This chapter focuses on the character of Rorschach and is aptly titled “Fearful Symmetry.” This title not only relates to the symmetry of Rorschach’s mask, but it is also a quotation from William Blake’s poem, “The Tyger,” and is symbolic of Rorschach’s animalistic nature, as perceived by those in civil society. As this chapter focuses on Rorschach, it is appropriate that the main thematic element of Chapter V is that of reflection and symmetry.
There are any number of instances of reflection and symmetry throughout this chapter. It would be difficult not to find an example on any page. We see it in the sign for the Rum Runner bar (two mirrored “R”s back to back), in background imagery (a Grateful Dead poster from their album AOXOMOXOA), and in the pictures from the “Black Freighter” comic book. The polished surfaces of Adrian Veidt’s office building, the floating inkblots of Rorschach’s face (mask), and the mirror in Dan Dreiberg’s guest room all provide instances of this symmetrical motif. It permeates this chapter of Watchmen and it does not, to me, feel forced at all.
But the most significant use of symmetry in this chapter is in its physical layout. Moore & Gibbons decided to try something that – to my mind – had not, and has not again, been done in comics. These two artists created a comic that is perfectly symmetrical in its panel layout (page 1 mirroring page 28 with their 9 panels, page 4 mirroring page 25 with one long panel at the top of each page and 6 more filling out the 9-grid, while the mirror falls at pages 14-15 where the facing pages form a single image in the middle with a corresponding column of three panels on either side). But, to go one step further, they also made the content of these pages symmetrical as well.
This is not to say that the first panel mirrors the final panel exactly. But if one examines the chapter carefully, it is revealed that the first six pages, and the final six pages, include content with Rorschach at Moloch’s apartment, while the subsequent page, Page 7, deals with Detectives Fine and Bourquin investigating Edward Blake’s death, similar to content found in the 7th page in from the final page of this chapter. It is an impressive artistic feat and makes the reading of this chapter more enjoyable for me.
Cover Image: Moving directly into the theme of this issue, the cover is a reflection in a puddle of the sign of the Rum Runner, a bar next to Moloch’s apartment building. The symbol for the Rum Runner is two “R”s placed back to back – a mirror of each other – with crossbones beneath them (the two “R”s forming a stylized skull). This imagery echoes the “Tale of the Black Freighter” story within the story of Watchmen. The two “R”s also mirror Rorschach’s signature.
Also, as before, this cover image is a close-up view of the first panel on
Note: The coloring of this page – the alternating red-light and unlit panels – is reminiscent of the flashback scene in Chapter II when Blake went to speak with Moloch, which is a visual cue for readers that we are back at Moloch’s. The flashing light comes from the Rum Runner sign we see reflected in the puddle.
Panel 4: Note the newspaper in the background with the headline “Russians Invade Afghanistan,” which is a result of last issue’s events where Dr. Manhattan left Earth for Mars, and the United State’s military advantage went with him.
It also reflects the reality of the world at the time Watchmen was written. Russia’s exit from Afghanistan – a nine-year occupation that began in late December, 1979 – would not come for at least three years after this story was written.
Panel 3: In the background, we see that the door has been kicked in.
Panel 4: A close up of the broken lock, from the Gordian Knot company, mirroring the lock Rorschach broke when he kicked in Dan’s door in Chapter I, which Dan had replaced by the Gordian Knot Lock company. This is a tell-tale sign that Rorschach is on the premises.
Panel 5: Once again the contents of Moloch’s refrigerator are strewn across his kitchen floor, tipping Moloch off that Rorschach may be in his fridge like last time.
Panel 9: Note the signature of Rorschach – two stylized “r”s back to back on either side of the fold like an actual Rorschach blot.
Panel 1: Note that Rorschach’s mask looks very much like a tiger in this panel, a nod to the poem “The Tyger” by William Blake, from which the title of this chapter, “Fearful Symmetry,” was appropriated.
Panel 4: As we have already seen – and as we will see many more times in Watchmen – Alan Moore creates a single piece of dialogue that has multiple meanings. In this panel the phrase, “tough break,” signifies not only Moloch contracting cancer, but also the egg Rorschach is breaking in the foreground.
Panel 3: The manner in which Rorschach can be contacted – leaving a note in the trash can opposite the Gunga Diner – is an important piece of information disguised as a throwaway line. This will play out later in the issue.
Panel 4: Rorschach’s comment, “can’t make omelette without breaking few eggs” is a reference to the manner in which he works and also another reference to the egg he ate while interrogating Moloch.
Panel 7: Rorschach’s comment from his journal, “waiting for a flash of enlightenment in all this blood and thunder” refers to the flashing light of the Rum Runner sign in this panel, and is also a transition into
Panel 1: which has an image of a Buddha (signifying enlightenment) in the form of a poster taped to a door. The blood splattered on the poster is also a visual echo of the splash of Rorschach’s foot in the puddle on the final panel of the previous page, adding another transitional layer between these pages.
As we get into this scene, it is also obvious that the use of the phrase “flash of enlightenment” is used ironically in reference to the father who killed his children for fear of impending nuclear doom.
