Before Watchmen – Silk Spectre 1

Today, Shelby and Patrick are discussing Silk Spectre 1, originally released June 13th, 2012. Silk Spectre is part of DC’s Before Watchmen prequel series. Click here for complete Before Watchmen coverage (including release dates).

Shelby:  Silk Spectre has never been one of my favorite characters from Watchmen. I got the point of Sally’s role, but I didn’t care much about her, and Laurie always…irritated me. Because I have the advantage of being outside the Jupiter familiy, I can more easily see the things Sally has done for her daughter, which has always left me with little patience for Laurie’s whiny attitude. I never thought I would be the most excited for the Silk Spectre issue of Before Watchmen, but after I heard Amanda Conner talk about it at C2E2 (and more importantly, after I saw a sneaky peek of the art), this immediately became the title I am most excited about.

We start immediately after the moment child Laurie overheard another fight between her parents. As Sally sweeps up the broken snowglobe, she explains to Laurie that her daddy won’t be coming back this time. Fast forward to teen Laurie, who is busy with after school sports, cute boys, and being embarrassed by her mother: basic teen-aged girl stuff. Later that night, Laurie is attacked in her home by a masked stranger; turns out, it’s just Sally giving her some practice. A typical “you don’t understand me, you never let me do what I want!” conversation leads to Laurie sneaking out to meet her cute boy. The two of them go to a diner where a richer, blonder girl makes fun of Laurie for the questionable reputation her mother has garnered. Laurie punches her (obviously) and rushes home for a typical “you don’t understand me, you never let me do what I want, I’m running away!” conversation. Laurie and her cute boy hitch a ride with a hippie van heading to San Francisco.

One of the biggest reasons I was so excited to read this story was the Sally/Laurie dynamic. Like every other character relationship in Watchmen, Alan Moore doesn’t dive into it because he doesn’t have to: we get it. I wanted to see Sally fading as she got older, and trying to deal with that as she tries to raise her daughter. I wanted to see Laurie fighting to figure out what kind of person she was going to be. Most importantly, I wanted to see this from a girl’s perspective. You see, I was a teen-aged girl once, and I was very interested to see a more feminine look at these characters.  Amanda Conner and Darwyn Cooke do a great job capturing that voice. The best example is a dialogue-free couple of panels of Laurie in her Silk Spectre costume.

There’s something so simple and charming about these panels. They’re earnest and real, which is the feeling I get through this whole book. The relationship between Sally and Laurie is dead on the money for the standard relationship between a parent and a teen, a mother and her daughter. It’s refreshing to see the tension between these two originating in such an understandable way, instead of just being the way it’s always been. It makes their relationship more grounded.

Conner’s artwork is astounding. She’s adopted Dave Gibbons’ 9-panel approach and movie-like feel. The attention she gives to the characters in the background of each panel really makes the characters in the foreground appear to be moving through solid space.

Those two kids dicking around on the bleachers in the background change this from a drawing of two characters having a conversation to two people moving through time and space. I suppose one could argue that this is just Conner imitating Gibbons’ style because it’s a Watchmen title, but I disagree. Conner is paying homage to Gibbons’ brilliant layouts and attention to detail without losing her own sense of style. Sprinkled throughout the title are cartoony little panels illustrating Laurie’s feelings about what’s going on around her.

THAT IS ADORABLE.

I am obviously super impressed with this title. Plot-wise, there’s not a lot going on yet, but Conner and Cooke have already established such a great voice. I can’t wait to see how the relationship between Sally and Laurie develops, which is impressive considering I already know where it ends up. Conner’s art is delightfully adorable and really smart. What about you, Patrick? I’m sure you knew immediately I would be enamored with this title, do you feel the same?

Patrick: Yeah, I am also really digging Silk Spectre. You’re right to point out that this is the kind of story we never could have / should have expected from Moore. There’s so much in here that feels like it effectively channels Watchmen, but there’s a perspective that is unmistakably feminine. Specifically, the perspective of a teenage girl. The result is a story no-less insightful about a kind of character Moore never bothered with: the world of Watchmen never bothered itself with hopeful, rebellious youths (and the female perspective is also lacking). Anyone who wanted to know what Before Watchmen could contribute to the over-all mythos need look no further than this series.

Take, for example, the invoking of pieces of music – Moore did a ton of that shit. But when he did it, it always Meant Something. He derived all kinds of Meaning All Along the Watchtower or Ride of the Valkyrie, and while that’s neat, it’s hard to escape the inflated sense of self-importance that comes with it. Honestly, how do you deploy Dylan lyrics without feeling like kind of a prick? In this series, the music selection is all 1960s girl-pop and doo-wop. It’s temping to infer some Meaning from the lyrics of these songs, but it’s just as much fun to let these songs serve to inform these characters and this time simply by virtue of their existence. Let’s just listen to them all now.

First up is Lesley Gore’s “Sunshine, Lollipops and Rainbows.” It’s probably the single cheeriest song ever recorded, and its juxtapostion with Laurie getting jumped by her mother in disguise is a nice short-hand for the disparity between the ideallyc life the Jupiters are trying to project and their secret life as crime fighters. WARNING, it’s a motherfucking ear-worm.

Next up is Ann-Margret’s “Baby Won’t You Please Come Home.” The song scores Laurie’s last fight with her mom, and it’s tempting to look to the lyrics on this one and draw parallels to the story. But I think there’s something simpler at play. Ann-Margret is the Platonic form of 1960s female sexuality. She’s a crooner, like the lady version of Frank Sinatra. I’d never heard this recording before, but check it out – it’s sexy and playful and confident. That’s all the traits at play in Laurie and Sally’s relationship.

