I had no idea there was this “Before Watchmen” series out there. Unlike other reviewers and readers, who seemed to have been waiting for this to come out, I was taken by surprise. A pleasant surprise!
While it is not essential to know the comic book/graphic novel, Watchmen, it certainly helps. Watchmen was a comic series that seemed so far ahead of its time in the mid-1980’s. Taking place in an alternate reality, costumed vigilante superheroes helped win Korean and Vietnam wars but an Act of Congress banned superheroes in the mid-70’s. To the younger reader today, this sounds familiar as it’s almost the same them as Pixar’s The Incredibles.
Now DC comics has introduced a line of comics (herein collected as a series of graphic novels) titled, Before Watchmen, which give some back story to the Watchmen characters.
I’ll admit that when I had the opportunity to receive an advanced copy for review, I was both excited and a bit nervous. I loved the Watchmen series back in the 80’s, but I haven’t been much of a comics reader since then, and I wondered if it would even be at all possible to re-create the magic that was in Watchmen.
It is possible.
Darwyn Cooke writes and illustrates the Minutemen sequence of this book, and it is brilliant. I was completely caught up in the story and the art was spot on. It seemed to have a 40’s edge to it, and yet it managed to look current at the same time. I was impressed all around. This was my first (re)introduction to the Watchmen characters and I couldn’t ask for a better starting point.
What starts out somewhat simple, and even jovial, slowly builds into a gripping drama, first of loyalty and love and then to something broader, timeless, and universal. A social issue that many might not expect to find in a comic book (I don’t want to give too much away, though it will become obvious as one reads through). Even a theme as ‘simple’ as same-sex partners, which is already becoming a respected theme in this millenium, is touched upon, and it is not lost on the reader that this was taboo territory (both socially and in comic books) at the time period of the story.
Cooke’s work is mastery. He clearly knows how to tell a story.
The second, and shorter, portion of the book is about the character, Silk Spectre, written by Darwyn Cooke, and illustrated by Amanda Conner.
Already hooked on the idea, I dove right in, but immediately knew that there was something different here. I’m not sure why my first reaction went toward the writing (perhaps Spectre’s back story seemed too obvious right from the start), but only a few pages in, I realized that we had a different artist filling out the story. A different artist whose work I did not care for.
Conner’s work seems perfectly suited for Scooby Doo (That van! Those hippies!) or something of that sort, but for a gripping, dark story of sex, drugs, and rock-n-roll, this art makes us more passive viewers rather than involved participants. It was hard to get caught up in the story when the art kept us away. The orgy scene was laughable. Rather than painting a picture of depravity and disgust, a reason for Spectre to kick some ass, we were treated to a Monty Python-like scenario.
While it was nice to get some back story on the character, this section definitely could have used a stronger hand.
Over all … I am hooked. I look forward to the next installment. DC Comics did a nice job on returning to characters that really defined comics in the 80’s.
Looking for a good book? This is fantastic.
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Before Watchmen: Minutemen/Silk Spectre
author: Darwyn Cooke; Darwyn Cooke and Amanda Conner
artist: Darwyn Cooke; Amanda Conner
publisher: DC Comics
hardcover, 288 pages