Also of note in the Buddha poster are some other symbols that have been prevalent in Watchmen. First, the Buddha is bounded by a purple triangle (symbolic of Ozymandias) and there is also a blood splatter over the right eye (on our left), which echoes the blood-spattered smiley face badge of the Comedian. Also, the life of a Buddha is one of reflection, echoing the theme of this chapter.
Panel 3: The poster behind Detective Fine says, “Today is the First Day of the Rest of Your Life,” which is an ironic comment upon this scene.
Panel 6: The Grateful Dead poster in the background is for the album AOXOMOXOA, which is a palindrome that is also a mirror image – if you were to set a mirror in the middle of the “M” we would get the exact same word through the reflection of that half of AOXOMOXOA – reinforcing the primary theme of this issue.
Panel 9: Again, Moore & Gibbons play with the juxtaposition of words and images as the detectives leave, shutting the door behind them, their final words in the apartment, “that takes a whole different kind of inspiration” run over the image of the Buddha, which is an Eastern motif of religious inspiration.
Panel 1: Again, Moore plays with words in this panel as the words “despite my bitter protestations” in the caption box relate not only to the Black Freighter story but also to the remark, “Hey turkey! Quit splashing!” from the boy at the newsstand reading that comic.
Also note the purple pyramid on the truck, the symbol of Pyramid Deliveries and also a sign of Ozymadias (and Pyramid Deliveries is owned by Adrian Veidt, the human identity of Ozymandias). The driver of this delivery truck will become significant later in the book.
Panel 3: Moore juxtaposes the Black Freighter story against the story proper with the newsman’s dialogue: “This war’s lookin’ serious. Makes a guy start figuring escape routes, y’know?” and the caption box from the Black Freighter, which echoes that sentiment: “It was then I conceived of building a raft . . .” – the raft being his escape plan.
Panel 4: The delivery man’s dialogue: “In World War Three, where’s to split to?” again echoes the Black Freighter caption: “. . . although inwardly I doubted it would float.” Both pieces of dialogue express the characters’ doubt regarding their survival.
Also of note is the headline: “Afghanistan Fighting Spreads.”
Also in the background we see the Institute for Extraspatial Studies, which will be important later in the storyline.
Panel 5: More echoing dialogue with the delivery man’s remark that he “has enough juice to make Connecticut,” while the doomed sailor from the Black Freighter wonders if the trees lashed to his raft are “buoyant enough to reach Davidstown.”
Panel 6: Moore continues to have the two narratives echo one another as the Black Freighter caption states, in part, that the sailor “shuddered at the idea [he] found [him]self considering” as the news vendor repeats the delivery man’s comment “where’s to split to?” which seems to send a shiver up his spine as he ponders that reality.
Panel 7: More echoes with the Black Freighter’s caption reading, “I attempted to banish this repulsive notion” as the news vendor does the same, stating in response to the thought of nuclear war, “Ahh, it’ll never happen.”
Panel 8: More echoes as the Black Freighter caption reads, in part, “I had no choice,” which can be taken as a commentary on the news vendor’s predicament with “next month’s comic books arriv[ing] early, today’s frontiersman arriv[ing] late,” which is something over which he has no control.
Panel 9: And again, Moore has the two narratives play off one another as the Black Freighter caption reads, “Not when I considered the nature of my situation” as the news vendor considers his situation as he says, “[The war’s screwing up] absolutely everything.”
Also note that this final panel of the page mirrors the first panel of the page – with the delivery truck splashing the boy at the newsstand from the opposite side this time – in keeping with the overall theme of symmetry/reflection.
Panel 6: The image in this panel, of the sailor eating the raw gull transitions directly into
Panel 1: With Dan Dreiberg sitting in the Gunga Diner eating a drumstick.
Laurie’s line, “chew on that” also refers to this image.
Panel 2: Note that, in keeping with the thematic thread of this issue, Dan and Laurie are seen in the reflection of a mirror – which is why their word balloons are not attached to their images in this and the previous panel – within the diner.
Laurie’s comment about being “disposable” touches on the characterization of Dan Dreiberg, who has become soft since 1977, when the Keene Act outlawed masked vigilantes and he discovered that, as Nite Owl, he was disposable. This realization disposability has taken away his purpose in life.
We continue to see Dan and/or Laurie reflected in the mirror, even as we see them “in the flesh,” through panel 3 and
Panel 4: Note, in the background, we can see that the movie “Things To Come” is playing at the Utopia, foreshadowing the major turning point in Watchmen coming at the end of this chapter.
Dan and Laurie’s reflections in the mirror break after this panel, but only for a single panel as their reflections continue with panel 6 and
Panel 7: Laurie’s remark that she and Dan are “both leftovers” is mirrored by the leftovers these two leave on the counter as they exit the Gunga Diner.
A note on this page: I would say that the use of mirrors to showcase the bulk of Dan and Laurie’s conversation on this page not only reflects the thematic focus of this chapter, but is also a visual cue that, in their normal identities, Dan and Laurie are mere reflections of themselves. They are more alive and more important when they are in costume as Nite Owl and Silk Spectre.