And finally there’s The Shirelles’ “Don’t Say Goodnight When You Mean Goodbye.” Conner and Cooke present lyrics from the chorus in the same way Moore used to present Nietzsche quotes or bible verse: in a mostly-black panel with white text. The difference is Gibbons always included an image of the doomsday clock, Conner subs in a pretty flower. Where Watchmen is grim and fatalistic, Silk Spectre is optimistic and hopeful. Again, I didn’t know this song prior to reading this issue (but it’s really good).

I also like this little trick of the art that plays to themes unique to this series. It’s a slight deviation from the 9-panel layout, stretching out the height of the bottom row, but maintaining the narrow width. Greg and Laurie embrace and share a kiss moments before they decide to run away together. What better way to celebrate this than to turn these two adjacent images of the moon into a heart? My god, it’s cute.

So, like the Minutemen opener last week, this series boldly declares itself to be its own story, with its own purpose, even while being cast strictly in the mold of what came before. This issue puts me in extremely high spirits and makes me extra hopeful for the rest of this whole Before Watchmen thing.


For a complete list of what we’re reading, head on over to our Pull List page.  Whenever possible, buy your comics from your local mom and pop comic bookstore.  If you want to rock digital copies, head on over to DC’s website and download issues there.  There’s no need to pirate, right?

29 comments on “Before Watchmen – Silk Spectre 1

  1. The little story details in this are great, too. Not only do we see Laurie smoking her first cigarette, a big component of her character in Watchmen, that whole scene shows in just 2 or 3 panels a couple of teenagers trying to be cool adults to impress each other, and both kind of failing. IT’S JUST SO CHARMING.

  2. This issue in particular owes more to Archie than it does to any superhero comic. It’s charming, but it suggests a pretty sharp turn in the coming issues. Either this isn’t a Silk Spectre story at all, or her crime-fighting skills are going to come in handy, driving her back to become the vigilante we recognize from Watchmen. As much as I’d love a free-wheeling adventure, knowing where this story ends (and the hero it’s ostensibly about), I have expectations that starkly contrast the sunny ending of this issue. I suppose that’s a hurdle inherent to prequels — we know where they’re going, so it’s tough to surprise us — but it hadn’t really occurred to me as a problem for Before Watchmen (probably because my expectations were low enough that I didn’t expect any real emotional arcs). That said, I’m two-for-two in being pleasantly surprised by these. Damn talented comic book people, making me like things I’m morally opposed to.

    • I wouldn’t be surprised if things take a sudden turn for the worse next issue. She’s hitchhicking with strangers to San Francisco; the possibilities for things to go wrong are nearly endless.

      • The possibilities for it to go well are equally endless. I don’t know that it’s necessary for the PREQUEL element of Before Watchmen to override the totally pleasant thing the series has going on now. There’s an understandable expectation that the end of these stories will dovetail with the “beginning” (whatever we mean by that) of Watchmen, but that’s certainly doesn’t have to be the case. Just because we know how Laurie ends up, doesn’t mean we know how this story ends.

      • Not that someone needs personal experience to be particularly unforgiving of an attempted rapist, but I’m seeing that potentiality as a compelling reason for Laurie to run home to her mother. I guess at this point, Laurie still doesn’t know about the Comedian (does she not find out until Under the Hood comes out?), but I don’t think any more connections need to be made to drive a kid home after running away from home didn’t go as expected. I can see how being confronted with crime first-hand could drive her to embrace the future her mother had laid out for her.

    • Hey, yeah, what is it about a single scene of violence that makes me so much more patient and willing to / excited to read the Archie-style story of this relationship unfolding?

  3. CIRCLES HO! Maybe it’s a snow globe or the light cast from a lamp or the fucking moon – there are big prominent circles all over this issue. Let us begin reckless random speculation on what those circles could “mean.” NOTE: there are no wrong answers, only hilarious ones.

  4. I’m seeing a lot of dissonance between the way Sally was depicted in Minutemen, as an opportunist more interested in celebrity than justice, and here, as a kind of ruthless taskmaster hoping to shape her daughter into an effective crime-fighter. I’m not sure if we chalk that up to a change in her outlook, or a bit of misogyny on Hollis’ part (as the narrator of Minutemen). What do you guys think?

    • Yeah, I mean, this is like 20 years after Minutemen. Plus she had a kid – that changes a body. I don’t think we need to point to Hollis as an unreliable narrator of her actions in her youth. Maybe he becomes blind to what she eventually becomes, but memory is a hard thing to override.

  5. Why can’t she be a little bit of both? Maybe a part of her wants her daughter well trained to follow in her mother’s footsteps in order to perpetuate her own celebrity?

    • But would Laurie need to be able to fight-off ambushers in her home if the “crimes” she fights would be staged for promotional purposes?

      WOAH

      Okay, what if it is a change in Sally’s perspective based on her being attacked by the Comedian? That moment could have made her take crime-fighting a lot more seriously. Heck, she may not even be training her daughter to fight crime, so much as to be able to take care of herself in case she’s ever attacked. That makes her masked ambush make a lot more sense.

  6. Am I the only one who always assumed Laurence Schexnayder was gay? I don’t know if it’s because of the sham-ness of his marriage to Sally, or the fact that he’s a dead ringer for John Waters, but I’ve always had that impression. I guess he and Sally wouldn’t have fought so much if they didn’t care, but for whatever reason, I can’t NOT think it.

    • He’s probably the only person involved in the Minute Men who’s sexual orientation we don’t know for sure.

  7. Pingback: Before Watchmen – Comedian 1 | Retcon Punch

  8. Pingback: Before Watchmen – Silk Spectre 2 | Retcon Punch

  9. Pingback: Before Watchmen – Rorschach 1 | Retcon Punch

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