Painkiller Jane #1, March 2006, cover by Amanda Conner
We need Amanda Conner to draw more Power Girl.
No I am not going to give you the context for this panel
This is really good art
She-Hulk #2 Amanda Conner Variant
I was confused what’s so special about her changing into a gym outfit, but then I realized… is that her uniform? I see the S and the H.
Pain Killer Jane - The 22 Brides #1 (wrap around cover) by Amanda Conner
Hi everyone! This week’s first Graphic Pick (I had last Friday off :)) is Before Watchmen. Released last year, this series was as fascinating as it was controversial. I read most of the comics collected in the three graphic novels in this series as they were released, but today, I’ll mostly be focusing on my favorite volume, which collected Minutemen and Silk Spectre. Before Watchmen features a lot of adult themes and situations, most of which are depicted in a stylized way, but there’s also some pretty graphic violence here too, so I’d recommend these books to older high school students and above.
If you don’t read a lot of comics, then you might not know that Watchmen is one of the most critically acclaimed series ever. Instead of summarizing it, I’ll just say that if you haven’t read it and you’re interested in comics, then you probably should. It’s a dark deconstruction of what it means to be a superhero, set in a rather dystopian alternate America of 1985, and if you’ve ever wondered about how superheroes (and supervillians) might fare in a world more like our own than the ones you see in most comics, Watchmen will show you just that in disturbing detail. (Watchmen is excellent, but it’s definitely disturbing too.)
The Minutemen/Silk Spectre volume of Before Watchmen is my favorite because it expanded on the histories of some of the characters that I liked best in Watchmen and who I wanted to learn more about. Of course, part of the reason that this series is so controversial is that Alan Moore didn’t write it; the stories are from the creators’ imaginations, and as such, they sometimes contradict certain elements of the original series (and the Watchmen movie—the first issue of Comedian is the main one that comes to mind, but I’m sure that other fans have spotted discrepancies of their own.) However, Darwyn Cooke and Amanda Conner are two of my favorite writers and artists out there, and I felt that the stories they told did these characters justice.
The Minutemen were the superheros that preceded the Watchmen, and their rise to fame during the 1940s, as well as their subsequent deaths and retirements, are the focus of this series. This was something I always wanted to know more about after reading Watchmen, because for the most part, we’re only given tantalizing clues about what the Minutemen were like at the height of their popularity. In Watchmen, most of the original members are dead, and the only survivors that readers encounter—Hollis Mason, the original Night Owl, and Sally Jupiter, the original Silk Spectre—offer fond and regretful recollections in equal measure.
The framing device for this story is that after retiring, Hollis writes a tell-all book about his experiences as Night Owl…only the book that’s eventually published doesn’t really tell all. After writing the book, Hollis shows it to his surviving comrades, and none of their reactions are especially positive. In the end, the truth that Hollis tells as he reflects on his career as a superhero, and the truth revealed in his memoir are very different. The changes he ultimately makes to his book are mostly meant to protect his friends, but Hollis has a secret too.
One thing I really loved was seeing the propaganda created about the Minutemen—how patriotic they were, what good friends they all were—versus the more complicated realities of their personal lives, their true motivations for becoming superheroes, and the rivalries within the group. Ultimately, this team of heroes is as believably complex as their successors, and I really enjoyed Darwyn Cooke’s work on this series.
I love Amanda Conner’s work—I really hope I get to see her again at C2E2 this year, because she’s a great writer, a great artist, and exactly the kind of creator to explore Laurie Juspeczyk’s early days of fighting crime. Seeing more of Laurie’s past made it clear why her relationship with her mother was so strained. Here’s a good example of their dynamic:
Silk Spectre is about a lot of things: it’s about how Laurie took up her mother’s mantle—not just because of the training her mother put her through, but for her own reasons—but it’s also a story about the admiration and antipathy that exists between mothers and daughters, the risks and rewards of pursuing independence, and what it can be like to be a superheroine in the boys’ club that is your average superhero team. Silk Spectre and Minutemen are both entertaining, heartbreaking, and uplifting in equal measure; I’d recommend this volume of Before Watchmen to any fan of graphic novels.
Thanks for reading, and I’ll see you again on Friday!
Power Girl #4
Justin Gray, Jimmy Palmiotti & Amanda Conner
Power Girl #8
Justin Gray, Jimmy Palmiotti & Amanda Conner