It can also be a commentary on the fact that these two heroes are the only two who are legacy characters, carrying on – or reflecting – those heroes (the original Nite Owl, Hollis Mason, and the original Silk Spectre, Sally Jupiter) that came before them, and whom they wished (whether conscious or not) to recreate.
Panel 1: We know that the watch on Rorschach’s wrist reads 11:00, as noted in his journal entry, but still, the hands are close to the midnight image that has been prevalent throughout the book. In the background, it is interesting to note that the chipped plate standing on its side on Rorschach’s table has a stain reminiscent of a Rorschach blot.
The background elements in these panels from Rorschach’s residence tells us a lot about the character – namely, that he may be committed in his fight against crime and depravity, but the rest of his life suffers for it, mirroring his ineptitude within society, whether superheroic or not.
Panel 3: Rorschach’s comments from his journal that he “peeled off face” to hide it because “without [his] face . . . nobody knows who [he is]” gives us insight into his relative sanity, and, more importantly, on how he sees himself. Rorschach is the reality, his alter-ego the fake persona.
Also, in the background we can see that although the rest of Rorschach’s apartment is a sty, his copies of the New Frontiersman have been stacked neatly, affording us insights into his character and, specifically, what is important to him.
Panel 4: Rorschach’s remark that his landlady “reminds [him] of his mother” foreshadows revelations that are to come in the next issue, but also clues us in that he has issues with his mother and probably did not have a good home life as a child.
Panel 5: Rorschach’s remarks about the silhouetted figures spray painted in the alley doorway – “man and woman, possibly indulging in sexual foreplay. Didn’t like it.” – is yet another small insight into his mind. His strict moral sense includes a distaste for sex.
And the silhouette – reminiscent of the silhouettes in Hiroshima and Nagasaki burned into buildings by the atomic radiation emitted from the nuclear bombs the United States dropped on Japan to end the second World War – symbolizes the feeling of impending doom that permeates this entire book.
Also, to the right we see the “Who Watches the Watchmen?” graffiti, still not fully glimpsed.
Panel 7: As Rorschach sits watching his mail drop, he makes an upside down question mark on his Gunga Diner placemat. This is a nod to the fact that, in the initial pitch that involved the Charlton characters, Rorschach was to have been the Steve Ditko character, the Question.
Panel 8: In the background we see a group of Knot Tops spray painting the building wall across the street from the Gunga Diner. This graffiti will be seen in
Panel 9: and is revealed as the “Hiroshima lovers.”
In the foreground we see that, from the upside down question on the Gunga Diner placemat, Rorschach creates a Rorschach blot – symbolically: Rorschach being created from the Question.
Also note, Rorschach’s hands as they hold the Gunga Diner placemat with the Rorschach blot on it is a visual transition into
Panel 1: where the news vendor is holding the newspaper open in a very similar fashion, and is, in fact, watching the same scene of the Knot Tops on the opposite corner that Rorschach is watching through the window of the Gunga Diner.
Moore again plays with the dialogue from the two narratives (Watchmen proper and the “Black Freighter”) as the news vendor says, “this whole bloody mess, its gives me a funny feelin’ inside, y’know” which relates to the Black Freighter caption wherein the sailor states, “there was a gull in my stomach.”
Panel 2: The image in this panel also echoes the previous two, as the hands of the sailor are in a similar position as the newsvendor and Rorschach from previous panels. The mast upon which the sailor is holding has an added visual echo as the blood stain on the sail resembles very much the shape of the map in the newspaper on panel 1.
Also, Moore plays with the words of the narratives in this panel as the newsvendor says, “. . . I dunno how long we can hold on,” which relates to the sailor’s comment that the realization of his breakfast (the raw seagull he plucked from the air) makes him feel “faint,” thus his need to hold on to the mast.
Panel 3: Moore continues these parallel dialogues within Watchmen proper and the Black Freighter story. The sailor says he had “swallowed too much horror” while the newsvendor makes a commentary on the enormity of the current world situation. The coming of World War Three is too much for anyone to think about “[except] the arms companies.”
Panel 4: In this panel, the two narratives juxtapose, but instead of the words playing off one another, the newsvendor’s comment to “watch the financial pages . . . they’re gonna make a killing” with regard to the arms companies he mentions in the previous panel is echoed visually by the gulls circling high above the doomed sailor in this panel, hovering in anticipation of feasting on the carrion (as the arms dealers will feast with the escalation of war).
Panel 5: In this panel, Moore & Gibbons play with the audience as the news vendor’s remark, “don’t people see the signs?” is not only a commentary on the impending war, but also a statement directed at us. If one looks carefully, in the background we can see Kovacs (Rorschach) walking with his “The End is Nigh” sign.
Most people will focus on the word balloons and foreground action of a comic panel. They would not see the man with the sign in the background, which, when followed through the background of a later panel on this page, also gives us a clue as to the identity of Rorschach.
Panel 6: More wordplay as the news vendor is “sick” at the thought of everyone “escapin’ into comic books an’ t.v.” while in the Black Freighter caption – as well as the image in this panel – readers see that the sailor is physically ill from the ingestion of the raw gull.
