Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Watchmen: Chapter V - thematic overview


Thematic Overview: 
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.

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