Sunday, June 10, 2012


This past Wednesday the first new WATCHMEN story since October 1987 hit comic store shelves. Visibly absent from the front cover are the names of original creators Alan Moore & Dave Gibbons. This has supplied no end of flame fodder for fan boys who feel that this is an unnecessary and unconscionable violation of possibly the greatest stand-alone comic book series ever published.

I love the WATCHMEN. I used the Origin of Rorschach page as the cover to my POP-SEQUENTIALISM book. I have read and re-read the original series at least a dozen times, and it has lost none of its impact. When I saw the film, I was critical of some of the artistic choices the director made –mostly with regard to the 1960s music cues, a bit of the casting, and in being too literal with some of the comic book panels (which I felt translated badly cinematically). I felt that the film got a lot of the difficult things right and completely blew it on what should have been easy things. So how do I feel about the new MINUTEMEN series written and drawn by Darwyn Cooke?

It's too soon to tell.

In Alan Moore & Dave Gibbons' first issue of the WATCHMEN, there was no need to explain anything that had come before, because nothing had come before. They got to start fresh with characters based on other existing characters with histories that could be taken for granted because there was no threat of a lawsuit; the publisher of their comic was also the license holder for the Charlton characters Moore had based this pantheon upon. Clues about the alternate reality of the Watchmen world were delivered subtly across the twelve issues and benefited greatly from the text-only backup stories that filled in the missing tone and setting. Indeed, to read the comics without reading the fake book excerpts, artificial police files, science journal entries and comics-within-a-comic would be to completely miss the details of the world, characters and plot devices that made that comic what it was (and is). Cooke likewise has no lawsuit to fear, but he's got two-and-a-half decades of expectations to overcome and the challenge of rebooting characters that many feel need no reboot.

In Darwyn Cooke, DC comics have found possibly the perfect person to revive the MINUTEMEN. Cooke's THE NEW FRONTIER is the most celebrated revival series of the current millennium, an award-winning retelling of the Justice League origin, that bridged the gap between the Golden and Silver Age. His retro art style is perfect for the World War II era in which MINUTEMEN is set, with his Kirbyesque squareness and his nouveau-deco aesthetic. In fact, Cooke's pencils might even be more suitable than Gibbons' for telling this particular story, which has the mood of Matt Wagner's SANDMAN MYSTERY THEATER and the feel of James Robinson's THE GOLDEN AGE. I'm glad that someone at DC realized it would be wrong to emulate a 1980s look for a story that takes place in the 30s and 60s. Unfortunately, because this is the first attempt at tackling these characters in a quarter century, this first issue is pure setup. Another drawback of releasing a comic book with impossibly high expectations is that the format itself has changed. In 1987, Moore had 32 ad-free pages to open his story. In 2012, Cooke has 24 pages. There is also a two-page, pirate backup story penciled by original WATCHMEN colorist John Higgins, that will continue into the next BEFORE WATCHMEN release, SILK SPECTRE #1, which streets this coming Wednesday. It's nice to have one of the original creators involved, but I find his 80s GORE SHRIEK reminiscent artwork to be completely wrong to support a title that takes place (at the latest) in the 60s and I'd have been much happier with a reverent EC imitation (like Joe Orlando's Tales of the Black Freighter in the original series), but since this is set to run as a back up in all seven of the prequel miniseries (most of which take place in the 80s), this will probably bother me less with each issue. Two pages at a time, it's nearly impossible to judge the quality of a comic book, anyhow. 

It's worth pointing out that nobody expects this or any of the series in the BEFORE WATCHMEN line to equal or best the original series, but I am impressed with the names connected with this re-boot, and from what I've read thus far, I'm hooked. I will definitely be buying all of the titles, and I will report on this blog what I think of each of them. I look forward especially to Brian Azarello and Lee Bermejo's RORSCHACH, which is likely to become a fan favorite in spite of the blowback the rest of the line is receiving in advance. If J. Michael Straczynski can deliver the kind of goods he gave us with THOR, then DR. MANHATTAN will be Adam Hughes' first work on a well written series, which is cause for rejoice under any circumstance. I'm hoping that JMS isn't overtaxed by writing two series (he's also overseeing NITE OWL, as drawn by Andy & Joe Kubert), but Cooke and Azarello are also tackling two titles each, as is (in a way) Len Wein, who is writing the pirate backup tale Curse of the Crimson Corsair and OZYMANDIAS, which Jae Lee is illustrating. Cooke's SILK SPECTRE is illustrated by Amanda Conner, who may be as perfectly suited for that title as Cooke is for MINUTEMEN. In addition to RORSCHACH, Azarello gets the honor of writing THE COMEDIAN with J.G. Jones penciling.

These are some heavy hitters, and while fanboys cry fraud at the suggestion of a revival that does not involve Moore or Gibbons, to be honest, I've been much happier with the work of Brian Azarello in the past decade than I have been with Alan Moore. Some of these comics will be good, and some of them might suck, but some of them might be great. None of that will change how I feel about the original series, and to be honest, it shouldn't affect how anyone else feels about it, either. While those original twelve issues are the entirety of the tale that Moore and Gibbons chose to tell, there is plenty of room in the unpublished record of these characters for more back story and further exploits. Moore thought so, himself, back in 1985 when he offered to write a twelve issue prequel before the first issue of WATCHMEN was released. Some years ago, fans may recall, Moore didn't want anyone to follow his run on MARVELMAN, and he actively prevented a young Grant Morrison from working on the character as published in WARRIOR Magazine when he abandoned it. Years later when Neil Gaiman finished the tale, fans were thrilled. It's quite possible that they've got reason to rejoice again. Only time will tell...

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