THE ABYSS GAZES ALSO
A quick note: The characters of Walter Kovacs and his alter-ego Rorschach are two very distinct people in the hands of Moore & Gibbons. With that in mind, the text that follows distinguishes between each depending upon which character is seen in a particular panel (physically, not psychologically). I had initially considered identifying the character according to his personal timeline within the greater narrative of Watchmen, but felt that would be far too confusing – for myself as much as anyone. I hope the fact that I move from Rorschach to Kovacs and back does not affect the response I hoped to avoid.
Chapter VI of Watchmen opens with an image of a Rorschach blot. Appropriate, as this chapter delves into the mind of Walter Kovacs laying bare the experiences that formed his alter-ego, Rorschach. Additionally, this Rorschach blot is described by Kovacs on Page 1, panel 8 as “a pretty butterfly,” which elegantly illustrates the main theme of this chapter – metamorphosis. In this chapter we finally discover, through flashbacks, the events that transformed Walter Kovacs into Rorschach concomitant the present-day narrative that details the metamorphosis of Dr. Malcolm Long from the upbeat psychiatrist treating Kovacs to a person more akin to his infamous patient than he could have ever imagined.
It seems inevitable that Kovacs, an unloved and abused boy, should have become the hardened, uncompromising vigilante Rorschach. His worldview, formed at an early age, spurred a need for a black and white world rather than the muddled, gray one in which we all live. As Rorschach, Kovacs meted out justice on the criminal underclass. But we learn Kovacs, in his guise of Rorschach, spent years as a “soft” crimefighter before alter-ego was truly born. And when Moore & Gibbons provide the final straw that sent Kovacs over the edge, it’s chilling – the culmination of a slow, steady metamorphosis into the scourge of the underworld introduced in the first chapter of Watchmen.
In order to help Kovacs, Dr. Long must fully understand what motivated his patient to become Rorschach. He expects a malady well within his ability to cure. But humans are complex, and Walter Kovacs is no exception. Probing further into the events that transformed Kovacs into Rorschach, Dr. Long falls deeper into the abyss and becomes more sympathetic toward his patient’s plight. With this fuller understanding of Kovacs/Rorschach, Dr. Long transforms into a person who sees the world through similarly tinted glasses to Rorschach. It’s an emotional descent into a personal hell that can be hard to watch and just as difficult to turn away from. These parallel metamorphoses occupy the narrative of this chapter through its twenty-eight pages, until the Rorschach blot metaphorically coalesces, as these two men become one.
Throughout the chapter, the butterfly image – most notably in the form of the Rorschach blot from the cover – acts as a harbinger, revealing itself during significant junctures in the narrative, turning points in one or the other character’s story. It is subtle but elegant in its simplicity, emphasizing the transformations these characters go through. And at the heart of this entire chapter is the realization that, given the right number of circumstances and the right amount of wrong turns, anyone could have become Rorschach. In the end, it just happened to be Walter Kovacs who answered the call.
Cover Image: This chapter focuses on Rorschach, or more precisely on his alter-ego, Walter Kovacs. So it is appropriate that the cover image be a close-up of a Rorschach blot. And, as with every cover image before, this is an extreme close-up view of the image found in the first panel on
Panel 2: Moore utilizes the caption box here to exhibit the true motivation for Dr. Malcolm Long’s decision to take on Walter Kovacs, aka Rorschach, as a patient. He is in it for the money and fame that might come from a successful rehabilitation of Kovacs.
This is yet another example of Moore creating fully-realized and believable characters. The people in Watchmen are not the prim and proper cut-outs found in so many superhero comics. They are conflicted characters with varying degrees of both good and evil within themselves.
Panel 5: Dr. Long’s comment that “[he] could stare at [Kovacs] for hours … except that he stares back,” is a direct commentary on the title for this chapter, “The Abyss Gazes Also.” This title comes from a longer quote by German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche: “Battle not with monsters, lest ye become a monster, and if you gaze into the abyss, the abyss gazes also into you.” This line foreshadows Dr. Long’s psychological journey through this chapter – i.e. in his attempt to rehabilitate Walter Kovacs/Rorschach, Dr. Long will come to view the world in the manner that Rorschach does and ultimately become more like his patient than he ever conceived possible.