Also note that one of the corpses used to float the raft is seen in reflection in the ocean, reinforcing the overall theme of this issue.
Panel 7: We get more wordplay from Moore as the “Black Freighter” caption states that the sailor discovered “an odd clarity” from his experience of coming face to face with one of his deceased shipmates while he retched into the ocean, as the news vendor comes to a similar realization regarding the impending war as he ponders the fact that everything would be gone, “even the word ‘gone’ would be gone.”
Panel 8: The news vendor comments that “news vendors . . . see the whole picture” as the sailor sees an image of himself reflected in the water (reinforcing the theme of this issue) and is unable to reconcile the visage of “a madman with blood-caked lips” with the reality that it is him, i.e. he is unable to “see the whole picture.”
Also note that the hair of the sailor falls across his left eye in the reflection, echoing the blood-spattered smiley face badge.
Panel 9: This final panel of page 12 mirrors the first panel of this page, something also seen on pages 7 & 8, again reinforcing the theme of reflection/symmetry found throughout this chapter.
The juxtaposition of this panel is ironic in that the two pieces of dialogue – from the Black Freighter and from Watchmen proper – contradict one another. First, we have the doomed sailor of the “Black Freighter” commenting on his own reflection, saying that all the facets of the visage seemed individually familiar, but he “could not piece them together.” The news vendor states that the curse of him and his newsvendor brethren is to “see every damned connection. Every damned link.” These two pieces of narration are a comment on the small image of Kovacs (note the “End is Nigh” sign) picking through the trashcan that, earlier in this chapter, Rorschach told Moloch was his mail drop. By making these “connections” and “piec[ing] them together” we are able to deduce Rorschach’s alter-ego.
Panel 1: The secretary’s remark that “time’s running out, Mr. Veidt. You better hurry” can be taken as a commentary on the impending Armageddon predicated by Russia’s invasion of Afghanistan and the imminent nuclear confrontation everyone sees coming, or as a foreshadowing of Rorschach’s fate – which will take a drastic turn with this issue’s closing – or as a commentary upon how little time is left for Rorschach and the others to figure out who murdered Blake, or even as a commentary on the fact that Veidt could be late for his “meeting,” which could result in him becoming the “late” Adrian Veidt.
Also note, the sheen of his desktop provides yet another visual reinforcement of the chapter’s theme, giving readers a reflected look at Veidt’s secretary, but also providing the audience with a bit of symmetry as the “V” cuff link forms an “X” when placed on this desk.
Panel 2: We see more reflection in the floor of his office.
Panel 3: The secretary’s remark that everyone is on a “total death trip” foreshadows her fate on the following page.
Panel 4: And again, more reflection in the floor of Veidt’s office building. We also see the purple and gold motif of Ozymandias is evident throughout the building.
Panel 5: In the Absolute edition and subsequent trade editions of Watchmen that were recolored by John Higgins, all the people in this panel are colored in bright hues, except for the one man to the right of center in the foreground who is a very dull gray color. This is significant and allows this walk-on character to stand out while also foreshadowing his intentions.
Panel 6: Veidt’s comment that the ancient Egyptians saw death “as launching on a voyage of spiritual discovery” is part of his philosophy, one can assume, and foreshadows the end of the book, which is brought about by Veidt and his Egyptian philosophy of death.
Panel 8: The “darkly” colored man pulls a gun on Veidt and his secretary.
This is the only two-page spread to be found in the entire book, and the utiliziation of this technique, and the larger panel bridging the two pages, not only adds drama to the action and accentuates what is happening, but the fold of these two pages acts as the mirror for this symmetrical chapter of Watchmen.
Panel 2: Note that the pool in the foreground is another reflective surface, reinforcing the overall theme.
Panel 4: This tall panel bridging the gap is the mirror for the chapter. The pool reflects the action while the stance of Veidt and the collapse of his attacker coupled with the large “V” in the background forms another symmetrical “X” to reinforce, yet again, the theme of the issue.
Panel 6: More reflection in the pool and the floor in the background.
Panel 7: As Adrian crushes the assailant’s skull against the bronze Egyptian mask on the edge of the pool, it forms a rather morbid, and blood-soaked, symmetrical image of two faces coming together. Also, note that a spot of blood has fallen onto Adrian’s yellow flower, echoing the blood on the Comedian’s yellow smiley face button.
Panel 2: Again, the “V” and Adrian’s stance form another “X.”
Panel 4: Veidt’s comment, “I want to know who’s behind this” is juxtaposed against the image of the large “V” behind him, which is the Veidt symbol and signifies the fact that he is behind it.
And we see the blood spatter on the flower once more.
Panels 6-8: The reflecting surfaces of the pool and the floor again reinforce the theme of the chapter.
Panel 1: Again, Moore plays with the two narratives as the “Black Freighter” caption says, in part, “my enemies’ hideous banner flapping dismally in my dreams,” while the news vendor describes the newspapers front page as “a nightmare.”
And the image in this panel is of the Black Freighter’s flag, which is a skull and crossbones on a black field, another symmetrical image.
