Darwyn Cooke has singlehandedly justified the existence of Before Watchmen.
He's taken on the two aspects of the story that seemed like they could use a little more examination, in the history of Laurie Juspeczyk over in Silk Spectre and the adventures of the Minutemen, which were less "rip-roaring" and more "soul-rending" and scarcely what you could call "adventures."
In Before Watchmen: Minutemen #4, Cooke continues making us care more than we ever thought we would about the Silhouette, aka Ursula Zandt. She's the heart and soul of the team, the moral conscience focused on the work rather than the public attention, which sharply divides the team. We've seen her butt heads with the fame-obsessed Sally Jupiter, while Nite Owl Hollis Mason admires her work and dedication so much that he's harboring a futile crush on her. Mothman Byron Lewis, Mason's best friend, is on their side as well, but we saw previously that Dollar Bill is a "god-fearing man" and the reputation-obsessed Captain Metropolis and his secret gay lover Hooded Justice are much more concerned with appearances, and that comes into play in this issue, as Ursula's true nature as a lesbian has been revealed, and by 4-2 majority vote, she is kicked out of the Minutemen. And she is such a decent human being that she does not even mind – and in fact understands the fear of exposure from the Captain.
Soon afterward, the best of them would meet a sudden and gruesome end. At the hands of a "third rate pervert called The Liquidator."
Cooke's story builds on the revelations from last issue, where it was revealed that Ursula occasionally sees the ghost of a small girl that spurs her to action, and when Hollis and Byron investigate what's been left behind, hoping to continue the important work she was doing, they come across various recordings, and they learn the truth behind that ghost. It seems Ursula and her lover, a chemist named Gretchen, were in Linz, Austria during the Nazi takeover, in charge of a large orphanage – one where children soon began mysteriously disappearing. Ursula's little sister Blanche was one of them, and soon, she discovered the Mengele-esque dissection that had taken that little sister from her. Nazis were killed, and the two women escaped, and dedicated themselves to rescuing every child they could.
Good god, this story is heartbreaking. Every turn of it, we feel just as crushed as Hollis Mason does with each new, dark truth revealed to him.
There's more in this issue as well, as we get a look deep inside Sally Juspeczyk as well, and for the first time, we can truly understand who she is, what she's about, why she could be drawn to a creep like Eddie Blake and even why she's such a psychotic oppressive mother to her daughter Laurie over in Silk Spectre, so doggedly determined to make sure she can defend herself. Until now, it had seemed that Sally hated Ursula and was insisting on keeping everything light and about the fame, but when she visits the unmarked grave in which the couple was buried, we see the truth of her. Sally confesses to Ursula's headstone that she was so good, it made her feel like cheap dirt, and made her remember things she wanted to forget – implying a childhood trauma of her own. We also learn that, when it comes right down to it, Sally Jupiter is all fucking business, as she's the one who goes out, hunts down the Liquidator and exacts the bloodiest of vengeance as a way to make it up to Ursula.
In addition to that, Eddie shows up after her confession, seeming like a more centered, subdued man than he was when last they met, and he tried to rape her. He's back from the war, and he tells Sally all about his one experience with kindness from a woman who would soon be killed by his captain's carpet-bombing her homeland, and how it showed him the real world. It's such a strange moment, as we see how this shaped the brutal man the Comedian would become, but it's a twistedly heartfelt moment of honesty that reveals how those two formed a connection.
Cooke's storytelling is masterful, his art is beautiful, and Before Watchmen: Minutemen may finally put to bed my kvetching that this whole project is misbegotten. Yes, most of Before Watchmen feels pointless, and if they actually attempt an ongoing series, it will be unfortunate, but if Darwyn Cooke is involved, it's damn well worth your time. He may have made The Silhouette my favorite character in the whole canon.