Comix Month, Take II : “Before Watchmen : Silk Spectre” #2

Posted: July 19, 2012 in comics
Tags: , , , , , , ,


Okay, now we’re getting somewhere. While the first issue of Amanda Conner and Darwyn Cooke’s Before Watchmen : Silk Spectre miniseries had a bit more substance to it than the previous week’s Minutemen #1, it still felt more or less like all set-up material and not much else, and it’s only with this second installment that it feels like we’re really getting into the teeth of the story itself. Which isn’t the end of the world in and of itself, I suppose, but it does mean that by the time we actually have some sort of clear indication of where things are heading here, the series is already half over, given that it only runs for four issues, but I’m beginning to realize — not that I actually condone this, mind you — that cheating the customer as far as getting their actual money’s worth from a book goes is part and parcel of the modern mainstream comics industry. But I digress (as I’m so often wont to do).

Anyway, a teenage Laurie Juspeczyk, sick of her retired heroine mother’s meddling in her life, has run away from home with her high school boyfriend, Greg, and now they’re in San Francisco during what I assume to be the height of the Haight-Ashbury period, living with some friends, one of whom has the incredibly stupid name of “Chappy,” in a communal-type Victorian house. Laurie’s got a gig waiting tables, they’re all getting high a lot, and man, they’re just being, can you dig?

There’s a dark shadow falling over the Haight, though — a cat who goes by the handle of (speaking of stupid names) Gurustein (a black hippie with a Jewish-sounding name, way to prejudice the reader against three groups of people in one go!) has devised a plan, together with local mobsters, legendary acid chemist Owsley (who actually makes an appearance in the book) and “Merry Prankster” Ken Kesey (who does likewise) to get the kids hooked on a new type of hallucinogen that will turn them all on to the groovy vibes of mass consumerism now that the corporate world is taking a hit thanks to the “peace and love generation” figuring out that we don’t all need separate washing machines, refrigerators, stereos, TVs, or even clothes and records! Sharing, in other words, is a real bummer as far as “The Man” is concerned.

All of which, goofy as it sounds, has some basis in reality. Sort of. There’s ample evidence to suggest that LSD itself was introduced on a mass scale by our good friends at the CIA in order to de-radicalize and de-politicize the emerging youth culture of the late 1960s before it could actually present a threat en masse to the status quo (after all, you’re less likely to give a shit about all the various causes you’re wrapped up in while you’re spending half the day in la-la land), and — sorry if this bursts anyone’s bubble — there’s also pretty solidly-sourced material out there indicating that leading proponents of “LSD culture” such as Timothy Leary, Ken Kesey, and yes, even Owsley himself were, in fact, intelligence assets in one capacity or another.

Sure, this might all sound like it has nothing to do with a fictional “consumer drug” being developed, but it’s not as great a leap as it might first appear to be when you consider that the first few CIA directors were all former Wall Street men and that “The Company” has basically operated as a clandestine front to advance US business interests from its outset (and, yes, continues to do exactly that to this day). So things here aren’t nearly as far-fetched as they may seem, even if Cooke’s dialogue and characterization are, at times, painfully clumsy (he seems much more at home dealing with the ’40s than the ’60s).


Oh, and somewhere in the middle of all this Laurie has her first official “costume” made and goes out crime-fighting on her own for the first time, but that’s almost incidental, at least at this point, to the main thrust of the story here. Anyway, Conner’s art is, as I’m quickly coming to expect, gorgeous as always, it’s great to see her continuing to employ Dave Gibbons’ classic nine-panel grid while not being afraid to express her own style in her own manner, Paul Mount’s colors are flat-out superb, and both covers (as shown, respectively) — by Conner and Josh Middleton — wrap the whole package up in a pleasing form. Cooke’s scripting is still miles away from even attempting to  match Alan Moore in both form and execution, but this series is at least headed in an interesting direction, even if the going is a bit uneven and the gulf between the quality of the artwork and that of the story remains pretty wide.

  1. Ok. I’ve seen the evidence about Leary ratting out the Weather Underground, but what’s your support for these claims about Owsley and Kesey?

    • trashfilmguru (Ryan C.) says:

      Let’s also not forget Leary’s convenient escape from prison! There’s plenty of stuff out there that raises serious questions about the political allegiances of leading “acid culture” proponents, including Owsley and Kesey, but a couple of the more noteworthy sources that leap to the top of my mind are David Black’s superb “Acid:A Secret History Of LSD” and a long-running series that Dave McGowan’s been running on his Center For An Informedd America website titled “Inside The LC.” The web address for that is McGowan has some pretty far-out stuff on his site, including “we never went to the moon” nonsense, but his articles on who was really running the show in terms of the 60s counterculture are fairly well-researched and persuasively written. Definitely worth a look. In addition, conspiracy magazines like Paranoia and Steamshovel Press have included numerous articles on this topic over the years, some obviously better than others. Anyway, if you’re looking for material of that nature, there’s a wealth of it out there on the internet, but separating the wheat from the chaff is always the tricky part — fortunately, it’s also the fun part!

