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Review: Before Watchmen: The Minutemen

A note - Blogging isn't free. Right now I provide gifts to my writers as a way of thanking people for writing. I would like to be able to afford to give them some sort of renumeration, even if it is small, for making this blog what it is. I'm in talks with a friend who may be able to help connect this blog, which has been in existence for one year now, with more religious communities dedicated to interfaith dialogue. Your donation will do a lot toward making that happen.






I read several installments of the Before Watchmen series.Watchmen is by far one of my favorite graphic novels - Alan Moore accomplished in it a true pinnacle of the graphic novel art form. He created characters that the audience cared for and became invested in and told their story in a narrative that challenged and enticed the reader.

It also never went on longer than it needed to. We had one Watchmen graphic novel that told their stories over the lifetimes of the character. We didn't get the endless adventures of The Comedian or Nite Owl like we do Superman, Batman or Aquaman. Alan Moore has been militant about the use of his characters for films and other comics on principle because of the fear of exactly that outcome - both the Watchmen film and the Before Watchmen series have seemed a tad perverse as they have clearly gone against what Moore would have wanted done with his work.

I read the Ozymandis series before along with another that I can't recall, I think it was one about the original Silk Spectre, Miss Jupiter. I didn't like it - it didn't entice me and it didn't seem like anything Moore would have liked. It seemed like a continuation of the series for the sake of it.

The Minutemen series, on the other hand, does not. Darwyn Cooke, the writer and artist, is clearly a fan of Watchmen. He wrote a brilliant graphic novel called Justice League: The New Frontier, which got adapted in to an equally brilliant animated film. That graphic novel was told much the same way as Watchmen, with Hal Jordan's Green Lantern playing a similar role to Hollis Mason's Nite Owl and The Martian Manhunter playing a similar role to Dr. Manhattan.

(A little warning: Spoilers.) The story structure of Before Watchmen: Minutemen is really similar to Watchmen, down to narration by Hollis Mason. In the original Watchmen, we see the events of the creation of the Minutemen superhero team in the 1940s and 50s and its recreation as the Watchmen in the 1980s through the lense of Mason's book, Under the Hood. Before Watchmen: Minutemen tells the burgeoning of Mason's creativity towards the book.

Like Watchmen, the story centers around a character who is killed and the response to it. In Watchmen, the Comedian, Edward Blake, is murdered. In this, Ursula Zadnt is eventually killed by one of the Minutemen's many villains as revenge for her many armed crusades against child pornographers. Hollis refers to her as the only one who really tried to do anything meaningful.



Hollis is clearly fond of her and as he tells the story, he proclaims flat out that she's a lesbian. It's not hinted at for the audience. He just says it and adds that that didn't stop anything. "She was an avenging angel. I guess I kind of loved here, which should go a long way to explain how screwed up I am."

Hollis, dressed as Nite Owl and not, hits on Ursula several times, even when he's clued in to what is going on. He showers her with compliments for her work in protecting children. He is met with line like "That is oh so very nice, Mister Owl, but I do not need your admiring. I simply care about the children because one should."



On one mission, she spells it out really bluntly. Owl says, "So as long as we're working together here, maybe we can get to know each other a little."

She fires back with sass, "Are you sure you would like that? To know me more?"

Nite Owl stutters, "I'm not talking about eloping, just - "

Ursula says, "Getting to know each other. I heard you the first time. Trust me, Mister Owl, I'm not the type for you."

It becomes clear that, even if nothing sexual developed and even could not develop, there is a very strong bond between Hollis and Ursula. He is the last person she talked to besides her girlfriend before she was killed by the villain the Liquidator. He arranges the services after she dies and her wisdom is throughout his writing, with great quotes such as, "Ursula used to say that the problem with men is they think people are like cars; if we just know what's wrong, we can fix it. She was right, of course."



Hollis continues on with his book despite challenges. He eventually edits it heavily, taking out Ursula's presence completely and leaving the Comedian's attempted rape of Miss Jupiter as the only scandalous behavior left. He continues to defend it until he finally makes those edits, however, "If my book goes away, the fantasy we built remains an official reality. People will go on remembering us as some sort of charming moment in American history. A brightly colored fad with a moral to its story. The problem is, more than any of them, I know better. And I can't seem to let it go."



