Every week, Chad Nevett and I will be reviewing an issue of Before Watchmen through a discussion of each issue. We continue with Minutemen #4, written and drawn by Darwyn Cooke with colors by Phil Noto.
Chad Nevett: The suggestion in this issue that there’s something wrong with Hooded Justice isn’t surprising. We’ve both seen it coming a mile away (and we were supposed to see it coming to an extent) and, yet, that doesn’t make it any less satisfying. There’s a lot to like about this issue, but that’s what sticks with me. It doesn’t look like Cooke is going to swerve us and, suddenly, reveal that Hollis is an evil man or something like that. Instead, what he’s clearly been building towards will pay off. How it happens exactly will offer some surprise no doubt, but not the idea that Hooded Justice isn’t necessarily a heroic figure. He may be a killer among many other horrible things. How many times have we seen stories with a mystery at their core seemingly change direction in the middle because the end point was a little too apparent for their tastes? I hope Cooke stays the course, because this is a series that has improved with every issue, I think.
It was an interesting choice to skip ahead to after the war and get right into the downfall of a team that never seemed to really hit any legitimate heights (that we saw). Where kicking the Comedian out as a moral choice led to him becoming a larger hero, kicking the Silhouette out as a cowardly choice led to her death. That contrast is interesting. It seems no matter what these people do, things just go wrong. Terribly, terribly wrong…
Brian Cronin: I think this is definitely the best Before Watchmen issue yet. What was especially impressive about it was how well Cooke developed the personalities of so many characters in the issue. Especially two characters who have rarely gotten much in the way of character development, namely Comedian and the original Silk Spectre. I have enjoyed the Comedian series by Azzarello, but Azarello is not even bothering to develop Comedian, he’s just having the Comedian be who he is. Which is fine, but here Cooke did some impressive explanation for why Comedian became the man he eventually became. How he went from being a borderline psycho to being a full-on psycho. That was nice.
But wow, the Silk Spectre. I am not sure if I mentioned it last time around, but something that surprised me in the last issue was just how little Spectre cared about being an actual hero. We know she eventually cares enough to force her daughter into it, so where was the change? This issue shows her actually beginning to give a shit. It was awesome. And wow, how dramatic was that scene with Spectre and the brass knuckles?
A couple of things worry me about the Hooded Justice stuff. One, it is now pretty clear that Cooke WAS drawing a comparison between BDSM and child killing. That’s weird. Two, he isn’t seriously saying he that Hooded Justice WAS the German guy from Ursula’s story? That’d be weird, too.
CN: That would be a little lame. Not the sort of thing that will outrage us all as Cooke seems to think issue five will, just something that would fall a little flat. It would be something bad enough for the shame that Hollis writes about. The Minutemen cover up a child-murdering Nazi who was one of their founding members. I’m not sure if the scale of the cover-up would outweigh the truth about Hooded Justice not being as interesting as I would hope… But, that seems to be the direction Cooke is heading in.
I enjoyed the scene with Sally. However, does it fit with the character we’ve seen up until this point and elsewhere? I’m not entirely sure and that’s where I hesitated a little. Was it strong character development or rewriting the character in service of a cool scene? There can be a fine line between the two and it’s hard to tell which side of that line this fell on. Part of what takes me aback is how abrupt a shift this is for the character within this series specifically. It doesn’t feel earned. Eddie’s story does, because it doesn’t so much contradict anything we know about him as clarify it and provide some window of understanding.
BC: It definitely WOULD be a significant surprise, so yeah, it does have that going for it. And obviously it is, indeed, using some actual Watchmen content as its basis (as the German stuff was referenced obliquely during Watchmen, right?) But the sheer staggering nature of the coincidence would be too much for me. Isn’t him being a child killer already fucked up enough?
Great question about the Silk Spectre and whether such behavior was in her or not. I think the argument here is that she didn’t give a shit about being a hero but was always jealous that Silhouette was the real hero that she never was. So when she used the excuse of Silhouette being a lesbian to vote her out because she was really just jealous and then Silhouette gets MURDERED for doing the sort of actual heroics that Sally never did herself? I can see such a scenario basically causing Sally to snap. And once she did what she felt she had to do, it was sort of locked away inside of her, with the only notable difference is that now she was devoted to her daughter becoming the hero that Silhouette was.
But yeah, it definitely is fair to ask whether Sally really had it in her to be so ruthless and calculating. But boy, was it executed wonderfully by Cooke. “I had my own sources.” “She was the best of us and we helped destroy her.”
Here’s a way that Hooded Justice’s reveal could be just as devastating as him actually being a Nazi. What if HE was the one who turned the Liquidator on to Silhouette because he knew she was close to discovering that he was doing the child killing? And he was rushing to kill the Liquidator not to avenge Silhouette but because he didn’t want him talking. Which is why he sent the others off on a wild goose chase because he didn’t want to chance the Liquidator blowing his cover. Sally, meanwhile, was so single-minded in her pursuit that she never thought to ask the Liquidator anything before she killed him. So not only would Hooded Justice be a child killer, but he’d have arranged the murder of one of their teammates!
By the way, we spoke of why Silhouette stuck around, and Cooke rewarded us by having Silhouette explain it in this issue. It was always for Byron and Hollis, as the three of them actually DID do so some good together. I liked the early note in the issue, also, which noted some of the good they actually did (well, Hollis at least TELLS us they did good).
CN: I assume that it will be revealed that Hooded Justice had SOMETHING to do with Silhouette’s muder. Either framing the Liquidator or working with him in some way. I figure it’s more likely that he killed the two women and framed the villain.
Your explanation for Sally works for me. I’m not sold, but it’s not something I feel strongly about. I prefer to take the ambiguous ‘maybe it works/maybe it doesn’t work’ approach for some reason.
One of the things that Cooke has done quite well throughout this series is showing the ‘fall’ of Mothman, making it clear how he could eventually be the nervous wreck we saw in Watchmen. Here, we see him unable to function without booze it seems, constantly letting down Hollis, and well on his way to becoming useless. Yet, there’s still a spark inside of him, wanting to press on, and do good. He’s just not able to live up to that — he can’t be the man he wants to be.
BC: The framing Liquidator thing works, too. So can we just have that and not have him be the same Nazi that Silhouette knew back in Germany?
And I totally agree that Cooke is killing it with Mothman. The staggering nobility he possesses while being unable to really access that nobility because of his mental issues is handled beautifully by Cooke. I love the way Hollis can’t even really be angry with him because he knows he is not doing anything out of malice, he is just a weak man. A weak man with a great heart filled with love and good will towards man. Great stuff.
We didn’t really mention it yet (I presume it is because it is basically a given), but wow, Cooke and Phil Noto were amazing on art in the issue. The style changes were expertly done. Noto’s colors were of a great help in differentiating the moods of each different sequence.
CN: “A weak, noble man” seems like an apt description…
You nailed it. Great art, once again. Even going back to the disappointing first issue, we’ve never had anything negative to say about the art in this series. This issue seemed more densely packed with panels, which fit with the emotional aspect — it took more to get through it. You had to linger with the characters and their troubles more. There was a real sense of being closed off/in.