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…And the Superhuman Review – Before Watchmen: Minutemen #2

Every week, Chad Nevett and I will be reviewing an issue of Before Watchmen through a discussion of each issue. We continue with Minutemen #2, written and drawn by Darwyn Cooke with colors by Phil Noto. .

Enjoy!

Brian Cronin: I think Darwyn Cooke struck a much better balance in this issue between doing an origin story of stuff we already know and doing an interesting original story featuring the Minutemen characters. I really enjoyed the contrast between Captain Metropolis’ ill-fated attempt to bring down “saboteurs” and the later (much more serious) mission by Mothman, Nite Owl and Silhouette to investigate the missing child. What really gets me, though, is that you could have started this series easily with this issue and not missed a beat. Maybe you would have had to throw in a little exposition, but this issue introduced the characters all very well and all their respective personalities. So it made the “Who’s Who?” feel of #1 seem even more pointless.

In any event, like I said, I was impressed with the original aspects that Cooke brought to the story. The interplay between those who are here to hang out, those who are here to be superheroes and those who are here to beat the shit out of people for fun is fascinating. Cooke is such a wonderful artist that he captures the personalities of the characters perfectly in their various reactions. It reminds me a lot of the amazing reaction work that Gibbons did in the original series. You could look just at facial reactions alone and you would have gotten the personality for almost every character in the book.

His action work was stellar, as well. He is a really great artist.

The idea to mix Hooded Justice and Captain Metropolis’ initial foray into BDSM with the sad tale of the missing boy (intercut with snippets of Robert Louis Stephenson’s “Children’s Garden of Verses” was odd. What do you think Cooke was going for there?

Chad Nevett: I thought it was a mood thing. The poem in that context is very creepy and heightens the mood. I’m not sure mixing in the BDSM stuff was a smart choice given the connection people often draw between men who kidnap and molest children, and gay men. We’re still not at a point where some still don’t assume that gay men aren’t to be left with male children for fear that they’ll sexually assault them. I can safely assume that Cooke wasn’t making that connection, but it’s still an ill-conceived juxtaposition.

I definitely agree with your first comment: this easily could have been the first issue. It’s a problem that I see a lot in comics, where the first issue seems completely unnecessary and the second issue reads like a strong first issue. Given how many things in this issue seemed to play off or rely upon knowledge of Watchmen, the first issue seems even stranger. It was a detailed catch-up of the characters before an issue that references a lot of stuff not explained in the first — so, is the target audience new readers or readers familiar with Watchmen? Do they know?

I loved the screwed up first operation of the team. Of the new ideas added to the Watchmen characters so far, it’s the first one that feels like a legitimate ‘outtake’ from the original. Maybe not the way that Cooke told it compared to Moore and Gibbons, but that the Minutemen began with a screw-up like that.

The amount of references in those team meetings, subtle allusion to events we knew about, was staggering. The way the Comedian questioned Captain Metropolis, foreshadowing the way he would do the same thing (albeit MUCH more effectively) at the Crime-Busters meeting — or the subtle dread introduced by the mention of the team photo and what will happen after that… I like that Cooke is relying on readers’ knowledge of Watchmen and wish the first issue displayed the same trust/confidence.

What did you think of his portrayal of the Silhouette? Of all the Minutemen, she’s probably the most ‘blank slate,’ the one that Cooke has the most freedom to expand upon without contracting anything.

BC: Yeah, I really was taken aback. The juxtaposition really did not work for me for the very reasons you stated. In fact, all I could think was, “Does Cooke seriously not realize how this could come off?” A dude engaging in bondage with another dude has nothing in common, mood-wise, with a little kid being kidnapped, likely molested and murdered. It really seemed odd.

I think it is a great point that the nods to Watchmen that Cooke does in this issue came off effortlessly and not clumsy at all. Very clever work by Cooke.

I am torn on Silhouette. On the one hand, as I noted, I loved the compare and contrast between those of the Minutemen who legitimately just want to do good (Nite Owl, Mothman and Silhouette) with the others who have their own particular self-interested motivations. So I loved seeing her as this, “Huh? Seriously, people?” type woman. Cooke’s art captured her reactions perfectly. Also, I loved the way she refers to the others. “Mister Moth” and “Mister Owl.” Hilarious. However, I also found it a bit odd that she gave up so easily with regards to getting help for the kids from the rest of the group. That seems like the kind of point anyone would argue a little bit more. Not just go, “Oh, okay” and then write the whole group off instantly.

