Posts Tagged ‘amanda conner’

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I hope I’m not giving too much away right off the bat here, but Frank Sinatra is dead in the so-called “Watchmen Universe.”

Okay, fair enough, he’s dead here in the real universe as well, and has been for a good long time now, but he died a lot sooner — and a lot more hilariously — in Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons’ fictitious world than he did in ours. As a matter of fact, the Tarantino-esque one-two punch that does in the Chairman Of The Board in the fourth and final issue of Amanda Conner and Darwyn Cooke’s Before Watchmen : Silk Spectre miniseries is the single-most effective sequence in any of the BW books to date as well as being the only laugh-out-loud funny moment in any of them so far (it honestly wouldn’t feel out of place at all in, say, Marvel’s new ultra-absurdist Deadpool book) and it’s worth the $3.99 cover price in and of itself.

Fortunately, this book has some things going for it, as well, most notably Conner’s superb artwork, which started out great and has been getting more confident and assured with each issue. She’s saved her best for last, however, and really hits it out of the park with this concluding chapter. My only slight quibble is that in the final splash-page page panel that winds things up (the only splash in this series, come to think of it) she depicts Laurie as being considerably younger than she had appeared previously, which could be explained away as a realistic-enough choice on Conner’s part since this is an image of her iconic first meeting with Dr. Mahnhattan and depicting their age difference in such a stark manner would really drive home Janey Slater’s famous “chasing jailbait” line, but — she makes Dr. Mahnhattan look like some sort of love-struck teenager, as well. Seriously. He looks more like a blue kid sidekick than the most powerful man in the world. So the image, while amazingly well-rendered, is a bit of a head-scratcher.

Still, that’s it for gripes as far as the artwork goes. Conner’s pencils and inks, coupled with Paul Mounts’ superb colors, are all in top form here and I hope the two of them are teamed up on another project in the not-too-distant future. Now, as far as the story is concerned —

Well, whaddaya know? I don’t really have much cause to bitch on this front, either. Yeah, things get wrapped up a bit quickly and conveniently, and it does at times feel like Cooke and Conner are rushing to get things in the can ASAP before they run out of pages, but it at least all makes a kind of sense, and the characterization of Laurie and Sally Jupiter and Hollis Mason is spot-on throughout. Even when Mason is stoned off his ass (yes, you read that right). All in all, it’s an admittedly inconsequential, but nevertheless damn fun little read.

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And that word right there — fun — is what sets apart not only Silk Spectre #4 (variant covers by Conner and Bruce Timm, respectively, as shown), but this entire mini- series as a whole from the rest of the Before Watchmen pack. Conner and Cooke didn’t set out to trump Moore and Gibbons here, nor were they so slavishly beholden to what had  gone before that they were hesitant to add their own stamp on the character. They just seemed content to tell a simple story well and have fun while they were doing it. The end result? The BW series that I frankly had the lowest expectations for going in has ended up (at least to this point) being the best of the bunch.

 

While I’m understandably quite hesitant to say which of the various Before Watchmen series is the “best of the bunch” yet — for a couple reasons, one being that none of them are over and the other being that it’s frankly impossible to tell if some of them are even good or not at this point (although it’s fairly obvious that a couple just flat-out aren’t) — I do think it’s entirely fair to state that at this point Amanda Conner and Darwyn Cooke’s Silk Spectre has slowly, even imperceptibly, managed to establish itself as the most interesting of the bunch, which is rather saying something given that it suffers from one of the same narrative weaknesses so apparent in Cooke’s Minutemen series, namely : he gets what looks for all intents and purposes to be a coherent overall plot rolling in the second issue and then all but abandons it in the third.

If you’ll recall, last time around we were made privy to a scheme engineered by no less than Frank Sinatra himself to turn all the hippies in the Haight into rabid consumers thanks to a new strain of acid that the Chairman of the Board was going to distribute to all the “flower children” thanks to his stooges within the “flower power” scene, legendary LSD “cook” Owsley and offensively-lecherous-black-hippie-cult-leader-who’s-really-just-there-to-bang-all-the-white-chicks Gurustein. In this third installment, which starts with an extremely well-drawn-by-Conner acid trip that Laurie’s taking, we get to see just what effect said new strain of everybody’s (well, mine, at any rate — back in the day) hallucinogen has on the young Ms. Juspeczyk, and she has a brief confrontation with monsieurs Sinatra and Gurustein about it, but most of this issue is taken up with another new plot wrinkle altogether —

Apparently, after sitting last issue out, Sally J. decides she’s fed up with waiting and that it’s time to bring her daughter home. “Uncle” Hollis Mason’s “soft touch” approach isn’t yielding the desired result quickly enough, so our gal Sal decides it’s time to bring in the heavy hitters — in the form of The Comedian, who’s pretty much done a guest turn in every one of these books now. And while Conner draws Eddie Blake in an almost cartoonishly innocent fashion for reasons that, frankly, escape me, his characterization in her and Cooke’s hands in much more spot-on than it is even in his own series, never mind the others. The lengths he’s willing to go in order to insure his still-unbeknownst-to-her (of course) daughter’s return home are well and truly frighteningly amoral, and for those wondering just where the Alan Moore-Dave Gibbons Comedian has been hiding in any of the BW books, the answer is — right here.

 

The last point worth a mention here (guess this write-up’s gonna be quicker than I thought) is that Conner and Cooke close out — well, almost close out — the book on a very curious note indeed : they show us the origin of The Comedian’s “smiley face” button, which yes, sounds like absolutely pointless fanwank of the highest order, and in the hands of J. Michael Straczynski certainly would be just that, but here, in the unlikely pages of Before Watchmen : Silk Spectre #3 (variant covers, as shown, by Conner and Mike and Laura Allred, respectively) of all places, it’s handled just about pitch-perfectly and maybe even threatens to be a little bit — dare I say it? — touching.

So, that’s where we’re at with three issues down and one to go here, which means that Silk Spectre will be the first of these mini-series to end. Conner and Cooke have a fair amount to tie up, and I’m fairly certain that a number of key points will be left dangling for the other series to pick up on, but at least it looks like we’re going to have a story that follows something like accepted linear plot progression here and not the kind of ducking-in-and-out-of-various-career-highlights-and-lowlights that we’re getting over in MinutemenNite Owl, and, most unforgivably given its rather auspicious (as far as any of these books go) start, Comedian. We’ve had some decently-handled character development mixed with an unexpected amount of high weirdness, all presented, I must say, with rather lush visuals from Ms. Conner, and so far this is the one BW title that has managed to surpass my (admittedly limited) expectations for it. Strange as it feels to even type these words, I find myself actually, and actively, looking forward to seeing how this one’s going to end.

Which, of course, means that they’re probably going to end up fucking the whole thing up. But I guess a guy can dream.

 

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.

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.