Saturday, March 31, 2012

Watchmen: Chapter III - the complete annotations

The Judge of All the Earth

Thematic Overview:
In chapter II, Moore & Gibbons focused on death.  As a metaphor, it was a way for them to “clean the slate” and propel the narrative through into new territory.  The ghost of Eddie Blake hangs over everything, but we watched the dissolution of the Minute Men, the dissolution of the Crime Busters, and the dissolution of the Watchmen.  Each one of these incidents was not only an ending, but also opened doors to a new reality – whether Ozymandias’s plan to save the world or Rorschach’s one-man war against depravity.  Like those passing over the River Styx, the previous chapter was a path into a new world.

Following these ontological deaths, we enter chapter III, which sees the “dawn of a new day.”  This new reality is summed up nicely by Rorschach’s alter-ego – Walter Kovacs, the man with the sign stating “The End is Nigh” – when he tells Bernie the newsvendor that “[The end of the world]’ll happen today.  I’ve seen signs.”  Though everyone else seems oblivious to it, Rorschach is correct.  The end of the world as we know it will end on this day within the world of Watchmen.  But it won’t be with a bang.  It will be in the tiny moments, the bits that seem insignificant, but which combine like the tiny flakes of snow pushed ahead of an avalanche, gathering momentum until nothing escapes its fury.

There are many bits in this chapter that accentuate the overall theme of the “dawn of a new day.”  We first encounter it when the frustration Laurie has been feeling in her relationship with Jon Osterman, better known as Dr. Manhattan, comes to a head as they are trying to be intimate.  She storms out, unable to talk to Jon, and only returns after Jon has left Earth for Mars. (a new reality for this couple)

Laurie looks for solace from one of the few who could understand her distinct situation, Dan Dreiberg, the second Nite Owl.  Their meeting results in a walk through New York that ends in a vicious fight as a group of Knot-Tops attack Laurie and Dan, putting these two in the situation of having to use their superhero training to defend themselves – the first time they’ve allowed themselves to let loose with their martial expertise, which foreshadows their return as Silk Spectre and Nite Owl. (a new reality for them)

Jon Osterman – Dr. Manhattan – is a guest on a television talk show.  It is to be his first live question and answer session, where Dr. Manhattan will take questions from the TV audience.  When one reporter begins probing into the possibility that Dr. Manhattan caused those close to him to die of cancer – his first girlfriend, Janey Slater, Wally Weaver, who was known as “Dr. Manhattan’s buddy,” and the former criminal known as Moloch – Dr. Manhattan teleports everyone out of the studio and eventually makes his way to the desert where he was born just before teleporting himself off to Mars. (a new reality for him and for the world)

And this exodus by the most powerful man on the planet – and the “ace-in-the-hole” of the United States as far as military defense – results in the Russians invading Afghanistan.  Having been held in check for so long by Dr. Manhattan’s apparently limitless power, the Kremlin is poised to take advantage of this change in the status quo.  The Cold War, halted for so long by Dr. Manhattan, has been initiated.  The world of Watchmen is now on the brink of a nuclear holocaust, and there seems to be nobody able to stop it. (a new reality for the world)

The new world into which these characters have been thrust is envisioned unassumingly by Dave Gibbons in the first panel of page 22, with the sun rising over the skyscrapers of New York City.  It is the dawn of a new day.  But will it be a good day, or a bad day?

Cover Image:  Note that the image, which we recognize as the sign of a Fallout Shelter, actually says “all out helter.”  Helter is defined as:  in undue haste, confusion, or disorder, which is certainly an apt overview of this chapter. 

Also note that the smoke – from the top of the image to about halfway down – forms the profile of a human skull – the opening in the smoke at the top being the eye, the curve to our left of that opening being the nasal cavity, and the wide curve inward below that, which is moving toward the right of the image, being the mouth.


This issue is replete with multiple meanings within panels.  With this chapter, Moore & Gibbons introduce readers to the “Tales of the Black Freighter” pirate comic, which the young African-American boy sitting at the newsstand will be reading through the next several chapters. 

The use of the pirate comic was initially a way for the creators to flesh out this world, but it soon became apparent to Moore & Gibbons that they could utilize this facet of the narrative to comment on the story they were telling in Watchmen.  More importantly, this tale of the Black Freighter becomes a metaphor for the story arc of Adrian Veidt and the horrific journey he takes in his life, beginning with a spark of insight at the first meeting of the Crimebusters – as seen in Chapter II – and continuing up through the end of this book.

Panel 1:  Moore & Gibbons start us off with multiple meanings in this first panel – which, as a recurring visual cue, follows directly from the cover image. 

The caption from the “Black Freighter” comic, “I saw . . . [the] ship’s black sails against the yellow Indies sky,” is overlaid on the image of the fallout shelter sign, which has its black image over a yellow background.  The caption continues, “. . . and knew again the stench of . . . war.”  This relates directly to the fallout shelter sign, which is meant to direct citizens to these places of safety in the case of a nuclear war.

