Today, Drew and Taylor are discussing Silk 3, originally released January 13th, 2016.
Drew: Superhero comics are full of tropes, from character types to specific situations our heroes find themselves in. There are a number of ways that a savvy creative team can avoid those tropes, but over a long enough publishing history, even the most innovative series will come upon ideas that have been done a million times before. Without characters and situations to distinguish one series from another, tone ends up being the signature of most superhero comics. Batman is darker than Superman, Deadpool is sillier than Spider-Man, and while those tones can change with creative teams and time, they tend to stay in the ballpark precisely because its the tone that separates one book from another.
I might make the same argument for sitcoms — any number of shows might have similar storylines or characters, but Seinfeld will never get you invested in character relationships the way How I Met Your Mother might. The notable exception is the “very special episode” — particularly common in family sitcoms in the ’90s — where shows would often jettison their tone wholesale in order to address a “serious” subject. These tend to be few and far between, but M*A*S*H is famous for slowly turning into a “very special episode” factory, eschewing the silliness of the early seasons in favor of earnest (though often heavy-handed) anti-war messages. That change wasn’t necessarily seen as a negative — indeed, M*A*S*H‘s final episode is still the most watched finale of any television series — but it must have been an odd transition for those who tuned in for irreverent fun. I find myself in a similar situation with this volume of Silk, where the tone seems to be shifting rather deliberately from the whiz-bang fun of Silk’s earlier adventures.
As with M*A*S*H, the shifting tone isn’t necessarily bad, nor totally without precedent — Cindy’s always been grappling with how her past manifests itself in the present, but this issue wields them a bit clumsily, lacking the Proustian grace of those early issues. Take, for example, Cindy’s argument with Peter, which triggers a memory about how she used to fight with her boyfriend. Cindy being swept up in a memory is something I’ve always loved about this series, but this one doesn’t quite connect. Unlike happening upon an old favorite restaurant or a locket or something, it’s the act of fighting that sets her off here, but neither fight seems so emotionally turbulent to justify the connection. Moreover, we’re not talking about a specific object or location, but a basic type of human interaction; does every fight Cindy has send her into a flashback?
Ultimately, that connection just exists for Cindy’s therapist to suggest that her problems all stem from anger, which I’ve never really gotten from Cindy before. Don’t get me wrong — she has every reason to be angry, I’ve just never seen that as a particularly strong motivator in her past. Certainly not in this volume, which may be why this emotional turn feels so jarring to me. She’s already motivated by so much — finding her parents, getting justice for her brother, deceiving Black Cat, holding onto her job, making friends — that it’s either too much to add “anger” to that list, or reductionist to lump those all in as “anger.” Mostly, though, I think “anger” feels wrong because Silk has mostly been a lighthearted character, albeit with a strong twinge of melancholy.
The trouble for me is that this doesn’t read so much like a “very special episode” as it does a roadmap for the series going forward. I don’t mean to suggest that that’s all bad — I trust writer Robbie Thompson, and am sure this will yield a great story — just that I’m going to miss the tone of the first volume. Much of that may rest in the absence of artist Stacey Lee, whose bright, approachable character designs kept the tone light even when Cindy was dealing with heavier material. Tana Ford’s style is decidedly different, a little more lived-in and less designer-y, which lends her characters a kind of pitiful realness that emphasizes the tonal shift in Thompson’s writing. Again, it’s not bad, just different, which requires some adjustments to my expectations.
Taylor, I know you were a big fan of the final issue of the previous volume, which, between the darker material and Ford’s art, sets the tone for this issue in a lot of ways. I’m curious if that enthusiasm has carried over into this volume, or if you’re struggling with some of the same things I am. Also, isn’t Shrike the worst?
Taylor: My enthusiasm for this series is still there, but you did a good job of pointing out something that has been bothering me with this series since the soft reboot. I feel that the character of Cindy is ultimately what drives this series. Without her, it’s basically just another Spider-Man clone. In the first run of Silk, Cindy lived and breathed on virtually every page. I read and enjoyed the series not because of the events necessarily, but because Cindy is such a fascinating character. That interest, as you pointed out, stems from her simultaneous buoyancy and melancholy.
That being said, I too found the turn of Cindy’s sadness to anger a bit perplexing, the not least so because there is no follow up to its pronouncement. With her therapist, it is suggested that Cindy is angry because she’s afraid of life outside of the bunker. This seems like an odd prognosis because it’s so antithetical to the way Cindy has acted throughout this series. She’s passionate, yes, but that passion rarely seems to be transmuted into anger. A more believable reaction to Cindy’s fear is the response we see earlier in the issue. When confronted with conflict, Cindy just shuts down, as is wonderfully illustrated in this scene with Peter.
Even though Cindy knows she shouldn’t, she can’t help but shut down when she’s in an argument. This reaction seems much more attuned to the type of person Cindy is and maybe hints at a deeper well of depression lurking within Cindy that we don’t know about. More than that though, I think I favor this reaction more than anger because it’s more interesting. Heroes who are motivated by anger are a dime a dozen (Batman, Hulk, the Punisher, just to name a few) but a hero who has to actively battle shutting down during conflict? That’s something new and it piques my interest. Can you imagine the danger Cindy could be put in if she shuts down at the wrong time or is paralyzed by the stress of being hero? It would be bad for Cindy, but could make for a hell of a good comic.
Even if I’m not a huge fan of the tonal shift in the narrative, I did find myself enjoying the tonal shift with Tana Ford’s art. Ford draws more realistically and less iconic than Lee and while that leads to very different character designs than I’m used to, I find it by no means off putting. My favorite panel of Ford’s work comes when Shrike (who is the worst) and Silk are searching the sewers for the Underground City of the Goblin Gang.
This fish-eye panel is something I don’t think we ever would see an a Silk issue drawn by Lee. That’s not a knock against Lee by any means — it’s just that it’s something that I would never guess to see with her style. However, this technique is obviously in Ford’s wheelhouse and it’s used to great effect here. By definition, the fish-eye view distorts the image it presents. In the above panel, Ford uses the technique to give me a sense that of the endless twists turns Silk and Shrike are enduring in an effort to find the Underground City. In addition, Ford creates a collage of images showing us the progression of Shrike and Silk’s conversation during their search. This helps denote time and specifically that a lot of it has passed. Together, these two aspects of the panel enhance the narrative because it makes me feel the ins and outs of the sewer, and feel the passage of time, rather than simply reading it. It’s the type of panel that reminds me that comics can do things no other medium can. In that sense, even though the artistic tone is different in this issue, it’s still super effective and engaging.
Ultimately though, I’m not sure that this issue is supposed to amount to a “very special episode.” We get promises of characters moving in new directions and new tones being explored, but nothing substantive enough is done with these shifts that make me feel something out of the ordinary is happening in this issue. But perhaps that just means the special episode is yet to come. Maybe this issue is just putting the pieces in place for for something truly jarring to happen next. Whether or not that be the case in the future, Silk has earned my trust for future issues and it will be interesting to see what happens next.
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 Comixology and download issues there. There’s no need to pirate, right?