Before Watchmen – Silk Spectre 2

Alternating Currents: Silk Spectre 2, Drew and Shelby-B4WToday, Drew and Shelby are discussing Silk Spectre 2, originally released July 18th, 2012. Silk Spectre is part of DC’s Before Watchmen prequel series. Click here for complete Before Watchmen coverage (including release dates).

Drew: This Before Watchmen thing must have been a hard sell to creators. Sure, they’d have the opportunity to work with some of comicdom’s most interesting characters, but they’d also be competing with some incredibly beloved source material, written by one of the greatest comic writers of all time. Hoping to improve on Watchmen would be beyond unreasonable, so the best anyone could really hope for is a competent expansion of that universe. That’s not exactly the world’s most rewarding job. Writer Darwyn Cooke and artist Amanda Conner have the additionally arduous task of being saddled with everybody’s least favorite character from Watchmen, which they handled dazzlingly in last month’s debut, managing to take Silk Spectre in a totally unexpected direction. This month’s issue subverts our expectations yet again, taking a step that can’t so much be described as forward or backwards, but sideways.

The issue starts with a virtuosic fight sequence narrated by a letter Laurie is sending to her “Uncle” Hollis Mason. The narration continues into a flashback as Laurie describes her experiences since the end of the previous issue. She and Greg have hooked up with some hippies and are now living and working in San Francisco. Laurie overhears some thuggish types planning a murder, and decides to begin moonlighting as a costumed vigilante. That carries us to the fight scene at the start of the issue, where Laurie manages to get the name of the thugs’ boss: Gurustein. The next morning, as Laurie and Greg grab breakfast, Gurustein is hosting a meeting featuring a veritable who’s who of sixties counterculture musicians, hilariously “chaired” by none other than Frank Sinatra.

In that meeting, we are introduced to KT-5 (a precursor of the KT-28 we all recognize from Watchmen proper), a drug that can turn the anti-consumerist music of said counterculture into a pro-consumerist hysteria. The chairman’s plan is to release the drugs into SF as a kind of trial before a national release. There are some objections, but those are all coerced away in appropriately shady fashion. Laurie’s friends are exposed to the drug, and begin acting appropriately out-of-character, so Laurie heads out to confront Gurustein. Unfortunately, she only finds Gurustein’s leggy henchwomen, whom she ably (and awesomely) bests, gathering only a bit of information. When she returns home, a party is in full swing at her house, replete with drugs supplied by Gurustein himself. Oh, and Laurie is unwittingly dosed with the drug.

There’s a lot to love about this issue. As I mentioned earlier, the use of the letter narrating those opening scenes is incredible. It’s by turns sly, ironic, telling, and occasionally on-the-nose, but is always clever. It feels a bit Moore-like, but it’s so well-deployed here, I can’t really complain. The flashback in particular manages to distill Laurie’s time in San Francisco into a few efficient images. Sure, it relies a bit on ’60s tropes, but it’s clear that those cliches are deployed knowingly, rather than lazily.

The art in that sequence deserves equal praise for its efficiency, as we’re only given a few expressions and postures to understand how Laurie and Greg are interacting with their new group of friends. During the flashback, Conner does away with the panel outlines, giving each panel a kind of dreamy quality that speaks to Laurie’s subjectivity as a narrator (which may also justify some of the cliches in that sequence). It also explained the origin of the poster in that one crime scene from Watchmen, which is too strange of a detail to not comment on.

There’s a LOT going on in this issue. Of all the Before Watchmen titles we’ve seen so far, this is shaping up to come the closest to Watchmen as far as rewarding repeat readings. There are nods to everything from the Beatles to EC pirate comics. Circles also continue to be a motif, with this issue seeming to answer the “what does it mean??” question we debated in the comments section last month with a resounding “Comedian.” Laurie’s decision to suit-up feels natural, and I love her late-issue realization that she’s doing exactly what her mother always wanted for her.

The point is, I like it, which actually makes it all the more disappointing that it’s tied to the Watchmen universe. I like “spot the reference” as much as the next guy, but I’m not sure this title is really benefitting from the connections in any other way. In fact, I might argue that those connections actually damage the narrative being established here. Aside from Laurie (and her implied relationship to her mother and Hollis), all of these characters are new. The setting is new. The conflicts are new. More importantly, the tone is new. A drug that convinces hippies to buy things is interesting, but I’m not sure it really fits in the Watchmen universe. Remember, the only thing that sets that universe apart from our own is the presence of real costumed vigilantes, but especially Dr. Manhattan. At this point, he’s presumably only been on the scene for a very short time. While I could maybe see his presence effecting the types of chemistry humans could now be capable of (thus allowing the creation of such a drug), this issue asks us to believe in some kind of industry-wide collusion in the music business.

Perhaps more importantly, knowing where Laurie ends up puts a very clear timeline on events here, which suggests that she is extremely young in this issue. Remember, this happens before the first meeting of the Crimebusters, where we know Laurie is only 17. I’m not sure how much earlier this story is, but it’s clearly going to be a while before Laurie heads home. That makes Laurie something like 16 (maybe even 15) in this issue, which makes all of the drugs and sex feel especially irresponsible. Also: ick.

