Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Watchmen: Chapter II - Thematic overview

Absent Friends

Thematic Overview:

This chapter centers on the funeral of Edward Blake, also known as the Comedian.  As such, this chapter centers around the theme of death – both real and ontological.  Ontological death is best described known as the phenomenon of “world collapse,” which occurs when one experiences an incident so jarring to his/her personal reality that the thing which gives one’s life, or world, meaning – whether God or something else – no longer applies.  Faith is extinguished, pushing one into a “new world” where a revised ontological reality must established.

Other than the most obvious – that of Blake’s funeral – there are a number of references to death within this chapter.  In the opening scenes, we have Laurie, Silk Spectre II, visiting her mother, Sally Jupiter, who was the first Silk Spectre.  As they talk, we can perceive them as mirror images of one another, if seen through a cracked mirror.  Laurie, a young, active woman who will return to superheroics later in the book, is looking at her future self – a weary, heartsick woman whose years of crime fighting are far in the past.  Laurie’s mother represents the death of Laurie’s current reality, something Sally tries to explain to her daughter, even if Laurie refuses to see it.

Other references of death can be seen in the flashback sequences, all of which seem to represent this theme.  Eddie Blake’s attempted rape of Sally Jupiter represents the loss of innocence for these heroes – most of whom seem to have a naiveté that belies the seriousness of their work.  This recollection also appears to be a harbinger of the dissolution of the Minutemen.  We also see the first meeting of the Crimebusters, the supergroup that followed the Minutemen, which also appears to be the last meeting of the Crimebusters.  And, in Vietnam, we see Blake kill the Vietnamese woman he impregnated after she cut his face.  Interestingly, all of these deaths were effected by Eddie Blake, the man for whom the funeral is being held. 

The theme of death – whether literal or metaphorical – is important in Watchmen.  For many, death represents an ending.  Certainly, that is true.  But all of the deaths in this chapter are a way to metaphorically clean the slate.  Each death also initiates a new status quo – the dissolution of the Crime Busters is where Ozymandias gets the inspiration for his plan to save mankind, while the Keene Act provides a doorway into a new reality with outlaw vigilantes such as Rorschach, authorized government operatives like the Comedian and Dr. Manhattan, and retired heroes – Dan Dreiberg and Laurie Juspeczyk.  This chapter sees Moore & Gibbons leaving the old reality of this world behind as they forge ahead into a brave new world, similar to the manner in which Watchmen, along with Dark Knight and Maus, became a demarcation line between “old” comics and “new,” in 1986.  

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