So, this is it — the “no-holds-barred” (so we’re told, at any rate) finale to what has become, either by default, design, or — most likely — a little bit of both, the “cornerstone series” of the entire Before Watchmen prequel-a-palooza. I suppose now would be an opportune moment for me to take a bow, since as things turns out I had the “shock surprise” ending figured out more or less detail for detail, but ya know what? I’m not going to do that, for two reasons:
1. This issue actually left me feeling considerably better about this series than I had been, even though I could see the ending coming a mile away; and
2. Writer-artist Darwyn Cooke actually throws a little extra wrinkle in here that I didn’t see coming, and even though said minor twist actually ends up setting up yet another final (supposed) gut-punch that, to my credit (okay, I’ll shut up now — wait, no, I still have at least 3/4 of this review left to write, so I guess I won’t), I also predicted on this very blog in advance, for just a split second there it was enough to make me second-guess myself —and since surprises have been so few and far between in the world of Before Watchmen, a surprise that ends up leading to an ending that’s really not all that surprising is still better than no surprise at all. Whew! Did that make any sense? It will if and when you read this issue, and if and when you’ve read my previous reviews of Minutemen.
For the record, though, if digging through those past posts is too much hassle, I had prognosticated that the other Minutemen would come to the realization that Hooded Justice was the child-killer that they had been hunting, off and on, throughout the six-issue run of this book (okay, fair enough — throughout five issues of it, since nothing happens in the first installment), that they would kill him themselves rather than turn him over to the cops, and that it would be revealed later, in one of the other BW books, that it turned out they’d actually killed the wrong guy. Apart from one or two little details (I won’t say which particular ones in case you haven’t read the book yet), that’s more or less how things play out here — but like I said, Cooke takes an interesting-enough turn on the way to arriving at this expected conclusion that I don’t feel to cheated as a reader even if I did see the whole thing (or at least most of the whole thing) coming.
So where does that leave us at the end of the day? Good question. Cooke really draws his butt off this issue, it must be said, and even though the art for this series has been of a generally high standard from the get-go, the extra effort he puts into this finale really shows — in particular, there’s a terrific sectioned-up splash page featuring Dr. Manhattan at the halfway point of this one that might be the best single image in any of the BW books, so that goes some way toward elevating my overall feelings about this title, as well.The variant covers by Cooke (see top of post) and Becky Cloonan (see below) are both pretty damn amazing, as well. The story’s been a mixed bag, to be sure, and was obviously constructed to be read in collected form since it isn’t paced or plotted to work particularly well in single-issue chunks at all, but you know what? I think folks who read this in the upcoming hardcover and eventual trade paperback collections are going to be pretty pleased with what Cooke has done here. The characterization has been consistent, we’ve gotten to know Hollis Mason and Byron Lewis, especially, a good deal better than we did before, and all in all the whole thing doesn’t feel like a giant, gaping, yawning waste of time.
Damning with faint praise? Possibly so. And maybe my expectations have been ground down so low under the onslaught of pointlessness that is the rest of Before Watchmen that even an okay series like this one seems better than it actually is when compared to its fellow travelers. Certainly there are more ideas and multiple layers of meaning and interpretation to be found on pretty much any given page of Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons’ original Watchmen series than Cooke manages to fit into six entire issues here. At its best moments, this was pretty much just superbly-drawn, competently-written, straight-forward comics storytelling. At its worst, it had a tendency to drift into the realms of “why-the-fuck-am-I-even-reading-this”-ness that BW books such as Comedian, Rorschach, and Ozymandias have firmly planted their flags in and never left. But it didn’t stay there for too terribly long, and Cooke always managed to find a way to at least keep his readership engaged in the proceedings. That hardly makes for revolutionary stuff, by any means, and this series doesn’t really do anything to add to the Moore/Gibbons Watchmen legacy, but at least it doesn’t in any way detract from it, either. If you’re willing to settle for a decent-enough little story featuring characters that first appeared in a timeless classic of world literature rather than holding out for, well, another timeless classic of world literature, then you’ll be more than suitably entertained by Before Watchmen : Minutemen. If you were hoping for something more, as I guess to one degree or another we probably (and, let’s face it, foolishly) all were, I don’t know what to tell you — this is DC Comics in 2012. A snappy superhero adventure yarn with pretty pictures is, sadly, about as good as it gets from them.