Chad Nevett and I will be reviewing every issue of Before Watchmen through a discussion with each other. We pick up following Chad's year-long break from comic book blogging with Silk Spectre #4, by writer Darwyn Cooke and artists Amanda Conner and Paul Mounts.
Brian Cronin: It's hard for me to judge the good parts of Silk Spectre #4 without thinking of that goddawful final sequence. Think about this - how you choose to end your comic book often affects how people will remember a single issue, but this wasn't just the end of one issue, it was the end of the SERIES - and Cooke and Conner decided to end it with this awkward sort of metafictional scene that made me feel like I was watching a Fozzie Bear routine. I kept waiting for someone to say, "Wokka wokka!" after some of the lines. She looks at the Comedian. "He looks like someone's old man." Holy shit!
It is a shame, since there was a lot to like about the issue. Conner continues to do an excellent job on the artwork for the series, and Paul Mounts is outstanding on the colors for the book. The way that he is able to switch moods without Conner having to really change her art is impressive. He especially nailed the lighting for the sequence where Laurie crosses the line and just flat out kills the bad guy (after effectively killing him a few panels earlier with a stiletto to the throat).
What do you think about the whole "Laurie as killer" approach of the book? It reminds me a bit of Identity Crisis, where we learn that Sue Dibny was raped years earlier and just never talked about it. Since Doctor Light's rape of Sue is only brought up after she is killed, Sue never has a chance to react to the rape. It was horribly handled - rape as purely a matter of getting the story from Point A to Point B, and just one of the myriad of reasons that I disliked Identity Crisis. While the retroactive revelation that Laurie killed Frank Sinatra (or whoever he was supposed to be) is not nearly as dramatic as Sue's rape, it is still a pretty darn significant change to Laurie's background, but since we're learning this after we've already seen how Watchmen went, how does it really affect our understanding of her character? It seems like a bit of a waste, to add something so dramatic and then inherently acknowledge that it will never be addressed again.
One thing I will have to give Cooke a ton of credit for is the letter that the Comedian made Greg write to Laurie. I just love how Cooke handles the Comedian trying to write a break-up letter in the voice of a young man, while obviously letting his own personal voice carry through on a number of occasions.
Chad Nevett: That concluding scene is pretty silly. Of all the things that one could consider 'unnecessary' about this project, getting a character-by-character rundown of the Crimebusters meeting from Laurie's perspective seems to be near the top of the list. So much has been explored in that meeting, even reflections on it by Laurie, that adding more is a definite "Why bother?" moment. Especially cutesy stuff like you mentioned. Maybe within the context of this mini-series, you could see how it works, but taken within the context of Watchmen and Before Watchmen, it doesn't work. Especially that final line. Because we needed the Laurie/Jon relationship explicitly framed within the mother/daughter relationship...
For whatever reason, I hadn't considered what Laurie killing Frank Sinatra here means for the character. I think it's a moment that undercuts some of the youthful naivete that she's supposed to show around the time of the Crimebusters meeting. If it had happened after that meeting at some point, it would have worked better, I believe. She just reverts back to a young girl so much that it's hard to reconcile. But, that tension is also pretty interesting. Maybe she would swing back towards that type of behaviour after her experiences, trying to hide from the incredibly violent and 'adult' world she just lived in by becoming a bit younger in attitude and behaviour and embracing her mother's dream. It's a nice retreat... kind of.
Something I had to go back and check was if Conner used the Comedian/Sally attempted rape scene as a model for the Laurie/Sinatra fight. It doesn't appear to be the case. No direct visual callbacks. I'm a little surprised at that, because I imagine the temptation to do that was there. Good on them for resisting.
Take away those final two pages and this was a good ending, don't you think?
BC: As I brought up before in the first issues of J. Michael Straczynski's two books (Nite Owl and Dr. Manhattan), that Crimebusters meeting is one of the most famous sequences in comic book history, so I totally get why the Before Watchmen creators would like to make a reference to it, but damn, does every Before Watchmen series seriously have to have a scene set in that meeting?
