So, now that we’re onto our first second issue (“first second”? That sounds inherent contradictory, but it’s not) of this whole Before Watchmen prequel-a-palooza, I have just one question (for now — I have a much bigger one that we’ll get to in due course) for writer-artist Darwyn Cooke and DC’s editorial “brain”trust : why didn’t you guys just start with this one first?
Seriously, this has all the makings of a fairly solid first issue — not a whole lot happens (still), but rather than a quick bit of pointless re-introduction to the characters individually (as if anybody reading this series wouldn’t already be familiar with all the principal players in the first place), this time around original Nite Owl Hollis Mason’s reminiscences take us back to the first-ever time the “mystery men” (and women) of days gone by functioned together as a group, a publicity-stunt fiasco of a “mission” that goes wrong, then plunges us, in fairly short order, into what I assume will prove to be the meat of the story — a child abduction case first worked by the Silhouette, later joined by Mothman and our erstwhile narrator (for all the good they do), and soon, one would think, to involve the rest of the members of the team.
It’s still nothing spectacular by any stretch, but it’s an interesting enough little should-be-first-chapter that’s, unfortunately, seriously let down by a couple of questionable (to put it kindly) choices that Cooke makes at the end. If you don’t want things “spoiled” for you I suggest you stop reading right now (unless you just plain don’t give a damn, that is, in which case why are you even reading this at all ?), but if you’ve perused the contents of this book already, you probably share my absolute bewilderment at just what the fuck Cooke was thinking with those last few pages, to wit —
Our “heroes” enter a warehouse looking for a missing boy, while back at Minutemen HQ, that evening’s team meeting having broken up, Captain Metropolis coaxes Hooded Justice into hanging out for a little bit of lovin’ (there’s an off-“camera” exchange between the two where HJ tells Nelly to “silence your whining” that’s positively priceless) and gets considerably more than he bargained for when the burly fella ties him up to the bed and decides to show him how real closeted gay heroes go about this stuff.
Now, if the juxtaposition of gay sex, even (it could be argued) a decidedly less-than-consensual form of gay sex with child abduction weren’t offensive enough in and of itself, Cooke’s decision to throw in what for all intents and purposes appears to be a flashback to a circus scene in Germany where a child wanders off into some sort of nightmarish unpleasantness while we read a Robert Louis Stephenson nursery rhyme really muddies up the waters. When is this taking place? My initial supposition was that this was supposed to represent Hooded Justice as a kid, since there were vague intimations in Hollis Mason’s Under The Hood text pieces back in Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons’ original Watchmen series that HJ might have been a famous German strongman named, if memory serves me correctly, Rolf Muller, and the style of dress and other period trappings clearly suggest a late-1800s time frame, but the scene the kid stumbles upon, which I won’t give away specifically, is more like something right out of the Third Reich, which would suggest that it’s happening roughly contemporaneously with events in this series. To further complicate matters, the appearance of a hooded figure in the distance could either represent a shadowy, mysterious personage that the young Rolf turns to for help, an anonymous friend who proceeds to rescue him from the situation (immediately burning this sort of archetype into his consciousness as a representation of justice, even a savior that, as time goes by, morphs into an unattainable sexual ideal for which he longs and/or strives), or maybe, just maybe, that hooded figure is our guy HJ himself, and the lost kid is the one the other characters have been looking for and, at the conclusion of this segment, find — hanging from a noose in the warehouse they’ve been casing, while HJ’s “costume-noose,” if you will, dangles over Captain Metropolis’s head as he’s being — uhhmmm — ya know, mounted.
Frankly, it’s pretty hard to comprehend what the hell Cooke’s driving at here in Minutemen number two ( the story in question being contained within only two covers this time around — the “main one” being by Cooke and the alternate being by Jose Luis Garcia Lopez, shown here in the order I just mentioned ’em), but he’s playing with fire if he thinks drawing equivalancies between homosexuality, even sadomasochistic expressions of homosexuality, and child abduction and murder is, in any way, well — tolerable. The sad truth, even in this day and age, is that way too many people still assume gay men are child-predators, and guys who are into BDSM are probably viewed as being even more dangerous by Mr. and Mrs. Middle America. I’m probably the wrong person to be making this argument, being that sex with another man and sado-masochistic sex are nowhere to be found on my “bucket list” either together or separately, but it’s just a fact that gay folks, as well as folks into BDSM whether gay or straight, are just as harmless and “normal” as me or — I assume — you (whoever “you” might be). These people have to deal with enough prejudicial bullshit as it is, and this kind of thing doesn’t do anything to help matters at all. Quite the opposite, in fact.
Granted, you could make an argument that Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons were playing with similar fire with the whole Comedian-tries-to-rape-Silk-Spectre-and-years-later-she-has-consensual-sex-with-him-and-gives-birth-to-his-daughter thing, but that was Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons. They knew what they were doing and how to handle that dynamite with care and precision. So far, Cooke has done nothing to earn our trust to the same degree, and it’s that same level of belief in an artist’s ability that’s required to not close the cover on this book with an unpleasant taste in your mouth.
So, the ball is in Darwyn Cooke’s court now (not that it wasn’t from the beginning, but you know what I mean). He’s delivered solid period-piece style art for the last two issues, and this issue things at least got moving story-wise, but he’s left some heavy, uncomfortable question marks hanging in the air here, ones that might reveal some seriously retrograde attitudes about both gay people and people involved in the BDSM “lifestyle” — questions that are doubly offensive to people who are both homosexual and into a little bit of rough fun. He’s gotta thread a really fine needle right out of the gate in the next issue, and the first two installments give no indication whatsoever as to whether or not he’s up to the task. We’re either headed for a complex story that challenges preconceptions in regard to sexual “norms,” or we’re headed into a deep morass of homophobic, anti-“alternative”-sexual-practices nonsense. I enjoy the feeling of not knowing where an artist is going to go with his or her work next, but I’m afraid I might have an ugly inkling as to what Cooke’s got in store. I sincerely hope he proves me wrong.