Pick of the Week

Pick of the Week – 11.28.2012 – Before Watchmen: Silk Spectre #4

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543
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Avg Rating: 4.5
iFanboy Community Pick of the Week Percentage: 1.4%
 
Users who pulled this comic:
Story by Darwyn Cooke, Amanda Conner, & John Higgins
Art by Amanda Conner & John Higgins
Colors by Paul Mounts
Letters by Carlos M. Mangual
Cover by Amanda Conner, Paul Mounts, & Bruce Timm

Size: 32 pages
Price: 3.99

Something occurred to me as I sat down to read Before Watchmen: Silk Spectre #4. I thought about all of the story that had happened in this mini-series up until this point and then I noted that this was only issue number four. It occurred to me that in this day and age of two and three panel pages and writing for the trade decompression, it’s nice to see how much story can be found in the simple nine panel grid in a single issue. Of course telling a great story in a nine panel grid isn’t a simple task; it would be easy for the art to become stagnant and the story to become overly dense. But when masters of the craft decide to utilize the nine panel grid format to tell their story, what you end up with is six (or possibly even eight) issues worth of story in only four.

Darwyn Cooke and Amanda Conner are two masters of the craft.

Before Watchmen: Silk Spectre #4 wraps up what will probably be the best of the Before Watchmen mini-series. It ends up probably being the best because instead of trying to fit into the nooks and crannies of the already established Watchmen story, it was instead a tightly-focused character piece taking place before the events of the original story. Sure, this issue actually touches on events in the original story of Watchmen but it does so in a way that doesn’t alter anything in the original, doesn’t change anyone’s underlying motivations, and doesn’t get preoccupied with the wink-wink moments. It takes a character that we already knew—Silk Spectre—and takes her primary family relationship and the already established negative psychological consequences of said relationship—with her mother, the original Silk Spectre—and fleshes them out. It is a Watchmen story that does not have to be a Watchmen story. Take away the briefly seen costumes and change the names and you’d end up with just a fantastic story about the troubled relationship between a mother and her daughter and we’d still be talking about how great it is.

In case you haven’t been following along, the story so far is this: Sally Jupiter was the original Silk Spectre and she fought crime alongside the first costumed heroes in a group called The Minutemen. Long since retired, Sally had been grooming her daughter Laurie to follow in her Silk Spectre footsteps, while simultaneously being so maddeningly jealous of Laurie’s youth and beauty that she undermined her daughter’s happiness every chance she got. To escape her mommy dearest, Laurie and her boyfriend took off to San Francisco to try find some happiness with the hippies. Which they did. Until Sally sent Laurie’s “Evil Uncle” The Comedian to find Laurie and scare her boyfriend into disappearing in the middle of the night to join the army and go fight in Vietnam. Meanwhile, her “Good Uncle” Hollis Mason (formerly Nite Owl) was also searching for Laurie in San Francisco. There was also a criminal element in San Francisco that used popular music to infect the minds of the young with subliminal messages that ended up causing Laurie to don her own version of the Silk Spectre costume to clash with, but that that part, while a lot of fun, wasn’t really as important as the relationships between the characters.

As messed up as it is, the relationship between Sally and Laurie in this mini-series has felt completely real and authentic, and this issue in particular was no exception. In the opening scene we are treated to a flashback in which Sally sabotages Laurie’s burgeoning friendship with a boy in her neighborhood named Simon. Seeing Laurie, her hand pressed up against the glass, watch Simon run away from her house in fear was heartrending. Later on in the issue we watch as Sally experiences a complex series of emotions when she finally gets to talk to her missing daughter on the phone. She might be mad and she might be jealous, but Laurie is still her daughter and she was worried about her safety and all of those complex and conflicting feelings come out in that one scene. There really was some masterful character work going on in this mini-series by co-writers Darwyn Cooke and Amanda Conner.

I don’t think you’d be able to adequately talk about the great character work in this story and all of the authentic emotions that are being portrayed without heaping a mountain of praise upon Amanda Conner’s art. Her character work is stunning and her attention to detail is second to none. The characters that she draws don’t just act in their facial expressions, they act with their body language. If you took away the word balloons you would still be able to follow the emotional journey of these characters. A prime example of this would be the aforementioned phone call between Sally and Laurie. A detail in that scene that I noticed right away was that Sally had the phone cord wrapped around her finger. Those of us old enough to remember phone cords well recognize this common manifestation of anxiety. It was a great touch. Equally impressive is the way that Conner shows, through facial expressions, how Laurie struggles with the dark side of her parentage. Her father, whose identity is revealed in Watchmen, is quite an evil bastard and in this issue in particular, when she puts the subliminal criminals out of business for good, you can see that she struggles with tipping too far into her dark nature. The point is driven home in a shot of Laurie that is intentionally reminiscent of a shot of her father from Watchmen. It’s comic books that look like this that make so many other books, whose characters all look the same and/or feature the characters sporting the same facial expressions, all the more vexing. But then, not everyone is Amanda Conner.

Or Darwyn Cooke. He’s pretty talented too.

Conor Kilpatrick
Also, this story was funny!
conor@ifanboy.com

Comments

  1. i am just waiting for the week TMNT gets on here

  2. It was a wonderful series. I hope this team collaborates again. I was especially impressed by how they added bits of psychedelia without overdoing it, and by the way the hippie scene was handled with respect and without romanticizing or stereotyping it. And The Comedian here seems more evil that in his own mini.

  3. This book has been brilliant. I look forward to reading it.

  4. I read this and I agree with your POTW Conor, This mini should be in consideration for Best Mini of 2012.

  5. Great pick! This series was fantastic. Exactly how to approach the Before Watchmen books. Along with Minutemen, the only BW series worth the time of day, IMO. Funny how Darwyn Cooke is responsible for both. Also, this is some of the best Amanda Conner art I’ve ever seen. She really took to the time period and had a ton of fun with it. Definitely a book I will be recommending to people.

  6. Can’t wait to pick this issue up (though I’ll have to wait until tomorrow). Great series and worth the risk of going “Before Watchmen”.

  7. I completely agree – best storytelling in all of the comics out this week.

  8. I tried all the BW, but this series by Cooke & Connor and Cooke’s Minutemen were the only two I stuck with. I agree that this was a great tale by itself. This was also Amanda Connor doing award winning stuff and I look forward to checking out her future projects.

  9. “Her character work is stunning and her attention to detail is second to none. The characters that she draws don’t just act in their facial expressions, they act with their body language. If you took away the word balloons you would still be able to follow the emotional journey of these characters.”

    I couldn’t agree more with this statement, one of the reasons Amanda Conner is near the top of my list of favorite artists. I really enjoyed this series, probably more so than any of the other Before Watchen books.

  10. This isnt coming to hardcover/TP for another 2 years… right? If Im lucky.

  11. Great pick, IMO, my little pony was POTW.

  12. Read all my books all new xmen 2 was my pick

  13. What a great series. Amanda Conner was revelation for me. Really unique art style. So good.

    And that Cooke guy might have a future too. Did you see his variant cover…so good!