Ursula runs up against Sal, also known as Miss Jupiter, several times. Jupiter and Ursula pose for several cheesecake photos and Ursula predictably just isn't very in to it. Miss Jupiter gets very upset, saying, "You really ought to concentrate on looking attractive. It's bad enough you dress like some kind of Spanish funeral director."

Ursula retorts, almost bluntly throwing about her lesbianism, something certainly not popular or accepted in the 1940s, "I'm sorry, Sally. Purple and gold clown costumes don't work as well on some as they do on others."

The difference between the two could not be more obvious. Miss Jupiter is infuriated at Ursula, saying to the photographer that "that bitch has to go." Jupiter eventually has a child with the Comedian, even if it's undercover and she's married to her manager. Ursula still attracts men, even if she's a lesbian who doesn't seek men out at all, but it is men like Hollis that she attracts. Jupiter's sexual advertising attracts rapists and psychopaths. This dynamic compliments the romance between Silk Spectre, Jupiter's daughter, and the new Nite Owl.

Even if the sexual aspect is one sided, the bond between Hollis and Ursula is real and mutual. He's a man, genetically programmed one way while she just has no interest, programmed another way or diverted from such interest by traumatic experiences, whatever your theory about homosexuality is. As she calls him a "good friend," he writes, "I remember dipping my head to hide my blush. I felt lust toward her, but it was such a small piece of something larger."

Ursula calls him "Mister Angel" as he rescues her after an armed assault on child pornographers. He continues to take the bond they have as something it isn't, bringing a bouquet to her apartment only to see her holding hands with a woman.

After Ursula is killed by the Liquidator, Jupiter visits her grave. She says that she was mean to her because she was simply a better person than she was, with allusions that she didn't seek out validation that she did. She then smiles to herself and says, "Let me tell you about the Liquidator..."

At first when I read this passage, I thought Sal had hired the Liquidator to kill Ursula. Alas, the characters in the Watchmen universe are fucked up but not that fucked up. Sal hunts down and kills Liquidator, doing it as a way of paying back Ursula for how badly she treated her. She meets Edward Blake, the Comedian again, and they talk about their shared experiences. Blake shares an episode in Vietnam in which he sees a woman walk, burned alive, out of a bomb blast only to see her put down by his captain. He then kills the captain in response.

 Blake says of their experiences, "You can kill a captain or a Liquidator and even things up that way, but you can't change anything. You have to be able to look it in the face for what it is and forgive yourself." It's clear to both of them that, despite an attempted rape occurring in their past, they are two very similar people. One seeks validation through overt sexuality, the other by overt aggression.

Ursula's girlfriend is explained towards the end of the book as a doctor who was working in the orphanage that she was in in Poland, when it was taken over by the Nazis. Her girlfriend is blonde, very Aryan, and they "found one another" despite the odds. (It isn't said that Ursula is Jewish but she is dark.) It becomes clear that Ursula's life is one of toiling past insurmountable odds. Her love for Hollis, which certainly was real even if the lust was one sided, is but one more example of odds being matched. She was killed but only in revenge for heroics that disrupted pornographers enough to want to do away with her and her death was avenged by a woman she had fought with.

I don't honestly think anyone but Darwyn Cooke could have done this. An animated film adaptation would certainly be enjoyable, hopefully in the same format as New Frontier was in.

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About Radical Second Things

Michael Orion is a blogger, writer, artist and photographer based in the Bay Area. Besides his maintenance and promotion of Radical Second Things, he contributes to the San Francisco newspaper SF Western Edition, where he writes about local non-profit organizations.

Mark Cappetta is a practicing Catholic and active LGBT activist. He has been instrumental in keeping Radical Second Things and updates the Facebook account almost daily.

Eva Gnostiquette is an artist, programmer, "future scientist," bi-trans girl and graphic designer. She voluntarily helped to create the first print issue Radical Second Things and designed our beautiful banners. Thanks so much, Eva!

Jordan Denato is a professional artist based out of Iowa. He took the initiative to illustrate both Jennifer Reimer's story and Michael Orion's Oscar Romero work. He has his own art studio, Tar and Feather Studios, and is a critical part of Radical Second Things.

Radical Second Things is a liberation theology themed blog that has clear cut goals - we see the structural decline of the United States and much of the west and hope to present alternatives that will offer "a preferential option for the poor" as more become vulnerable.

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