Before Watchmen: Silk Spectre #4
Before the break I remember thinking that this Silk Spectre series was finally starting to live up to the expectations set by Darwyn Cooke’s other Before Watchmen book but all that momentum and all that good will was more than sucked away by the strange delay that has recently struck the range entire. The timing of this couldn’t be worse for Spectre which is not only the very first book back after the break, and thus the one tasked with reigniting interest, but it is also ending with this very issue. Doing this to a comic is like cutting the cinematic release of a film off just before the climax and then asking the audience to buy the DVD and find the end there amongst the deleted scenes. It’s stupid and a shame, but a strong enough story can survive it; is this such a story?
The first thing that you notice about this comic isn’t the story though, it’s the layout. Cooke constructs his pages like the classical masters did their musical compositions: short, sharp rows of skinny panels pluck out punches at a rapid pace before bowing to big, stretched, sparse images when the meatier moments arrive. Of course sheet music is nowhere near as impressive as a live concert and like a royal orchestra artist Amanda Connor does the complex material complete justice, giving it just enough of her own particular style through the performance.
While it’s been strong throughout i think that the art really hits its peak here when instead of the usual panel a whole page dissolves into Laurie’s subconscious, which is stronger now thanks to her spiraling depression. Rather than rendering the effect as over familiar this full on approach actually increases its potential exponentially, each peak effectively adding to the next. That the images used here to represent her inner-thoughts have been used before elsewhere only makes the page even better; it thus becomes a culmination of all that has come before, all that has been building over the past three issues and all that has been forgotten over the past six months.
The most interesting visual element of the issue though is the prominent inclusion of an American flag in a few important panels. Besides looking cool and colorful this touch really reflects the theme of the tale, it hammers home how the series was actually speaking about a larger issue, the country as a whole during the sixties and that Spectre’s journey was simply an allegorical one.
So while The prominence of the setting seemed a little forced at first: the drugs, the hippies, the musicians and freakin Frank Sinatra as the big bad, but by the end these elements were all given good reason for existing. The series told both the story of Silk Spectre’s coming of age and that of her country, the United States was going through a similar period of pubescense at the time: protesters rebelling against their less-literal parents in the political sphere, artists rising up against the old guard and all of them falling into the same pits that plagued the people that came before them; their lessons learnt and forgotten in a very familiar way.
Masses of readers wrote off this entire run before it had even begun and those who read issue one of this book balked at it similarly – myself included – but this issue has proven the virtue of patience, of waiting before you write and not simply making judgements based on misconceptions. Silk Spectre doesn’t hold a single candle to the original comic, nor can it really compete with Cooke’s Minutemen thanks to its slight scope and less serious approach but underneath all of those extravagant expectations there is a very solid series to be found here, one that will hopefully work and sell well in the collected format, in one complete whole.