8/19/13

"Before Watchmen: Minutemen/Silk Spectre" by Darwyn Cooke

I was late to the Watchmen party. I first learned about Alan Moore's Watchmen after the series had been compiled into a graphic novel, and just after the guy ahead of me in line had purchased the last copy at Future Dreams comics and books.  I asked the clerk if they had any used copies, and a punk with a mullet and a belly T-shirt said he'd sell me his old copy.

"Only, it's at my house. I only live a couple blocks away."

Maybe it was a testament to how excited I was about Dave Gibbons art and Alan Moore's cracked-mirror version of the comics world I had grown up with, but I told him I'd buy his copy.  He hopped on a midget BMX one-speed and took off for his apartment. I started walking in the general direction, and about ten minutes later he zoomed up with the book under his arm. As a marginal comics snob, I hesitated when I saw the dog-eared copy rubbing covers with his pits, but I bought it anyway (half price!).  Since then, I've bought all the original single issues, but I still go to the dog-eared copy when I want to read the Watchmen.

For me, the Watchmen is such a pivotal work, I avoided sullying the memory with any sequels, prequels or movies.  But, I've been enjoying Darwyn Cooke's adaptations of Richard Stark's "Parker" novels, so when I saw he had a prequel to Watchmen, I was hesitant.  In the "Parker" books he captures a "Mad Men" feel of graphics from the early '60s with such elan. To me, it's reminiscent of the cover art from Dave Brubeck's jazz album "Time Out."  The look and feel is so perfect. So, despite misgivings, I hoped that Cooke would deliver a good showing on the Watchmen backstory.

Before Watchmen: Minutemen/Silk Spectre compiles two mini-series inspired by The Watchmen. Minutemen gives Cooke a chance to visit both the 40's and the 60's. The story bounces between the origin of the original super-hero group founded in the 40's and the tell-all publication of Hollis (Nite Owl) Mason's book "Under the Hood."

I doubted that any prequel could add to Alan Moore's Watchmen story in a way that was relevant, but Cooke does an excellent job pulling the threads from Moore's graphic novel, and tying them together in the past. It starts with the origin of the group as we meet the Nite Owl, The Silhouette, Silk Spectre, The Comedian, Hooded Justice, Dollar Bill, Captain Metropolis, and Mothman. There's the obligatory try-outs scene, the first mission (a fiasco and a scandal), and Cooke explores some inter-group sexual conflicts and attractions. Altogether, the story is much more violent and graphic than stories from the 40's or 60's, and explores explicitly sexual undertones mentioned in the Watchmen, but the tone fits the universe created by Moore.

The story fits together, within itself, and with the Watchmen. The back story for the Comedian at first feels a bit shaky, but ends with horrific events from WWII and ultimately makes us question the motivation for any super heroes.

So, does it deliver? Yes, on finishing my first read of  Minutemen I wanted to re-read it immediately. It was just as engaging and twisted as the original.  


Unfortunately, Silk Spectre is less faithful to the comics of the 60's, and even seems to condemn the spirit of the 60's. The art, by Amanda Conner, is wonderfully detailed,  but that underscores even more that it's not abiding the style of the era.

Laurie Jupiter, daughter of Sally Jupiter, the original Silk Spectre, runs away from home to San Francisco.
She begins to realize how big the world is, when suddenly kids start having bad drug trips. Laurie dons the Silk Spectre costume, updating the high-heels to some kick-ass leather boots, and takes on the mysterious Chairman of the organization pushing the drugs.

It's a coming of age story with sex, violence, drugs and superheroes. While it was fun, the story didn't dovetail nearly as well the Minutemen story with the Watchmen universe.  The story felt like it had been borrowed from The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen: 1969.

Bottom line: worth reading, especially if you were as excited as I was the first time you read Watchmen.  Cooke and Conner bring the characters to life with their art and stories, and do justice to the Watchmen universe.
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