Prodded by a comment from Eric Berlatsky, William Leung added some thoughts to his extended takedown of Darwyn Cooke’s Before Watchmen. I thought I’d reprint William’s further thoughts here, so they’re below.
I respect Eric’s opinion and appreciate that Cooke probably meant well. But as a critic I can only judge on the evidence before me. To say that Cooke has depicted the entire Minutemen as fallible/negative is contrary to the evidence. Cooke has set up a very clear moral dichotomy in his book:
Ursula = Virgin Mary with a sexy lesbian twist
Hollis = good cop / boy scout / “everyman” narrator
Byron = absent-minded nerdy genius / best buddy of Hollis
Bill = nice country lad with old-fashioned values / drink-buddies of Eddie and Hollis
Eddie = tough street kid / rough diamond / macho badass
Sally = sexy vixen / show girl with a heart of gold
Nelson = prissy, shallow, manipulative, vainglorious, incompetent fag
HJ = violent, sadistic, murderous, sick-minded aggressive fag
One can also go through some of the “positives” that Cooke has presented in his moral dichotomy:
Hollis and Byron are best buddies (friendship is good)
Hollis is in love with Ursula (romantic love is good; unrequited love is sad)
Hollis/Ursula/Byron work together to fight pedophilia (genuine crime fighting is good).
Hollis later becomes “dear uncle” to Sally’s daughter (family is good).
Hollis, Eddie and Bill are drink buddies (friendship is good)
Eddie and Sally are in love. They aren’t close to Ursula, but come to respect what she does (romantic love/respect is good).
None of the “positives” involves HJ/CM. Hollis, Eddie, Sally, Bill have at various points expressed strong disapproval of HJ/CM. Byron is too nice to speak up, but he has had to suppress his genius to follow Nelson’s bullying, incompetent leadership. The saintly Ursula doesn’t speak ill of others, but she also quits Minutemen out of disgust, and harbors suspicions that HJ is a pedophile. That makes it very hard not to say that HJ/CM aren’t pitted on the opposite side of “good”. HJ/CM do not have any meaningful bonding scenes with ANYONE (even Larry and Sally got one in Book 2). They are either bossing people around, killing people, bungling operations, falsely boasting about their achievements in public, having violent disgusting sex, leading teammates to their deaths (Bluecoat and Scout), wallowing in self-pity, self-defeatingly blowing up their property, and being beaten/killed in a humiliating way. And that’s about it.
In Moore, we at least have glimpses of their humanity. Nelson, while a bit of a fool and push-over, seems idealistic, polite and kind (he is concerned about Byron’s health at the reunion party in Book IX). HJ has a violent, nasty side, but he has done some genuine crime-fighting (foiling a bank robbery; preventing a rape (not just Sally’s); note also the panel where he sensibly douses Eddie’s youthful enthusiasm to fight in Europe where the “action” is). In Cooke, I can’t find one scene that isn’t either downright negative or suggestively negative. Even after looking hard, I can’t find one redeeming quality to these characters. Not one. If anyone who has read “Minutemen” can present contrary evidence on this point, I’m happy to listen and reconsider my argument.
I don’t understand the point about the cover-up. The cover-up happens specifically in Moore’s story, not Cooke’s. In “Watchmen”, Larry is responsible for the cover-up: “Schexnayder had persuaded Sally not to press charge against the Comedian for the good of the group’s image, and she complied” (II.32). In Cooke, HJ/CM seem to run the show (Metropolis had “convened” the meeting), but more importantly, there is no need for a “cover-up” because the rape may not even have been a rape! Note how Cooke introduced the scene: “Apparently, Hooded Justice intervened BEFORE it went too far.” In Moore, things had ALREADY gone too far – there is the visual evidence of Sally being punched, kicked, pinned to the ground, and on the verge of being penetrated. I don’t accept that Cooke is “assuming” that we already know what happened – I’m saying that he has set out to portray a different version of what happens. In Cooke, there is no witness to the incident apart from HJ, and the only visual evidence is the bruises on Eddie’s face, so it is open to interpretation that HJ assaulted Eddie over a minor infraction! And the only relevant “cover-up” that is mentioned is the one put there by Cooke in Book 1, involving HJ/CM’s cover-up of the bungled firecracker factory operation. It is this particular “cover-up” that infuriated Eddie into challenging the judges on this “kangaroo court”. Eddie is saying: how dare those fucking corrupt, hypocritical fags judge me when all I did was make a clumsy pass at Sally? Cooke then validates this outrage by showing Eddie defeat and expose HJ/CM in the one page scene cited in the essay. This version of the truth is supported later in the reconciliation scene, where Sally didn’t react angrily to Eddie’s sudden appearance at Ursula’s grave because they merely had a “misunderstanding”. This completely rewrites the canon version of events: “I shouted at him”; “I tried to be angry.”
Re Laurie’s biology – yes, Laurie says that she will wear a mask and carry a gun and that is a reference to her father. But look at the trajectory that her character has gone through in the original – it happens after she has confronted the truth about her parentage, let off some steam about it, processed it, come to understand that holding onto hate isn’t the way to live (witnessing an entire city being decimated tends to put things into perspective), made an effort to patch things up with her mum, and prepared to move on. At that stage, she is ready to acknowledge her biology and forgive her father. It is a conscious, informed decision by a mature, independent woman – a far cry from being some sexy young chic subconsciously acting out her daddy’s blood-lust in some oh-so-cute parallel fight scenes!