Before Watchmen Review: Silk Spectre #1 by Darwyn Cooke and Amanda Conner

Before Watchmen: Silk Spectre #1 (Of Four)

Publisher: DC Comics
Script: Darwyn Cooke & Amanda Conner
Art: Amanda Conner
Colors: Paul Mounts
Letters: Carlos M. Mangual
Release Date: 06/13/2012

Synopsis

Laurel Jupiter is a high school student. She’s sweet on a boy in her class, she’s bullied by the domineering clique of girls who look down on her, and she’s a stunning athlete. She’s also a costumed adventurer in training. The year is 1966, and Laurie Jupiter is the daughter and heiress to the original Silk Spectre, a costumed adventurer who “used to dress like a slut and fight crime” before moving on to adult modeling and movies and becoming the subject of Tijuana Bibles. Laurie’s life is the life of one who is constantly pushed: pushed to be a better crime fighter than her mother, pushed around by her mother’s legacy of infamy, and pushed by an unwillingness to accept the hand life has dealt her. And so she runs away.

This is a story of being in the shadow of our parents, teenage love, and finding one’s self.

Analysis

Before Watchmen: Silk Spectre is the second title in the Before Watchmen prequels, and if Minutemen played it safe and served as a friendly low speed reminder of what the Watchmen world was about, Silk Spectre kicks the project into gear and speeds ahead with a blown kiss – keep up or get out of the way. Like Minutemen, Silk Spectre is scripted by Darwyn Cooke (DC: The New Frontier, Catwoman) and has a fierce devotion to the original Alan Moore material while at the same time taking chances and expanding on those same ideas. Unlike Minutemen, Darwyn Cooke has a co-pilot in industry veteran Amanda Conner. And that makes a hell of a difference in all the right ways.

Amanda Conner, beloved artist of Vampirella, Power Girl (her own series and the JSA Classified story), DC’s Wednesday Comics Supergirl serials, and way too many other projects to count, is integral to Silk Spectre’s success. As an artist, she has a range that’s rare in the industry in that she’s capable of drawing girls like young girls and women like women. Her characters always have an age to them that’s carried in postures and expressions, they aren’t just drawings, they’re people. She’s the perfect illustrator for this book for the same reason Power Girl shone under her hand: the intent isn’t to make some industry standard T&A sexploitation fantasy that so many strong female leads can be reduced to, however unintentional, by the art. This a book about people, about a young woman and her issues with her mother and something bigger than either of them, and despite either Silk Spectre wearing something skimpy and designed to be objectified, Conner, as always, gives us real people with real costumes and real clothing. She’s a versatile and brilliant artist; the perfect illustrator for a story about a young woman’s journey into adulthood and adventuring.

The script is also co-written by Conner. It’s her first time, and following up Watchmen has to be one of the most nerve-wracking places to debut your writing talents to the comic industry, fans and all. Coming off of Minutemen and a re-read of New Frontier, Conner’s touch on Cooke is immediately apparent. From a page layout vantage, this book is packed; Conner brings us nine panel layouts with the occasional larger panel and playful illustration outside of the borders. This leads to more expanded scenes that are fluid, constantly moving, as the actions, expressions, dialogue, and controlled pacing of the panels give Conner and Cooke’s story much more time with the characters and much more fuel to get the story going and really make it resonate when it takes off.

This is the compliment that Darwyn Cooke and Amanda Conner bring to this book: Cooke has always been one to let his captions and dialogues tell his stories, and Conner has always been one to show rather than tell, with her mastery of expression and emotion in every one of her characters. Paired together, every one of Silk Spectre‘s panels conveys a thousand words to fill unseen captions and dialogue, and there’s the actual dialogue to compliment it. The result is one of the most satisfying single issues of any book I’ve read in a long time. The finished product is as laden with detail and minutiae as the original Watchmen.

My first thought when finishing my first read was that this issue does right by Watchmen on all levels.

It succeeds because at it’s core, Watchmen was about normal people with real problems who put on costumes and decided they knew what was best for the world and it’s problems. In the story, the Minutemen drove that point home even more, because they didn’t have a superpowered master of matter, or a man with 100% control of his brain, or even a gadgeteer (the original Nite Owl got by on guts alone, in true pulp fashion). Watchmen is a story about legacy. It was a story about nostalgia and generation gaps and how uncertain the world and future are. While Silk Spectre isn’t the only hero honoring a mantle or the only one bridging generations, Laurie Jupiter had the most going for her: Laurie’s mother was the first Silk Spectre, she was the daughter of The Comedian, and she was the wife of Dr. Manhattan; she was the center of the web.

While the original saga detailed enough of her relationships and hinted at how she came to be, Silk Spectre aims to show us exactly what happened to her. Teenagers often feel in the shadow of their parents, or embarrassed of them, but the very public and taboo life of her mother takes this theme to a whole new level. We see the unconventional and dysfunctional way Laurie prepares to follow her mother’s crime fighting career, and there’s nothing glamorous or superheroic about it.

Conner’s linework and Paul Mounts’ colors perfectly patch the tone of the script, a bright and inviting 1960s teenage dream with an encroaching shadow on the periphery. The short but violently muted training scene takes us right back into Watchmen‘s stark reality just when the story lets your guard down and Conner’s art has you settled in for a lighter experience.

With anything Before Watchmen, everyone is questioning if these stories are necessary. No. The original book gave us enough back story for the purposes of what was being told. Yet I’ve always been curious about the world and it’s history, and in that light, Cooke and Conner have crafted a book that respectfully explores that history. And when you have a script this endearing and art this amazing to get it across, then you have something very much worth anyone’s time.

Should you read it?

The book hits it’s stride in the first few pages and doesn’t skimp on characterization. If you had any doubts about Before Watchmen, this book succeeds with the source material even more than Minutemen; there are no changes or re-interpretations that might set forums on fire. It’s an honest story that does justice to the original source. Pick this up for an example of how to tell a strong story that hooks you for more in a single issue. There are artists and writers who could learn from this book and these creators.

This is a story you’ll want to follow along, instead of waiting for the trade.

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