Before Watchmen – Silk Spectre 4

Alternating Currents: Silk Spectre 4, Shelby and Patrick B4W

Today, Shelby and Patrick are discussing Silk Spectre 4, originally released November 28th, 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 undoubtedly been one of the shining stars of the Before Watchmen event, and is hands down my favorite title of them all so far. I would even go so far as to call it one my favorite titles, period, and am supremely disappointed that it is already over. The art is clean and clever, the writing smart and natural. Amanda Conner and Darwin Cooke do not disappoint as they conclude Laurie’s story in San Francisco and seamlessly segue to the Watchmen Laurie we all know.

Turns out, Greg is not the first boy Sally has chased away; she’s made a habit of keeping boys away from Laurie, by hook or by crook. Laurie thinks back on her mother’s anti-boy platform as she re-reads the letter from Greg, which was actually from Eddie. Meanwhile, Hollis is asking around after Laurie, even at the Chairman’s club. Things are getting a little too hot for the Chairman, so he sends his foxy ladies to clean house, killing everyone involved in his drug ring. The ladies get to Laurie’s house at the same time Hollis does: a fight ensues, and naturally Hollis wins with some good ol’ fashioned punchin’. Laurie was already in a pretty shitty mood, but seeing all her friends’ things ruined pushes her over the edge; she suits up and goes after the Chairman. She finds him at the club, having just killed those playing card goons from issue 2. Another fight ensues, and Laurie just about loses. Luckily, she kicks him in the throat, impaling him on her boot heel. He stumbles out the door, and she grabs his gun, eager for some vengeance. Before she can shoot him down, however, he gets hit by a bus.

Just like in Mean Girls.

Now that it’s all over, Hollis drives Laurie back home to LA. At her going away party, she gets the skull charm she wears on her choker, and the costume she wore in Watchmen from her seamstress friend. At home, she tells her mom that, while she’s glad for the lessons she taught her, she was going to do things HER way going forward. The issue ends with that infamous (and oft repeated) Crimebusters meeting where Laurie first lays eyes on Dr. Manhattan.

I love the way Laurie’s relationships with men have come together in this issue. With the flashbacks of Sally literally scaring boys away from Laurie since she was a child, we see concrete evidence of the scars men have left. I’m sure Eddie is a big contributor to Sally’s desire to protect Laurie from men, but I think her ex-husband has a share in that heartbreak as well. Eddie may be a cold-hearted bastard, but when Sally calls him for help, he gets the job done. He’s there for her, in his own black and twisted way. I’m so impressed with the way Eddie has been portrayed in this title, Conner and Cooke perfectly walked the line of murderous asshole and father who cares. Yes, it’s true, he threatened to kill Laurie’s boyfriend if he didn’t break up with her and join the army. But, he also made the kid write Laurie a letter that was kind of sweet: not “I don’t love you,” but “I love you too much to see you hurt.” I was heartbroken to read that note, but also relieved that it was as gentle as it was.

C and C have even set the stage for Laurie’s relationships going forward into Watchmen proper. When she sees Jon in all his blue, bald glory, one of her first thoughts is about how much it would piss off her mom to bring him home.

I'm afraid I just blue myself.

I’ve always wondered why anyone would be in a relationship with Doctor Manhattan. He is considerate, I guess, but only in an abstracted, conceptual sort of way. He genuinely cares about Laurie, but there was never any emotion behind it. Conner and Cooke explain it all; Laurie met Jon at a time when bringing men home to make her mom mad was her primary motivation for just about everything. The composition of that panel is great, too: the clock on the wall at ten ’til midnight, Eddie’s legs cutting across the page like an interruption, Dan there but cropped out and ignored.

And what about poor Dan? Laurie sees him right away, and immediately dismisses him as a total square, someone she would never date. She’s right; Dan Dreiberg, despite what JMS might want us to think, is a total square. He’s not the kind of guy Sally would hate! In fact, she might even like him! Painting Jon as another sign of rebellion against her mother and Dan as the square shows that, by choosing Dan in the end, Laurie has matured and gotten back to a place where men are more than a means to an end. Conner and Cooke have built up Laurie and her situation here in a way that retroactively shows growth.

We’ve said before that Alan Moore doesn’t write women well, and cited Watchmen as an example. That’s true, but not altogether fair. Watchmen is, among many other things, a commentary on comic books as a medium; Sally and Laurie are one-dimensional characters because that’s how superheroines were written. That was all fine and good at the time, but it’s one of the aspects of Watchmen that now feels dated. Conner and Cooke have taken these characters and reverse-engineered a heart-breaking history that adds depth and soul to these women. I am now heart-broken that this series is over. Also, thanks boys, for letting me write on all four of these issues; you guys are awesome, and I hope no one ever forces you to break up with your girlfriends and join the army upon threat of death!

Patrick: It’d be easier to communicate with my sisters if I joined the army, so that’d be a plus. Downside? Culture of violence. Also culture of discipline. I can’t do discipline.