With regards to Silhouette, it’s interesting to see Cooke’s handle on how Nite Owl doesn’t realize that she is gay. It is a tricky area. Cooke is naturally coming from the perspective of, “It’s the 1930s! People wouldn’t go there in their heads unless it was blatantly obvious!” and I just don’t know if that’s accurate. Mason is a bit on the naive side, but I don’t think a New York City cop is that naive. But, again, we’re talking 70-plus years ago, so I could be wrong.

Oh, by the way, I think we are getting more confirmation that Mason is not supposed to be a great writer. The way he thought of that offhand piece of purple prose and then thought to save it for later? That had to be making fun of him, right?

CN: The ‘Mister Owl’ and ‘Mister Moth’ stuff seemed a little off to me. I get what Cooke is going for with her European background and all, but it also makes her seem somewhat simplistic. Same with her attitude towards the others to a degree, especially when Nite Owl and Mothman offer to help. If she has such a low opinion of the others, why bother with them at all? Maybe it was a case of Cooke taking it a little too far…

I honestly have no idea how apparent homosexuality was at that point in time, so I’m giving Cooke the benefit of the doubt there. Besides, much of this seems to be poking fun at Mason to a degree, as you point out. It’s very much about deconstructing the one member of the Minutemen that seemed to come out the other end completely ‘honourable.’ Even in Watchmen, there wasn’t much that showed Mason in a negative light. Everyone else had some dirt on them and the closest it was for Mason was him writing his book, and even that didn’t seem to bring him down at all. So, I think Cooke is trying to show that he’s a good guy, but not the unblemished iconic hero that he came pretty close to being in Watchmen.

The audition scene fell flat for me, especially the last woman in it. Also, the way it was told suggested that Mothman was rejected at first? That was odd…

BC: Yeah, the audition page was just Cooke looking for easy jokes. It was not great. And yes, I have no idea why they’d turn down Mothman like that.

I thought the “Mister” bit was charming. You know, like she can’t bring herself to actually call them “Mothman” and “Nite Owl.” But yeah, I agree about her attitude. That bothered me, as well. If she doesn’t want their help, why be there in the first place?

You liked Cooke’s art in the issue, as well, right?

CN: Sure thing. I haven’t always been a big fan of Cooke’s writing on projects, but I’ve always enjoyed his art. He’s a great storyteller (I like the vagueness of that description). Even the parts of this issue that I didn’t enjoy for the writing, the art still made it worthwhile.

I think this was the first chapter of “The Curse of the Crimson Corsair” that didn’t wow me. I guess the somewhat cheesy introduction of the title character threw me off a bit.

BC: If you only have two pages, you probably shouldn’t spend one of them on practically a full-page splash. I think that really hurt the story. That said, while I agree that the Crimson Corsair’s intro was handled a bit oddly by Len Wein (“I’ll gut you for that!” screams the man who just got his life saved to the person who saved him because they…splashed him with water?!?), John Higgins’ design of him was pretty badass.

CN: The background for that panel was also well done. Just a poor bit of pacing that probably won’t read as poorly when the story is collected. I still love Higgins’s colouring on this project. So understated and depressing with just a hint of colour when it’s called for, like the sickly green of the arms. The man is good.

BC: That he is. We got quite an artistic treat with this issue, between the lead artist and the back-up one.

27 Comments

Great review guys — really like the banter. Looking forward to picking this up soon!

“It’s the 1930s! People wouldn’t go there in their heads unless it was blatantly obvious!” and I just don’t know if that’s accurate. Mason is a bit on the naive side, but I don’t think a New York City cop is that naive. But, again, we’re talking 70-plus years ago, so I could be wrong.

If you read some queer history texts (such as George Chauncey’s magisterial book “Gay New York”), you find out that the gay and lesbian scene in New York before WWII was actually much more visible (and more tolerated) than it was between the end of WWII and the late 1960s. There were plenty of queer bars and parties in the city, some of them openly advertised in the papers. So a New York City beat cop of that era would not have been totally naive when it comes to the subject.

