My buddy Craig Kanne recently gave me all six issues of BEFORE WATCHMEN: MINUTEMEN, a 2012 mini-series by Darwyn Cooke. Thanks a million Craig, because I really enjoyed this one.
There was quite a kerfuffle a few years back when DC Comics announced that they would publish a series of mini-series focusing on the characters created by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons in the now classic, legendary WATCHMEN series from the 1980s. The goal of these mini-series was to explore the characters and their world in greater detail before (as the title states) the events depicted in WATCHMEN. Some people thought this was a violation of a sacred trust, that the mere idea of this series would besmirch the reputation of WATCHMEN. Others took a "wait and see" attitude and opted to actually read the various series before passing judgment.
I haven't read the other series that comprise BEFORE WATCHMEN, but MINUTEMEN is outstanding. Darwyn Cooke is one of my favorite contemporary comic book creators. His style is deceptively simple and I've loved his work on such titles as DC: NEW FRONTIER, CATWOMAN: SELINA'S BIG SCORE and the Parker graphic novels (based on the crime novels by Richard Stark).
I mean this next statement as the highest possible praise: if James Ellroy wrote comic books, they would probably look and read like MINUTEMEN. The series spans the years 1939 to 1962, a time period in American history that Ellroy has mined for much of his work and Cooke captures Ellroy's sense of tarnished, flawed people trying to do good while struggling with their own various inner demons. Cooke also gets what Moore established in WATCHMEN, the thesis that anyone who puts on a costume, adopts a name and goes out and fights crime, is one seriously fucked up individual, even if they are on the side of good.
The Minutemen are the Justice Society of America to the Watchmen's Justice League of America. This is a team of super-heroes who come together in the "Golden Age" to fight crime only to see their efforts fail before the group finally disbands and goes their separate ways. The narrator is Hollis Mason, the original Nite Owl, who has written a "tell all" book about the Minutemen in the early 1960s We see the various Minute Men and Women through his eyes and they are an interesting group of characters. One is a lesbian, two are homosexuals, one is in it only for the publicity, one is a stone cold psychopath who leaves the group to become a government operative, one is a corporate shill and one falls into a spiral of drug and booze addiction. Mason, a beat cop by day (which echoes Jack Kirby's super-hero creation The Guardian/policeman Jim Harper in THE NEWSBOY LEGION series), as Nite Owl, is determined to capture a serial killer of children but his quest takes a dramatic turn in the final issue.
I won't reveal any more about this remarkable series. Read it for yourself and discover the rich character development, superb sense of place and time and a truly gripping, suspenseful super hero/crime story. BEFORE WATCHMEN: MINUTEMEN is a four star winner in my book. Highly recommended.