Then we get the news vendor, who is named Bernie, saying, “we oughtta nuke Russia,” which again relates directly to this fallout shelter sign.

Panel 2:  Moore plays with the juxtaposition of the image and dialogue in this panel – as he does so often – when Bernie states, “I see the signs” as the fallout shelter sign is being affixed behind him on the other side of the street.  And, if we look at the page as a whole, we see that he obviously does not see this sign going up.  

We get another juxtaposition when Bernie says, “[I] look things inna face,” which is followed by the Black Freighter caption, “The heads nailed to its prow looked down . . .” accentuating this idea of seeing without truly seeing.  The dialogue also hearkens back to the theme of Chapter I, that of the heroes being above everything and looking into the abyss. 

Panel 3:  We get more concomitant dialogue, emphasizing the thoughts of the Black Freighter’s narrator and those of Bernie the newsvendor:      

                Black Freighter – “’More blood!  More blood!’”
                Bernie – “We oughtta nuke ‘em till they glow!”

Also noteworthy in this panel is the cover image for the New Frontiersman, which has a picture of a “Missing Writer” on it.  We find out later that this was the author of the issues of “Tales of the Black Freighter” that we, the audience, are getting to read.  He is also one of the writers mentioned by the Comedian as being on the island, which he discussed with Moloch.  And, the secondary headline asks, “Castro to Blame?” further enforcing the feeling of hysteria that is permeating the world due to the political climate.

Panel 4:  This panel is the introduction of readers to the two Bernies (the African-American boy and the news vendor are both named Bernard and will provide the most human relationship within the book). 

Note the many background elements in this panel – Gunga Diner boxes, Nova Express asking “How Sick Is Dick?” in reference to Richard Nixon’s third heart operation, the Knot-Top magazine for those in that clique of society, “The Veidt Method” as a back cover ad on the “Tales of the Black Freighter” comic similar to the Atlas method found in so many comics of the time, and the Promethean Cab Company across the street, another piece of this world that will become important soon.


Panel 1:  On the side of the street where the news vendor is we see the Institute for Extraspatial Studies, another facet of this world – and more specifically this intersection – that will become more important in ensuing chapters.

Also, the canister against which the young boy is resting is actually one of the charging stations for the electric cars that pepper the landscape of this world.

Panel 2:  Bernie’s remark, “I absorb information” is played against the caption from the “Black Freighter” that “Birds were eating [Bosun Ridley’s] thoughts and memories.” 

Panel 4:  Bernie’s remark, “See, everything’s connected” is apropos since everything within Watchmen is connected to this very intersection where he sits.

More juxtaposition as Bernie’s dialogue – “He don’t retreat from reality” is played against the caption box’s statement, “I begged that they should take my eyes, thus sparing me further horrors.” 

Also note that the page in the comic, which we see over the young Bernie’s shoulder, is the cone that we will be reading in these next few panels.

Panel 5:  “. . . unable to bear my circumstances” is juxtaposed against “The weight o’ the world’s on him, but does he quit?  Nah!”  A sentiment that is accentuated as we pull in on

Panel 6: and we see Bernie’s remark, “He’s a survivor” over the close-up image of the only survivor in the opening of this “Black Freighter” tale.

Panel 7:  Again, the dialogue (Bernie “coping” with a late delivery from Nova Express) and the “Black Freighter” captions (the survivor stating that his “misfortunes were small: I was alive . . .”) play against one another.

It is also noteworthy that the sneakers being worn by the young Bernie are Veidt models.  Adrian Veidt has his hand in everything in this world.

Panel 8:  Bernie’s remark about thriving on “disaster” plays against the caption box’s “. . . I knew that life had no worse news to offer me” and leads right into

Panel 9:  As Kovacs shows up with his sign:  “The End Is Nigh.”  Could there be a direr message than this?


Panel 2:  When asked how the end of the world is coming along, Kovacs answers, “It’ll happen today.”  This foreshadows what happens to Dr. Manhattan later in this chapter.  And Kovacs’s inquiry, “You’ll keep my paper for me tomorrow?” is priceless, another look into his wounded psyche while also foreshadowing the very different “end of the world” scenario readers are about to experience.

Panel 8:  The figurehead of the wrecked ship, with the kelp across her eyes, almost looks like the visage of justice found in courthouses.  This could either be seen as ironic or cynical in reference to what this survivor has experienced thus far.

Panel 9:  His hands on the figurehead’s face is a visual transition to the next scene on


Panel 1:  where we see Laurie’s face encompassed by Dr. Manhattan’s hands during an intimate moment.

The caption box from the “Black Freighter” says, “I could not love her as she had loved me,” which is a literal commentary on both the sailor from the comic and, more importantly, on the relationship as it now stands between Dr. Manhattan and Laurie.  Dr. Manhattan is so detached from humanity that he is unable to love Laurie in a manner she deserves, and certainly not in the manner she loves him.