So you think it would be unrealistic for Hollis to be that clueless when it came to Silhouette being a lesbian?

Great review again. I think you’re right on with a lot of points:

1. Some of the jokes were pretty weak, and while I was convinced Cooke was deliberately making Hollis appear to be an unsophisticated writer, the “humor” and the bondage-kidnapping combo are leading me to think Cooke himself is not writing at his best.

2. That was a very poor choice to run the bondage-kidnap scenes together.

3. I think the entire series is being designed with collected editions planned to outsell the individual issues, so the deep background of issue one and the splash page in the backup are meant to be read in a collected trade.

4. I also would have preferred the authors of all the BW had assumed the reader is familiar with Watchmen and go from there. I’m not sure why anyone who hasn’t read the original would read BW first when Watchmen is easy to find, and even if you haven’t read Watchmen I’m sure DC is hoping BW leads to a spike in Watchmen sales. The deep background stuff is wasted.

5. Hollis struck me as naive in Watchmen as well, so I think his not figuring out Silhouette’s sexual orientation is in character. Cooke’s depiciton of him as a purple prose writer fits that naive and unworldly aspect.

Anyway, keep it up. I look forward to your review of Ozzy 2, by far the weakest issue one.

Is it just me, or was the months best Watchmen-related comic book moment the first page of Wolverine & The X-Men #13? A fantastic riff on the first page of Watchmen #6.

Cory Arsenault

July 13, 2012 at 2:13 pm

I think the first issue was meant to introduce a typical golden-age type world and then later issues will show how things go downhill.

Ya, the sex scene juxtaposed with the child murder might not have been the best of ideas, I’ll have to judge later when I see where he goes with it (is he implying that Hooded Justice killed the boy?). I think he was attempting to contrast people who are experiencing violence for fun/pleasure as part of a game, and others who are experiencing real violence. As I mentioned I wonder if the boy hanging, just under noose that Hooded Justice wears is alluding to something.

I also question why Hollis would automatically know Silhouette, whom he hardly knows, was gay? In real life you often can’t tell that somebody is gay. On the otherhand, as an experienced cop, Hollis may have had some suspicion and said what he did to see what her reaction would be.

As for Mothman being rejected, it may have been because they didn’t believe his claim that he could fly. The Minutemen have no superpowers and Mothman is the only one who has a special ability.

Lastly, I think the “Mister Owl” thing is meant to show how Silhouette doesn’t want to get close to others, possibly because of her past traumatic experiences.

Travis Pelkie

July 13, 2012 at 4:32 pm

Maybe with the “Mister Owl” stuff, she’s getting ready to ask about the licks to get the center of a Tootsie Pop?

That audition sequence looks like one where the Legion of SUBSTITUTE Heroes would reject them all.

Actually, it does remind me of one from season 4 of Venture Bros. Chad will know which one I speak of, but for spoiler avoidance I won’t go into it further.

Of any of the series in BW, this one seems like it would be most “needed”. But from what you guys are saying, it sounds like it’s maybe beyond Cooke’s abilities to pull off to the best.

I’m glad you guys read these books so I don’t have to.

i am almost 100% confident about the following:
the juxtaposition of scenes at the end (the bondage-kidnap) are supposed to be hj’s flashbacks (according to the watchmen sourcebook, he’s three…….. so, the boy not the shaded figure at the end) and i’m guessing induction into the german circus he’s a strongman of (we’re assuming that cooke is writing hj’s civilian identity as rolf muller) AND if you want to bank on it, the 1920s version of the 1940 circus silhouette mentions

cooke needs to know when to trust his readers on their background knowledge of watchmen lol

Cory Arsenault

July 13, 2012 at 7:25 pm

Good call. I noticed the non-English poster but didn’t make the connection.

I’m sure there are plenty of men today who assume women – especially ones they take a liking to – are heterosexual until given reason to believe otherwise, and I didn’t see any reason for him to believe otherwise until she said “I’m not the type for you,” and Nite Owl doesn’t flirt with her again afte that (granted, he doesn’t have much of a chance to, but it IS thw point at which he corrects her about calling him “Mister Owl” – that’s probably a coincidence but it might indicate he actually caught on and realized that humoring the pretty woman wasn’t winning him any points).

