Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Watchmen: Chapter I - complete annotations

At Midnight, All the Agents . . .

First, a caveat:

In his introduction for the re-issue of Alfred Bester’s The Stars My Destination, Neil Gaiman wrote, “. . . you can no more read the same book again than you can step into the same river.”  Which is true.  When I first read The Lord of the Rings as a teenager it had a very different meaning than when I read it in my early thirties.  I had matured, my understanding of the world had grown, and I had broadened my experiences during the interim fifteen or so years.  It was a far different book than the one I remembered, because my perspective had evolved. 

Which is to say, there are many themes one can pluck from Watchmen and its individual chapters.  It all depends upon your point of view.  As an introduction to each chapter, I have chosen to discuss a specific theme or visual motif found within that chapter, as a way to look at the chapter in toto and to get you, the reader, into a proper mindset for what follows.  I chose to focus on a single theme with each chapter in order to keep you, and me, from getting bogged down under the weight of my own words, and to make each of these chapters a bit less cumbersome.  I would also encourage you to dig a little deeper into your own reading of this book and see what other theme and motifs you discover.  I hope you enjoy.

Monday, January 30, 2012

A Note on the Back-Matter in Watchmen

Most people today have probably read Alan Moore’s and Dave Gibbons’s Watchmen in a collected edition.  This is something we, as readers, have become accustomed to.  And within many of these collections we are used to getting “extras,” whether that be an introduction or sketchbook pages or bits of script, similar to the DVD extras that come packaged with today’s movies.  It’s a bonus for picking up the collection, and, for me, it can be a major selling point for a trade paperback. 

What some people may not realize is that all of the prose back-matter in Watchmen – at least those portions that follow each of the first eleven chapters in the collection – is original to the story.  These pages filled out the remainder of each individual issue, providing 32 pages of story with no ads – something rare in 1986 and even rarer (if not unheard of) today, at least from DC and Marvel.  Moore and Gibbons, from the outset, wanted to do something different and, as part of that, chose to utilize the entirety of the comic book to tell this story, and they managed to convince the powers-that-be at DC at the time this was a good idea.

Comics, as a medium, is often criticized for its literary limitations (for lack of a better term).  The medium’s reliance on the artists’ renditions – restricting the amount of words comfortably included on any given page – is one major reason for this.  It is difficult to create a dense, fully-realized narrative within these strictures.  Which does not mean it is impossible. Taking the pages allotted for ads and using them for these prose pieces is one way Moore and Gibbons managed to add that depth to Watchmen that is so often missing from comic stories.  

Characters and situations only touched upon in the main narrative get elaborated upon in these prose pieces.  But Moore doesn’t wish to shift the exposition from the comic pages to these prose pieces; he is artful in the connections between the main narrative and these extra bits.  One must pay attention to items in the background of the images of the comic pages and then make the links to details dropped in the prose in order to get the entirety of the story.  Warren Ellis modified this approach with the Image series he created with Ben Templesmith, Fell, acknowledging a debt to Moore in the inclusion of back-matter with every issue as a way to justify the cost of the comic to readers and to provide those readers with a fulfilling “slab” of entertainment. 

I know there are people who prefer to ignore these text pieces, and they are still able to get a full story from the comic pages.  But if one dives in and reads these varied pieces (the next couple of chapters include more excerpts from Mason’s Under the Hood, but subsequent chapters will have a variety of items, including psychological profiles and celebrity interviews), one finds that these “extras” enhance and enrich the overall story. 

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Watchmen: Chapter I - page 26


This page mirrors very closely that of page 1, beginning with a close-up on the Comedian’s button and pulling back from it until we are again looking down into the abyss from an almost unattainable height.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Watchmen: Chapter I - page 25


Panel 4: More indications this is a different Earth: The turkey with two drumsticks on one side (assuming there must be two on the opposite side), the two gentlemen sitting together in the foreground who are obviously romantically involved, and the eye makeup for the woman in the extreme foreground on the right, which relates to the Egyptian motif of Veidt, whose companies seem to permeate society.

