Before Watchmen: Silk Spectre #2 - colten97
Almost invariably, the various Before Watchmen books have left me feeling as though I'm re-reading a familiar old favorite rather than a truly bold or original new story. So many of these books are already shaping up to be mere extended takes on material previously explored in the original series. The one true exception so far is Before Watchmen: Silk Spectre. This series benefits in part from the fact that Silk Spectre was the least fleshed out of the main cast in the original series. There's simply more room for Darwyn Cooke and Amanda Conner to explore and grow the character. But this series also has a tendency to subvert the reader's expectations of what a Watchmen prequel should be, and that's an invaluable quality to have.
Whereas issue #1 was mainly a teen romance drama, Laurie's coming-of-age journey shifts from high school to young adulthood and she and her boyfriend Greg build a new life among the flower children of San Francisco. Interestingly, the tone of the series remains much lighter than the other Watchmen books. While there's the occasional line of dialogue or bit of violence to remind readers how grim this world can be, by and large Laurie is still in a very optimistic state of mind and in pleasant surroundings. The big question with this books is, as Laurie's mother warned in issue #1, just how the world will choose to disappoint her in the end.
Cooke and Conner do a fine job of striking a different voice and general tone in this series than Cooke's comparatively grim Minutemen series. Their script doesn't rely overly much on narration, for one thing. A written letter serves as a framing device in the early pages, and it provides a fun bit of irony as the happy details Laurie writes down clash with the events actually unfolding on the page. Beyond that sequence, the writers allow the dialogue and art to convey the story instead of overloading the page with pointless text.
Issue #2 introduces a larger villain for the rookie Silk Spectre to contend with. Here again the book goes against the grain of what readers may be expecting from a series like this. The new villain's fiendish plan to manipulate the pacifist, nonconformist, counterculture youth in America is almost comically goofy. The resulting conflict should be fun, but hopefully not to the point where the book starts feeling like a lost Austin Powers film.
The art quality is where Silk Spectre faces its stiffest competition among the Before Watchmen books, but Conner's pencils more than hold their own. No one in the industry is better at drawing powerful, expressive female heroes. Unlike most of the artists, Connor sticks to the 9-panel grid format of the original Watchmen. At times it would be nice if her panels had more room to expand and breathe, but she makes the most of the format regardless. Where this issue falls a bit short of the mark compared to the first is in the lack of daydream sequences. The brief asides showcasing Laurie' imagination at work were a fun addition to issue #1. With Laurie exploring her hippie side in this issue, one would think there would be more room for daydreams and surreal imagery, not less.
Unfortunately, the Curse of the Crimson Corsair backup remains dull and unremarkable, even after the debut of the titular pirate captain. Visually, these segments are too clean and modern to convey the sense that they're pulled from a lost pirate comic from several decades ago. Worse, the story simply isn't interesting. It feels like a formulaic attempt to reproduce an iconic element of Watchmen without acknowledging what purpose that element served in the first place.
Silk Spectre arguably had the most potential of the Before Watchmen books, and so far Cooke and Conner are realizing that potential.