Posted by: Brian Hibbs on March 28, 2008
During my (admittedly short) time as a comic book critic, I’ve reviewed comics that made me happy, or sad, or violently ill; works by writers I can’t stand, or admire, or wish would try just a bit harder because they’re capable of so much more (you know who you are).
But there’s one comic I’ve never talked about, and likely never will:
To be totally honest, WATCHMEN intimidates me. It’s too great a work for me to discuss, and it’s such a central part of comics discourse that I doubt there’s much I could say that hasn’t been said before, by greater critics than myself.
And I’d be content to let sleeping dogs lie, except the comic I’m about to review can’t be discussed outside the WATCHMEN context, and that puts me in a rather uncomfortable position. So I’m just going to take a deep breath and see where things go from here. More after the jump.
One of the perks of being a Savage Critic, aside from the company, is that we occasionally get advance copies of comics that have either just been solicited or, on very rare occasions, haven’t actually been announced yet.
So when I got a PDF from DC Comics titled MINUTEMEN, I figured it was some colonial-era historical drama, perhaps with some dinosaurs and time-travel thrown in just so we wouldn’t forget it was a comic book.
I certainly wasn’t expecting a 48-page WATCHMEN prequel by Leah Moore and Dave Gibbons, due for release in July.
Needless to say, I ended up having some deeply conflicted feelings about this comic. So let’s start with the positive aspects first: the most obvious pro, of course, is that this one-shot constitutes a return to a world that had been previously self-contained. Granted, it’s a prequel, and Alan Moore had already covered most of this the first time around, but the effect on me as a reader is like opening a favorite book for the twentieth time and finding a whole new chapter that I’d never seen before. A sense of the new and the familiar, all the more powerful because WATCHMEN changed the way I read comics.
And Leah Moore delivers a good story, for the most part. Her previous project, ALBION, had left me rather indifferent, but here she really shows a knack for small, silent, understated scenes that drive a huge emotional spike through your heart: Ozymandias handing Mothman his first glass of bourbon with a knowing grin was absolutely chilling, because there’s no dialogue, no narration, and yet you just know what Moore’s trying to imply.
Obviously, it’s the artwork that sells these sequences, and Gibbons deserves a huge round of applause here for sticking so closely to WATCHMEN’s character designs. It contributes a lot to that feeling of connection I mentioned – that this really is an organic companion to its parent text.
However, I can’t help feeling like the whole project is unnecessary on some level. Part of WATCHMEN’s appeal is that it doesn’t spell everything out, and we don’t necessarily know every detail of what happened in that world Moore and Gibbons created all those years ago. We knew Silhouette and her lover were murdered – did we really need to see it happen? Doesn’t that take away from the mysteries of the original, the things left in the shadows? A lot of what Leah Moore does is basically confirm, explicitly, the things her father left to our imagination: yes, Hooded Justice and Captain Metropolis were lovers, and the Comedian found out, and Dollar Bill thinking about adding a cape to his costume comes with all the ominous foreshadowing you’d expect…
And when she does add to the mythos, the contributions are questionable at best – nothing in MINUTEMEN technically contradicts anything in WATCHMEN, but there’s a hint of that familiar “everything you know is wrong” vibe that annoys me on principle these days (so you can deduce my feelings towards SECRET INVASION too).
Still, in lieu of the Great Bearded Warlock making a comeback, I could settle for this. In short, I’d give it an OKAY if it weren’t an early April’s Fools’ joke.