Review by Ian Keogh
In the 1980s Watchmen creators Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons signed a contract that would return ownership of the characters they created should the book ever drop out of print. It never has. Moore was originally open to producing a prequel, but eventually concluded it redundant. He’s refused all offers since, and DC held out hope for over twenty years in the face of Moore’s public pronouncements concerning his views on their way of doing business, although Gibbons has been more ambivalent. Among many other matters, Watchmen dealt with murky ethics, of compromises in the name of right, yet DC found no shortage of top class talent willing to work on these prequels.
While it served a powerful narrative purpose, the Watchmen’s world was bleak, unforgiving and relentlessly dark as the nuclear clock counted down. With the exception of his Parker adaptations, that flies in the face of Darwyn Cooke’s work, which is characterised by an optimistic streak, even when delving into blacker areas, and it’s what makes his work on the Minutemen the one unqualified success of the entire Before Watchmen project. Whereas most others followed Alan Moore’s template, Cooke has the courage to forge his own path, yet does so by remaining entirely faithful to Moore (narratively at least).
It also works because Cooke has slightly more room to flex than other creators. The Minutemen served a defined, but restricted purpose in Watchmen, so Cooke is free to explore the backgrounds of a minimally sketched cast, all the while presenting a good character-based detective story, a 1940s period piece with a great twist.
Cooke and Amanda Conner create another period piece for the Silk Spectre, this set largely in the 1960s, but it falls very flat and transforms a previously well defined character by adding a contradictory unsavoury aspect to her. It begins well with an opening chapter of the young Laurie Juspercyk rebelling against her superheroine mother, and Conner’s art throughout is fantastic, emotionally subtle and superbly coloured by Paul Mounts. We soon run into problems, however, as Laurie falls in with the wrong crowd, drops out, tunes in and turns on before transforming into Emma Peel. Yes, people change as they age, but we’re presented with a very different Silk Spectre here than was seen in Watchmen. A final sequence re-running the abortive reconvening of the Minutemen with Laurie’s teenage commentary is misguided and rather pointless, not least because this scene figures in several other of the Before Watchmen books.