Ghost with More Substance than God: SILK SPECTRE

Yesterday the second Before Watchmen title hit comic shop racks. SILK SPECTRE #1 is (like MINUTEMEN #1) written by Darwyn Cooke, but this series is drawn by Amanda Connor. No doubt line editor, Dan DiDio, was looking for her to bring the same woman’s touch she brought to her fan favorite runs on VAMPIRELLA and POWER GIRL. I think she aced it.

This title is different from MINUTEMEN in several respects. Firstly, it starts out as a high school drama, and secondly, it is set in the late 1950s. The Steranko-esque cover aside, there are no attempts to capture the era in retro-style pencils or panel design. Otherwise the trappings of the time frame are spot on. Amanda has a real gift for capturing emotions without necessitating the dialogue point it all out, and she seems to have eschewed the stylized, slight-anime look that characterized her interiors on POWERGIRL for the more realistic, yet playful detail of her highly sought cover work. This is the best of both worlds for Connor fans who get to see her work with yet another great writer on a resume that already includes Grant Morrison, Mark Millar, Warren Ellis and Garth Ennis

If Amanda is the star of this issue, Darwyn is only slightly less so.

Cooke uses a collection of interrupted song titles and television soundbites as an issue-wide storytelling device that quite frankly does not work. It detracts from the linear ease of the story which is otherwise fine without it. In fact, I prefer this first issue to the last Before Watchmen #1 because the nature of the smaller cast allows more space to become invested in the titular hero. The rocky relationship between Laurie Jupiter and her mom (original Silk Spectre, Sally Jupiter) is established, as is her outsider status at school as a result of being the daughter of a tabloid heroine. Her training regimen is revealed as is her inner dialogue via brief fantasy panels that rely more on symbolism and facial/body language than forced explanation. Possibly because of the lead character’s age, I found myself reminiscing about the first issues of INVINCIBLE, but (due in no small part to Amanda Connor‘s artwork) I have to say that I prefer SILK SPECTRE thus far.

If it seems I’m being critical of Darwyn Cooke this issue, it’s only because his collaborator out-shined him this time around. I enjoyed this comic immensely, and I eagerly await the next issue. This is by no means the type of comic that Alan Moore would have written, and I think we’re all better off for it. If Cooke had contrived to imitate Moore on this title, it would have resulted in a pale imitation that would have failed miserably. Instead, Cooke is treating readers to a story that I doubt Moore could deliver: a believable tale of teen angst that sheds light on an origin barely hinted at. If comparison is necessary, this might be Cooke doing his best Joss Whedon. And that makes me wish this was more than four issues…

Not exactly comic book related, but definitely in the cannon of pop culture and art is Ridley Scott‘s PROMETHEUS, which opened this past weekend. Scott seems to have revived the original H.R. GIGER designs, which are breathtakingly beautiful on screen. The digital compositing/CGI is the best I’ve seen up to this point, and I can now understand the comparisons to Terrence Malick‘s TREE OF LIFE. Unfortunately, there are casting problems and B-Movie plot holes that really ruin the film. It’s almost heartbreaking that the filmmakers got so much of the really difficult stuff right, only to fail at the easy stuff. The cinematography is incredible, the set design impeccable, and the special effects are deliriously compelling. It’s too bad that they put all that effort behind a predictable and convoluted script –and it is both predictable AND convoluted. It’s a shame that the writers, whose combined credits include the abysmal COWBOYS & ALIENS and an upcoming MUMMY reboot, didn’t take more direction from James Cameron’s screenplay for the first ALIEN sequel, which had an emotional center; something completely lacking in this prequel. Instead, they seem to have started with an interesting premise but then rehashed every ALIENS ripoff, from THE RELIC and VIRUS to the AVP films. With the exceptions of Michael Fassbender, Noomi Rapace, Idris Elba and Patrick Wilson (via flashback), the cast is a parade of stereotypes and clichés. Seriously, Hollywood: perfect the scripts before you greenlight one hundred, fifty million dollar movies!

And another thing: was it really necessary to make us wear those battery powered 3D glasses? There is hardly any 3D in the film. You’d think that a film with vicious, slimy, acid-for-blood aliens in it would have some great “Boo!” moments, but the horror in this was more excrutiating than surprising, and I know of at least a handful of audience members who had to exchange their pairs halfway through the film because the batteries shorted out. Battery powered glasses can’t be healthy, can they? 

H.R. Giger
Motor Landscape (1972)
Silkscreen, A/P from a signed edition of 210
27″ x 34.5″ in 31.5″ x 39.25″ frame

In spite of all that, I think that PROMETHEUS is still worth seeing for the flawless set design and special effects. I actually do recommend seeing it on the big screen, which amplifies the scale of the spacecraft and landscape. But if you can, save your money and catch a matinee or wait until it goes to the cheap theaters. If you’re bringing a date, make sure he or she is up to speed on the first film, because otherwise they’ll be completely confused. Come to think of it, even if you are a well-versed fan, the opening sequence might still leave you somewhat befuddled.

The mere mention of ALIEN gives me a great excuse to post this original signed & numbered, hand-pulled, silkscreen print from 1972 by H.R. Giger, which was published in Carnivora, The Dark Art of Automobiles (Scapegoat Publishing, 2009). Shoot me an email if you are interested in purchasing it. It’s in a gorgeous frame and just happens to be an artist’s proof. It should probably be priced $15K, but the collector who consigned it to me wants it go to someone who will prominently display it, rather than have it languish in his storage facility. He’s got some original Giger paintings already, so letting go of an original print –even one as rare as this one, is no hardship. And yes, I said “paintings,” as in plural.