Friday, March 2, 2012

Watchmen: Chapter III - Page 1 + cover image

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.

No comments:

Post a Comment