A few months back I wrote an article lambasting DC Comics’ upcoming Watchmen prequels, siding with co-creator Alan Moore. Like Moore, I believed, and still think, Watchmen is a finite story, relegated to the 300 plus pages spanning a 12 issue epic; any attempt at a prequel or sequel seemed like piggybacking off a brilliant tale for some quick cash. Yet, there was a part of me hoping DC’s Before Watchmen prequel would trounce my preconceptions, adding something special to Moore’s story and providing quality entertainment. After reading the first issue, arriving in comic shops today (June 6th, 2012), I still have mixed feelings although I can safely say Before Watchmen doesn’t compare to Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons’ genre changing series. That’s not a surprise.
The first issue is about the Minutemen, the original team of super heroes from the early 1940s. Consisting of Silk Spectre, Nite Owl, Hooded Justice, Captain Metropolis, Dollar Bill, Silhouette and The Comedian, the Minutemen were a mixture of publicity hungry crime fighters, psychopaths and deluded idealists, dressing up in ridiculous costumes in the name of vigilante justice. They were the inspiration for the protagonists in Moore’s Watchmen (where the Minutemen also appear), influencing the next generation of super heroes. Their successes and failures shape the environment for future costumed avengers, coloring their perspectives and the public’s reactions to them. It makes sense the series would start here.
My biggest complaint about this first issue of Before Watchmen is how unnecessary it is. The Minutemen’s story in Watchmen is sufficient enough, giving plenty of back-story. Writer and artist Darwyn Cooke (The Spirit, Catwoman) doesn’t enrich Moore and Gibbons’ original story. In fact, if anything it cheapens the original Watchmen, changing the way the reader interacts with Moore’s words and Gibbons’ artwork. It’s high budget fan fiction, like the Twilight inspired Fifty Shades of Grey, which has received much attention lately but not because of the author’s literary acumen but because it’s absolute garbage. I’m not saying Cooke’s take on Watchmen is as awful as E.L. James’s hypersexual tripe but it’s in the same league.
The Before Watchmen series is approaching Moore’s work from a variety of perspectives, employing different comic book creators for each issue. There are some good names attached to the project—Adam Hughes, Jae Lee, Andy and Joe Kubert amongst others—and maybe the upcoming issues will make up for this initial installment but I have my doubts. The worst thing about denouncing this issue is that Cooke’s artwork and writing style isn’t terrible; it’s just what he’s writing that’s under scrutiny here. Each character’s story felt rushed and it’s possible Cooke could’ve crafted something better with more room instead of giving an abridged version that felt soulless. Then again, he’s messing with one of my favorite comic books and a title generally referred to as the best example of the medium.