Also, the dialogue between Dan and Laurie is very realistic – rather than “cartoony” – in that, as is often the case in real life, they do not say what they actually mean, but tell one another what they believe the other wishes to hear, or what is easier to discuss without embarrassment – e.g. Laurie telling Dan that “Everything’s fine (with her and Jon [Dr. Manhattan]),” which is far from the truth.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Watchmen: Chapter I - page 24


Panel 1: Recurring visual symbols of the coming end of days can be seen in the concert poster for Pale Horse as well as the graffiti for the opening act Krystalnacht, which signifies the “night of broken glass” when Nazi Sturmabteilung (SA) militia mounted a concerted attack on Jews, their synagogues, homes, and shops – the shattered windows of these shops and homes being the broken glass.
We also see the “Who Watches the Watchmen?” graffiti – still unfinished, or at least not completely seen.

Panel 2: The nude woman pulling the curtains that Rorschach sees, and his subsequent contempt for her and so many people like her, is representative of his own depraved childhood.

Panel 4: the silhouette of the man and woman embracing in the window will be repeated with graffiti spray painted about the city in subsequent issues, which is symbolic of the silhouettes of people left in Hiroshima and Nagasaki after the United States dropped the nuclear bombs on these two Japanese cities.

Panel 5: In the trashcan in the foreground, an issue of the “Tales of the Black Freighter” is sticking out of the top.
Rorschach’s comment in his journal: “Millions will burn,” heavily foreshadows the ending of Watchmen.

Panel 6: Rorschach’s journal: “Even in the face of Armageddon I shall not compromise in this (the fact that evil must be punished),” foreshadows how Rorschach lives his life and will approach the impending conflict in this book.

Panel 7: Another campaign poster for Richard Nixon, stating “Four More Years,” which also juxtaposes ironically with Rorschach’s journal entry, “. . . and there is so little time.”

Monday, January 23, 2012

Watchmen: Chapter I - page 23


Panels 1-2: In the background, we see Laurie picking up the sugar wrapping and discarding it – another example of the attention to detail Moore and Gibbons gave to Watchmen.

Panel 2: Laurie’s remarks, “I don’t like the way [Rorschach] smells or that horrible monotone voice . . .” give us more insight into the man Rorschach and how he is viewed by his colleagues.

And, her remark, “The sooner the police put him away . . .” also mirrors her “putting away” the sugar cube wrapper.

Panel 4: Laurie in the background and Dr. Manhattan taking apart an intricate piece of machinery in the foreground is symbolic of how readily Dr. Manhattan understands something as unfeeling as this machine while accentuating the gulf between not only he and Laurie, but between he and the rest of humanity.

Panel 9: As Laurie makes a dinner date for later that night with Dan Dreiberg, in the foreground we see a look of beatific happiness on Dr. Manhattan’s face. In one reading, this could be a reaction to the fact that he is close to “locating a gluino, which would completely validate supersymmetrical theory . . .” However, later we will discover that Dr. Manhattan experiences all points in time – past, present, and future – simultaneously, and, knowing that, we can also read this as his happiness at understanding this dinner date for Laurie and Dan will lead to their happiness as a couple at the end of the book.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Watchmen: Chapter I - page 22


Panel 1: Although we know Dr. Manhattan is currently at human scale, this scene, showing Rorschach through Manhattan’s legs, emphasizes the reality that Dr. Manhattan is actually hanging above everything in this world – including the political situation, the reality of electric cars and genetically mutated animals, and most anything else that has changed this world.

Panels 4-6: Another example of how powerful Dr. Manhattan really is – without thinking, he is able to transport Rorschach outside the facility.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Watchmen: Chapter I - page 21

PAGE 21:

Panel 3: Note Laurie’s reaction to Dr. Manhattan’s thoughts on humans: “A live body and a dead body contain the same number of particles. Structurally, there’s no discernible difference.” This foreshadows the problems we discover Laurie and Dr. Manhattan are having, which is indicated visually with Laurie in the background and Dr. Manhattan in the extreme foreground – symbolizing the divide now between them.

Panel 5: This is the first mention of the attempted rape by Edward Blake, which has been hinted at previously.

Panel 6: Rorschach is eating one of the sugar cubes he took from Dan Dreiberg’s kitchen.

Rorschach’s remark: “. . . support the allegations made . . . concerning Blake,” gives us more insight into his personality, as is the remark in

Panel 8: “I’m not here to speculate on the moral lapses of men who died in their country’s service.”

