Thursday, March 1, 2012

Watchmen: Chapter III - Thematic Overview

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?

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