Friday February 22, 2013
DC's Minutemen a satisfying read
Worlds of Wonder
As DC’s controversial Before Watchmen project draws to a close, we look at one of the best titles in the series.
IN the 80s, anything Alan Moore said used to be taken as the gospel truth. After all, how could you not trust the man who gave us Watchmen, V For Vendetta and Miracleman, and that jaw-dropping Saga Of The Swamp Thing revamp?
While those glory days are long gone, Moore’s reputation has remained intact and impeccable; that is, until his “completely shameless” remark about DC’s Before Watchmen project.
While we can’t deny that Moore’s name is synonymous with the Watchmen concept, the world of fantasy should not be held to ransom by creators who choose to have their masterpieces remain untouched.
When Before Watchmen was mooted, I was in two minds owing to my strong affinity for Moore’s works. Fortunately, my curiosity got the better of me and, having embraced the movie adaptations of V For Vendetta and Watchmen, I am glad that the latter has been given a new lease of life. As we enter the final stages of this ambitious project, let’s review the crown jewel in this controversial venture – Minutemen, written and drawn by Darwyn Cooke.
Before Watchmen: Minutemen #6 (of 6)
Writer/artist: Darwyn Cooke
IF you analyse the dynamics of every super-team, you may notice that there is always at least one member with a “holier-than-thou” persona. The Avengers has Captain America, the Justice League has Batman and the Martian Manhunter, and the Fantastic Four has Mr Fantastic. These are heroes with nigh-flawless characters – they always make sure the team does not cross the line, and always believe that the end does not justify the means.
In the case of the Minutemen, however, there is no such character, and without such a role model within their ranks to keep them in check, describing the team as “dysfunctional” is probably an understatement.
Prior to this six-part miniseries, all we knew about the Minutemen was that they were a Golden Age team in the 1940s; and from the flashbacks and back-up materials that Moore included in Watchmen, we gathered the impression of a team made up of B-grade crimefighters with insufficient firepower to take on the supervillains of their time.
In fact, their biggest challenge was internal – arising from its members’ diverse idiosyncrasies. Now, every super-team has problems (take the Avengers or X-Men for example), but never quite as chronic as the Minutemen’s.
What would you expect from a team made up of the promiscuous (to put it mildly) Silk Spectre; a suspected child abuser (Hooded Justice); a bank mascot (Dollar Bill); an alcoholic (Mothman); a lesbian vigilante (Silhouette); a male chauvinist (Comedian); and a moonlighting cop (Nite Owl)? Heck, even the Legion of Substitute Heroes looks more capable than this lot.
Yet these very imperfections are what make the Minutemen the most intriguing team to read about in comics today.
To back this claim, I would like to cite Darwyn Cooke’s well-conceived plot and illustrations. Working on a Moore script is an uphill task in itself (Watchmen co-creator Dave Gibbons can attest to this), but adding depth and breadth to Moore’s masterpiece would certainly pose a massive challenge to anyone. Cooke, however, has succeeded at this feat within these half-dozen issues.
Confining his story to the period between the Minutemen’s formation and Hollis Mason’s (Nite Owl’s alter ego) tell-all autobiography Under The Hood, Cooke has crafted an intriguing depiction of the Minutemen that rivals the personae of the Watchmen crew.
Since we already know how the Minutemen eventually end up, the beauty of this series is learning about the origins of each member and the chemistry between them.
First on the list is Nite Owl – though not the official leader, he is the closest thing the team has to a Cap-like figure.
Unfortunately, his lack of assertiveness places him in a supporting role instead. Although the hero was given the key to the city for his crimefighting exploits, his achievements are forever overshadowed by controversy sparked by his autobiography.
Then, there’s Silhouette, a gun-toting femme fatale with a penchant for attacking child trafficking and pornography rings. She was the first Minuteman to go public with her career, and also the first to come out of the closet as a lesbian – which led to her dismissal from the team, followed by her murder.
Proudly relying on her charms to mask her limited fighting abilities, Silk Spectre’s (Sally Jupiter/Juspecyk) biggest achievement was avenging Silhouette’s murder. Alas, that triumph too was eclipsed by Nite Owl’s revelation in his book that she was sexually assaulted by another team member, the Comedian.
While Watchmen negatively casts the Comedian (Edward Blake) as a war veteran with a sordid past who met his deserved fate, the Minutemen and Comedian miniseries in Before Watchmen reaffirm Blake’s sleazy character but attempts to justify his behaviour. Moore’s story made him out to be the black sheep of the Minutemen, but in Cooke’s version, he emerges as an anti-hero instead.
Next is Mothman (Byron Lewis), the only team member who can fly, or at least glide, but only after his nerves are soothed by a boost of booze. A series of near-death encounters eventually led to his retirement, followed by a permanent mental breakdown.
You can’t run a team without a public figure, and even better, one backed by a financial institution – such as Dollar Bill (Bill Brady). Hired by a bank as an in-house superhero to protect its customers’ money, he met his demise while thwarting a bank robbery when his cape got stuck in a revolving door, making him an easy target!
In hindsight, if the Minutemen had stronger leadership, their individual idiosyncrasies would not have been so obvious – but when you have an eccentric leader like Captain Metropolis (Nelson Gardner), dysfunction is inevitable.
Despite organising the group’s formation, the ex-Marine failed to develop them into a proper team. What prevented Gardner from doing so was his own skeleton in the closet – a clandestine relationship with Hooded Justice!
While some of the team members were sympathetic towards Silhouette’s situation, the Metropolis-Hooded Justice relationship sparked a totally different reaction, both internally and publicly.
Hooded Justice, in particular, was shunned by his teammates, especially the Comedian. After disappearing in the 50s, he was found and killed by Nite Owl – based on heavy suspicion that he was a child killer.
Aside from the emphasis on characterisation, the other highlight of the Minutemen miniseries is Mason’s Under The Hood autobiography. While Watchmen gave the impression that Mason’s tell-all book was a no-holds-barred tale, the finale of Minutemen implies that he was forced to tone it down because of pressure from higher powers.
All the same, Before Watchmen: Minutemen is a satisfying read that gives readers the truth behind the team ... that is, until Moore himself decides to write his version of Watchmen history.
Review issue courtesy of Earth 638 (2nd Floor, Kelana Mall, Jalan SS 6/12, Kelana Jaya, Petaling Jaya, Selangor, Tel: 03-7804 8380, e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org).