Like most reasonable people, I was skeptical about the entire Before Watchmen catalog. The idea just didn't sit right with me but I wasn't entirely opposed to seeing it done, mostly due in part to reading a comic about The Minutemen which are characters from the original series that we don't see a lot of and thankfully the first series to be released. I didn't want to read the book, not because I consider Alan Moore's work to be untouchable, as much as I love it all, but more in terms of the way he was screwed over by DC, you know... creator rights and all that jazz. But I bought the book. Don't go calling me a hypocrite just yet, because I at least had a passing interest and because I thought you good people might want to know more about the series before you committed to it fully.
As you can guess from the title, Before Watchmen: Minutemen takes place the furthest before Watchmen's events and is the story from the universe that makes the most sense to me. A short prologue at the start has an older Hollis Mason working on his autobiography 'Under the Hood,' but then it dives back to 1939 and starts off this event with a bang.
Darwyn Cooke (DC: The New Frontier) serves as the full creative force on this particular title, writing and drawing the piece and I don't think they could have picked a better creator to fit into this world. While the first few pages that are after the hay day of the Minutemen seem a little rough around the edges, they do carry a lot of weight on the character development of Hollis Mason/Nite Owl I, if you pay close attention to it all. These first six pages also stand out as feeling a little darker and less hopeful as the rest of the book, but that only helps strengthen the piece as a whole. By showing the dichotomy of the two worlds that Hollis Mason has lived in, we can get a good grasp on the journey he's had and while this level to the characters mentality was certainly shown in the original Watchmen, it has been expanded significantly in this prequel (and more importantly hasn't diminished anything Moore/Gibbons created, yet).
Cooke has a good understanding of these characters. He properly juggles all of their stories in equal fashion and finds a way to bring them all together that doesn't feel forced or out of place either. He masterfully introduces the characters and gives you a glimpse of who they are, with ties to their Watchmen roots of course, but then expands on them as people. Cooke has created back stories that not only don't negate the original text but make it richer.
The best part about the book is Cooke's artwork. If you aren't familiar with his style, it's a very old school pulpy type of art that fits the tone and nature of this story perfectly. His renditions of the 1940s heroes, bad guys, cops, civilians, and cities are spot on with how this book should be and with hero styles of old. I must also compliment Phil Noto on his coloring, it takes the art to a whole other level. Cooke also goes out of his way to make reference to the style of Gibbons from the original Watchmen, be it with panel positions or specific drawings. The love of the source material is more obvious than I was expecting. Though it might be early to say, I'm going to guess this is the one that stands out among the rest in terms of it's visual prowess.
If Before Watchmen: Minutemen is representative of the quality of work that we will be getting from the rest of the series, then consider me signed up. If not, then at least we'll be getting a quality Minutemen comic. Do you consider yourself a fan of Watchmen? Ever wonder what life was like for the original heroes? This is the series for you and not just because you like the original or the characters, because it's a good comic.
Rating: 9 / 10
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