Before Watchmen – Silk Spectre 3

Today, Shelby and Drew are discussing Silk Spectre 3, originally released September 5th, 2012. Silk Spectre is part of DC’s Before Watchmen prequel series. Click here for complete Before Watchmen coverage (including release dates).

Shelby: It’s hard being a teen-aged girl. You always fight with your mom, you can’t do what you want, there’s always some sort of boy trouble. Usually, though, you aren’t fighting with your mom because she’s forcing you to be a caped superhero and the boy trouble is not from your secret dad forcing your boyfriend to break up with you or be killed. Amanda Conner and Darwin Cooke have somehow managed to balance the two very distinct voices of the average teenager with Alan Moore’s Silk Spectre in such a way that I am immensely disappointed there is only one more issue to go of this mini-series.

Laurie is tripping balls. As the drugs from Gurustein take effect, she contemplates whether or not he’s as bad as she thinks and how awesome Greg is. She also has a conversation with a man about acid allowing you to perceive all facets of time at once, which made me smile. Meanwhile, back in LA, Sally is freaking out on the phone with Hollis. Since he won’t tell her where her daughter is, she says she’ll call someone else to figure it out. The morning after the party, Laurie discovers Greg unconscious in bed, having choked on vomit in his sleep. Once he comes to in the hospital, Laurie decides it’s time to kick some wholesale ass; she finds Gurustein in the middle of a super groovy orgy, and kicks the shit out of him. The Chairman is there as well, and she tells him he better quit with the drug business if he knows what’s good for him. As all this is going on, Comedian has kidnapped Greg and is threatening him in the morgue. Eddie forces Greg to write and sign a break-up letter to Laurie, and tells him he’ll never see her again. Once Laurie is asleep, Eddie climbs into her window, leaves the note, and swipes one of her smiley-face pins on his way out.

Lots to take apart here. I thought the trippy sequence was especially well handled; between the art and the dialogue, Conner and Cooke did a superb job of putting the reader in Laurie’s drugged-out headspace. My favorite part was her conversation about seeing all facets of time. Now, I’m sure the guy she’s talking to is somebody, as in somebody real from history, but I don’t recognize him, so I’ll leave that determination to you guys. The art on this page is incredible, with his explanation about narrowing the gap between reality and our perception of reality spiraling inwards, until we get to a perfectly bemused, flat teen-aged response of “what?”

While the art is exceptional, the writing is phenomenal. To have Laurie so carefully explain why she prefers to live in the now instead of experiencing all time, all the time, perfectly sets up the eventual failure of her relationship with Jon. Instead of clumsily referencing a point from Watchmen merely for the sake of tying the stories together, Conner and Cooke are very gracefully foreshadowing the character Laurie will become. If anything, they are foreshadowing a better character then she will actually become.

That’s actually a really interesting point. We are extremely harsh on the Before Watchmen stories we feel aren’t well representing the original characters (coughNiteOwlcough), but I think Conner and Cooke here (and Cooke with Minutemen) have created better versions of these characters. With Minutemen, Cooke is more just filling out Moore’s original character outlines, but there is no doubt in my mind that this Laurie is a better than Moore’s Laurie. She’s more complex, her motives are clearly defined (even when they’re obviously driven largely by angst), and I just plain like her more. Same with Sally: seeing her adopt a motherly role on top of the stage-mother-esque attitude towards Laurie as a superhero makes her so much more approachable, and a lot easier to understand.

One other quick little detail I love in Conner’s art in this issue. Issue 1 we went crazy for the little cartoony chibi-like panels Conner used to show Laurie’s thoughts. Here in issue 3, Laurie’s thoughts are shown through examples of fine art: Edvard Munch’s The Scream when she’s hungover, a variation of John William Waterhouse’s Lady of Shalott when she’s with Greg at the hospital, and what I believe is a variation of Egon Schiele’s Seated Woman shortly before she finds the note from Greg. I wondered at the change on my first read through, but on my second pass I noticed art books scattered on Laurie’s bed. This is super clever; not only have Conner and Cooke given us a believable, in-story reason for the change in Laurie’s daydreams, they’ve also highlighted for us the fact that she is maturing. She’s still a teen, still fantasizing her way through life, but she’s internalizing more mature images to go with her more mature outlook. Super fucking clever, guys, well done.

Drew: Well done, indeed. There’s a lot of great stuff in this issue, but I need to pause a minute to marvel at just how good this title is. It’s so good, in fact, it’s more or less made me eat every word of criticism I’ve had for the endeavor as a whole. My initial assessment of Before Watchmen as “unnecessary at best, damaging at worst” has been utterly disproven by this issue. Indeed, what we have here is such an effective exploration of one of the least-developed main characters of Watchmen, it actually enhances my enjoyment of the source material (whether I appreciate this series as canon or not).