Dr. Manhattan’s remark that “. . . we have plenty of time” is very true for him as he exists in all times at once, experiencing everything over and over again.

Panel 2:  Three hands?

Panel 4:  Again, Moore & Gibbons utilize a larger panel for emotional impact, psychologically urging us to linger on this image longer than the regular 9-grid panels.  This is the physical manifestation of how Dr. Manhattan is unable to connect with his “lover.”

Panel 7:  In the background, we can just see a third Dr. Manhattan. 


The body language with which Dave Gibbons is able to infuse these characters adds so much to the story.  On this page, he imbues Dr. Manhattan – nicely complemented by the cold blue of his body and word balloons – with an unemotional personality.  In my mind, all of Dr. Manhattan’s sound rehearsed with little inflection and even less emotion.

Panel 8:  It will come to light that before Dr. Manhattan – whose real name was Jon Osterman – was changed into this god-like being, he aspired to be a watchmaker.  He uses that same facility, enhanced by his quantum powers, to reconfigure the beaker and its contents on this and the next panel.

“I’m prepared to discuss [my attitude]” is something that men are “taught” to say to their significant others, but the joke goes that we never truly mean it and only say it to appease our lovers.  With the note on Gibbons’s artwork above, this is how that comes across – rehearsed and meaningless.

Panel 9:  Again, the words comment on the imagery as the caption box at the bottom of this panel says, in regards to Dr. Manhattan, “. . . you know how every damn thing in this world fits together except people!”  This is a comment on the scene just witnessed by us over these previous two pages, and punctuated by the reconstituted beaker in Dr. Manhattan’s hand.


Panel 1:  The woman speaking, from whose dialogue the caption box ending the previous page came, is Janey Slater – Dr. Manhattan’s first girlfriend. 

Note that this is taking place at the Nova Express offices, which is the paper mentioned by Bernie the news vendor as holding its front page and delaying delivery.

Janey’s remarks that “[Dr. Manhattan] couldn’t relate to me.  Not emotionally.  Certainly not sexually” emphasizes what just happened between Dr. Manhattan and Laurie. 

The “sixteen-year-old [running around] in her underwear” was of course Laurie.

Panel 2:  Janey’s remark that “One day, [Jon]’ll find out . . . what it feels like” is coming true on this very day.

Janey’s “condition” is that she has cancer, just like Moloch.

Panel 4:  Janey’s dialogue, “. . . nobody’s gonna miss me . . . especially not him” not only refers to Janey but also to the image in this panel of Laurie leaving the military center.

The cab in the foreground is from the Promethean.  The deep reds used in these panels with Laurie foreshadows what is coming – both in this chapter with Dr. Manhattan leaving for the “red” planet of Mars and for the whole world with the imminent threat of nuclear war.

Panel 6:  Janey’s dialogue, “I kept quiet all these years, but then this latest thing happened and I had to let it all out . . .” is also a commentary on Laurie’s decision to leave Jon and the contemplation she is going through in this panel regarding that decision.


Panel 2:  The reporter says, “. . . we can stop here.”  This also refers to the image of Laurie exiting her cab in front of the Treasure Island comic shop, which is situated on this same intersection where all points converge.

Also, the Nostalgia ad above the shop again enhances the feeling of wishing to get back to simpler times.  This too, is from Veidt.

Panel 4:  Janey’s reply to the reporter telling her she would feel better once the paper went out that night because it will include the story for which she was just interviewed, is, “No . . . Some things, once they’re busted, they can’t ever be fixed . . .”  This is a commentary on her relationship with Dr. Manhattan as well as her untreatable cancer.  It also comments on Laurie, who is walking toward Dan’s apartment in this panel, and her now broken relationship with Dr. Manhattan.  And it also is a comment on the locksmith working on Dan’s door, which was kicked in by Rorschach, and foreshadows the fact that although Dan is getting a new lock, it will not be fixed as Rorschach will make his way in again.

Also of note is the name of the lock company – Gordian Knot Lock Company.  The legend of the Gordian Knot is associated with Alexander the Great, with whom Adrian Veidt is obsessed, and Alexander’s solution of cutting the knot in two with his sword rather than struggling to untie it is a classic example of lateral thinking.  This lateral thinking is what Veidt uses to conceive his plan, which he feels will save the world from nuclear destruction, but not without the death of millions.

Panel 6:  Janey’s remark that “it’s such a relief to talk to somebody” is yet another commentary on Laurie.  This time it signifies her need to come see Dan and talk to him about what happened and the turmoil in her life right now.

Also, the reaction by the locksmith to Laurie’s intrusion upon his work also foreshadows the ease with which Rorschach will enter Dan’s place after this new lock is installed, and the reaction this locksmith will no doubt have at learning the lock was broken again.


