Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Before Watchmen: Minutemen #1

Exclusive Advance Review

Writers: Darwyn Cooke, Len Wein
Artists: Darwyn Cooke, John Higgins

Within the withering spotlight as no other comic book has ever been before, DC Comics’ Before Watchmen will premiere in comics stores next week. And now that the wraps are off, the mystery has been exposed and Mr. Cooke and his fellow DC Comics creators have taken the much-debated leap, it can be safely stated that suppression of this comic book would have been a crime. For, in spite of some disconcerting lapses and strange ambiguities in the creation of the material, Before Watchmen is far and away the most surprising and visually exciting comic book to be seen in many a moon. As a matter of fact, it comes close to being the most sensational comic book ever made in America.

Count on Mr. Cooke; he doesn't do things by halves. Being a mercurial fellow, with a frightening artistic flair, he moved right into the comics, grabbed the medium by the ears and began to toss it around with the dexterity of a seasoned veteran. Fact is, he handled it with more verve and inspired ingenuity than any of the elder craftsmen have exhibited in years. With the able assistance of John Higgins, whose services should not be overlooked, he found in the pencil the perfect instrument to encompass his dramatic energies and absorb his prolific ideas. Upon the page he discovered an area large enough for his expansive whims to have free play. And the consequence is that he has made a comic book of tremendous and overpowering scope, not in physical extent so much as in its rapid and graphic rotation of thoughts. Mr. Cooke has put upon the page a comic book that really moves.

As for the story which he tells—and which has provoked such an uncommon fuss—this corner frankly holds considerable reservation. Naturally we wouldn't know how closely—if at all—it parallels the plans of an eminent author, as has been somewhat cryptically alleged. But that is beside the point in a rigidly critical appraisal. The blamable circumstance is that it fails to provide a clear picture of the characters and motives behind the men about whom the whole thing revolves.

But check that off to the absorption of Mr. Cooke in more visible details. Like the novelist, Thomas Wolfe, his abundance of imagery is so great that it sometimes gets in the way of his logic. And the less critical will probably be content with undefined Minutemen, anyhow. After all, nobody understood them. Why should Mr. Cooke? Isn't it enough that he presents theatrical characters with consummate theatricality?

We would, indeed, like to say as many nice things as possible about everything else in this comic book—about the excellent storytelling of Mr. Cooke, about the sure and penetrating performances of literally every member of the creative team and about the stunning manner in which the backup story by Len Wein has been used. Space, unfortunately, is short. All we can say, in conclusion, is that you shouldn't miss this comic book. It is cynical, ironic, sometimes oppressive and as realistic as a slap. But it has more vitality than fifteen other comic books we could name.

And, although it may not give a thoroughly clear answer, at least it brings to mind one deeply moral thought: For what shall it profit a man if he shall gain the whole world and lose his own soul? See Before Watchmen for further details.
Grade: A+
(With profuse apologies to the late Bosley Crowther.)