Friday, January 20, 2012

Watchmen: Chapter I - page 20


Panel 1: Another use of the 9-grid to great effect is this first panel, which spans the entire height of the page and crosses over half its width in order to incorporate Dr. Manhattan’s form, showing us just how big he is, while making the reader slow down to grasp what they are looking at.

This, too, is another symbol of these heroes being above everything.
Also of note, vis-à-vis the storytelling, is the fact that the reveal of Dr. Manhattan comes on a page-turn, surprising the reader while enhancing the impact of this large panel and his appearance – blue and nude.

Panels 2-4: We are shown some of Dr. Manhattan’s power as he shrinks his form down – through these three panels and the first one of the next page – to human size.

Also in panels 2 and 3, Rorschach alludes to Laurie’s heritage, calling her Jupiter – the name of the first Silk Spectre, her mother – instead of Juspeczyk.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Watchmen: Chapter I - page 19


Panel 1: The symbol on the Rockefeller Military Research Center sign is the shield of Superman with an extraneous cap on top. This is where Dr. Manhattan – this world’s true Superman – resides.

Panel 2: Rorschach’s musing that Veidt is “possibly homosexual,” is a sign of the times – the mid-80s were a time when AIDS was just coming to the forefront, but many people knew very little about it, with conservatives (such as Rorschach) deeming it a homosexual plague.

Panel 3: Rorschach’s comment, “why are so few of us left active, healthy, and without personality disorders? (emphasis mine)” is ironic considering how mentally unstable Rorschach is.

Panel 9: The only other character in the series with unique word balloons – Dr. Manhattan’s blue balloons.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Watchmen: Chapter I - page 18


Panel 3: Again, we see Rorschach utilizing his grappling hook in order to enter a building many flights above the street. He is extreme.

Panel 4: Moore & Gibbons utilize another large panel. One thing that a large panel does is to make the reader stop. There is so much more to see in a larger panel, plus that “opening up” of the 9-grid structure also unconsciously allows the audience to stop and take a breath – things slow down with a large panel. And used here, it allows Veidt’s contemplation to extend for the reader as well.

On the desk we see the Ozymandias figure Rorschach was playing with, all twisted (foreshadowing the twisted nature of Veidt’s plan and his moral judgment), and we also see – in the pen set – the Egyptian motif that is associated with Ozymandias.
Also of note, the New York Gazette’s headline reads: “Nuclear Doomsday Clock Stands at Five to Twelve Warn Experts,” much the same way that most of the clocks within Watchmen stand at five to midnight.

Also note the sidebar story entitled: “Geneva Talks: U.S. Refuses to Discuss Dr. Manhattan.”

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Watchmen: Chapter I - page 17


Panel 1: Again, we get that visual symbolism of the heroes being above everything, as we look up at Veidt’s skyscraper. Atop the building is his personal symbol – a pyramid – and if we look below the bank of windows, there is a clock with the hands very close to midnight like the Doomsday clock.

Panel 3: Note that Rorschach is not wearing his hat while speaking with Veidt, showing respect for this “better class of person,” something that seems almost contrary to the character of Rorschach.

Panel 4: This is the first panel where the audience sees Veidt’s color scheme of purple and gold (his hair). Like most superheroes in comics, these heroes have their primary color schemes: the Comedian is red, white, and blue, Dr. Manhattan is a light blue, and Ozymandias is purple and gold (colors of royalty).

We also see Rorschach is playing with a doll on Veidt’s desk that, readers find out, is an Ozymandias action figure.

And Rorschach shares another insight into this world when he states, “America has Dr. Manhattan. Reds (the Russians) have been running scared since ’65.”

Panel 5: Ozymandias says, when speaking of the Comedian, “The man was practically a Nazi,” which is an astute observation about the type of man Blake was.

Panel 6: Behind Veidt, we see a poster for his benefit performance for Indian Famine Relief, which will – like many things within this story – be significant later.
Rorschach’s defense of the Comedian gives us insights into the personal character of Rorschach. It’s all about the ends, not the means.

Panel 7: “. . . Never became a prostitute,” is a jab at Veidt, who did all the things Rorschach mentions.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Watchmen: Chapter I - page 16


Panel 3: Rorschach, with very little movement, breaks this man’s finger. The nonchalant manner in which he does this, delineated precisely by Dave Gibbons’s articulate linework, makes this violent act a more disturbing reading experience than the typical planetary battles commonly seen in mainstream comics. This is another sign that Watchmen is not a typical superhero comic. It is more real.