Panel 4:  Note the brand silhouette on the coffee pot – another Veidt product signifying that Adrian Veidt has his fingerprints on everything in this world, as he also has his fingerprints all over the conspiracy that is unfolding within the world of the Watchmen.

Panel 5:  Only one sugar cube left.  Rorschach took the rest of them is Chapter 1.

Panel 8:  Dan remarks, “It’s not the end of the world, right?” to which Laurie replies, “I left Jon.”  This simple act will result in serious repercussions, and so, the conclusion we can take is that, yes it is the end of the world.

Panel 9:  Laurie’s running mascara is very reminiscent of the blood splatter on the smiley face button.


Panel 1:  The steam from the coffee pot in the background is symbolic of Laurie and Jon’s relationship finally going “up in smoke.”

Panel 2:  Laurie’s comment about Jon regarding “[t]he way he looks at things, like he can’t remember what they are . . .” reflects directly upon the image in this panel where Dr. Manhattan is looking at Laurie’s bra in just this manner.  A following remark – “. . . to him it’s like walking through mist . . .” relates to

Panel 3:  with the steam blowing full-force from the coffee pot.  And the fact that this steam hides Laurie’s face in the picture is also accentuated by her remark, “. . . shadows in the fog.”

Panel 5:  Again, Moore’s & Gibbons’s subtlety is reflected in Laurie’s remark that she will “splash out on some overnight accommodation” over an image of Dan pouring the boiling water into a mug, splashing its contents over the lip of the mug.

Panel 6:  “Somewhere normal” is placed over this image of Dr. Manhattan’s clothes floating from the closet.

Panel 7:  Dan’s remark that he wishes Laurie would “drop in more often” is placed over him “dropping in” the single sugar cube he still has.

Panel 8:  “He doesn’t care how people dress” reflects ironically on the fact that Dr. Manhattan is dressing up for his interview – something he does not do except for official occasions such as this and the funeral in the previous chapter.  The manner in which he is dressing – the clothing floating all about him, placing themselves upon his body – is another symbolic visualization of his detachment from humanity.

Panel 9:  “Here’s looking at you, kid” is obviously taken from the movie Casablanca and foreshadows Dan and Laurie’s intimacy and relationship later in the book.


Panel 1:  Laurie’s image in the coffee mug here is even more reminiscent of the smiley face button, with the running mascara sitting in for the blood splatter and the wavy lines that form her nose looking very much like the smile.

Panel 2:  Laurie’s voice over in the caption, “. . . how did everything get so tangled up?” is placed over the image of Dr. Manhattan’s tie twisting into a traditional knot.  And again, the manner in which he is using his powers to dress himself – the clothes moving of their own volition in order to cover Dr. Manhattan rather than Jon taking an active role – showcases once more how detached from humanity, and his humanness, Jon Osterman, as Dr. Manhattan, has become.

Panel 4:  Laurie’s voice over in the caption box, “I’d rather be somewhere else . . .” is a direct foreshadowing of Dr. Manhattan’s fast approaching departure for his television interview.

Note the cufflink hovering in the air just below the caption box and Laurie’s bra as a reminder of what just occurred between these two.

Panel 6:  Laurie says (in the caption box), “Sometimes the cabs just disappear and getting from A to B takes forever.”  Both parts of this sentence apply to the image in this panel.  First, we have a literal connection with Dr. Manhattan disappearing.  But the second part of Laurie’s statement reflects ironically on this instance, as Dr. Manhattan will immediately appear across town at the ABC studios for his appearance.

Panel 8:  More irony from Moore & Gibbons as the locksmith’s voice over regarding friends just turning up “completely outta the blue” refers directly to Dr. Manhattan appearing in the studio as well as the fact that he is blue. 

Panel 9:  Here we get the first mention of the Promethean Cab Company, which we have seen previously in the story.

Also, the locksmith’s remark that “these are baaad neighborhoods” foreshadows what is going to happen to Dan and Laurie on the following pages as they are walking to Hollis Mason’s place.


Panel 1:  Note that Jon is affixing the second cufflink that accompanied him on his teleportation from the military center.

Panel 2:  “Monsters from outta space” references the movie poster we see in the foreground for This Island Earth, in which aliens come to Earth in order to bring scientists back to their planet Metaluna and attempt to save it from destruction by their enemies.  This movie could serve as a metaphor for what Veidt is doing behind the scenes in Watchmen in order to achieve a very similar goal.

Also, if you look in the background and make note of Laurie and Dan’s body language, we will see this scene played out in a few pages from the point of view of the news vendor Bernie, who is in the background.

Panel 3:  It is interesting to note that those allied with the military thus far have been named after those who wield, or have wielded, the economic power in our country – Rockefeller Military Center where Dr. Manhattan resides and now this agent named Forbes.  It is an interesting commentary on where the power resides in our country.

