It would seem horrible to compare Watchmen #1 with Before Watchmen: Minutemen #1. But it’s unavoidable. I can’t read this one issue without those twelve issues ringing in my ears. So let’s get it all out there.
1. From Watchmen To Mad Men
Watchmen ran without advertising, each issue becoming an artifact of its own, every aspect of it part of of the story, the cover being the frst panel to each issue, the ticking clock enveloping it all, with comics, articles, book extracts and letters all instrumental to the Watchmen experience. Before Watchmen is far more like a traditional comic book, with advertising for TNT, a Superman Blu Ray, A Batman game as well as an editorial page. Instantly that fights against the previous experience and the immersion of the original just isn’t there.
2. Less Murder, More Apartment Moving
Watchmen opens with a murder, a body thrown from an apartment, and the investigation into his death from both the police and from a vigilante, two times twisting around each other as we see the killing quite viscerally. It’s a shock, it’s a blow, it’s an explosion that kicks off the book, with a narrative that at the end explodes the story.
Minutemen opens with someone moving into an apartment, and thinking about the past. Instantly it’s a slower, more considered read. It deliberately plays on the reader’s deep understanding of Watchmen, without it, this could feel like irrelevant padding. There is action, eventually, but is is recalled, divorced from now, seemingly unaffecting the present. And a narrative that seems… abandoned?
3. Panel Beating
There may not be a nine panel grid, but the paneling is still considered, as it varies. The size, the shape, the tiers are all considered, from the filmic widescreen opening to the tall vertical panel tier of a man planning to fly. Sadly this is not the case with Black Freighter where in two pages, the panels seem to be all over the place and it fights against the period aspects expected of such a story.
4. Pirate Out Of Time
While we’re on that, the Crimson Corsair just does not look like a period pirate comic, due to the use of computer lettering and more advanced colouring. For somethings that seems to be contemporary with the Black Freighter comic, it significantly fails to get over that time and mood. One of the problems is that this has been approached like a normal comic, without thoroughly thinking through all aspects of the book’s production. It’ a problem.
5. Blood From A Stone
A few sentences from the text of Chapter 3 of Under The Hood are stretched out here to fill the majority of the book. Some work better than others, The Comedian sees a line about violently controlling crime on the waterfront and plays that out over a few pages, also bringing to mind the scene in a Vietnam bar where he shoots the pregnant mother of his child. It starts here.
6. Superpower Corrupts
Cook introduces corruption at every level. Sally Jupiter’s agent bribing the police chief, an addicted Moth Man, Captain Metropolis in pampered privelege, even at its very beginning it’s founded in criminal activity. Interestingly, this is something that Alan Moore is developing right now, the thesis that the comics industry was formed out of the actions of organised crime. Not a new observation, but not previously researched to this degree, it seems…
7. A Moving Story
The first issue of Watchmen opens with movement, up the side of a building, narrated by Rorschachs’s diary. We also see Rorschach though we don’t know it at the time. Is there anything similarly hidden here? Something about Hollis’ parents that we are yet to learn? Watchmen ended with a reference to the first panels, will Minutemen do the same?
8. Panel Breaking
Silhouette does something very interesting in her aside. She breaks the panel border, a Watchmen no-no. No one else does this in the book and it seems divorced from Darwyn’s general approach. Why? What is she transgressing? Something more than sexual boundaries? She, after all, appears to be carryig out heroic actions without any other agenda…
9. The Colour Of Comics
Equally, check the use of colour and the Hooded Justice sequence. Red being brought to a black and grey world. Violence? Excitement? Comics? When we next see Hollis is the past, he is living in a fully coloured world.
10. This Is How I Always Wanted Batman To Be.
That’s the Batman I could believe in.