Panel 2: More narrative juxtaposition as the news vendor talks about the murders and murder attempts featured in the paper (“somebody chops up their kids, somebody else shoots at Adrain Veidt”) while the “Black Freighter” caption reinforces this commentary with its statement that a “deaths-head banner; it flies above us all.”
Note in the imagery that the back cover on the “Black Freighter” comic the younger Bernie is reading sports an advertisement for ‘The Veidt Method,’ similar to the Charles Atlas ads commonly found in comic books of the past. We will see the full text of the Veidt method in a later prose piece, but the general substance of the ad is that Veidt can help people discover their inner potential through his method of exercise and meditation. “You too can be a superhero.”
Panel 3: The “Black Freighter” commentary that the “head nailed to the [Black Freighter]’s black prow, those heads are our heads,” plays against the idea put forth by the news vendor that, “if somebody wants to off a saint like Veidt, what chance do any of us got?” Basically, these both say that “we’re all in this together.”
Panel 4: In this panel, the news vendor discusses all the good works Adrian Veidt has done in public, while the “Black Freighter” caption states, “we exist upon the whim of murderers,” which is a commentary upon Veidt’s secret plan and also foreshadows the end of the book.
The newsvendor’s statement, “[Veidt] revealed his name like he had nothing to hide [emphasis mine],” is also another nod to Rorschach when juxtaposed with the imagery in the background (Kovacs walking along with his “End is Nigh” sign) whose secret identity is passing through this panel, keeping it hidden in plain sight.
Also, the fallout shelter sign in the background is another reminder of the doom hanging over this entire world.
Panel 5: The news vendor’s statement that “no wonder people go crazy” is a commentary upon the sailor from the “Black Freighter” in this panel.
Panel 6: Moore goes one better with this panel as the news vendor’s comment, “you never know what’s bearing down on you,” does double duty. First, it echoes the “Black Freighter” caption, which reads, “beneath my raft, something moved,” signaling the sharks about to attack the sailor in the following panels. But, it is also a commentary upon the reality – as well as a foreshadowing of the end of this chapter – that nobody knows Kovacs is Rorschach, as we see his hands carrying “The End is Nigh” sign in the foreground.
Also note, in the background – on the news vendor’s corner – is the Institute for Extraspatial Studies, which will become very important later in this story.
Panel 7: The news vendor’s statement, “all we see is what’s on the surface,” is a commentary not only upon the doomed sailor’s initial thought that maybe the corpses upon which his raft floats were trying to escape into the air – his inability to see the sharks beneath the surface and his frail psyche forming this idea – but it is also a commentary upon Moore’s audience, who – especially upon a first reading of Watchmen – might only see the surface story and miss a lot of the deeper layers. More specifically to that final point, it would also be a commentary upon the fact that many readers probably do not see – in the background – all the clues that he’s laid out to reveal the identity of Rorschach.
And although it could not have been intended by Moore, this statement that we only see the surface is also a commentary upon the fervor surrounding “grim ‘n gritty” characters that followed the success of Watchmen and Dark Knight in 1986, as creators and others within the medium took these more adult surface elements and transposed them to the comics that followed – believing this new “relevance” with adult actions and themes to be the reason for these books’ success – instead of understanding it was the storytelling and the density and the writing and creativity that launched these two books into the hands of so many readers.
Panel 8: The news vendor says, “I bet there’s all kinda stuff we never notice” as Kovacs – with his “End is Nigh” sign leaning against the trash can – goes through his mail drop (as Rorschach told Moloch) again, giving yet another clue as to Rorschach’s identity.
It also echoes the “Black Freighter” caption slightly as the sailor is unable to see things clearly in the dark, believing – or hoping – that the shadowy figures approaching were boats to rescue him.
Panel 9: The news vendor’s comment continues from the previous panel finishing the idea that we miss stuff “until it’s too late,” which again comments upon the reality of the doomed sailor who understands too late that there are no boats approaching. They are fins, shark fins.
Also, these two fins approaching the sailor on the raft – who is reflected in the ocean – is a visual transition to
Panel 1: Where the hands of Kovacs (Rorschach) are in a similar placement in front of the graffiti of the Hiroshima lovers, which are somewhat symmetrical if not perfectly so.
Many of the clues that reveal Kovacs (the “End is Nigh” character) is Rorschach come together in this panel.
First, the silhouette of the Hirsohima lovers on the wall behind this trash can would signal that it is the trash can across from the Gunga Diner, which we saw Rorschach watching earlier this issue.
Second, though not obvious, the “End is Nigh” sign can be seen settled against the trash can past the note and hands . . .
Third . . . which connects to the figure of Kovacs digging through the trash in the background of Page 17, Panel 8 (the previous page).
The comment in Rorschach’s journal that the “murderer is closing in” foreshadows his fate at the end of this issue, which ties in to the note he found in this maildrop from Moloch.
Panel 2: Again, the motion picture currently playing is “Things to Come” signaling that there are things to come for Rorschach in this chapter.