My point is, this story really stands on it’s own, and I think tying it in to the Watchmen universe forces it to contort in ways that don’t suit either story. I know that’s really the only reason this thing exists, but I think I’m going to enjoy this more as a standalone that makes a lot of Watchmen references than as an actual piece of that universe. Is that crazy?

Shelby: It might be a little crazy. I definitely see where you’re coming from; after I finished this issue, I found myself wishing this was a standalone title. I would absolutely read the Adventures of Laurie Jupiter. I think the reason why this feels shoe-horned into the Watchmen universe is honestly, Moore didn’t do a very good job writing this character in the first place. In Watchmen, Laurie is there to serve a purpose: the girl. She’s the bumbling hottie who “packs a mean wallop” as Hollis would probably say (were he real). You get the relationship between Laurie and her mother, but Moore doesn’t explore any aspect of her personality. Conner’s Laurie doesn’t quite fit in the Watchmen universe because she wasn’t developed in the Watchmen universe.

It didn’t even occur to me to see the sex and drugs as a sign of irresponsibility until you pointed it out. True, running off with strangers in a van is not a smart choice; frankly, she and Greg are lucky they ended up with people who appear to be decent. But, let’s think about what Laurie is doing: she has a place to live, she and her boyfriend have jobs, and until she was dosed it didn’t appear she was doing any hard drugs. She’s got it pretty well together for a 15-year-old. As for the sex… let’s be real, what teenagers living together wouldn’t be sleeping together? Again, she has a steady boyfriend, she isn’t sleeping around.

I continue to be thrilled with this title. I think Conner and Cooke have done an amazing job telling the story they want to tell and paying homage to the source material without losing their personal style. I’m really looking forward to seeing how Laurie’s inevitable confrontation with Gurustein will play out. Busting thugs in a warehouse is one thing; she has definitely gotten in over her head with this one, and I have a sneaking suspicion it’s going to end up being Greg who pays the price. Something terrible is going to have to happen to burst her hippie bubble and drive her back to her mother and the Crimestoppers, and I am on pins and needles to see how this will conclude.

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?

13 comments on “Before Watchmen – Silk Spectre 2

  1. Maybe I was being a little hard on the connections between Watchmen and this issue. There were some character traits we know from Watchmen that we see arise naturally here (like smoking in the previous issue), particularly the libidinous association Laurie makes with crime fighting.

    • Yeah, I think Silk Spectre probably does the best job of all these series of dealing with the baggage of the original – we as readers have to choose how to deal with our own baggage.

  2. It is a little difficult to place this story in what we know of Watchmen’s timeline. Laurie hasn’t read Hollis’ book yet, hasn’t met The Comedian yet…do you remember when Doc Manhattan was revealed to the world at large?

    Seeing the KTs introduced made me so happy, that’s the kind of detail I love to see in these titles.

  3. I’m always surprised when I’m reading my monthly pull of DC comics and suddenly someone’s saying “fuck” or there are tits on the page. I’m not complaining, just an observation that I’m surprised every time.

  4. I don’t know that it’s fair to say that the circles just mean “Comedian.” Or rather, that meaning “Comedian” is something so neat and tidy to be dismissive of it. He’s a very specifically motivated element of chaos in the Watchmen universe. How that may be made manifest in Laurie (or resisted by Laurie) is a really compelling angle from which to tell a story.

  5. Am I missing something? When did we determine the circle motiff in Silk Spectre represents the Comedian?

    Circles are repeated through a couple of the Before Watchmen titles, as well as through Watchmen proper, I’m not sure I see the connection.

    • Yeah, maybe writing it off as just being related to the Comedian was a little dismissive, but the sheer volume of smiley faces in this issue is pretty overwhelming. Sure, it’s San Francisco in the sixties, but this is clearly some pointed foreshadowing. There’s a scene that particularly stood out to me where Laurie is lost in thought, staring at the smiley she’d been wearing around her neck since she received it as a tip. Point is, I no longer think the circles are pointing to her relationship with Jon (or Dan, for that matter), but to her relationship with Eddy.

      • I think we’re making a leap here equating all circles as representative of Comedian’s button. There are circles all over the place in Minutemen, too, and that takes place before Eddy has even started wearing it.

        • Kinda neat that so many of the characters can be (and are) represented by circles. Comedian’s button, Dr. Manhattan’s hydrogen atom, Dan’s round owl-face eyes, even the coin imagery in Ozymandias. I think Drew’s analysis runs the risk of being a little too reductive, but the circles are quintessentially “Watchmen” and so much of this series goes back to the kind of world that spit out The Comedian.

        • Oh, I certainly don’t mean to suggest that circles necessarily represent the Comedian in other titles, but here, 90% of the circles we see are smiley faces. As far as connections go, I just don’t think her relationships with Jon or Dan warrant this kind of foreshadowing. The smiley pops up all over the place in Watchmen proper, as well, so I suppose the case could be made that these are simply allusions to the text as a whole. However, we can’t ignore Laurie’s relationship to Eddy, so I can’t help but see the smileys as an acknowledgement of that relationship.

  6. I thought the panels showing the drugs taking effect were very well done. You had the changes in behavior in the kids in the background, then the lighting and color changes, and then everything warping. Very nice.

  7. Pingback: Before Watchmen – Silk Spectre 3 | Retcon Punch

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