Strictly from a storytelling perspective, one of the problems with the whole idea of “Before Watchmen” is that the temptation to take events from “Watchmen” and write stories around those moments has got to be huge. It’s also a dangerous thing to do, because you’re instantly opening yourself up to comparison with Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons. So when a preview of “Before Watchmen: Silk Spectre” #1 showed up and revealed that one of the early moments of the comic would be revisiting the scene where Laurie drops the snow globe as a child? Well, it was good reason to be worried.
Darwyn Cooke and Amanda Conner co-wrote “Before Watchmen: Silk Spectre” #1 together, but there’s unfortunately not much substance to the comic. For a character who felt the least developed out of the main cast of “Watchmen,” it’s Laurie that theoretically had the most open canvas on which to add material. Instead, I feel like we’re getting nothing new here, that in many ways this is a combination of moments we’ve already seen and a typical 1960s romance comic mashed together.
Fortunately only the first couple of pages do a point-blank retread of “Watchmen” itself, but Cooke and Conner seem unable to avoid referencing other facts and pieces of history of the character from “Watchmen.” In this issue alone we get references to Laurie’s mother Sally having changed her last name from Juspeczyk to Jupiter, or the Tijuana Bible that was created about Sally. There are a couple of good moments, like when Laurie is home by herself and attacked by a burglar, or the little fantasy moments that run through Laurie’s head in reaction to the world around her. But for a character that was underdeveloped in the original “Watchmen,” the lack of any substantive material in this first issue (and wasn’t that the whole point of “Before Watchmen” anyway?) is telling.
If you are going to read “Before Watchmen: Silk Spectre” #1, it’ll probably be for Conner’s art, which looks great as always. Unlike “Before Watchmen: Minutemen” #1, Conner sticks to the nine-panel grid format of “Watchmen,” and she’s clearly a strong enough artist to make that difficult structure work. In doing so, she gives herself a little creativity with it; every time we get a flash into Laurie’s fantasies running through her head, those moments are missing the panel borders that the rest of the images are contained in, and they are allowed to run wild and bleed across the page. It’s almost as if Laurie’s so trapped by her mother that we only get to see her fantasies truly run free.
Conner’s figures are strong; she’s got her typical slightly cartoonish style on display here, and both Laurie and Sally are clearly on-model from Gibbons’ original character designs. Moments like Laurie perfecting the pole vault look graceful and keep in line with how we’ve seen her move previously. And with new characters, they all look straight out of the ’60s, which was clearly Conner’s intention. Like “Before Watchmen: Minutemen” #1, this is visually a great-looking comic.
“Before Watchmen: Silk Spectre” #1 is the sort of comic that ultimately falls short because of the overall idea of the “Before Watchmen” project; if you don’t give anything new to the reader, the project feels unnecessary. And unlike “Before Watchmen: Minutemen” #1, “Before Watchmen: Silk Spectre” #1 doesn’t bring anything that interesting to the table that we haven’t seen before. The art is excellent, but that’s about all that one can recommend for the comic. If Conner had just drawn 23 pages of Silk Spectre pin-ups, I think I’d have been just as happy. Ultimately, “Before Watchmen: Silk Spectre” #1 is exactly what I’d suspected a lot of these comics would be; very pretty, but no real substance behind it.