Panel 8: From Rorschach’s journal: “First visit of evening fruitless. Nobody knew anything. Feel slightly depressed.

The emphasis in the above quote is mine, and is used to highlight Rorschach’s personality. He is someone who does not only see violence as a means to an end, but passes it off as just a part of the job. He is depressed because he found nothing out, but couldn’t care less about the man with the two broken fingers.

Panel 9: “Never surrender,” is what Rorschach is all about, and foreshadows his ultimate fate in Watchmen.

“I have business elsewhere with a better class of person,” indicates the next member of the Watchmen we are to meet, Adrian Veidt – Ozymandias.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Watchmen: Chapter I - page 15


Panel 6: The Pale Horse jacket is again symbolic of the “end of days” feeling during the 1980s.

Panel 7: The remark, “Musta changed his deodorant!” gives us another clue into Rorschach’s personal habits, which are less important than his pursuit of criminals.

Panels 7-9: The 9-grid layout also allows the writer and artist to create a sense of timing within the book. By having this very rigid panel layout, it sets up a rhythm within the readers’ minds, something that is not possible in a comic that does not employ such a rigid layout.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Watchmen: Chapter I - page 14


Panel 1: Rorschach is writing in his journal with his left hand, if we needed any more evidence that he is a southpaw.

Panel 4: Rorschach is looking down from the top of one of New York’s apartment buildings, again giving a sense of these heroes being above it all, while they look down into a deep abyss threatening to swallow them all.

Also note the poster in the window: “Stick With Dick in 84.” Another indication of how our world differs from this one. Richard “Tricky Dick” Nixon, instead of being forced out of office in 1974, has instead successfully campaigned for three more terms past the time his second one would have ended.

Panel 5: More indications that things have progressed differently in this America: News Headline – “Congress Approves Lunar Silos” signifying that the international treaties prohibiting nuclear weapons in space in our reality are irrelevant in a world with Dr. Manhattan – and the graffiti – “Viet Bronx” – which indicates America’s 51st state.

Also, it is useful to note that within his journal, Rorschach writes with a style and cadence that is almost poetic, while – as we will see – in his interpersonal interactions, he is unable to maintain his “end of the conversation,” and often speaks in half-sentences and grunts.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Watchmen: Chapter I - page 13


Panel 5: The 9-grid aesthetic utilized by Moore and Gibbons allows them to open up the page and add importance to a scene such as this one where, accented by this large panel that is more apparent among the fields of small panels on previous pages, the feeling of remorse and guilt is palpable to the audience

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Watchmen: Chapter I - page 12


Panel 3: We discover how Blake avoided going into retirement when the other masked heroes were forced out when Dan makes the statement, “I heard he’d been working for the government since ’77 . . .”

Panels 3-5: We see for the first time that Rorschach’s mask actually flows, continuously creating new Rorschach blots.

These three panels also accentuate Dave Gibbons’s mastery of body language for these characters. In the background, we can see Dan Dreiberg go from appearing melancholy to having a nervous smile to exuding a feeling of despair and fear at what Rorschach has just shared with him (the lack of pupils in the fifth panel accentuating the despair he emotes). It is this ability to imbue these two-dimensional characters with such believable body language that adds yet another layer to this story.

Panel 6: Again, looking down from a great height, giving a sense of foreboding, as if we, the readers, are looking in on something we shouldn’t.

Also, Rorschach makes the first mention of Hollis Mason’s book (seen on page 9) as well as the “bad things” Edward Blake did.

Panel 7: Juxtaposition: “Just an observation,” as Dreiberg’s costume looks on silently.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Watchmen: Chapter I - page 11


Panel 7: Each panel of the conversation between Rorschach and Dan Dreiberg has taken place within Dreiberg’s apartment, until this one, which is looking in through a window above the kitchen sink. This imagery enhances Dan’s remark that, “I feel kinda exposed up here.” We also get the feeling that, although these two men know each other and (as is revealed later) were once partners, Dan is uncomfortable with Rorschach and would prefer he was not there, and when he does leave wants him to leave through a secret entryway.

Panel 8: Dan’s remark to Rorschach, “. . . you haven’t been down here for a while . . .” also relates to Dan, as the relative untidiness of the place shows he does not come down often either.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Watchmen: Chapter I - page 10


Panel 1: In the background, Dan is walking by one of the charging ports for electric cars in this reality.

