Thursday, June 20, 2013

More like Before Be-SNORE-Watchmen Part ... two, I guess? I forget what I'm even doing here.

As part of the 30 Days project, I’ll be reviving Gone&Forgotten for a short article to coincide with every day throughout the month. Here's another hundred words or so about Before Watchmen ...

As I mentioned in the previous article, I believe that Darwyn Cooke's Before Watchmen:Minutemen invites greater-than-usual criticism if only because of the narrative Cooke created and fostered regarding his participation; he originally declined but his subsequent ideas were so good, he decided to do the book anyway.

More than that, Cooke's Minutemen in particular suffers no end of problems just in its portrayals of gender roles, ethnicity and culture, fetishization of violence, a general absence of irony, and so on. For me, however, the problems began on page one:

The introductory text to Before Watchmen:Minutemen - meant to be the first draft of the opening paragraph to Hollis Mason's autobiography - is a thoroughly atonal inversion of the opening as portrayed in Watchmen. Full of grand, sweeping, slightly disconnected generalizations and forced metaphors, Cooke has Mason acknowledge the stilted language as Mason vocalizes - to his dog, of course - about how he's a plain-speakin' ol' coot, never had much use for that fancy book-learnin'. It's certainly a mission statement by Cooke on his approach to the book, possibly a sneer and a swipe at Moore's dense writing. More than anything, it's Cooke hanging a lampshade on the distance between his and Moore's skills as a writer (defined here by "how you put words together" rather than exploring motifs, extrapolating or inverting paradigms, etc).

But the four panel sequence is troublesome even if it's not intentional. Each panel represents an age of comics - fans will recognize the farmhouse couple cooing over a new child which has just "come into this world" and the brooding, grim grey city where "if you're strong, you learn to survive it" as emblematic. The third panel depicts an undeniably Kirby-esque universe (and how off-putting is Kirby dots in a Watchmen story, anyway?) while the fourth obviously refers to Moore and Gibbons' Dr.Manhattan.

The overt message here is lateral: First came genre-defining Superman, then genre-expanding Batman, then genre-challenging Fourth World, then genre-redefining Watchmen. It's a straight line, according to this page, a universe of superheroes which goes from Genesis to Revelations to ... whatever Before Watchmen is supposed to be. Luke, maybe.

(The present day? Represented by the presence of the iconic four-panel layout from All-Star Superman, although unfortunately lacking its brevity)

But whether it's intentional or not, here's what three of these at least and, by implication, all four have in common: DC owns them. 

There are other stages of superhero comics which not only would be mandatory in any sort of evolutionary diagram of the form, but would even be appropriate to what Cooke is cobbling together here - the adolescent search for identity of Stan Lee's Marvel Comics (he could have represented that as abstractly as he did Superman and Batman) not the least of which. But sticking to unqualifiably owned DC properties for the first three panels, Cooke ends up weighing in - intentionally or no - on the creator rights debate integral to Before Watchmen, and of course weighs in on the side of the money men.


stavner said...

Another reason not to like Darwyn Cooke is that he doesn't like anything that didn't come out before he was born. It would be interesting to see him draw something contemporary--he'd probably draw a laptop with vacuum tubes.

Michael Hoskin said...

To be fair, he did work on Batman Beyond. His career is mostly (but not exclusively) Befores.

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