Panel 4: Rorschach talks of himself as being the one sane person (or “response”) to the events spiraling out of control in this world. This gives us another look into his fractured psyche, knowing what we already know about this character.
Also note the pieces of symbolism found in this alley: the “Pale Horse” sign, the “Who Watches the Watchmen?” graffiti, and the Ozymandias poster for his famine relief benefit show – all pointing to Ozymandias as the one behind the superhero conspiracy, and the one effecting the end of the world for these heroes.
Panel 5: Note the Nostalgia ad above Rorschach’s hiding place for his costume. It could be said that, although not nostalgic, Rorschach represents a facet of nostalgia considering he is one of the few “masks” still out there after the Keene Act was passed eight years prior – at least, a bit of nostalgia, if seen through a distorted prism.
Panel 6: With the journal excerpt on this panel we get yet more insight into Rorschach’s fragile psyche. He sees his costume as his true self, while the time he spends walking around without his mask, he sees as his “disguise.” Also, he describes his gloves as spotless, which they obviously are not. This could be another example of Rorschach’s inability to deal with the real world, or it could be him seeing them as spotless in a metaphorical sense, a result of his unwavering morality and refusal to give in to societal pressure.
Also note that his commentary of becoming “free from . . . lust” is juxtaposed with the imagery of the Nostalgia advertisement – a woman in her negligee pulling on a silk stocking.
Panel 8: The attacker and his victim at the end of the alley resemble very much the Hiroshima lovers found spray painted in the alleys of this New York City.
Panel 9: And, as has been seen in some of the previous pages, this panel reflects the first panel of this page, with Rorschach’s hands in the foreground, holding an object between them, as a man and woman “embracing” (one the graffiti silhouette, the other this mugger and his victim) can be seen against the brick building beyond Rorschach.
Panel 1: As with their previous scenes in this chapter, we see Dan and Laurie in the reflection of a mirror (in their human identities, they are “reflections” of their true selves, of their superhero personae) this time in Dan’s guest room where Laurie is staying, now that she’s been sent packing by the U.S. Army.
Panel 2: We only see the midsections of Dan and Laurie in the foreground, with more of their bodies, including their faces, shown in the mirror in the background, once more reinforcing this issue’s visual motif.
Panel 3: Pulling back, we now only see part of Laurie within the reflection of the mirror.
Panel 4: And again, the full picture of these two, at least as we are able to see their faces, is found within the mirror.
Panel 6: It may not be obvious, but the book on Dan’s nightstand is Hollis Mason’s Under the Hood. This is appropriate since nightstands are where one often keeps his/her Bible, and this book would certainly be considered Dan’s bible.
Panel 7: Note that the way Dan is lying in bed, he forms a lower-case “r.” This will be more significant as we turn the page.
Note that the way Dan is lying in bed, he forms a lower-case “r.” This will be more significant as we turn the page.
Also, his remark, “hell and damnation,” transitions nicely into
Panel 1: in which the doomed sailor from the “Black Freighter” comic makes the comment that, “hades is wet. Hades is lonely,” echoing Dan’s own “hell” comments.
Also, the pages transition visually from Dan lying in bed on his stomach to the image of one of the corpses floating the raft in a similar position.
Panel 6: Note that the shark received the splinter of the mast in its right eye, which is blood-spattered, echoing the blood splatter on the Comedian’s smiley face button over its right eye.
Also, it should be noted that the sailor is clutching to his raft in a pose very similar to that of Dan as he lay in bed in the final panel of the previous page. However, in this panel, the sailor is positioned in a mirror image of Dan – reinforcing the reflection/symmetry theme of this chapter. Also, if these two images were put side by side, with Dan on the right and the sailor on the left, it would form Rorschach’s signature.
The final caption box: “I hung on desperately, cursing in the bitter stinging spray” is another transition into the next page.
Panel 1: Echoing the “stinging spray” in the final panel of the previous page, the news vendor is hanging a covering over his newsstand as it begins to rain.
Also, his statement, “don’t it ever let up,” is juxtaposed against the “Black Freighter” caption box, which tells us that the shark eventually died – it finally let up.
Panel 2: More juxtaposition of the dialogue from Moore as the “Black Freighter” caption states that the shark “stopped swimming” as the news vendor complains that his job is like “paddling against the tide.”
Panel 3: More (or is it Moore?) narrative juxtaposition as the news vendor asks Joey, a driver for the Promethean Cab Company, if the Promethean is “still bringing light to the world,” as the “Black Freighter” caption reads, “relief was fleeting, my prospects still dark.”
Panel 4: The news vendor tells Joey, in response to her dire comment, that “Afghanistan’s a long way away,” which is juxtaposed against the “Black Freighter” caption box that says, “sharks circled closer than was comfortable.”
Panel 5: This panel is focused on vulnerability as readers get four comments upon this aspect. The news vendor feels Pakistan is the country that should be worrying about Afghanistan as “they’re wide open,” followed by Joey saying, “we’re all pretty vulnerable,” while she opens up her copy of Hustler to see the centerfold (a nude woman holding her hands over her exposed crotch, a classic image of vulnerability), all of which is echoed by the “Black Freighter” caption in which the sailor relates that the other sharks worried at his raft, which he hoped “would satisfy them” otherwise he would become far more vulnerable than he already is.