In the foreground, we have signs of impending doom in the man’s “Pale Horse” jacket, the tattoo of a swastika on the girl’s arm, and – most importantly – the news headline that “Russia Protes[ts] U.S. Adv[ance] in Afgh[anistan],” a headline that is a complete reversal of what was actually going on during the mid-80s when Russia was the one occupying Afghanistan. But in this world, where Dr. Manhattan is a weapon of the U.S. government, things have gone a bit differently.

Panel 2: “Treasure Island” is a comic shop in the vein of the “Forbidden Planet” chain in the UK, Ireland, and the United States, which caters to a comic medium rife with pirates rather than superheroes. Above the storefront, readers can see a perfume ad for Nostalgia – another symbol of the dread people feel with nuclear death hanging above their heads – they wish for simpler times.

Panel 3: The plate on the door to Dan Dreiberg’s apartment shows: “Floors 1-4, Dreiberg D.” Dan is obviously well off.

Panel 5: Dan’s silhouette, with his feathered hair, is almost that of an owl, as in Nite Owl.

Panel 8: The can of Heinz baked beans that Rorschach is eating has a “58” on it rather than the “57” with which we are familiar – another little detail of this different world.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Watchmen: Chapter I - page 9


Panel 1: As we see in the next panel, this is a close-up of the picture Rorschach just took from Edward Blake’s closet. This hero is the first Nite Owl, whom we will see in panel 3.

Panel 2: The camera pulls back, showing the full picture of the Minutemen, as just seen at Blake’s – alerting readers to the fact that there is a connection here.

Panel 3: Note the clock in the background, just a few minutes to midnight – as Dan Dreiberg mentions. This accentuates the theme of pending Armageddon that permeates the book, which was a very real fear in 1985 with the heated rhetoric between American and Russia and the escalation of nuclear arms propagated by these two Cold War antagonists, as symbolized by the Doomsday clock at the University of Chicago.

Panel 4: In the foreground we see some books – most notably two copies of Hollis Mason’s (Nite Owl I) tell-all book, Under the Hood, and a book that has been cited as the inspiration for Superman, Gladiator by Philip Wylie.

Also, the statue of Nite Owl next to these books can be seen as a symbol of how the citizens of this world see heroes if one reads the inscription “IN GRATITUDE” as one word, “INGRATITUDE.”

Panel 5: Hollis’s remark about how “. . . they put you youngsters out to grass in ’77,” is another remark about the Keene Act, which is explained later.

Panel 6: Graffiti on the outside of the steps is for a band named Pale Horse, another reference to the fear of nuclear devastation. From Revelations 6: “I looked and there before me was a pale horse! Its rider was named Death, and Hell was following close behind him.”

Panel 7: More graffiti: the first markings of “Who Watches the Watchmen?” – which is never seen in its entirety – and a better view of “Pale Horse.”

Panel 8: As Dan leaves Hollis’s place, we see the older Nite Owl’s auto repair sign coming in off the left of the panel. “Obsolete models a specialty,” is not just a marketing slogan, but also a statement about Hollis Mason and Dan Dreiberg, their heroic alter-egos now obsolete in the eyes of the world.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Watchmen: Chapter I - page 8


Panel 1: Rorschach finds a red, white, and blue costume – in the vein of Captain America – that comes with a “gimp” mask. Coupled with the Uzi and knife, we can gather this belonged to someone other than a Captain America analogue.

Panel 6: Again, we see Rorschach using his left hand as he takes down the picture.

Panel 7: Now we see a clearer shot of the picture, which – as we will find out later – is of the Minutemen, the precursors to the Watchmen. This picture will be significant later.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Watchmen: Chapter I - page 7


Panels 2 & 3: In panel 2, readers see that Rorschach’s arm is bent when it touches the back of Edward Blake’s closet, while in the next panel, his right arm is fully extended as it touches the wall against which this closet rests.

Also in panel 3, readers are introduced to Rorschach’s strange word balloons, which give his voice some character – gravelly and disturbing.

Panels 4 & 5: The use of the wire hanger, and the bow that would remain after Rorschach straightened it out, is brilliant to better show what might not have been obvious on panels 2 & 3. The bow in the hanger adds a level of detail to the book often missing in comics, but also gives the audience a gauge by which to measure the depth of this closet.