“Play it cool” is humorous considering his pigment is blue, commonly associated with coolness – water and the sky being prime examples.

Panel 4:  “. . . and try not to get into any tight corners” refers to the image of Dan and Laurie walking into a dark alleyway in this panel.

Also note the graffiti in the background of the image: “Who Watches the Watchmen?” is just past the hand in the foreground, there’s an anarchy symbol, a militant feminism symbol, and the words [ca]strate [r]apist[s] below that, as well as a “Pale Horse” poster between the anarchy and feminism symbols.  Images of violence foreshadowing the scene that is to follow with Dan and Laurie.

Panel 6:  “That’s certainly dark enough for my purposes” is a commentary on the knot-tops deciding that the alley is indeed dark enough for them to follow and attack Dan and Laurie.


Panel 2:  More irony from Moore & Gibbons as the remark from Dr. Manhattan’s television interview, “. . . we have something really special for you tonight” is laid over the scene where Laurie and Dan realize they are being accosted by this gang of knot-tops.  One can imagine one of these punks saying something similar.

Panel 3:  The host of the show is Benny Anger, a commentary on what “talk” TV seems to be as well as foreshadowing the anger that will run through the crowd, as well as the anger that will be expressed by Dr. Manhattan, at the end of this interview. 

Panel 4:  Note the posters for “Pale Horse” and “Krystalnacht” on the alley wall as well as some graffiti that ends with the phrase, “go mad,” more symbolism for the current times as well as the outcome of the book.

Panel 5:  Dr. Manhattan’s reply in this panel is yet another example of how far removed from humanity he really has become.

Panel 6:  The statement “. . . Will you be prepared to enter hostilities?” plays out over a scene where Laurie and Dan are looking at each other, saying with their eyes that they are ready to take out this gang of knot-tops.  (Note Dan putting his glasses into the inside pocket of his overcoat.) 

Also note the coloring for Dan and Laurie on this page, as well as the overall coloring of their scenes in the following pages, is once more a wash of red hues, symbolic of the violence they are experiencing. 


Panel 2:  The caption, “. . . keep it snappy” is read over the scene where Dan and Laurie initiate the fight with the knot-tops, surprising the punks and immediately getting the upper hand as Dan grabs one while Laurie efficiently breaks the arm of another.

Panel 3:  Nova Express was the paper where Janey Slater was telling her story earlier this issue. 

The color scheme of the reporter Doug Roth is purple and gold – Ozymandias’s colors – another visual cue that Veidt is behind this whole thing.

Roth’s line of questioning will trigger Dr. Manhattan’s exit from Earth – a major step in Veidt’s plan.

Panel 4:  Again, Moore & Gibbons play with the words and pictures:  the dialogue “I believe it was quite sudden and quite painful,” is played over another scene of Dan and Laurie’s fight, which is quite sudden and painful for the knot-tops.

Panels 5-6:  Doug Roth’s dialogue, “. . . in battles, conflicts, whatever it is you super-people do” carries over from the television studio to another scene where Dan and Laurie are doing “whatever it is [they] do.”


Panel 2:  Roth’s dialogue, “am I starting to make you feel uncomfortable?” plays out over a scene with Dan holding one of the bloodied gang members by the shirt collar while Laurie crushes the scrotum of another, the pain evident on the punk’s face.

This scene – the final part of their violent encounter – is awash in red.

Panel 4:  More text/image juxtaposition as Roth’s dialogue, “. . . from where I’m standing, it’s starting to look pretty conclusive” is a comment on the conclusion of Dan and Laurie’s altercation with these gang members.

Panel 5:  Although Dr. Manhattan can see all points in his life – past, present, and future – and has already experienced them all, he has no ability to change what happens, because – as I rudimentarily understand quantum physics – he is “in the moment” so to speak, even if he saw this moment twenty years in our linear past. 

Panel 6:  And again, “the show’s over” is a comment on the fact that the rest of the knot-tops have run off, leaving their fellow members lying in the alley as Dan and Laurie survey the scene.


Panels 1-2:  Moore & Gibbons continue to play the imagery off the words as Agent Forbes’s remark in panel 1, which ends with, “. . . getting aroused,” leads into panel 2 where Dan and Laurie are coming down from their adrenaline rush, both panting with hair disheveled as if they’d just finished having sex.

Also note, in the background of panel 2 we can see a promotional poster for Ozymandias’s performance to help raise money for India Famine Relief – a poster we saw in his penthouse office when Rorschach visited him in Chapter I

Panels 3-4:  Forbes’s dialogue ending panel 3 – “. . . not here to answer questions on intimate moments!” – leads into panel 4 where Dan and Laurie, still panting, turn to look at each other, as we readers look in on an intimate moment between these two.