I may be reading too much into things, but I read most of Silhouette’s behavior (saying “I care about children because someone should,” either not knowing or refusing to use the correct codenames) as consistent with her being generally cynical about other people (think of characters like Wolverine or Batman who acknowledge that other people may not be worthless per se, but see most of them as pretty useless), with the exception of children (whom she probably sees as still having the potential that most adults have wasted), and that when the team shot down her suggestion she realized they were just as useless as most other adults and probably wouldn’t have come back to the team after leaving meeting if Nite Owl and Mothman hadn’t gone after her to help on her case, thus proving that at least some of her colleagues were worthwhile.

I could be overthinking this because Silhouette is the character I’m most interested in – I always have a soft spot for the character who gets the least attention from the author, so I always wanted to see more of her in Watchmen.

During the ending montage, I was so sure that Cooke was going to parallel Nite Owl and Silhouette discovering the missing child(ren) with the Comedian and Dollar Bill discovering Hooded Justice and Captain Metropolis in bed. I guess it could still go that way next issue but it would be odd not to put both “discoveries” in the same book so I was probably just wrong.

Bought and read this today, and like the first issue, my feelings were mixed. For every good scene and character bit, there was another that made me think, “Oh, why did he do THAT?” or, “That kind of contradicts what WATCHMEN told us.” For instance, Cooke seems to be playing the Comedian as a bit more off his rocker in the 40s than I got the impression Moore & Gibbons intended him to be at that point in time. For me, it’s much more chilling if Edward Blake gradually becomes a complete monster over the years (the attempted rape of Sally aside). But that’s Cooke perrogative as a storyteller.

Yeah, the audition scene was more goofy than funny, and the S&M scene with HJ and Nelson was a pretty bad storytelling choice. But I enjoyed Cooke’s examination of the various character dynamics in the group (Dollar Bill & the Comedian, contrasted with Nite Owl, the Silhouette and Mothman). This is the only one of the Before Watchmen books I’m reading, and I’m generally enjoying it. But at the end of the day, I don’t consider it as anything more than WATCHMEN fan fiction that just happens to be published by DC Comics.

Where did that old audition gag first appear? I’ve seen it so many times, it’s been on the Fantastic Four cartoon, too, I think. The earliest I can remember is Mystery Men.

1) I’m personally really glad the first issue of the series was a who’s who. I haven’t read Watchmen in quite a number of years and didn’t remember half the Minutemen. Admittedly I could have gone back and reread the original series, but I’m not actually reading this for the Watchmen content but instead I’m picking up this series and BW: Silk Spectre for the artists involved. So yes, plotters of this series, thank you for not making me do my homework and letting me enjoy my little globs of comics brain candy unhindered.
2) Also, unless yosb is right, I agree that the juxtaposition of the search and the bondage is seriously uncalled for and a tad offensive.
3) I’m really enjoying the Silhouette work otherwise. I agree with ZZZ on the appropriateness of Mason’s flirting and then stopping. I think the “Mister” tick was delightful as well. Her facial reaction to their discussion of the “PR” slant on her child-liberation work was brilliant, and I totally bought/understood that she would then just carry on without the need of these jokers – while still staying with the hope of some good coming of her association with them.
4) The audition scene was a nice bit of humor that broke up the heavy sense of foreboding. Sure it’s a tad cliched but what is Watchmen other than cliche.

[…] CBR – Before Watchmen: Minutemen #2 […]

@Sandra: I’ve seen “audition scene” gags in literally every comic book or webomic I’ve read that spoofs fantasy role-playing games (which sounds like a really specific niche, but I’m pretty sure that accounts for, like, a quarter of all webcomics) so I’d always assumed it was just a way for people trying to mine a genre for jokes to use all the one-note characters they come up with and then realize don’t have much potential beyond the “humor” of them existing in the first place (“A nearsighted archer! An orc with a top hat and a monocle! A gnome barbarian!”).

But now that you mention it, thinking back, Giffen and DeMattheis did that in at least one of their JLI books – I remember one with the Creeper saying “…Convicted? I don’t think I’ve ever been convicted…” and someone else being asked if they were a Communist with the unseen interviewer explaining that Rocket Red suggested they ask everyone that – and I wonder if they were originators of the cliche.

Is Legion of Super Heroes where the auditon gag first started?