Friday, January 6, 2012

Watchmen: Chapter I - page 5


Panel 1: Clue #3 that Kovacs is Rorschach:

It is now night, but looking back at the final panel of Page 4, we see that this is the same image from a slightly different angle, and where we saw Kovacs’s head in Page 4, Panel 8, we now see the top of Rorschach’s hat.

Panels 6 & 7: Rorschach takes out his grappling gun to fire it with his left hand, tracing back to panel 7 of the previous page, where we see that Kovacs is left-handed from how he wears his watch.

Panel 9: Rorschach scaling the façade of this skyscraper is another indication of the overall theme in this issue of the heroes looming over everything in this world.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Watchmen: Chapter I - page 4


Panel 1: The Knot-tops are a kid gang that exists in this alternate reality.  KT-28s and ‘Luudes (quaaludes) are illegal narcotics, as noted in this comment for the complete Chapter 1 annotations.   

Panel 2: Juxtaposition: “A lot of crazy things happen in a city this size.” overlaid on the image of Edward Blake falling to his death.

Panel 3: An insinuation that heroes are not beloved on this Earth as they are in our comics when Detective #2 makes the comment: “We don’t need any masked avengers getting interested and cutting in.”

Note the comic in the boy’s hands in the foreground – the first look at the “Tales of the Black Freighter.” Also note behind him two other comics – “Pirate” and “X-Ships,” and, more importantly, the headline on the newspaper states “Vietnam 51st State” an even more ominous indication that this is not our world.

Panel 4: Juxtaposition: “. . . well, what say we let this one drop out of sight?” as Edward Blake falls into the night.

Panel 5: First mention of the Keene Act of 1977, which we find out later is the legislation that outlawed masked heroes.

The cars look different, another sign this is a parallel reality.

On the right of the panel we see Kovacs marching with his sign toward the detectives.

In the foreground, a symbol of another of the overriding themes of the book – the threat and fear of nuclear devastation – can be seen in a flyer for a popular candy, MMeltdowns, which has as its brand image a mushroom cloud, symbolic of the meltdown from a nuclear detonation.

Panel 6: The statement, “Rorschach’s still out there.” carries over to

Panel 7: as, in the foreground, we see Kovacs (the alter-ego of Rorschach) approaching the detectives.

Note Kovacs is checking his watch, which is on his right wrist, signifying that he is left-handed. (Clue #2 that he’s Rorschach)

The statement, “What’s the matter?” from Detective #2 as Detective #1 pulls his jacket closer about his neck, carries over to

Panel 8: as Detective #1 says, “Uh, nothing . . . just a shiver,” as they pass the man with the “End is Nigh” poster. This is significant because the man they are discussing, Rorschach – a violent and feared vigilante – is the man with the “End is Nigh” poster.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Chapter I - page 3


Panel 2: Note the pirate ship on the bookshelf behind the detective. Pirates are the most popular characters for comics in this world where superheroes walk among the populace, and the “Tales of the Black Freighter” comic that will be shown later will have far-reaching symbolic significance on the main story itself.

Panel 3: Here we see the blood spattering the smiley face button.

Panel 6: More hints at a different world: fashion as exemplified by the hat worn by the man in the elevator, and the smoking implement utilized by this same man – especially as compared to the traditional cigarette Detective #2 is smoking.

Panel 7: Another example of juxtaposition, this time used for black humor as the man in the elevator tells the detectives: “Ground floor comin’ up.” as we see the image of Edward Blake being thrown through the window.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Chapter I - page 2


Panel 1: Detective #2: “Do you think you black out before you hit the sidewalk, or what?”
This question will be answered in a later flashback.

Also, in the distant background we see one of the zeppelins that will pepper the skylines of the book, signifying this is a different Earth from ours, and also symbolically displaying the reality that Dr. Manhattan – whose symbol is a hydrogen atom, which would be the fuel for the zeppelins – is looming above everything in this brave new world.

Panel 3: With this panel, we see something novel for comics in the mid-80s, though more commonly utilized today – the use of color to evoke an emotion or imprint a scene or scenes with a common hue. The flashback scenes of Edward Blake’s murder are all bathed in red.

