One thing I’ll say right off the bat when it comes to the first issue of the second Before Watchmen miniseries, Silk Spectre — the art, by the very able Amanda Conner (who also co-wrote the script along with Minutemen writer/artist Darwyn Cooke) is absolutely stunning. Conner utilizes the familiar Watchmen nine-panel grid developed by Dave Gibbons (yay! glad to see it back!) in the original series, but whereas Gibbons put his grid to use depicting grim n’ grimy urban decay, Conner delivers a modern update on the good old-fashioned romance comics look, with smooth, flowing lines that capture the youthful innocence (and naivete) of her central character, a teenage version of Laurie Juspeczyk/Jupiter, better known to all of us Watchmen aficionados as the (second) Silk Spectre. The lush and wide-ranging palette employed by colorist Paul Mounts complements Conner’s guardedly-optimistic pencil and ink work perfectly, and the result is an evocative, even forlorn at times, visual feast. You get the sense from looking at this book that Laurie knows her innocence is coming to an end, and is both eager to cleave to whatever elements of it still provide her comfort, as well as to shed those parts of it that are holding her back.
And speaking of holding her back — that’s exactly how she sees what her mother, Sally, the original Silk Spectre, is doing by forcing her to become a second-generation costumed crime-fighter. While it’s painfully obvious to anyone with a pulse that Sally’s trying to relive her own youth vicariously through her daughter, it’s also abundantly clear that Laurie doesn’t want much to do with the profession her mom’s chosen for her, and that central tension is what will lie at the core of the book, at least by all indications from this first issue.If that sort of typical coming-of-age fare doesn’t grab you, though, then neither will Before Watchmen : Silk Spectre #1. Because the other various plot elements sprinkled in — Laurie being ridiculed at school over who her mother is and what she used to do for a living (both during and after her spandex adventuring career), then falling in love for the first time, then running off with the guy she’s so smitten with — are pretty standard tropes as far as this whole genre goes, as well. It’s not a bad read, per se, by any means, but it’s not a necessary one, either, and while it’s rather interesting, as an exercise in variety if nothing else, to see the teen romance thing filtered through the prism of the Watchmen universe, this first issue, like last week’s Minutemen premier, doesn’t really add anything to our knowledge and/our understanding of the character. It’s just telling some story from her youth that so far doesn’t seem in any way especially compelling, even if it is pleasant enough lightweight reading.And it’s that word right there — lightweight — that pretty much sums up my disappointment with the first couple installments of this Watchmen prequel bonanza in a nutshell. Both Minutemen and Silk Spectre have been throwaway reads that don’t do much apart from look nice and avoid explicitly contradicting what’s come before. They haven’t proven that these books actually have any point apart from crass commercial considerations (speaking of which, this also comes packaged in three different covers, as shown above, by Conner, Dave Johnson, and Jim Lee, respectively). Not upsetting the apple cart might be enough to satisfy some readers, but when you’re packaging your books specifically as an extension of the Watchmen legacy, it’s probably fair to say that a good number of us are expecting something more challenging, thought-provoking, and dare I say even revolutionary than what we’ve seen so far. We’ll see what the first issue of Comedian has in store for us later this week, and whether or not it can finally — hopefully! — justify why these titles are even being published in the first place. So far, though, it seems that Alan Moore’s — uhmmm — vociferous reservations about the whole enterprise were entirely justified.