And yes, if it Laurie becoming a killer had been shown later in the timeline, it would have worked better. As it is, she effectively just went back to totally normal after killing. It's not like there were significant moments within Watchmen where a hardened Laurie would have paid off, so I don't see the point in setting it up at all.
Agreed, it was definitely a smart move of them not to try to draw a visual callback to the rape of Sally.
As for the ending, yes, take away the final pages and I think Cooke and Conner gave us a strong ending to the series. More so than the other series, Cooke and Conner chose to make this series a pure origin comic. It really was just "how did Laurie become Silk Spectre?" and it is a great origin story. The way that she embraces her mother's ideas, but with her own twist on the idea, is strong. I also liked how even when she moved back in with Sally, she kept bringing over certain types of guys just to mess with her mom.
Hollis, by the way, comes off wonderfully in this series. I mean, no one ever really thought BAD about Hollis, but boy does he seem like a saint in this series. How great was the sequence where Laurie comes in on the after-effects of a brawl and Hollis acts almost offended that she doubted that he would have come out on top in the fight, even at his age.
CN: The Crimebusters meeting was pivotal in Watchmen -- mainly because it's the one time where all of these characters were together in the same place. It's easy to see why (almost) every book wants to return to it. But, it's also a scene that was so well exlpored in Watchmen that I don't think there's a lot there for the Before Watchmen folks to use. Unless it's something like what we get here and, then, they are better off leaving it alone.
If this series did something very well, it's show us how Laurie could embrace this life despite it being something that her mom pushed on her. We got a sense of that in Watchmen; but, she also gave it up to a large degree. This book did a good job of enhancing that element, showing how she went out on her own and was sort of dragged back into the family business by her own desire to do it.
The obvious companion book to this one is Minutemen where Hollis... doesn't come off bad, but definitely a bit less good. Between that book and this one, Cooke adds depth to the character that wasn't in Watchmen. A bit more conflict, a few more sides to the man. It's also interesting to see how he and the Comedian are set up in comparison to one another. While Hollis is "Uncle Hollis," it's really a comparison between father figures and their approaches to Laurie. What's funny is that the Comedian is far more similar in his approach to Sally than Hollis is despite Hollis being the man that Sally chooses to allow in Laurie's life.
BC: I think Hollis in both here and Minutemen is shown to be one of the only heroes motivated by an actual sense of justice and not more prurient desires like fame, power or sadism (or whatever you call comedian's motivation).
The Hollis/Blake comparison is even more interesting when you look at what it was that ultimately drove Laurie back to her mother - it was the words of Blake (through Greg). Clearly that letter didn't drive her to become a hero, as she was headed there anyways, but it drove her back home to her mother's influence. And that's significant as Laurie never gets invited to that Crimebusters meeting if she's still just fighting crime among the hippies in San Francisco.
CN: What I can't but wonder: would she have been better off if that had happened instead?
BC: Hmmmm...I think she ends up with one of the happiest endings of all of the Watchmen characters, as not only is she happy with her guy (which she could have had in San Francisco) but she also seems at peace with her mother (which she never would have gotten if she stayed in San Francisco) so I guess I think things did work out best for her. Plus, all that blue cock!
CN: Does blue cock really make up for seeing a large chunk of New York dead? I think that's the real question of this series. But, you're probably right. She definitely has one of the more 'productive' emotional arcs in Watchmen as she comes to terms with her mom, her dad, and a lot of other baggage that's been there since before she was born. And it was all because Edward Blake is a fucking bastard who will break his daughter's heart to accomplish what he wants. Damn... even to get emotional growth and maturity, Laurie needs to be fucked over by her parents...
BC: I don't think there was any way to avoid Ozymandias' plan from going into effect. Laurie really doesn't play any ultimate role in that drama, did she? I guess the argument is that San Francisco Laurie wouldn't have to live with the truth behind the attack, but it doesn't really seem to bother her all that much in watchmen, does it?
But yeah, it is messed up how much control her birth parents had in her life.