Monday, December 31, 2012

Watchmen: Chapter XII - complete annotations


Thematic Overview: 

Noted creators such as Darwyn Cooke and John Byrne have criticized Watchmen for being too grim, too pessimistic.  They argue it casts superheroes in the “wrong” light, eschewing the inherent optimism of these four-color demigods for a dreary, hedonistic view of humanity and superhumanity.  They protest that Watchmen is bereft of hope, a cornerstone of the superhero genre.  With all due respect, Cooke and Byrne and other like-minded people have completely misread Moore’s & Gibbons’s narrative.

Fittingly, this final chapter encompasses the overall theme of Watchmen, hope.  Hope for a better, more loving world, a world in which governments hell-bent on each other’s destruction find common ground and work toward peace.  It is a hope that subtly permeates this final chapter, simmering beneath the surface of the horror committed by Adrian Veidt and exemplified by all of the main actors in this drama.  In my introduction to this project I allowed that people’s varied interpretations of art are all valid.  But in this case, I must argue that anyone unwilling to see the optimism of Watchmen is bringing his or her prejudices too much to bear upon this narrative and has misconstrued the intent of the authors.  Watchmen is a dark and, at times, horrific piece of fiction, but behind its dismal, gray tones the possibility of a bright future is revealed.

The most obvious indication of this hopefulness is the climax of the book, when news reports stream across Veidt’s television sets proclaiming Russia’s withdrawal from Afghanistan and subsequent offer of assistance to America, averting the imminent nuclear devastation that had been hanging over everyone for so long.  This newfound cooperation between Russia and the United States is further exhibited in the final pages, as we follow Seymour through the reconstructed New York intersection that was ground zero for the “alien attack.”  Business signs – the Burgers ‘n Borscht restaurant, an advertised double feature of noted Russian filmmaker Andrei Tarkovsky, at the New Utopia – and advertisements – Millennium fragrances and Sunburst candy – dot the NYC landscape, signifying this new forward-thinking atmosphere.   

Ultimately, the most significant symbols of hope are the heroes – each, in his or her own way, exemplifying the optimism inherent within the human spirit.  Veidt, unable to conceive of failure, risks his conscience and his life on a shocking plan, the outcome of which is never guaranteed.  Dr. Manhattan, so detached from humanity, brings hope to Laurie and the others when, convinced of the wonder of humanity, he returns to Earth.  Dan and Laurie, overwhelmed by the enormity of Veidt’s plan and the realization they must now become tacit accomplices, choose to take up their costumed mantles once more.  Each of them, despite the weight of their knowledge, chooses life. 

And finally, there is Rorschach.  Some might term it obstinacy, but his unwillingness to forego his moral code, even in the face of Veidt’s apparent triumph, is an unfettered and unflinching hopefulness that most of us cannot aspire to.  We are too practical, too logical, too insecure to adhere so resolutely to our convictions, especially when presented with such a damning argument against such a stance.  And yet, Rorschach refuses to give in, refuses to be swayed, refuses to give up.  And in that act he exemplifies the strongest positive outlook one can have – a hope against hope.

Friday, December 28, 2012

Watchmen: Chapter XII - page 32


Panel 1:  In the pile in the foreground we can see that Rorschach’s journal is still there.

Also note that Seymour is wearing a smiley face shirt, which certainly seems in keeping with the character.

Panel 3: And we discover that the “RR” who might be running for President is, in fact, Robert Redford.

Panel 4:  Hector Godfrey’s remark, “…who wants a cowboy actor in the White House…” is obviously an ironic commentary on the fact that, at the time Watchmen was published, there was a cowboy actor, Ronald Reagan, in the White House.

Panels 5-6:  And with the drop of ketchup that fell onto his shirt in panel 5, Seymour now has a smiley face image with the same red splatter as we saw on the Comedian’s smiley face button.

Panel 7:  And with this close-up image of the splattered smiley face shirt, Watchmen ends as it began.

The dialogue in this panel – “I leave it entirely in your hands.” – is not only a directive for Seymour, but is also a directive for the audience, leaving it in our hands how we believe the story continues.  Does Seymour run something from Rorschach’s journal?  Does he run something else?  Will the tenuous peace achieved by Veidt crumble in light of the revelations from Rorschach’s journal?  Or does the world continue to move forward, working to solidify this peace that was achieved at such a cost?  The questions, and the possibilities, are endless, and Moore & Gibbons leave it all in our hands.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Watchmen: Chapter XII - page 31


Panel 1:  This panel shows us the “new dawn” on that fateful intersection of New York City that has been the hub of this narrative.  It is a time of coming together rather than divisiveness, as shown by a number of things in this image.  On our left we see a new restaurant, Burgers ‘n Borscht, which is a very literal commingling of America (burgers) and Russia (borscht), symbolizing the new understanding between these superpowers that came about as a result of Veidt’s plan. 

In the background, the Hiroshima lovers graffiti is being painted over while the nuclear fallout shelter sign is being taken down – two of the prime symbols of the fear that hung over this world. 

In the far background, high in the air at roughly the center of the panel, we see a zeppelin crossing in front of the clouds, symbolic of renewal after the demolished zeppelin seen at the opening of this chapter.  On the right, Pyramid Construction – obviously a company of Veidt’s – is helping to rebuild this intersection, and the “New Deal” sign on the construction fencing is reminiscent of FDR’s New Deal – a series of economic programs enacted in the United States during the mid-1930s, in an effort to lift us out of the Great Depression. 

