Before Watchmen: Silk Spectre #3

by deerinthexenonarclights

Silk Spectre has given me the most conflicted reading experience of the Before Watchmen books thus far: on one side it has all the proper credentials, written as it is by Darwyn Cooke and drawn by the amazing Amanda Conner, but the two issues out so far have both failed completely in capturing me. Though Silk herself is the simplest and slightest of the characters given a series (until Moloch starts in November) the story that they tell about her is both the silliest and seemingly the least necessary of the lot – which is saying something. So even though Spectre is far from the worst in the series I was still disappointed when I saw that it was the title up this week, because the other titles are at least compelling failures that allow for creative criticisms whereas so far this one had just bored me. But no more…

This third issue takes off from the very first panel, the drawings drawing you in instantly and freaking you out soon after. To simplify it somewhat this issue worked where the first two didn’t by stressing the facts of its sixties setting less and instead focusing on the feelings, specifically the fuzz of a drug high. I was a little unsure about the direction that the book took with its second issue, switching so suddenly from the small scale of the suburbs to the naughty behaviors of the city: specifically sex, narcotics and a national conspiracy between bands and corporations to determine who buys what, but if it leads to nothing else besides the hallucinogenic sequence that starts the issue then it has still been a success.

Amanda Conner combined with Darwyn Cooke to write the story for this issue and you can see the impact of that during the drug-fuelled intro sequence; the lines of the script and the lines of the art are as one and it’s a bloody funny one at that. Laurie’s thoughts stream straight out of her head uninhibited and like a weird game of word association these thoughts shape what we see of the world around her, these images then shaping her thoughts reciprocally as things get weirder and weirder and we get deeper and deeper into darker realms of her psyche. Freud would be fascinated by this stuff, so will fans of felines. It’s Conner’s art that sells the scene though, the potency of her imagination taking each image one step further than expected and keeping it from the realm of cliche. It’s almost as if she had taken the small one panel per page fantasies of prior issues and allowed them to dominate an entire sequence.

Thankfully Conner still excels once the characters have come down; the perkiness and personality of the style perfectly suiting a young Silk Spectre and her story. Those flashes of fantasy return later when the story is straighter, though in a sort of subverted fashion. The concept is just as effective in this new context, catalyzing the characters emotions during pivotal scenes; only now instead of skewing further towards a cartoony style in them for extra comedy like she did in the past Conner instead breaks the borders to insert images from famous paintings to punctuate the dark and dramatic feelings present in the story, of which there are now a few.

Of course the trip that the character is on turns bad, thanks mostly to an appearance by The Comedian ( who now seems set to make cameo appearances in every series). He is a character that Cooke writes so well (and the subtle shift in Conner’s style helps sell his words immeasurably) that I can’t help but wish he was doing that series instead of this one. He does still convey Silk Spectre’s character quite well, it’s just that it’s not a very interesting one; she’s a traditional teen superhero in a series chock full of subversions.

The one consolation to this is that Cooke can make her tropes compelling in their own way; her relationship with the generic guy for example is a very good one, you feel the romance, and thus you do care when things between them are cracked. Honestly though I’m much more interested in seeing the coming clash between supporting characters Comedian and Nite-Owl number one than I am finding out whether or not the lead’s love story works out and that is a major issue.

If the intention of this series was to further flesh out Laurie Jupiter, to make us invest more stock in here as a character, then so far it has failed; if all you are looking for though is a book that is fun to flip through, one that features some sexy women ( and the cutest damn depiction of an orgy that i’ve ever seen), smashing of skulls, an inventive story (Frank Sinatra as a super villain is some sort of Alternate History pitch, but I guess if Abraham Lincoln can be considered a Vampire Hunter than why not ?) and stunning art then Silk Spectre will tide you over. So I’m still somewhat torn, i liked this issue more than any of the others but I can’t honestly say that it made me want to read the final more than it did inspire me to seek out some of Conner’s other comics. Consider for yourselves whether that is a compliment or a criticism because I’m not sure that I know.