Minutemen was not a failure.
I won’t say the same for Before Watchmen as a whole. Critically it seems Before Watchmen landed somewhere between “meh” and “Man, I really loved Watchmen.” And that’s only counting those that weren’t morally opposed to even touching the series.
Financially I have no idea. I saw a LOT of unsold copies of Before Watchmen at the comic shops I frequent, but maybe that was by DC’s design (overproduce and keep ‘em in people’s sights all the time?).
Regardless, there is one Before Watchmen stance I will take and that is this: Minutemen was not a failure.
What Makes Minutemen Different?
As ringing endorsements go “not a failure” ranks pretty low. It’s not quite as damning as “Writer/artist Darwyn Cooke tried real hard out there,” but it’s also not doing much to credit the work he did on this 6 issue miniseries.
Honestly, though, that’s the corner that Before Watchmen backed into. DC was either going to have a major, painfully trashy failure, or it was going to overcome all the pre-launch backlash and make some ok comics.
End of the day, that’s what Cooke’s Minutemen run offers: ok comics.
As a series, Minutemen had a lot going for it that the other arcs just couldn’t counter. For starters, there’s Cooke and the 40’s & 50’s time period he was born to deliver.
There are a few more important fundamental strengths that played a bigger role in Minutemen’s success. The first is that the Minutemen aren’t the focus of Moore and Gibbons’ Watchmen. Not even close.
They are referenced, of course, and Holland Mason’s text excerpts provide some insight into their time as the heroes before the Watchmen. But of all the comic lines that came out of Watchmen, Minutemen was the only one that really still had a story to tell.
All the rest were just precursors to the actual story of Watchmen. Minutemen had a chance to tell an untold story of its own.
In that same vein, Minutemen benefitted from an intentionally unsolved mystery left by Moore. Where as anything Brian Azzerallo does in Rorschach is going to resolve in the character performing his role in Watchmen, Cooke had a chance to explain a mystery. What was up with Hooded Justice? What really happened to The Silhoutte?
Cooke does an admirable job paying respect to the source material while also expanding the history. The major revelations aren’t over exploited, and mostly stays in line with Moore’s apparent original intent.
I don’t know that we can say the same for Before Watchmen as a whole, although I’d suspect the general consensus is something like “Muck DC.”
Should You Reread Watchmen Before This Series?
I didn’t feel the need to reread Watchmen in anticipation of Before Watchmen, and in a lot of ways I think was preferable. Before Cooke’s take on Minutemen, I had read Watchmen once, several years ago. As a result, the specifics of the Minutemen were largely forgotten, and Cooke could reference and build on them in a way that felt fresh and logical.
Once I’d finished Minutemen, I thought it would be interesting to reread Watchmen itself.
Although I won’t say rereading Watchmen ruins Minutemen, it definitely escalates the sense of dramatic pointlessness behind this whole Before Watchmen ordeal.
When the news of Before Watchmen hit, I remembered Moore and Gibbons’ Watchmen as an amazing read, the single greatest catalyst for a lifelong faith in the comic book medium. The feeling was vague, though; a remembrance of something I HAD loved, as opposed to an ongoing passion in need of unmolested preservation.
Reading it again… well, let’s just say it’s VERY easy to understand all the disturbed voices that labeled this move by DC the vilest most contemptible cash-grab in the history of comics.
Watchmen is a treasure. It is everything literature should aspire to be and it achieves that feat as a COMIC BOOK. Over twenty years later and the perfection achieved here is still the gold standard.
Plenty of people would STILL deem this achievement impossible for the medium.
My conclusion that Minutemen was not a failure then comes into serious reconsideration.
I stand by it, but with the following caveat: Does Moore and Gibbons’ Watchmen require any follow up?
No. It absolutely does not.
That said, Watchmen is NOT the story of the Minutemen, although their time and Hollis Mason’s re-telling of that time in the Under the Hood excerpts certainly play a central thematic role.
I did not read any of the other Before Watchmen tie-ins (save the Moloch two-shot… disposable, but similarly peripheral), so I can’t speak to their quality. What I can say with certainty after a reread of Watchmen is that those comics do not have much reason to exist.
The world of Watchmen is a self-contained universe, perfectly encapsulated in twelve chapters. Adding prequel chapters for these characters makes about as much sense as a prequel to Gatsby’s life before Daisy.
Minutemen, though? It’s on the fringes of these twelve chapters and I can stand behind what essentially amounts to fun fan fiction as executed by one of comic’s strongest singular talents.
Think of it like this: What if George Lucas had returned to Star Wars not with whiny child Darth Vader, but instead with a spinoff Boba Fett movie set during the Star Wars timeframe we all know and love? Minutemen operates in a similar space, and although the potential for ruining something beloved is absolutely present, there’s also at least a peripheral story to be told.
I’ll say it again: Minutemen was not a failure.
This obsession with violating the entombed glories of our past, though?
That feels like an overwhelming failure to me.