Panels 5-6:  And again, Forbes in panel 5 says, “. . . safest not to pursue this line of thinking . . .” leads into the next panel where Dan and Laurie turn away from each other, realizing what the other is thinking and afraid to go there.  And, to emphasize the undertone of this symbolic post-coital reaction, Laurie lights a cigarette.


Panels 1-2:  In this instance, Dr. Manhattan’s dialogue in panel 1, “. . . leave me alone” is a commentary on panel 2 where Laurie is hurriedly making her exit, telling Dan she needs to go find a hotel for the night.  And her dialogue leads into

Panel 3:  as it carries over and she says she always feels “sorta empty” after a fight, laid over the scene of a solitary Dr. Manhattan standing in the middle of an empty television studio.

Panels 4-5:  Now the interplay of words and pictures is reversed as Laurie’s conversation with Dan carries from panel 4 into panel 5 where her dialogue is in a caption box reading, “[I’m going to] see if I can come up with one good reason to stick around.”  This reflects directly on the scene in panel 5 as Dr. Manhattan has blinked out of the studio, having no good reason to “stick around.”

Laurie’s comment, “. . . it feels so much better now it’s out in the open” refers not only to the dissolution of her relationship with Dr. Manhattan but also to the fact that there seems to be a connection between Dr. Manhattan and the cancers of his friends and acquaintances.  And, it is also a comment on Dr. Manhattan’s displeasure with all things human as evoked by the poor turn the interview took.  This has set Dr. Manhattan free just as Laurie leaving Dr. Manhattan and talking things over with Dan has set her free.


Panel 2:  If we were unsure as to the political bent of the “New Frontiersman,” the graffiti on the ad in the background tells us that it is a right-wing, conservative paper.  The ad, with graffiti italicized, reads:  “New Frontiersman In Your Hearts, You Know It’s Right Wing.”  This also refers to 1964 conservative Presidential candidate Barry Goldwater, who used the phrase, “In your hearts, you know it’s right,” as his campaign slogan.  A politician favoring the nuclear option – at a time when the full ramifications weren’t truly known – the use of Goldwater’s slogan as an ad for a major paper in the world of the Watchmen adds another layer to the permeating symbolism that the end times are nigh.

Panel 9:  Hollis Mason’s remark, “The whole world will know soon enough,” in reference to Dr. Manhattan’s altercation on television, foreshadows Russia’s next move, which is to invade Afghanistan, something we see at the end of this issue.


Panel 1:  The “Black Freighter” is back and its caption box:  “The Freighter’s murderous onslaught had surprised us,” is a comment on what just happened to Dr. Manhattan overlaid on the image of the newest edition of Nova Express, which has the Dr. Manhattan/Cancer story as its front page.

Panel 2:  This scene is a reversed point of view of page 11, panel 2 with Dan and Laurie in the background.

The Freighter’s caption refers to being “blasted to fragments,” which is a reference to Dr. Manhattan’s origin as well as his response to Doug Roth’s attacks of teleporting everyone out of the studio.  It continues with the statement “I alone survived upon my remote atoll,” which refers to Dr. Manhattan standing alone in the studio afterward.

Panel 3:  More juxtaposition as Bernie the news vendor derides his wife while the Freighter’s caption reads:  “I thought of my family: vulnerable, unsuspecting.”  This statement also foreshadows the death and destruction that is coming at the end of all this.

Panel 4:  The Freighter’s caption, “I cursed God and wept. . .” plays over the scene of the younger Bernie reading the comic as it begins to rain, a single drop (a tear drop from heaven) splattering on his page.

Panel 5:  The caption reads, “. . . what use his tears, if his help was denied me?” is placed over this scene where the rain is coming harder and the young boy asks the news vendor if he’ll lend his cap to him, and the older Bernie will not.  So we get the tears signifying the rain and the “help denied” in the form of Bernie’s refusal to lend his cap to the boy.

Panels 6-7:   These two panels have the ominous symbol of the fallout shelter from across the street as their focus.  Within the dialogue and the captions of the “Black Freighter” we have remarks like “. . . you shouldn’t rely on help from anybody . . .” and “. . . a man stands alone,” as well as “. . . I understood the true breadth of the word ‘isolation,’” all punctuated by Bernie the news vendor’s comment, “All alone.  Inna final analysis.” 

Not only is there an ironic twist being played in the fact that if there is a nuclear attack, they would all need to find assistance in a fallout shelter somewhere, but there’s also a symbolism that if something of that magnitude were to occur, we would need to come together in order to survive.  In the end, if we are alone, we won’t survive.


Panel 1:  And we get a visual transition from the final panel of Page 18 with its fallout shelter poster through to the same radiation symbol, which has been painted on the door leading to Dr. Manhattan’s quarters in reaction to the television interview and Nova Express article.

The soldier painting the symbol and the “Quarantine Area” sign is singing a Police song, “Walkin’ On the Moon,” which would foreshadow Dr. Manhattan’s now imminent departure for Mars.

