Who's it by?
Minutemen #1 is written and illustrated by Darwyn Cooke. The Curse of the Crimson Corsair back-up short is written by Len Wein and drawn by original series colourist John Higgins.
What's the story so far?
We know all about the Minutemen and their unpleasant fates from Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons's original Watchmen series. They were the titular superheroes' 1940 predecessors, a group comprising of the first Nite Owl, Dollar Bill, Captain Metropolis, the Silhouette, Mothman, Sally Jupiter, Hooded Justice and the Comedian.
Much of the information we have on these characters came from flashback sequences, as well as Watchmen's supplementary material such as the extracts from Hollis Mason's autobiography. Minutemen turns back the clock to the team's heyday to flesh out the characters us readers have seen only snippets of.
Minutemen picks up not long after the original Nite Owl has retired, and opens with him applying the finishing touches to the book that serves as an integral part of the original story.
Mason's autobiography then serves as our narrative as we jump back in time to the early days of the Minutemen. The spotlight shifts from one character to the next as Mason delivers a dossier on each of them, detailing how their crimefighting careers began.
Highlights include Hooded Justice foiling two criminals in Batman-esque fashion, a teenage Comedian showing off his psychotic tendencies, and insight into Mothman's mental breakdown.
What's the verdict?
The controversial aspects of Before Watchmen's launch have already been discussed at length, so this review will purely focus on the quality of the final product (or at least what little of it is available). While Minutemen #1 is unlikely to convert the series' most vehement opponents, the quality of Darwyn Cooke's work cannot be disputed.
The first issue is essentially a guided tour of the characters and setting, telling new readers all they need to know, though prior knowledge of Watchmen helps if you want to fully appreciate this comic.
A fitting tone is one of Cooke's greatest accomplishments here. At times, Nite Owl's narrative is laden with nostalgia and Golden Age optimism, yet there's also a sense of impending doom. This is no doubt heightened by the knowledge that tragedy will befall these characters, but the writer conveys it well regardless.
With eight characters to flesh out, Cooke has his work cut out. No more than a few pages are dedicated to each, but that's enough to lay some groundwork. Longtime fans will come away from the issue with no more than a few morsels of additional info on each, and there certainly isn't anything in these pages that contradicts or dilutes Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons's existing work.
Much like the script, Cooke's artwork has a bittersweet quality to it. The character designs are reminiscent of the Golden Age, in keeping with their heritage, but there's a Silver Age influence in there too. This retrospective style is offset by the muted colour pallet, its dull hues foreshadowing the darkness to come.
Cooke pays homage to the work of Moore and Gibbons, while bringing something all of his own to the table.
The main story is followed by the first chapter of The Curse of the Crimson Corsair by Len Wein and John Higgins. It takes all of its cues from the Tales of the Black Freighter from the original Watchmen, particularly in tone, but it's difficult to offer further comment with it being just two pages long.
In closing, Cooke is a natural fit to work within the Watchmen universe as his writing and artwork demonstrate a firm understanding of what made the original material so iconic. He has a seemingly impossible task on his hands with this one, but is rising to it admirably.
> Buy the digital version of Before Watchmen: Minutemen #1
> Read our Before Watchmen interview with Dan DiDio
Watch a trailer for Before Watchmen below: