Review: Before Watchmen (and more) Part 1

As promised, here are my reviews of the inaugural Before Watchmen issues. I plan on reviewing the next two at the end of the month and many more to come, so keep following!

Before Watchmen: Minutemen #1

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Hollis Mason, the first Nite Owl and recently retired member of a 1940s-era team of vigilantes called the Minutemen, recounts his experience becoming a police officer-turned-crime-fighter, as well as those of his fellow teammates, the Silk Spectre, the Comedian, the Silhouette, Captain Metropolis, Dollar Bill, Mothman, and Hooded Justice. The main story is followed up by a (very) brief two-page backup, “Curse of the Crimson Corsair”.

Minutemen #1 is the very definition of redundant, much of it having already been well covered in the “Under the Hood” segments of the original Watchmen. What little Minutemen does add to the mythology, like Hollis revealing his love for the Silhouette, feels contrived. At least it’s reverent, keeping strict continuity with the original and a testament to writer/artist Darwyn Cooke’s passion for this material.

I actually re-read Watchmen last month, and I was amazed at the amount of detail, how laden with parallelism the book was that I’d missed the first time around. Minutemen #1 recaptures that in its own small way, but on the whole, Cooke’s more cartoony, nostalgic style doesn’t really mesh the deep, lyrical poignancy of Alan Moore’s work. And while I never really  expected Minutemen to measure up, I did discover just how deeply I associate Watchmen with Moore and Gibbons.

“Curse of the Crimson Corsair” by Len Wein, editor of the original Watchmen, is well-written, but in not telling the story concurrently to the primary narrative, many of its parallels may fall under the radar. Overall, it feels more tacked-on as an homage to Tales of the Black Freighter; a far cry from the latter’s vitality to the narrative of Watchmen.

Minutemen #1 isn’t an insult to the original, but it’s certainly not anything special either. It fails to make a case for why, creatively, these characters are worth revisiting. In the end, Cooke is merely telling a story that’s already been told before, and better. But if somehow “Under the Hood” left you craving for a pulpy retelling, you’ll probably get more out of Minutemen than I did. For everyone else, it’s not really worth the investment.

Before Watchmen: Silk Spectre #1

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Future Silk Spectre II Laurie Jupiter is an entirely different breed than her mother Sally Jupiter. As the first Silk Spectre, Sally forces her daughter to carry on the mantle, keeping Laurie from building bonds with her peers at school as she teaches her the tricks of the trade. It takes a huge emotional toll on Laurie, who’s found herself a male suitor and begins sneaking out to see him. But Laurie’s lack of social standing leads her to be blindsided by other female competition, and she soon fears she may be following far too closely in her mother’s footsteps.

Silk Spectre #1 is exactly what I expected from Before Watchmen – character study. This is, thankfully, a story well worth exploring; a deeper look at Laurie and Sally’s complicated relationship makes for a good read. We saw a bit of that tension between them in Watchmen, but here, the details are filled in – Sally doesn’t let Laurie live a life of her own, but it’s only out of wanting to protect Laurie from the same things that happened to her. Likewise, Laurie loves her mother, but she doesn’t yet understand why she’s being pushed down a road she doesn’t want to be on. For this, Darwyn Cooke’s writing is put to much better use, complemented by Amanda Conner’s appropriately feminine artwork.

Laurie meets a boy along the way, with whom she exchanges stories of scars (both physical and emotional) from their similar upbringings at the hands of what they call “hard-ass parents.” But Laurie’s alienation also leads her to be bullied at school; the other girls know who her mother was, and they mock Laurie over her mother’s flamboyant sexuality back in the day, calling her the daughter of a whore. It stings Laurie like perhaps no other insult could – if she does become the next Silk Spectre, how long before the same could be said of her?

Part 2 of “Curse of the Crimson Corsair”, again included as a backup story, is a bit overwritten, like someone trying too hard to create the illusion of being set in the days of the pirates. One naval officer’s rebelliousness mirrors Laurie’s, but again, it’s not as effective as if it were being told concurrently the main narrative.

Silk Spectre #1 gives me renewed hope for these prequels. It’s still nowhere near what the original Watchmen accomplished, but it’s a worthwhile character study and better represents what Before Watchmen should be all about.

Recommended.

Earth 2 #2

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Five years after the superhero trinity bit the dust, Mr. Terrific materializes on Earth 2 and encounters the self-proclaimed “smartest man alive”, who proceeds to attack him…for…some reason. Meanwhile, in Michigan, Jay Garrick is speaking with a dying Mercury, who grants him powers of speed and warns him of an approaching evil. Jay practices his heroics as future Green Lantern Alan Scott reunites with and proposes to his gay lover.

Before I address the big elephant in the room, I’ll just say that Jay’s new costume looks ridiculous. It doesn’t look bad on the cover above; the helmet appears to be merely the same one the character has always worn with the addition of yellow goggles. In the actual book, it looks like he’s wearing a giant glass bowl on his head; it’s impractical and silly. Another character, briefly introduced at the end of this issue, looks equally ridiculous.

I’m not going to mince words about the headline-making alteration to Alan Scott’s sexuality. This is wrong in every way imaginable, a shameful, offensive rape of a beloved Golden Age character and an insult to his creators Bill Finger and Martin Nodell. The change isn’t even there for a real purpose; all Alan does is sit around holding hands with this other guy, talking about getting a cabin together. It’s a publicity stunt through a through, representative of the sick reality of today’s society when corporate social agendas take precedence over the integrity of their iconic creative properties.

Writer James Robinson of Cry for Justice infamy once again demonstrates his remarkable ability to piss off fans of DC Comics. In the pantheon of shameful creative decisions at the company over the past few years, whether it be the aforementioned Cry for Justice, the rape of Sue Dibney, the objectification of Catwoman and Starfire in their New 52 incarnations, or the twisted, perverted atrocity that is All-Star Batman and Robin, Scott’s change in sexuality may take the cake as the most offensive yet. And I don’t make statements like that lightly.

If you needed an even bigger reason to avoid the new Earth 2 book, this is it. DC’s attention-whorish approach designed to revive its slumping sales is repulsive, and I cannot condemn their actions here enough.

Not recommended.

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