Panels 5-6:  It is ironic that the soldier tells Dr. Manhattan he’s “a reg’lar kinda guy” in response to what he believe is a joke, when Dr. Manhattan’s reality – both emotionally and physically – could not be further from the truth.


Panel 1:  The red star in the sky is the planet Mars.

Gila Flats Test Base is the place of Dr. Manhattan’s origin – as we discover in the next chapter.

The Latin phrase on the sign, Per Dolorem ad Astra, means roughly –Through Sadness To The Stars.  This would be a literal commentary on Dr. Manhattan’s current situation. 

Panel 4:  This scene will be repeated – both at this point in time and, as a mirror image, at a point before Jon Osterman became Dr. Manhattan. 

Panel 5:  Dr. Manhattan can see things at a quantum molecular level.  The phrase above the photographs in the broken frame reads:  “At play amidst the Strangeness and Charm.”  A quark is a type of subatomic particle and a major constituent of matter.  There are six types of quarks which are coupled into three pairs.  One of these pairs is the charm-strange pair, signified by this phrase.

Panel 6:  We will find out in the next chapter that this is a photograph of Dr. Manhattan before he turned into this super-being – when he was Jon Osterman – and his soon-to-be girlfriend at the time, Janey Slater – whom we saw earlier speaking with a reporter for Nova Express.


Panel 7:  The return of the “Black Freighter” captions, which comment on this scene just after Dr. Manhattan transported himself to the surface of Mars.  “I slept . . . beneath cold, distant stars” refers directly to the starscape in this panel. 
The phrase: “[A] distant god in whose hands the fate of Davidstown rested,” is also a foreshadowing of the reality that the fate of the world will rest in the hands of Dr. Manhattan, the closest thing to a god on earth we have in Watchmen
“Was he really there?  Had he been there once, but now departed?” is a commentary on Dr. Manhattan’s sudden disappearance from this abandoned base


Panel 1:  It is appropriate that we look upon the intersection from a vantage point that focuses upon the Promethean Cap Co. – its slogan, “bringing light to the world,” a play on the Prometheus myth wherein the Titan Prometheus stole fire from Zeus, king of the Gods, and gave it to mortals – as the sun is rising.

The rising sun also relates to the Black Freighter caption that says, “The morning sun found me no more wise, no less troubled,” which also relates to Bernie the news vendor’s exasperation at the recent turn of events and not knowing what might happen next, if Dr. Manhattan can be taken out of the picture as easily as he was (of which Bernie discusses in the following panel).

Bernie mentions it, but we can also see the New Frontiersman’s headline:  “Our Country’s Protector Smeared by the Kremlin.”  Already the spin is happening, blaming the Russians with no other enemies worth attacking in the papers.

Panel 2:  The caption from the Black Freighter, “. . . I buried all hope for my family’s survival” foreshadows the drastic change coming in the political situation now that Dr. Manhattan has gone – an escalation in rhetoric that will spread the fear of a nuclear winter wider among the populace.

Note that Kovacs is asking for a Gazette along with his standing order of a copy of Nova Express. 

Panel 4:  The caption from the Black Freighter talking about digging a hole to bury the dead plays on Kovacs’s response questioning the news vendor’s assurance that the world did not end as Kovacs had predicted.  But this could certainly be seen as the beginning of the end with Dr. Manhattan out of the picture as the world of the Watchmen is about to begin spiraling toward a nuclear finale.

Panel 6:  The caption, “Dear God, who would protect them?” is a remark about the fact that Dr. Manhattan has left Earth, and now who will protect America?

Panel 7:  By the end of the book, it will be apparent that the story of the Black Freighter is a metaphor for Adrian Veidt’s story arc through Watchmen.  The caption from the Black Freighter in this panel asks, “Who would care for them, now I was gone?”  This is obviously another remark about Dr. Manhattan leaving for Mars, but the answer to the question is the person that orchestrated his exit from the planet – Adrian Veidt, Ozymandias, the man about whom the Black Freighter tale is told, on a metaphorical level.


Panel 1:    The final word on page 22 – gone – carries into this first panel as Laurie’s initial word balloon reads:  “Gone?”  A nice aural/textual transition.

Panel 2:  The radiation symbol we’ve been seeing on the fallout shelter sign behind Bernie’s newsstand is all over this scene on the door and the canisters the soldiers are using to carry away the contents of the room.

Panel 6:  Laurie’s bra from earlier, which Dr. Manhattan pondered after Laurie walked out on him, is being dropped into a hazardous material container.


Panel 1:  “. . . we’re all in big trouble” transitions from the previous page to a scene where Dan is sleeping with the shadow of Rorschach falling across him, not only commenting on the fact that Rorschach was able to get past Dan’s new lock, but also commenting on Dr. Manhattan’s departure, which Dan discovers in the following panels.

