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Comic Book Review: Before Watchmen: Minutemen #1 (DC Comics)

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Before Watchmen: Minutemen #1

The most amazing thing about reviewing a new Watchmen comic in 2012 is the reality that there is a new Watchmen comic in 2012. The landmark original graphic novel has been a standalone entity since it was first published as 12 issues in 1986 and 1987; when a film adaptation finally came out in 2009, Alan Moore—the outspoken creator/writer of the original series—publicly denounced the movie, and the announcement of new prequel series coming out in 2012 further fueled his fire.  Moore would like DC Comics to leave his creations alone and leave the property untouched, but due to the deal he signed, the publisher owns the rights.

So these new prequel miniseries come with a great deal of controversy. Watchmen is held so sacred by some comics fans that they are boycotting the new books, and some industry pros have also declared they will no longer work for DC out of protest.

It makes sense that the first Before Watchmen series to come out focuses on the Minutemen, the early-20th century heroes who inspired the formation of the Watchmen. Chronologically, it makes sense, and story-wise, this is as good a place to start as any. It’s also a fruitful area to explore, as this was a back story in the original novel, not handled with much detail (in the movie version, the Minutemen are covered without dialogue during the opening credits).

So … what do we get for this first issue, written and drawn by respected creator Darwyn Cooke? We get what amounts to a prologue, introducing the characters but not really launching into the story. The framing device for this issue—the autobiography of the original Nite Owl, Hollis Mason—is a serviceable way of introducing readers to the Minutemen, but the script often covers material already handled in the original story. Cooke does work in some interesting new revelations about Mothman and Silhouette that are the best examples of what these new series should be—fresh spins on the familiar Watchmen characters, rather than a retread of the old series.

Cooke’s cartoony art harkens back to the early days of comics, which is appropriate for a story that is set in that era. It’s a bit jarring to see anyone but Dave Gibbons (artist of the original series) draw these characters, but we should get used to that as the other Before Watchmen first issues roll out over the summer of 2012.

The bonus feature, the first two-page chapter of “The Crimson Corsair” pirate storyline (see, in the Watchmen universe, pirate comics are popular, since superheroes are real) has nice art by John Higgins, but it’s hard to get much of a feel for what Len Wein’s story is going to be about from such a small slice. These bonus stories, which will run through all the Before Watchmen issues, will definitely benefit from their inevitable collection in a complete graphic novel.

There’s nothing really wrong with Minutemen #1. As comics go, it’s a competent, attractive package executed with talent, skill and care. But as the first entry in a major comics event, it feels like a letdown—a decent first chapter of a graphic novel, but an underwhelming one. I’m betting things will pick up considerably in this series now that all this exposition is out of the way.

Buy Before Watchmen Minutemen #1 on Amazon
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