I cannot muster any interest in the concept as a whole, something which in my opinion isn't helped by the sheer size of the project. Maybe it would be more appealing if there was just one title done with total commitment but it feels like a flood of unnecessary series at a time when DC should be putting all their effort into keeping standards high for the New 52 titles.

Rob N said...

If I may, Matt, I'd just like to address a couple of points you made here. Firstly re:

“I can understand the anger, and the issue of creator’s rights as a whole, personally I think if you’re of that opinion then you should steer clear of any comics from the Big Two and their characters because there’s a lot of creators out there who’ve had a much rawer deal than Alan Moore.”

I don't think people have to take the 'all or nothing' option when it comes to deciding whether to boycott this project or not. You can decide that a single issue can be viewed on its own merits without taking the same approach to other related issues. To step aside from the comics industry for a moment, there are certain businesses I refuse to give my money to for ethical reasons that I won't go into here as they're not really relevant– McDonalds being one of them. I am however realistic enough to recognise that if you dig deep enough you can find ethical objections to most, if not all large corporations that you do business with. Are you therefore in the wrong if you choose to stop buying insipid fast food from McDonalds, but still do business with other like minded companies? Are you obligated to live like some sort of macrobiotic vegan, buying only ethically sourced products, otherwise you're considered hypocritical for boycotting McDonalds? Or can you just say, “actually, I really, really don't like what McDonalds stands for, and I'm not giving them any of my money, even if there are other companies out there that are just as bad?” Similarly, I'm not a Queen fan, but if I was I probably would have stopped buying their records after the Sun City incident. But that doesn't mean I have to follow suit with every other band who has dodgy political views. Taking the opposite side of the coin, with action rather than lack of action, if you happen to give £10 to a worthy charity, are you in the wrong if you don't then give £10 to every worthy charity, or indeed, all of your disposable income, because you can always do more? Does the lack of doing so make your £10 donation hypocritical because you don't follow it up with more? So long as it's a personal decision on your part, and you're not trying to ram your feelings down the throats of other people on a regular basis (okay, so I'm mentioning my bias re: Before Watchmen on this site, but Matt will testify I haven't been lecturing the group at our regular meets. The only time I've spoken about the comics is when Matt or one of the others has raised the matter of whether I'll be buying them or not), then you're not being hypocritical in taking a stance on a single issue such as the Before Watchmen project. People generally aren't perfect. We're not crusading avatars for social justice out to make the world a better place. Often we're just saying, “hey, this project leaves a sour taste in my mouth, so I'm not going to have anything to do with it, thank you very much.” After all, it would be pretty stupid of me to spend money on comics that I'd feel bad about buying? That would border on masochism. :)

The other point I wanted to raise relates to:

“At this point there’s nothing I feel I’ve learnt about these characters that Moore didn’t already tell me a long time ago.”

While I basically agree with the point in principle, I guess some people might point to the (excellent) New Frontier mini-series and say the same argument could apply there as Cooke was basically tackling established characters with an established back story – essentially the same thing as here? Or are you saying the Minutemen project has less of an original take on an established concept?


Rob N

Matt Clark said...

Rob - I bet you're a Burger King man. Am I right?

Regarding the New Frontier, that felt like a fresh, inventive take on established icons whereas Minuteman is a more a case of filling in blanks that don't necessarily need filling.

Of course Cooke is highly likely to pull something amazing out of the hat so I could be eating my words in a few months time.

Rob N said...

Yes, you're right. The flame grill does it every time... :)

- Rob N