Panel 6: Joey asks if the news vendor could put up a poster for her so that it wouldn’t “get torn up,” which mirrors the commentary from the “Black Freighter,” in which the sailor states that the sharks departed and “for the moment, [he] was safe.”
Panel 7: This panel is a close-up of the panel readers saw as they “looked” over the young Bernie’s shoulder in the previous panel.
We get more narrative juxtaposition as the “Black Freighter” caption reads, in part, “I would have chuckled at the inversion of natural roles” as the sailor supped on the shark that had attacked him earlier. This is echoed by the news vendor’s remark to Joey, “Gay Women Against Rape?” (an inversion of expectation) “Is this a joke?” (echoing the “chuckled” from the caption).
The “inversion” can also be seen as a commentary upon the image in this panel, which shows the shark’s reflection (reinforcing the thematic overview of the chapter) in the ocean as an inversion of itself.
Panel 8: We get more word play as Joey threatens the news vendor with “alter[ing] [his] looks” if he does not put the poster up, mirroring the sailor’s thought that, “[his] raft grew increasingly grotesque, reflecting (thematic reinforcement) my own gradual transformation.”
Also note the triangle motif is part of this poster, as Pink Triangle – a band – is the headline act for this benefit concert featured on it.
Panel 9: Again, the two narratives juxtapose with one another as the “Black Freighter” caption reads that the sailor drifted “into the dawn” as the news vendor, in response to her bullying, makes a sarcastic remark to Joey, “bring light to the world.”
The ad on the back of Joey’s Hustler magazine is for the cigarettes readers have seen Laurie smoking, and the ad is “For Smokers With Balls.”
Also note that the news vendor in this panel – as he puts up the poster using his right hand – is a mirror image of the first panel on this page – in which the news vendor was putting up the covering on his newsstand with his left hand – again reinforcing the reflective and symmetrical imagery throughout this chapter.
This panel – laid out with the vendor in the background on the left of the panel putting up a poster that has a triangle as its centerpiece, the young Bernie in the lower left corner middle-ground with his cigarette lit and burning to the right of his image, and in the foreground at the right of the panel Joey, with a toothpick in her teeth pointing toward the left of the panel, walking toward the reader looking down at the magazine in her hands – transitions directly into
Panel 1: which is laid out with Detective Bourquin in the background on the left of the panel putting up a poster that has a triangle as its centerpiece, a telephone in the lower left corner middle-ground that is ringing as shown by the red light blinking to the right of its image, and in the foreground at the right of the panel Detective Fine, with a lit cigarette in his mouth pointing toward the left of the panel.
Panel 2: Detective Fine is looking at a Grateful Dead poster from the murder scene earlier in this chapter (seen in the background on Page 7, Panel 6). The poster recreates the cover image for the Grateful Dead record AOXOMOXOA, which, as stated before, is a palindrome that is also a mirror image of itself taken from the middle of the word (the middle of the “M”), accentuating the reflection/symmetry theme of the chapter.
Panel 3: Highlighting the visual theme of this chapter, readers see Detective Fine’s face reflected in the window. His dialogue: “I’ve had this funny feeling . . . like something’s in the air” foreshadows the climax of this issue, but is also played against the imagery of the elephant balloon for the Gunga Diner floating by the station.
Panel 4: Detective Fine’s remark about the day – that “it’s like there’s a pattern, leading somewhere” – is a commentary on the symmetrical pattern of this issue, which is leading to a major turning point in the overall story.
Panel 6: The manner in which Detective Fine mishears the anonymous caller on the phone – “raw shark” – relates to the “Black Freighter” tale in which the protagonist eats raw shark and also relates to the story proper, as the person on the other end of the phone is saying Rorschach.
Also note that Edward Blake’s case number is 801108, another palindrome that is also a mirror image of itself, expanding from the center of the number.
Panel 9: Detective Fine’s remark that they should “ignore some red lights” in an attempt to reach their destination as quickly as possible is played for irony, considering he’d been ignoring the red light on the telephone for the first half of this page, which would have meant them missing the tip on Rorschach.
Panel 1: More highlighting of the theme with the reflection in the puddle of the Rum Runner sign, which is a mirror image itself. Also, the discarded Gunga Diner box on the ground is a reflection of the balloon sailing through the sky.
Panels 1-3: Note that these three panels are almost exactly the same three panels that opened this issue. But, the level of detail that Dave Gibbons put into the art for this book is exhibited here when you notice that the Gunga Diner box next to the puddle is now flattened (looking at page 1, we would see that it still held some of its shape then) and the newspaper on the opposite side of the puddle (which was still intact on page 1) is now torn up, worn away by the rain and the passersby throughout the day.
Panel 6: Comparing this panel with page 3, panel 4, one notices that this is indeed a new lock. The “X”s on either side of the keyhole as well as the reinforcing plates on the door and door jamb reveal this. Since Rorschach just walks in, we are led to believe that Moloch left the door open for him.
