Brandon Borzelli’s Geek Goggle Reviews
Before Watchmen: Minutemen #1 of 6
The controversial Before Watchmen project begins with the Darwyn Cooke vehicle: Minutemen. The book is a good start that remains faithful to the original material, but is not really a traditional comic book. This one is more of a biography of a team, giving snippets (1-4 pages each) of origins for multiple characters. It’s not really a story either and it definitely doesn’t have a cliffhanger. In that regard, it’s more like one of the essays from the original series, only told in comic form rather than essay form. It’s a great artistic effort and it contains some terrific symbolism, but it is not that great of a comic book. This makes for a beautiful, but average book.
Cooke captures the 1930s and 1940s to perfection, both in dialogue and in look. The book is peppered with phrases that come right out of the corniest movies or ads from 70-80 years ago. I loved it and it made the book stand out story-wise in that regard.
There are several books, like Criminal, that are presenting modern day interpretations of the Golden Age and this book and style fits right in with the best of them. One of the staples of the retro “look”, whether it goes for noir or not, is the coloring.
Phil Noto colors the book and does a fantastic job. While he sticks to very dull Earth tones as the story begins, he changes gears during the issue when the heroes begin to roll out. The first character, Hooded Justice, wears a red cape and this is the first infusion of color that pops off the page and Noto makes it look awesome. It’s something out of a Hellboy comic where color sets a tone and a mood that breathes with the story. This is a tremendous effort by Noto.
Cooke’s pencils find a level that could easily fit in with the best noir books or with the old-time hero books, like The Spirit or The Shadow. He tells a terrific visual story where he uses some symbolism with shadows and light that pay a nod to the fate of some of these characters. While at the same time he gives distinct and strong page presence even for the characters that are barely in it, like Dollar Bill. Cooke’s art can’t be praised enough.
He’s got the attitude down as well whether it’s with the rube-like hero persona for some, the dames-with-attitude for others or the hard drinking and smoking man’s man for others. The book reads like the characters were plucked off the set of Casablanca and it works.
However, the issue just jumps from one hero to the next, telling the story of how they first landed on the scene and not much else. It’s not very interesting and much of it was known from reading the original work. Folks that love the original aren’t going to be terribly impressed with anything new. The flipside is that folks who haven’t read the original probably aren’t going to find a whole lot (beyond Cooke’s pencils) to come back for more. As a story it’s just not there.
Written for trade, this first issue is nothing to be excited about beyond the art. Once Cooke gains some traction on the characters I would think the story is going to really take off. However, for now, this is all set up with terrific pencils.
3 out of 5 Geek Goggles