Before Watchmen: Part I

Before-Watchmen_Silk-Spectre_3-666x1024Watchmen. The name evokes much in comic book fandom. Alan Moore’s magnum opus has a prequel published 26 years after its original run where multiple writers deal with the histories of different characters. What undermines the validity of the project is Moore’s disapproval. Looks like the movie really hurt DC and the executives needed some return of investment from the franchise.

Expecting Before Watchmen to live up to the original, which many including myself consider to be the best graphic novel of all time, is ludicrous. Yet I hoped to be disappointed out of my own biases rather than a lack of quality of the work simply because of what they were trying to live up to.

Minutemen, the first of the series was perhaps one of the best. The plot covers the exploits of the original team of Captain Metropolis told in retrospect by the Nite Owl as he attempts to chronicle the truth about their lives as masked vigilantes. The fact that the Comedian and Silk Spectre are the only dangling ropes of any significance that tie back into Watchmen allowed Cooke to portray, almost poignantly, how the Silk Spectre, despite her attempted rape by the Comedian, finally ends up having his child. Silhouette and Mothman, who are mere shadows in Watchmen have their pasts fleshed out in vivid detail and are well depicted. Nite Owl’s own character is possibly the best rendered. Hollis Mason, does not strike you as the typical superhero. Indecisive, improvising and following rather than leading, Nite Owl falls just short. Even his love for Ursula (Silhouette) is fitting given how she turns out to be gay. Perhaps the most appealing thing about Minutemen is how similar in concept the ending is to Watchmen itself. The failures of the Minutemen concealed from the public through PR and lies to bask in undeserved glory weighs heavily on them and when their moment finally comes, no one ever finds out. In essence, Minutemen ends on a gloomy note because Hollis chooses to merely depict a sunny reminiscence of the past in his book, Under the Hood.

Silk Spectre, in sharp contrast, was a letdown. Based on the exploits of Laurel Jane Juspeczyk (Sally Jupiter’s daughter) the story minutemen-1-panel-2describes her eloping with her boyfriend to the drug-riddled, music loving hippie town known as San Francisco in the 60s. While the idea held potential, the lack of importance of the predictably mundane plot to the events of Watchmen and their overall triteness left the series lacking. The psychedelia, which seemed of tantamount importance to the story, was tediously depicted. Even the acid trips described seemed dull and lackluster, despite their briefness and significance to the plot. The art was nothing special either. Perhaps the only good thing about the portrayal were the numerous blunt references to the Comedian’s smiley face pin which Laurie carries. This dull volume is worth a miss, no two ways about it.

Comedian, on the other hand, was a striking tale. Unfortunately, it didn’t quite strike the right chords. The story describes Edward Blake’s encounters with various celebrities of the 60s, most incidental more than anything else. It is loosely based on his relationship with the Kennedy family and also depicts his involvement in the Vietnam war. The portrayal shows us what the Comedian is capable of, which comes as no surprise, given how Watchmen always vaguely implied him to be a force to be reckoned with. The conspiracy theories might be alluring to some but the lack of any novelty in the volume put me off. The forced references to Simon and Garfunkel’s  “Sound of Silence” didn’t help it’s cause either. Sadly the Comedian’s behavior after learning Veidt’s plan does not quite fit in with his back story from Before Watchmen. This is one of those books all Watchmen fans will read, despite the bad taste it leaves in their mouths.

We have six more volumes to cover,  so watch this space, folks!