Ad fontes Erasmus of Rotterdam proclaims, and almost instantly, with the turn of just one phrase, kicks off a revolution in secular humanism. Ad fontes, “return to the sources”, by which Erasmus meant return to the original fountains of learning and wisdom, the cultures classical Greece and Rome.
Like some many human things however, secular humanism, the kind championed by Erasmus or the kind championed by any great thinker subsequent, wasn’t a real revolution. Not like 1776, or the events of Paris circa 1789, or the Enlightenment or the printing press or the steam engine. Secular humanism, like some many human things that evolve over time, was a compromise. It was a compromise between the great material works able to be established by churchly power (cathedrals, libraries, spy networks), and the cost for these Greater Things—the genocide of personhood perpetrated by the medieval Church.
Erasmus’ solution was the compromise of retooling churchly social structure for secular ends. Hence, return to Greece, return to Rome, when Greece and Rome still meant something.
And although it’s long ago and far and away, the idea of leveraging the past to assuage the demons of the present, and in so doing open the door to a darker destiny is at the core of this next issue of Before Watchmen: Minutemen.
There’ll never be another Watchmen, to be sure. Primarily because Watchmen had to compete with maybe The Dark Knight Returns and maybe Squadron Supreme and maybe Kryptonite Nevermore and Green Lantern/Green Arrow.
Before Watchmen though, needs to compete with The Boys, with Manhattan Projects, with Stumptown with Fatale with The Massive with Transfusion. And that’s just the books released in the same month. This list, cursory as it is, speaks nothing of Sandman or Preacher or Acme Novelty Library or Akira or Maus or anyone of the literally thousands of great comics that have come out over the course of the century or so of the medium’s imbrication with popculture.
The publishing industry and the appreciation industry as they now stand are simply not geared to heralding a new Dostoyevsky amid such a surplus of great works.
But that shouldn’t preclude you from enjoying a great moment in Minutemen #4. A moment that is every bit the equal to everything produced in the original 1987 graphic novel. And one that I secretly believe surpasses many of the Big Idea moments in the precursor comicbook.
Ad fontes? Should we really return? Do we really need to? Not completely understanding the model of worldly power perfected by the medieval Church, Erasmus couldn’t foresee the centuries of strife his slogan would become a rallying cry for. And for Darwyn Cooke to reframe Victory in Europe Day as laced with that same lurking danger, that act is pure high art.
Please enjoy our exclusive preview of Before Watchmen: Minutemen #4.
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