The women in this series are excellently written and that is a remarkable feat in and of itself. Not only because this is one of the areas where Moore’s Watchmen is lacking, but also because women are frequently lazily depicted in comics at large. So I don’t want belittle that accomplishment – I genuinely love the character dynamics in this thing. But the secret hero of this series is Laurie’s sense of self-discovery. Conner does this delightful thing where she inserts a panel drawn in a specific style to represent Laurie’s fantasies. Early in the series, these were comic-booky panels – and they were adorable. At the time, Laurie was full of hope and wonder and blah blah blah. As she forged her own identity in San Francisco (and began exploring art history books), those fantasies included more sophisticated artistic references. We see the growth of her fantasies through this matured artistic sensibility, but then issue 4 turns that up one notch higher, until the fantasy breaks all together.

Early in the issue, Laurie is still hung up on the idea that her perfect little life was within her reach. Obviously, she’s heartbroken with the news that Greg has up and left, but she’s still not totally ready to give up the hope of a normal life. For Laurie, that normal life is the fantasy. Embracing her destiny as a hero is hard, and it takes her fantasies crashing down around her to finally make that last leap.

I hope we never have to see a montage of all of my fantasies.

Look at this thing: it samples all of her hopes, dreams and fears from the three previous issues. The leaves of the trees bleed into the huge murky thought bubble above her head. This is the last time we’re going to see this tactic used in a Silk Spectre series, because from this point on, Laurie’s living the life she was meant to live, and not the life she dreamed of living. Her goals are concrete, and while her realism may seem negative — or even defeatist — she’s learned who she really is. She’s the motherfucking Silk Spectre.

There’s a lot of other stuff to like about this issue. The acting is all around superb, but I think the best acting comes when Sally doesn’t give her daughter the time of day on the phone. Laurie calls her mother — lord knows what she was going to ask for — and at first Sally is overjoyed to hear from her daughter. But look at the way Sally’s face swings from cocky-but-sorta-knows-she’s-wrong to holy-shit-I-just-want-you-to-be safe.

No, you hang up first.

It’s a testament to how much I like this series (and Conner’s art style), that I barely even mind seeing the first meeting of the Crime Busters staged here again. In fact, I rather like seeing Ozymandias as rendered by Amanda Conner. Over in Jae Lee’s series (which is beautiful in its own right), the Adrian Veidt is ultra-cold and calculating – and that’s pretty true to Moore and Dave Gibbons’ depiction of the character. But Conner’s been drawing everyone round, cute and spirited, so why should she stop for this scene?

That's not a smile that says "I'm secretly planning to kill a bunch of people" - it's a smile that says "nice to meet you."

Why shouldn’t Ozymandias have a sincere, warm smile on his face? It’s exciting to meet new people with similar interests; plus everyone is allowed a moment of joy once in a while.

And that’s what I’m going to remember Silk Spectre for the most: the ability of its creators to mine real joy from such dark source material. What a beautiful ride it’s been.

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?

9 comments on “Before Watchmen – Silk Spectre 4

  1. Just got around to reading this tonight due to the heavy comics week and some medical trouble in my family. You guys’ enthusiasm for this title is contagious, and I already liked it to begin with. I’d like to nominate Darwyn Cooke as the Before Watchmen event MPV. And I’m just dying to finally tackle Hooded Justice in Minutemen… it’s bound to be going that way, right?

    • I’ll second that MVP, but I’d want to extend a honorable fucking mention to Amanda Conner. All the other successes of Before Watchmen have kind of the same flavor or success as Watchmen proper. But Silk Spectre is unique among the minis as a story satisfying in its own right, and satisfying for no reason other than it’s a good story told well. There’s no hint of meta-text or over-cleverness or fascinating moral ambiguity… there’s something so clean and honest about it.

      • Yeah, that’s true, SS has its own voice and would be a great read even if you weren’t familiar with Watchmen at all, but is obviously enhanced by a knowledge of that book. It’s kind of the Prometheus of Before Watchemn, but, you know, fun and care free and without any lingering mysteries. Actually, maybe that’s not the best comparison. Obviously the reason I’d probably go with Darwyn Cooke is that he has his foot not only in this great series but also in Minutemen which I’d also consider a competitor for best BW book. I’m torn between the two and just happy to have both

        • Thankfully, we don’t live in some Twilight-Zone-esque world where we have to choose. I think Minutemen has become the fan-favorite of bunch, because it pulls off the unlikely order of delivering more Watchmen.

          I’m also eager to see the second half of Azz’s minis. He’s got an almost frightening handle on the psychologies of Rorschach and Eddie Blake and I (particularly in the case of Rorschach), I think the latter half of each mini will be mind-boggling, possibly heartbreaking.

    • 1. Is your family ok?
      2. There’s a part of me that doesn’t want to know about HJ. I kinda want him to remain a mystery.

      • Well, I’m waiting to hear some news about my grandmother and I’m hoping that it will be good. She has been put on a ventilator and they will be trying to ween her off of it soon. She is already on constant oxegyn from a lifetime of smoking cigarettes and her lungs basically quit about a year ago, but she has been a strong survivor thus far.

        And, yeah, I’d balk if anyone beside Cooke was in the position to tackle HJ, even if it was Azzarello probably, but I’m so excited to read the last two issues of this book.

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