Perhaps more importantly, Before Watchmen has caused Shelby and I to quibble quite a bit about fidelity to the source material, but Shelby has always recommended patience, as these are all very short arcs that are necessarily as self-contained as Watchmen itself. Last month had me dismissing this title’s circle motif as foreshadowing of her relationship with Eddie. Of course, it didn’t take long for Cooke and Conner to utterly subvert that expectation, turning what I had dismissed as clunky coincidence into an unexpected cause and effect. Shelby (and Patrick) rightly balked at my overly reductive assessment, and of course, time has proven her absolutely right. She trusted this creative team to tell a great story, and that faith has been rewarded with easily the best arc of the prequels.

Eddie coming to protect Laurie at Sally’s behest just makes sense. We know from Watchmen that he does feel some sense of responsibility for her, and the thought that Sally would take advantage of that feeling to get her daughter back fits so beautifully with her character. It also reveals a tender side to Blake’s character that is only hinted at in Watchmen. He clearly cares for Laurie, but he also respects Sally’s wishes that he never speak to her. It’s a surprising moment of decency for a character who is often portrayed as an amoral monster. Conner brilliantly emphasizes this point by having Blake pet Pigpen, Laurie’s three-legged cat, as he visits her room.

That little act of tenderness primes us for the much more profound moment of Blake taking the button. Of course he takes a souvenir; he’s just such a big softie.

Thematically, I love the idea that Blake had an ongoing — but always secret — influence on Laurie’s life. It adds depth to the symbolic connections we see in Watchmen, making them mean as much in-universe as they do to the reader. It doesn’t actually change (or even actively comment on) any of the events from Watchmen, but it rearranges them in fascinating ways.

The references during Laurie’s acid trip are a bit more on-the-nose, but it’s so appropriately druggie-philosophy that it works anyway. The only big groaner for me was when that guy she talks to (my best guess is the Skipper from Gilligan’s Island, if that makes any sense) mentions specifically that the world may end in 19 years. Otherwise, that sequence is an absolute pleasure, with Conner pulling out all of the stops to disorient our own sense of space and time. My favorite trick has to be when she starts thinking about the Chairman.

That kind of silhouetted overlapping images would be a neat enough effect, but Conner takes it a step further by having the images encroach on the panels before them. It really upsets our sense of cause and effect, and brilliantly illustrates that Laurie doesn’t have complete control over what she’s seeing (or when).

It’s hard to pick a favorite image from that sequence, so I’m just going to throw in another; Laurie’s fanciful imagining of who her father might be.

It’s a goofy and horrible thing to think about your own mother, but I’m particularly interested with who Laurie throws into the mix. We see all of the Minutemen, of course, and Larry Schexnayder, as well as the Chairman (who Laurie was just thinking about), but what about these other guys off to the left? The only one I recognize — the one copping a major feel — is Harpo Marx. Why? It’s appropriately random, but it may also be an oblique reference to Groucho, the inspiration for the Comedian’s design. That reading is tenuous enough to make me question it, but also appealing enough to make me defend it. I’d love to hear everyone’s thoughts in the comments.

Have we mentioned how dense this title is? I can’t believe how much stuff happens in this issue, or that Laurie and Greg only arrived in San Francisco in the previous issue. It’s been quite a ride, and has rocketed Amanda Conner to the top of my “buy whatever this artist is involved with” list. I’ll wholeheartedly agree with Shelby’s disappointment that there’s only one issue left.

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?


12 comments on “Before Watchmen – Silk Spectre 3

  1. That moment of decency from Eddie is made all the more surprising by the horrible things he was just so recently doing to Greg.

    I wonder if Sally had relied on Eddie for things a lot in the past, or if this was a last-resort sort of situation? Her calling him now doesn’t totally jive with the way she freaks out when he’s talking to Laurie after the Crimebusters meeting, but there’s a lot of baggage in that whole relationship, so I’m not too concerned about it.

    • It definitely seems like her last resort — or at least her second choice after calling Hollis. I assumed that she only allowed Eddie to help on the condition that he not speak to Laurie at all, which he obliged because he’s a bit of a softie when it comes to his daughter. Making this scenario jibe with what we’ve seen takes a bit of reading-between-the-lines, but I think it actually enhances the action here.

  2. Also, let’s never fight again (until we both fundamentally disagree on the reasoning behind the steps a creative team takes in executing their vision)!

  3. What’s really interesting about the way Drew was dismissive of all the smiley face imagery was that it seemed like you (and I to a lesser extent) saw it as an obviously symbol of Laurie’s relationship with Eddie. But the reality — and this distinction is so precious — is that it represents Eddie’s relationship with Laurie. And further, the smiley’s inclusion in Watchmen proper means something more now.

    • Yeah, I really love that. It was actually because of the obviousness of the symbolism that I was dismissive — it felt like kind of a hollow connection. Little did I know that that connection was actually incredibly meaningful. I may need to reevaluate how quickly I pass judgement issue-to-issue.

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