BEST OF WEEK: MINUTEMEN #1—All right, I could burn a few thousand words, and many before me already have, discussing the circumstances behind this book’s very existence, but let’s wade through the context just as quick as we can. Moore & Gibbons entered into an agreement in good faith with regard to the rights to the original characters that they created based on the Charlton catalogue, DC screwed them over by never letting WATCHMEN go out of print, Alan Moore hates them with all the white-hot fury of his chaos warlock’s heart, yadda yadda yadda. I was apoplectic the morning of I think it was February 1st when DC announced that they were going to be releasing not one but seven prequel mini-series to the critically-acclaimed most beloved graphic novel of all time. I read the original in singles while I was ten and eleven and it is one of the finest and certainly most formative narrative experiences of my life. I always really respected Levitz for resisting the temptation to mine the rich backstory of those twelve issues for easy money. And hey, he held the numbermen off for twenty-five years. But these are new days at Detective Comics Comics and lo, the time for BEFORE WATCHMEN is upon us. Editorial has certainly done it right, started out at the top with Chiarello, who went on to recruit a bevy of A-list talent to wind the doomsday clock back hours and hours. The only one I’m not crazy about is JMS, I don’t really care if they give him Drieberg, but it’s pretty questionable putting him on the Dr. Manhattan book, particularly in the light of the way he managed fizzle out supposedly landmark runs on two-thirds of the DC Trinity.
But all this is neither here nor there! You see? Three hundred words already winding on and on about the mere fact that this thing, these things, even exist without ever so much as approaching discussion of the content of the actual pages. No more! Once you crack the spine and turn to the first page of Darwyn Cooke’s BEFORE WATCHMEN: MINUTEMEN, what in fact happens?
It’s actually pretty impressive. I had to reread those first four panels right away. Cooke writing and drawing a Minutemen series is such a perfect fit that I believe it’s the reason that this whole thing got off the ground in the first place, the tipping point at which other talent began to believe that they might have the moxie to try to extract new narratives from the fully realized world that Moore & Gibbons created. If the first two pages don’t live up to the astronomical heights of quality that the original achieved, and they don’t, but surely they’re as close as anybody is likely to get. The Kirby Krackle in the third panel is a nice touch and then the gears falling into place as background for Dr. Manhattan is a strong piece of work. Then that second page, we get a classic Gibbons zoom-out. Cooke definitely opens up with the due amount of compositional deference to the original while also doing a fine job nailing the salt-of-the-earth quality of Hollis Mason’s voice. Better than fair riffs on both Moore and Gibbons, all while staying true to evolution of the artist’s innate voice. A very strong opening.
Then it’s two pages of Hollis’s agent telling him he’s crazy to be publishing the autobiography that comprises the backmatter of the first three issues, cue the go-to splash page of the (in)famous Minutemen pre-attempted-rape team photo and we are back to 1939 for Hollis to narrate one-by-one introductions and origins for his team. This structure is nothing new, a callback to Rorschach running around in the original #1, introducing us to the rest of our 1985 cast. What’s different here is there’s no dramatic inciting incident, no shocking murder to drive the plot forward. Hollis is there in his new digs, busting out the “gold watch” statue that will eventually end his life (the only groaner for me in the entire script, even the single panel too much of a wink at what we all know is coming), he talks to his agent and then just sits there reminiscing. This then opens the door for little vignettes showcasing Cooke’s Minutemen and here we have another bit of a disconnect between the hot newness and original authorial intent that you hate to guess at but that in this case I believe we can all take for granted. The thing about the original is that it was as grounded in reality as a story could be that featured a bald blue man who perceives all of time and space simultaneously. The first major problem I had with the Snyder movie didn’t occur until #3 (because dude nailed nailed the first two issues) when the muggers rolled up on Dan & Laurie and they suddenly went all Neo & Trinity up on them. It was ridiculous. The protagonists of the source material were not superheroes. They were masked adventurers. Vigilantes. The second Nite Owl doesn’t know kung fu. One presumes this street-level brand of fisticuffs is nowhere more applicable than with our eponymous team, in particular. While Cooke is a master storyteller, one of the very best currently working in the medium today, it throws me off to see the Silhouette traversing gutters and hurling her body from panel to panel with body language that is much better suited to Selina Kyle in Cooke’s old stomping grounds on the animated Timm/Dini BATMAN show. Does this make sense? Without context, if you’re somehow like the one person who has never read WATCHMEN and came to this via Cooke’s latest work on the PARKER adaptations or just stumbled in the store today and thought the vertical logo up the side of the spine was a pretty revolutionary concept, then this is going to seem like nothing more than a really beautiful well-made comic that introduces a lot of intriguing characters. But folks who have lived with this story in our hearts for twenty-five years are going to be looking at these magnificent Darwyn Cooke pages and raising our eyebrows, asking all kinds of ridiculous questions like, Shouldn’t this have been done less in Cooke’s naturally evolved style and instead in more of a 40s kind of pastiche? Have more of that Shuster or Finger or Robinson flavor? And, you know, maybe those aren’t ridiculous questions. It’s even harder to talk about this one than when Miller did that batshit DARK KNIGHT sequel. I can’t believe that this thing actually exists, that they’re going to keep rolling out more of them until, I don’t know, middle of January? Not really sure I’m going to be able to deal with that. Maybe it’s a good thing. I think I feel as good about this enterprise as I’m going to right at this moment, before JMS shows up. Ah, I bet the Azzarellos are going to be pretty amazing. And of course Conner will smoke it on Laurie’s book. I wish they’d gotten Paul Pope to do Manhattan all by himself. Well, and Villarrubia coloring Mars all the pinks for four issues. Can you imagine? I’m so wild for those STRANGE ADVENTURES.