Panel 2:  The Gazette Rorschach drops onto Dan’s chest is yet another clue as to Rorschach’s identity.  This was the extra paper Kovacs bought at the newsstand. 

Panel 6:  Rorschach is talking out the case as he splashes some Nostalgia on.  He knows something out of the ordinary is going on, and that it’s all related.

Panel 8:  Note that Rorschach takes the bottle of Nostalgia from Dan’s vanity and puts it in the inside pocket of his trench coat.

Panel 9:  Rorschach says, “These days, nobody’s safe.”  This is a comment on the front page Dan is looking at (as well as the audience as we see this scene through Dan’s point of view) where Dr. Manhattan is screaming beneath the headline:  “Dr. Manhattan Leaves Earth.”

PAGE 25 

Panel 1:  Bernie’s statement that “Superheroes are finished” is a direct comment on what is happening within the world of the Watchmen.  “Masks” are being picked off one by one.

Panel 2:  A bit of the “real-world” pokes its head in as Bernie talks about the genesis of comic books in 1939 (Superman debuted in 1938, Batman in 1939) and the superheroes that – in our world – eventually saturated the market.

Panel 3:  Note the triangle on the delivery van – Veidt’s symbol.

Panels 4-8:  These panels are colored again with a various hues of red, symbolizing the dire times coming with the headline that Bernie reads from the evening edition:  “Russians Invade Afghanistan.”  We also see that Bernie’s philosophy has changed from being self-sufficient to looking out for one another.  With the Russians pressing in light of the fact that Dr. Manhattan has left, it’s necessary for everyone to come together. 


Panel 1:  The caption boxes are from President Nixon and his cabinet members and other advisors discussing the ramifications of Russia’s invasion into Afghanistan – a reality that occurred years earlier in our own world. 

Nixon’s remark that “if he (i.e. Dr. Manhattan) wanted to live on a red planet (Mars), he should have stayed home” refers to Russia’s military mobilization.  Russians, or more accurately Soviets, were called “Reds” as a result of the Bolshevik revolution in the early twentieth century.  In 1918, Russia was going through a civil war, and the Bolshevik army was named the Red Army, named for the spilled blood of the working class that was fighting for Communism.  When the Bolsheviks were victorious and eventually gained political control of Russia, the term Reds – for their Red Army – was attached as a derogatory label that lasted through the Cold War.

Panel 3:  The statement, “I’m talking total devastation” is another example of the juxtaposition between words and images that Moore & Gibbons pioneered with this comic.  It not only refers to the scenario of a Russian nuclear strike, but to the scene in this panel with Dr. Manhattan walking across Mars’s devastated landscape, a huge cloud of dust following him along its surface.

Panel 5:  More juxtaposition as one of Nixon’s advisors says in the caption box “. . . any moment now we’ll be able to give you an overview” just as Dr. Manhattan is coming over a rise to find the place on Mars where he can sit and think.

Panel 6:  The man speaking in the foreground of this panel is Secretary of State Henry Kissinger.


Panel 1:  The statement by Nixon to Kissinger that they want to be “somewhere else” when the nukes hit is read over another scene of Dr. Manhattan on Mars (somewhere else). 

Panel 2:  The bald man to Nixon’s left with the ball pipe of this world is G. Gordon Liddy, who – in our actual history – was one of the organizers of the Watergate burglaries that eventually led to President Nixon’s resignation in 1974

Panel 3:  More juxtaposition as the comment, “. . . that’s pretty breathtaking” refers not only to the destruction of the United States east coast as played out in the program Nixon’s advisors are running, but is also a comment on Dr. Manhattan’s ecstasy in this close-up as he looks up into the night sky on Mars.

Panel 4:  More radiation symbols, continuing the visual motif of this issue.

Panel 5:  “This is going to take some thinking . . .” is not only part of the nuclear scenario conversation in Nixon’s war room, but also a commentary on what Dr. Manhattan is preparing to do in this scene – sit and think.

Panel 6:  The radiation symbol motif in a sharpened close-up.


Panel 1:  The dialogue carries over from the previous page with the remark, “totally indifferent” a reflection of Dr. Manhattan and how he views humanity and how many will see him in light of his desertion of the planet.

Panel 2:  The radiation symbol is in extreme close-up as the nuclear possibility looms closer.

Panel 3:  “. . . Humanity is in the hands of a higher authority . . .” is a remark on the fact that, in this panel, Dr. Manhattan is holding the photo of him – before the accident, when he was human – and Janey Slater.  The higher authority always alluded to is God, which is how Dr. Manhattan is perceived, and in his hands he is holding the last remnant of his own humanity.

1 comment:

  1. Page 1, panel 3 "More blood! More blood" is an in-joke to when Mr Moore and Mr Gibbons worked at 2000AD. Specifically Kevin O'Neill's version of Nemesis the Warlock (which gained the "ultimate accolade" of being banned by the Comics Convention of America)