In the far right of the image, we can see the placard for the New Utopia Theater, which is airing an Andrei Tarkovsky double bill – “The Sacrifice” and “Nostalgia.”  The first bit of significance of this is the fact that the New Utopia is showing films by a lauded Russian filmmaker, again exhibiting the newfound camaraderie of the United States and Russia.  Secondly, the titles allude to two of the prime themes of Watchmen – that of the nostalgia that permeated so much of the narrative and incited characters to action, and the great sacrifice exacted by Veidt on the citizens of New York in order to achieve his goal of world peace.

But we also have some graffiti remarking on the aftermath of Veidt’s “alien invasion” as we can see on the fence just below the “New Deal” sign a statement that did read “One in Eight go mad,” but the eight was crossed out and replaced with a 3, signifying the madness caused by Veidt’s squid.

Panel 2:  The point of view for this panel is from the spot where Bernie had his newsstand.  The newer, sleeker spark hydrant and the automated newspaper vending machine are symbolic of the two Bernies, the younger who liked to sit against the spark hydrant to keep warm and the older one who ran his newsstand here.

The Gazette headline – “RR to Run in 88?” – appears to be an allusion to Ronald Reagan, who was the President of the United States at the time.  But we will learn that it is not Reagan whom the pundits are asking about.

More importantly, though, this headline is another indication that the world, and the country, is moving on, as it appears Richard Nixon is not the top candidate any longer after his five terms in office.

Panel 3:  The “One World One Accord” poster is the most prominent symbol of this new world order in this panel, and it is significant that this poster is replacing the old nuclear fallout shelter one.  The Promethean Cab (+ Limo) Company sign stating it is “under new management” offers an equally positive message, as that company is able to start over after the devastation wrought by Veidt’s “alien attack.”

Panel 4:  Here we see the ad for Millennium by Veidt – a new fragrance that looks to the future rather than at the past, as Nostalgia did.  Again, another indication of the new world order that came about, as a result of Adrian Veidt.  Also noteworthy is the graffiti:  “Quantum Jump” and “New Deal,” both of which are positive, forward looking phrases.

Panel 5:  Note that the figure walking down the street, Seymour from the New Frontiersman, is wearing what appear to be Veidt shoes.  More importantly, the graffiti beyond his legs reads “Watch the Skies” instead of “Who Watches the Watchmen?”  The world has rallied around their common enemy in the stars and, even if they haven’t forgiven or forgotten, the populace seems able to reconcile living in a world with adventurers now – or, at the very least, they don’t feel the need to be on the lookout for them now.

Also, just beyond Seymour’s right shin, we can see the Pioneer Publishing entrance – publishers of the New Frontiersman where Seymour is employed – and its symbol, which are two “P”s back to back forming a symmetrical image very similar to Rorschach’s signature and the symbol for the Rumrunner Bar, as seen in Chapter V.

Panel 6:  Across the street, in the background, we can see a clock at roughly a minute to noon (which looks the same as the “minutes to midnight” clock motif that has run throughout the book) and an advertisement for a new candy, sunbursts, which seems to have replaced mmmmeltdowns and it allusions to nuclear devastation.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Watchmen: Chapter XII - page 30


Panel 3:  The new costume being described by Laurie in this panel sounds very much like her father, the Comedian’s, costume.

Panels 6-7:  This scene is often looked upon harshly – the problem for some being, how can Sally Jupiter have any affection for a man who so violently assaulted her when they were young?  But one reading of this – and, by extension, Sally’s overall feelings toward Edward Blake – could be that Sally, despite the atrocity she experienced at Blake’s hands, values the daughter that came from such an unexpected coupling.

It is also worth noting that, in this panel, Sally is still living in the nostalgia that has carried her this far – an interpretation reinforced by the bottle of Nostalgia perfume featured in the center of the image on her nightstand.

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Watchmen: Chapter XII - page 29


Panel 1:  The bottle of “Millennium stuff” that Sally mentions here is the new perfume from Veidt, replacing the old Nostalgia brand, as mentioned in the back-matter for Chapter X.

Panel 2:  The book that Dan picks up from Sally’s end table is the copy of the Tijuana bible seen in Chapter II.

Monday, December 24, 2012

Watchmen: Chapter XII - page 28


Panel 1: and the image of Sally Jupiter with her back to us, her bathrobe mirroring Veidt’s cloak in the previous panel.

And Sally’s dialogue also calls back to the previous page, as she complains about people “begging” on Christmas day, stating “…it never ends…” mirroring Dr. Manhattan’s comment to Veidt on panel 5 of Page 27 that “…nothing ends.”

Panel 2:  The family name of this couple, Hollis, is an obvious allusion to Hollis Mason, the original Nite Owl, and is one of the many aliases that Dan Dreiberg (Nite Owl II) set up in case he ever needed to go into hiding.

Panel 3:  The Outer Limits episode running on Sally Jupiter’s television, “The Architects of Fear,” is one that has a similar plot to Watchmen.  Alan Moore has stated that he discovered this similarity while looking through a guide to cult television.  He and Gibbons had their ending already worked out and included this reference to that episode as a way of signifying this coincidence – whether unconscious or unconnected.  It need also be noted that this plot was not unique to this Outer Limits episode, writers such as Theodore Sturgeon and Kurt Vonnegut had used a similar plot in their prose years before “The Architects of Fear” aired on television.