Good call. LOSH pretty much originated the idea of the lame joke superhero didn’t it? It’s hard to think of someplace likely to do have done it before they did (unless it was a gag in a Mad Magazine parody or something). The scenes I was able to find on Google are staged like regular comic book scenes with each applicant given several panels to demonstrate how lame their powers are, instead of the now-cliche style of the grid of panels where each applicant gets one panel seen from the interviewers’ POV, which seems to be the default these days in the books I’ve read, but LOSH is a good bet for the originator of the concept if not the modern format (and I don’t know that they DIDN’T do the grid format, just that it didn’t come up on Google).

Cory Arsenault

July 14, 2012 at 10:56 pm

My vote is for LOSH but technically if all we’re looking for is a joke superhero and a failed audition I think we’d have to go back all the way to All Star Comics when the original Ma Hunkle Red Tornado asked to join the Justice Society of America.

Well, in LOSH, it wouldn’t have been done as a gag, right? The characters who would become the Substitute would have been legitimately trying to be on the main team, and the story would have, for the most part, treated them as (semi) serious contenders.

Did the original JLof A have an audition when Green Arrow started? I know in Morrison’s JLA, there was the tryout issue. Also, as people have mentioned, the JLI tryout sequence.

Another Venture Bros one is when Orpheus, the Alchemist, and the other guy who’s not really Blade are auditioning people to be their villains. “I have to do something…Torrid!” The VB creators are Marvel geeks, so would there be Marvel teams that would have auditioned people like that?

Even if YOSB is right about the bondage/kidnap scenes being HJ flashbacks, that’s still a bit off to insinuate that HJ gets off on bondage because he was kidnapped and tied up as a kid.

Sandra: I think the audition gag first appeared in Legion of Super-Heroes stories back in the 1960s, probably in Action Comics or Adventure Comics. The Legion did reject quite a few people in their membership drives (Brian: perhaps this is an idea for your When We First Met Column).

Good review, agree with almost all of it. I agree with Cory that I just took it that when Mothman said he could fly they just assumed he was nuts. Especially after issue #1 where Hollis goes on about how amazed he was that the guy could actually fly. (Sorta). Of course, it’s not till later they find out he can fly AND is nuts.

As for whether Hollis would know or not about Silhouette, does anyone remember from Under the Hood how Hollis references her lesbianism? I vaguely remember it as him not realizing till they found her dead and the scandal that came with with it, so him not knowing here would be in “character” with the original. But I might be remembering wrong. Did he insinuate that they all knew before then, and that just confirmed it?

This review reminds me of a group of 4 or 5 guys, who come to the LCS on Wednesday afternoons, and prattle on and on about comics/characters/storylines, etc. I don’t get it. I have been reading comics for 40+ years, and I love them, and their characters…but I’m not the hardcore geek that so many seem to be.

With that said, I’m loving Before WATCHMEN. I was going to wait until they were collected, but that’s just silly, right ? Minutemen is my fave, with Ozymandias and Silk Spectre tied for second, Comedian a close third, and Nite Owl floundering in last place; Crimson Corsair…Meh. Can’t wait for the other books.

And for the record: Alan Moore is a great comics writer, but he made his name on other peoples’ creations. Why shouldn’t others be allowed to write characters, that he based on someone elses’ work ? ! He seems like a crotchety, old, man. Regarding the whole ” controversy ” that is before WATCHMEN, I quote The Joker:

” Why So Serious ? “

I have the connection right here for all of you. The BDSM scene is contrasted with Hooded Justice being abused in the circus he lived as a child. As you may remember one of the few known things regarding HJ is that he is possibly a circus strongman, so the implication here is that HJ was abused and this connects with both his BDSM tendencies and the Silhouette’s child pornography subplot. Clever writing after all, isn’t it?

If that were true, it would suggest that enjoying BDSM is a result of being abused as a child. That’d be messed up logic so I hope that that is not the case.

It doesn’t mess up logic since childhood abuse followed by fetichistic adult tendencies is an actual topic within Watchmen. And it’s not implying that all BDSM practitioners are created by child abuse but this particular one, and it’s easy to see that this might happen to real BDSM folks as well.

Two words: told ya.

I don’t think either of us thought that it definitely wouldn’t happen, we just hoped that it wouldn’t, since it is a terrible idea.

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