Panel 5: “He would have put up some kind’a fight, I’m certain.” We can see with the imagery – and again, we see the juxtaposition between words and images – just how hard a time the victim was having of it, despite his physical size.

Panel 7: “Maybe he just got soft.”

Again, this statement juxtaposes with the imagery, and we can see that, although he’s taking a pounding, Blake is someone who has not lived a soft life. We also see that, contrary to the theory these detectives are positing, it appears it was only one person that took out Blake. Of course, the point of view of the reader is such, that this is not conclusive.

Panel 8: “It’s Vice President Ford!”

This is our first indication that the world in which the Watchmen live is not the same as the world in which we are living. Ford was out of office – as the President – in 1976, but this story takes place in 1985.

Monday, January 2, 2012

Chapter I - page 1 + cover

Cover Image: As we will see in future issues, a common design element for each of the twelve chapters is that the cover image is always an extreme close-up of the first panel within the issue proper, essentially making the cover the first panel of each issue. Here we see a close-up of what will be one of the major recurring symbols throughout Watchmen – that of the smiley faced button with its spot of blood above the right eye.

Panel 1: Introduction to Rorschach through his journal. The initial statement: “Dog carcass in alley this morning, tire tread on burst stomach,” relates directly to a later issue in which we discover Rorschach’s origin and the incident that sent him over the edge to crazed vigilante.

We also see a storytelling technique that Moore & Gibbons use liberally throughout the book – though often for very different reasons. That is, a bit of dialogue is juxtaposed against the image in order to, among other things, heighten readers’ awareness of events, comment upon two varying scenes, or offer a bit of irony to the audience. In this case the statement: “I have seen its true face,” hangs just above the bloody smiley faced button in the gutter.

Panel 2: Again, the juxtaposition of dialogue and imagery, as Rorschach writes: “The streets are extended gutters . . . full of blood” over a scene focused on a gutter that is full of blood.

Also, note the first clue to Rorschach’s identity as his feet walk out of the journal entry into the blood, foreshadowing the bloody path down which he and his fellow “heroes” are about to tread.

Panel 3: First look at the man holding the “The End is Nigh” sign – whom I’ve seen dubbed the Doomsayer elsewhere but whose name we will discover is Walter Kovacs, alter-ego of Rorschach.

We also have more dialogue/imagery juxtaposition with Rorschach’s: “. . . I’ll look down and whisper ‘no.’ ”seen from a camera angle above the two men in the panel.

Panel 4: And more juxtaposition as we read Rorschach’s journal entry: “They could have followed in the footsteps of good men . . .” and see Kovacs’s bloody footprints lead away from the pool of blood.

Panel 5: The camera angle continues to pull back higher and higher as Rorschach writes: “. . . and didn’t realize that the trail led over a precipice . . .”

Also note our first clue as to who killed the Comedian. The large truck in front of the bloodstained sidewalk sports a pyramid within a circle, the corporate logo for Adrian Veidt’s companies.

Panel 6: The camera rises still higher as the pool of blood becomes nothing but a spot on the scenery below. Rorschach writes: “. . . the whole world stands on the brink, staring down into bloody hell . . .” which also foreshadows later events.

And the statement: “. . . nobody can think of anything to say.” carries over into

Panel 7: as an ironic comment on the detective’s flippant remark: “That’s quite a drop.”

This panel, and the slow pan away from the gutter in panels one through six, also highlights a visual theme for this issue, that of great heights (whether that of these skyscrapers or, figuratively, those heights to which the heroes once attained) and staring down into the abyss.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Chapter I - thematic overview

At Midnight, All the Agents . . .

First, a caveat:

In his introduction for the re-issue of Alfred Bester’s The Stars My Destination, Neil Gaiman wrote, “. . . you can no more read the same book again than you can step into the same river.” Which is true. When I first read The Lord of the Rings as a teenager it had a very different meaning than when I read it in my early thirties. I had matured, my understanding of the world had grown, and I had broadened my experiences during the interim fifteen or so years. It was a far different book than the one I remembered, because my perspective had evolved.

Which is to say, there are many themes one can pluck from Watchmen and its individual chapters. It all depends upon your point of view. As an introduction to each chapter, I have chosen to discuss a specific theme or visual motif found within that chapter, as a way to look at the chapter in toto and to get you, the reader, into a proper mindset for what follows. I chose to focus on a single theme with each chapter in order to keep you, and me, from getting bogged down under the weight of my own words, and to make each of these chapters a bit less cumbersome. I would also encourage you to dig a little deeper into your own reading of this book and see what other theme and motifs you discover. I hope you enjoy.

