Saturday, 15 August 2015

Before Watchmen: Minutemen/Silk Spectre Review (Darwyn Cooke, Amanda Conner)

The Minutemen were the group that preceded Watchmen. They were: Hollis Mason/(the first)Nite Owl, Sally Jupiter/(the first)Silk Spectre, Nelson Gardner/Captain Metropolis, Hooded Justice, Bill Brady/Dollar Bill, Byron Lewis/Mothman, Ursula Zandt/The Silhouette and Eddie Blake/The Comedian. 

Darwyn Cooke takes us back to the beginnings when they first formed and began fighting crime, to the “present day” when it’s years later, the group has been disbanded, and Mason is about to publish his memoirs, “Under the Hood”. The Minutemen story jumps from the present to the past as we see the promising start and the ugly end of the doomed superheroes. 

Cooke doesn’t really have a story here, just fragments of one. Besides the Minutemen forming and learning to fight crime, there’s a side story about someone abducting and murdering children and the jaded, cynical flavour of Watchmen continues as the Minutemen become obsessed with fame and money instead of justice. Because there’s no real plot and everything sort of meanders, it’s a really slow read - six issues was way too long for this mini-series. I was so bored for most of Minutemen. 

Not that it doesn’t have good moments like The Comedian’s redemptive story he tells Sally, and The Silhouette’s backstory and quest was good (she was one of two Minutemen who could be called a real hero and she got the worst fate; see what I mean about cynical?). 

Cooke’s art is great as well and I loved the wide establishing shots on the first page of each issue, centring around a circle - the iconic Smiley Face outline - while also setting up the story. But the Minutemen’s story is super-dark and Cooke’s art is a bit too cartoony. It doesn’t match the misery and inadvertently makes light of the darkness. A more realistic art-style, like Lee Bermejo’s in the Rorschach mini, would’ve suited and brought home the Minutemen’s tragic story a lot harder. 

Cooke is joined by Amanda Conner on the four issue Silk Spectre series with Conner on art. The series focuses on Sally Jupiter’s daughter, Laurel Jane, as a teenager. She’s being groomed by a retired (and too often drunk) Sally to become the new Silk Spectre but she doesn’t want to be a superhero and decides to run off to San Francisco with her boyfriend Greg instead. 

There, she discovers a fiendish plot to dose hippies with LSD that turns them into mindless consumers spearheaded by Frank Sinatra and the music industry?! 

Yeah, the Silk Spectre story is a bit of a mess too. Cooke’s Minutemen was too thin and slow; Cooke/Conner’s Silk Spectre is just crap, completely throwaway. I have no idea what they were thinking when they came up with this ridiculous story but it’s the worst one of the Before Watchmen line-up I’ve read yet. Laurie’s kind of convincing as a girl who can handle herself in a street fight but a superhero? Alongside Doctor Manhattan and The Comedian? Not even slightly convincing. Why would they need a teen girl in the group? I guess that’s the “Black Widow problem” all over again. 

Conner’s art though is incredible. She always produces excellent pages but this is the best stuff I’ve seen from her in years. She has an uncanny ability not just to capture an image, an evocative expression, but give it a vibrancy as to almost animate it - it’s the suggestion of life that she gives the reader who does bring the image alive when they see it. Body language and movement are rendered perfectly and the panels flow together beautifully. Laurie’s acid trip sequence is great, her fantasy cut-aways are fun, and Conner’s ‘60s Silk Spectre outfit is outstanding, surpassing Dave Gibbons’ original design for the character. 

The Minutemen and Silk Spectre stories are very dull though Darwyn Cooke and Amanda Conner’s art is nothing short of excellent - clearly an enormous amount of effort went into this book. It might be worth checking out if you’re a fan of these artists’ work, especially Conner’s, but the comics themselves don’t make for a compelling read at all.

Before Watchmen: Minutemen/Silk Spectre

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