      • Leary’s prison escape was aided by members of the Weather Underground, and the fact that he gave names up to the FBI is fairly well documented. Leary’s primary political concern was his own self-interest. He was also anti-authoritarian and he took great pleasure in puncturing the certainties of the left and the right. I was bummed when I learned that Leary had given up names to the FBI. It was a total dick move. But the historical record is pretty clear on that one.

        I would be equally bummed to learn that Leary/Kesey/Owsley were on the CIA payroll. If there was good historical evidence supporting such allegations, I’d have to accept it. But there is zero proof.

        The CIA clearly played a role in the cultural emergence of LSD. Leary/Kesey/Owsley clearly played a role in the cultural emergence of LSD. But this doesn’t mean that Leary/Kesey/Owsley were working for the CIA. That’s faulty logic; it’s a bad syllogism.

        One of the best (i.e. well documented with support provided for all of the authors’ claims) books about CIA and LSD is ACID DREAMS by Martin Lee and Bruce Shlain. The book does not argue that Leary was on the CIA payroll.

        You mentioned the Black book. I’m trying to find a copy through Interlibrary Loan. Do you know if the author specifically clams that Kesey, Leary, and Owsley were working for the CIA? If so, do you know what sort of evidence he provided?

        As for the “conspiracy literature,” it’s not very compelling. I have followed these currents for many years, and the vast majority of this work is characterized by faulty logic and a lack of evidentiary support for the authors’ claims. A case in point is McGowan’s site.

        What does he say about Timothy Leary? Well, I found five pages that reference Timothy Leary. On the first page, he asserts that “Tim Leary was best known for being a painfully obvious CIA asset,” but he provides no support for this claim. Notice the use of passive voice. Known by whom? The second page just mentions him in the context of Altamont, but makes no specific claims. The third page mentions him in passing, but makes no specific claims.

        On the fourth page, in a footnote, he writes that that “fraudulent 1960s icon Timothy Leary decades ago explicitly defined dissent as a physical/psychological disorder when he said: “‘the cause of social conflict is usually neurological. The cure is biochemical.'” There is no citation for the quote, and there is no context provided. If you track down the original source, Leary makes this claim in the context of a discussion about “consensual reality.”

        On the fifth page, McGowan asserts (without support) that “Skinner and Orne – as well as numerous others at Harvard, including Timothy Leary and Richard Alpert – received heavy funding from both the CIA and the U.S. Army… Also on board at Harvard at the time was Dr. Henry Murray, overseeing the work of Leary’s Psychedelic Drug Research Program and various other CIA-funded projects.” There is no support provided for this claim. What does heavy funding mean? Who specifically was funded? How much did the CIA provide? How much did the Army provide?

        McGowan does not mention the Boston Globe article (9/1/77) which claims that the CIA actually funded the research of one of Dr. Kelman.

        The article states: “Dr. Herbert Kelman, Harvard’s Richard Clarke Cabot professor of social ethics, admitted yesterday receiving a grant from the Human Ecology Fund, but said he didn’t know until recently that the organization served as a conduit for CIA money.Kelman said he requested and received $1000 from the fund for non-drug-related purposes in 1960, just three years before he successfully argued for the expulsion of Leary and co-researcher Dr. Richard Alpert for their alleged use of Harvard undergraduates in LSD research.”

        It’s important to note that many people who received CIA funds at this time were *not* aware that the agency was underwriting their work.

        [OWSLEY and KESEY]

        In part XIV of his history, McGowan talks at great length about Owsley. He calls into question Owsley’s family history, noting that his grandfather was a politician and highlighting the fact that Owsley spent time in a mental institution as a child. He also observes that Owsley served time in the USAF. Then, he tries to lump Owsley in with Shulgin, suggesting — in a very misleading way — that Shulgin was working for the DEA. (Honestly, we’re talking about the author of Phikal here. Do you really think Shulgin was a DEA stooge?) The article is full of undocumented assertions, name-calling, and guilt by association techniques, but he does not claim (or prove) that Owsley was on the CIA payroll.

        In a second page referencing Owsley, McGowan suggests that people fell for the faked moon landing because they were tripping on really good Owsley acid.

        The third page suggests that Owsley supplied the Monkees with LSD in the 60s.

        None of this proves — or even claims — that Owsley was on the CIA payroll. None of this proves that Kesey was on the CIA payroll.


        I agree that separating the wheat from the chaff is the fun part. But, when it comes to claims about Owsley, Leary and Kesey being on the CIA payroll, there is no wheat. It’s all chaff.

      • trashfilmguru (Ryan C.) says:

        Thanks for such a great and thoughtful reply, wish I had time right now to answer all the points you make, and hopefully I can do so in the next day or two! Suffice to say for the time being that it’s been many eyars since I read Black’s book, but as far as I can recollect, he never explicitly calls anybody a CIA asset. I’ll try to fish it out in the next few days, have a quick re-read if time permits, and see whether or not my memory is accurate, but I think any insinuations he makes are careful and oblique — more hints than explicit charges.

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