Vaughan & Chiang's "Paper Girls" Builds a Familiar Yet Disconcerting World
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. .
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.
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