A note on Spoilers:

 I am going to assume that if you’re reading this, you have already read Alan Moore & Dave Gibbons’s Watchmen. With that in mind, please note that spoilers abound in what follows. In fact, arguably the two biggest mysteries in Watchmen (the identity of Edward Blake’s killer and the identity of Rorschach) are given away in the annotations for panels 5 & 3, respectively, of page 1. So, please be forewarned: these annotations are meant to enhance one’s reading experience of Watchmen and it would be doing yourself a disservice to continue from here without having read the source material first.

Thematic Overview:

As Watchmen opens, it has been eight years since passage of the Keene Act, a law that outlawed masked vigilantes. In the 1985 of this story only three heroes are still active – Dr. Manhattan and the Comedian both work for the U.S. government while Rorschach continues his fight against injustice in his own inimitable manner. Despite this, these heroes – even those who have retired – loom large over this world’s landscape. They drive public policy and scientific advancements from the shadows, shaping this world in ways that could not be imagined by the “common man.”

Throughout this first issue, Dave Gibbons accentuates the sense of these heroes towering above the landscape, and the people, through his visuals. In fact, we experience this in the opening scene. As the camera pulls up and away from the blood-splattered smiley face button, we ultimately reach the scene of the crime. At an almost vertiginous height, we meet the detectives in charge of the case as they peer out from the window of Eddie Blake’s apartment – the pool of blood on the sidewalk now little more than a spot of red.

Lofty heights are also utilized when introducing most of the other main characters – Rorschach, Adrian Veidt (Ozymandias), Dr. Manhattan and Laurie Juspeczyk (Silk Spectre II). We first see Rorschach as he approaches Blake’s apartment building (our vantage point is from beneath Rorschach, giving us a sense of the skyline above him), and watch him scale the side of the building to enter Blake’s apartment. Veidt is introduced in the penthouse of his corporate tower, a skyscraper that appears to overlook the entirety of New York City. Dr. Manhattan, who can modify his body in any manner, is introduced to us – along with Laurie – as a giant at least as tall as seven full-grown men. We, the readers, are meant to feel insignificant in relation to these characters through their depictions in these introductory scenes. It is worth noting that the only member of the Watchmen not introduced in this manner is Dan Dreiberg, the second Nite Owl, who is also the most grounded of these heroes.

The use of this visual motif throughout the initial chapter is interesting and says a lot about the characters as well as the setting of this book. By dint of the book’s title alone, we know the Watchmen are the main protagonists, despite the fact that most of them are no longer active agents. But still, they hang over this world like a dark cloud, affecting the status quo – particularly Dr. Manhattan – so dramatically that the average person might feel obsolete. The general populace is scared of these vigilantes, which is why the government disbanded the Watchmen and outlawed masked vigilantes.

This use of vertiginous imagery also helps us understand the psychological make-up of the heroes as well. Blake and Veidt are characters who are motivated by the moral superiority the feel the hold over everyone else. Veidt’s unmatched intelligence and physical prowess, in his mind, feeds his belief that he should be the final arbiter of mankind’s path. While the Comedian (Blake) always harbored disdain for the rest of the heroes, who, in his mind, didn’t understand the big picture. He laughed at their attempts to curb crime by attacking the symptoms – drug pushers, prostitutes, petty criminals, supervillains” – when he knew that nothing would change unless they were willing to attack the source – those corrupt individuals with political or economic power. And Dr. Manhattan’s detachment from the rest of humanity is visualized brilliantly in his opening scene – his nearly fifty-foot-tall blue frame not only exhibits his unbelievable powers, but also punctuates his emotional distance from what it means to be a human being.

There are many other instances of this visual motif throughout the issue and the rest of the series. It is one of the things that comics can do so well, offering subtle visual cues that can enhance the mood or themes of a story. This was one of the stated aims of Moore & Gibbons with Watchmen – to expand what was possible within the medium and to focus on the unique aspects of storytelling in comics without losing the basic premise, tell a good story. It is this ambition, coupled with their respective talent, that spurs me to return to Watchmen year after year, only to discover something new with each reading that I hadn’t experienced before.