Panel 5: Of course, Rorschach’s mask is the most prevalent symbol of symmetry within this chapter, but note that the way Gibbons draws his mask in this panel makes it almost look as if he is startled. It is subtle, but adds another layer to the characterization of Rorschach.
Panels 3-4: Despite the fact that he is in an untenable situation, Rorschach immediately begins forming a plan, dumping the contents of Moloch’s pepper shaker into his jacket pocket.
Panel 6: The hair spray is another Veidt product. Adrian Veidt permeates the world of Watchmen and pervades this particular chapter despite his character only showing up in a handful of pages. Like his capitalist empire, Adrian Veidt is everywhere while physically remaining in the background.
Panel 3: The remark “Here be tygers” by the police officer refers to the quote from the William Blake poem that gives this chapter its title.
Panel 9: The officer’s reference to Rorschach as an animal plays on the manner in which Rorschach has previously described the city in animalistic metaphors (. . . city is dying of rabies. Is the best I can do to wipe random flecks of foam from its lip?), while also referring once more to the Blake poem, “Tyger Tyger” from which the chapter title comes.
Panel 9: Rorschach’s snarl reinforces his description as an “animal” while again accentuating the Blake poem.
Panel 3: Note Rorschach’s mask has formed two reflected question marks, highlighting not only his questioning of who framed him, but also hearkening back to the character he was modeled on, Charlton’s the Question, created by Steve Ditko.
Panel 4: As Rorschach is kicked in the head, readers see his mask lose its symmetry for the first time, which could also symbolize the fact that the status quo has now been seriously changed.
Panel 6: The after shave mentioned is Veidt’s Nostalgia, from the bottle Rorschach took when he last visited Dan.
Panel 7: “Everything evens out eventually” is a remark on the “even”ness of the symmetrical layout for this chapter.
Panel 8: “Everything balances” again speaks to the symmetry of this chapter.
Panel 9: We end with a similar image to the one that began this chapter – a reflection of the Rum Runner’s symmetrical sign in a puddle – accenting the overall visual theme of this chapter, while balancing out its symmetry with rain drops that are falling from the opposite direction, allowing this panel to almost exactly mirror the first panel.
With this fifth chapter, Moore offers something new again in the back-matter, a chapter from a retrospective volume of pirate comics titled Treasure Island Treasury of Comics. This particular chapter examines a much-lauded series published by National, later DC, comics, “Tales of the Black Freighter.” This is significant because Bernie, the young boy at the newsstand, has been reading a reprint of one of these Black Freighter stories. In fact, it is the two-parter, “Marooned,” which is highlighted within the text of the back-matter as writer Max Shea, and then-artist Walt Feinberg, at “their blood-freezing best.”
This retrospective’s chapter, “A Man on Fifteen Dead Men’s Chests,” opens with a distinct variation in the history of the world of Watchmen, with respect to our own. It notes that the “brief surge of anti-comic book sentiment in the mid-fifties” was soon quashed, allowing EC comics to come through even stronger for it. The fact that actual superheroes were employed by the government is the main reason given for the favorable attitude toward the comic publishers by Uncle Sam, and is yet another bit of detail added by Moore to flesh out this world in a logical fashion. In reality, the U.S. Senate subcommittee hearings on juvenile delinquency chaired by Estes Kefauver saw the comics medium enter a period of decline as publishers worked to overcome the stigma that became associated with their product. In an effort to appease the public, the Comics Code Authority was created, and, directly or not, EC comics – which published a line of sophisticated and beautifully illustrated crime, horror, and war comics – soon went out of business after these hearings.
According to this Treasury, “Tales of the Black Freighter” was National’s answer to the EC sales juggernauts “Piracy” and “Buccaneers.” And though it did not achieve the sales figures of these two books, in this alternate history, Black Freighter became an influential book that cast a long shadow over pirate books that followed. Ironically, Watchmen became that book in our world – its presence still felt within the medium twenty-five years after its initial publication. Another ironic connection between Freighter and Watchmen can be seen later in the retrospective, as the author details friction between writer, Shea, and original series artist, Joe Orlando, due to, among other things, the “impossibly detailed panel descriptions” of Shea, a quality famously attributed to the scripts of Alan Moore. But unlike Shea, Moore, by all accounts, is very open to input from those artists with whom he collaborates.
Perhaps the most important bit of information offered here, which could easily be seen as a throwaway detail, is the name of the writer who helped create Black Freighter, the aforementioned Max Shea. For first-time readers, this name may hold no significance. But Shea is the missing writer whose picture was seen on page 1, panel 3 of Chapter III of the main narrative. And though it isn’t obvious yet, he will become important later in the story.
And one final note – a bit of trivia. The full page from “The Shanty of Edward Teach” seen on the second page of this Treasure Island Treasury of Comics is the only piece of artwork within Watchmen not drawn by Dave Gibbons. Joe Orlando, a noted artist who did work for EC before coming to DC comics where he was an editor as well as an artist, actually drew that page. And, as one can see, he would have been perfect if the medium had gone down the “pirate” road it did in Watchmen rather than the superhero road we have experienced.