This is a pretty great comic, though it’s also an act of shameless corporate barbarism and a pale shadow of the original #1. I'm certainly not going to read it 34 more times and write a master's thesis on it. The thing about this series thus far is that we’ve been given the source material through the Cooke filter, but this one single right here almost feels like a one-shot. Besides getting a master’s class in panel layout and composition, so far there’s really no compelling narrative reason to be back here, treading these beats that are all implicit within the original. I said this already, no murder to solve, just really good-looking pages expanding upon but not as of yet adding anything of note to the canon. We will see. I do trust that Darwyn Cooke to burn it down and tear it up.
ACTION COMICS #10—Wow, you have got to love the simplistic brutality of Clark taking the train to the child-killer’s apartment, attempting to talk his way in with weak excuses while revealing both his face and actual place of employment in a single panel, then straight up breaking down his door as Superman and threatening to heat-vision all the bad parts out of the guy’s brain. I love this guy. Still feeling just a bit of hostility after losing Pa & Ma. It’s not the Superman I grew up with, but he’s making me smile. I also dug the two pages with the League. Though more for the dialogue than the art. Is Morales’s staging a bit weird to anyone else? I can’t tell if he’s rushing or evolving. But then we’ve got the very surprising Death of Clark Kent. Really? It seems like they can just do anything, now. What’s weird is, this very much came across as still like Young Superman. The doofus from the first arc. Right? I mean, he and Lois and Jimmy seemed in their mid-twenties and then his costume was just a red-shirt version of that hiking boots affair, not the red-V collar. So I’m guessing this isn’t a are-we-really-calling-anything-present-tense story and young Clark won’t stay dead? I guess that wouldn’t be any great shock. Another solid backup, especially CAFU’s last shot of such a sad face. My interest in this title will in all likelihood walk out the door with Morrison, so I hope he’s got at least another year in him, seems like I heard he plotted out to #16 before the first one came out.
ANIMAL MAN #10—Lemire & Pugh find a way to keep upping the ante, no mean feat after this steady ten-month ascent. It’s also no surprise that Lemire drops his new favorite toys into the mix the first second he’s able, though Constantine and friends do little more than distract the Baker family while the hunter grabs that loveable little mullet. Pugh continues to turn in strong pages and assert his artistic voice on this title, keep us moving forward and not missing Travel Foreman too badly, quite the accomplishment. So, we’re just going to do a full-on first-year arc, I guess? It’s certainly roared right on by.
SWAMP THING #10—Well, I guess if one of the best tag-teams in comics needs a breather, you might as well call in Francesco Francavilla. This book really is never lacking in the art department, a quick read that goes ahead and sets the stage for a serious confrontation between Abigail and her dear departed daddy. The pages are pretty, but it’s a little light on story. Still interested to see how all this will resolve and what kind of status quo there will be, going forward. It feels like they’re going to swerve on us real hard at the end.
MORNING GLORIES #19—It is crazy how closely this series manages to nail the tone of dearly departed L O S T while still maintaining its own unique premise and character beats. Given that this was a –centric that pretty much seemed to resolve the main arc of a given character, it only ever occurred to me while breathlessly devouring all thirty pages that the only two possible outcomes were that the character was going to either going to be executed or not. I definitely believed Spencer/Eisma had the balls to do it, but it still would have been pretty a stunning thing. Then they went completely insane and I still can’t believe it. As shocking as the second death in “Two for the Road.” This series is on fire.
THE BOYS #66—Mm, well, I certainly don’t like the way it seems to be heading all of a sudden, the team turning against Butcher. That would be tragic. And of course perfect. This series remains a thing of greatness and unique wonder unto itself as it begins its final arc. The Legend’s non-sequitur Macbeth rant/Stan Lee retorts to the greedy estates of the scribblers are just about beyond belief.
SECRET #2—This is all right. Solid enough script from Hickman. I expect a little bit more, but he’s certainly earned my patience on a slow-burn in a different genre than I’m accustomed to from him. But it’s this Bodenheim fellow I’m not in love with. He’s not terrible, but after Hickman headhunted Pitarra for his last creator-owned, I expect actually a lot more than this in the art department. All the dudes just about look the same. Wait, shit, now I have to go listen to Mott the Hoople.
AVENGERS VS X-MEN #5—Ahahahah, maybe I’m jaded, maybe this series has been kind of underperforming for me enough that I’m just desperate, but I clapped my hands with delight at the “plot twist” at the end. I mean, they really just did this. We just bought this house nine months ago and I read it right here on this very couch in this very room. Now, if only they will cycle back through and homage/redux/copy the plot twist from every other event back from SIEGE to SECRET INVASION, CIVIL WAR, have Wanda say, “More Mutants,” Iron Fist falling back into obscurity while Luke Cage quietly surrenders the keys to the mansion and goes back to slipping it to Jessica Jones from behind and then the entire thing unspools and reboots back to the first page of AVENGERS #500 with Hawkeye and everybody at the breakfast table talking about the one supervillain they’d sleep with if they could, Bendis’s entire eight years unwinding like some kind of elastic double-helix wound too tight, all of this some kind of sublime meta-commentary on the fleeting illusion and impermanence of change in mainstream superhero comics. Oh, Bendis. If only.