Panel 7: Again, Moore & Gibbons utilize the strengths of the comic medium, juxtaposing the “unspoken” optimism expressed by Dr. Long’s voiceover in panel 2 with the grotesqueries found in Kovacs’s mind, and then subverting that in
Panel 8: as Kovacs gives Dr. Long the answer he knows the doctor wishes to hear.
This panel mirrors Panel 2, exactly two panels above it, as Kovacs builds his façade, just as Dr. Long did with his stated reasons for taking this case above.
Panel 5: The final line in this panel’s caption box, “How on Earth did [Kovacs] get like this,” foreshadows what this chapter will be about – the secret origin of Rorschach.
It is also worth noting that so far, Dr. Long has only addressed Rorschach as “Walter,” in an attempt to humanize him and have his patient focus on this “true” self rather than his Rorschach persona. This will be important later.
Panels 1-2: As with the previous Rorschach blot, this latest one that Dr. Long has provided Kovacs morphs directly into an image from Kovacs’s past. In this instance, the blot becomes the shadow of his mother and one of her “johns” shot against a yellow wall, mirroring the yellow background of the Rorschach blot card.
Panel 3: Interestingly, this silhouette, seen more clearly in this panel, mirrors the imagery of the Hiroshima lovers’ graffiti that we have seen in the streets of this New York City.
Panel 5: Young Walter Kovacs pleads with his Mom, apologizing to her for interrupting, while trying to explain that he “thought [the man] was hurting [her.]” We can see, even at this young age, that his sense of duty – violently manifested as Rorschach in his later years – was already in place.
Panel 8-9: And, in an appropriate use of symmetry, we see the shadow of young Kovacs being beaten by his mother morph back into the Rorschach blot he was looking at during the beginning of this flashback scene, transitioning us back into the present.
Panel 4: The shallow smile given by Kovacs in this panel (subtly rendered by Dave Gibbons) could be read by Dr. Long as an admonition that “there’s hope,” as the doctor professed in the previous panel. But, in reality, Kovacs is smiling at the absurdity of the doctor and his willingness to believe Kovacs’s fabrications in this therapy session.
Panel 5: Judging by Dr. Long’s response to Kovacs’s smile, it is possible he understands more fully what his patient is thinking. But, more likely, the doctor just finds the change in expression from this taciturn and intense fellow unsettling in and of itself.
Panel 2: The dog remark in this panel (“You got a dog? It’s [dead.]”) is rather ironic considering the scene on Pages 21-23 of this chapter involving Rorschach and the German shepherd already glimpsed on Page 1, panel 7.
Panel 6: The dialogue in this flashback panel: “…Talking to you, runt,” and “Yeah, whatsa matter? Ya deef or what?” is not only directed at the young Walter Kovacs in this panel, but is also referring to the somber, quiet manner in which the present-day Kovacs listens to all the epithets and threats hurled at him by the rest of the prison population in yet another example of Moore providing dialogue with multiple meanings.
Panel 1: The image of a young Walter Kovacs with an unidentified fruit smashed across his face is symbolic of the “face” he will adopt as Rorschach.
The overlapping word balloons – signifying the overlapping remarks being made toward Kovacs – mirrors the cacophony he experienced in prison on the facing page. However, in this scenario, the young Kovacs reacts differently than his older self.
Panels 7-8: This page showcases the turning point in Kovacs’s life – the point when he first fought back – and the way Gibbons draws these panels perfectly exemplifies that fact, the eerie, “animalistic” look in the boy’s eyes in panel 7 mirrored with the eyes of Rorschach in the close-up of panel 8, as we transition back to the present.
Panel 1: Note the coffee mug just visible off the left side of this panel. It shows half of an “A” and a “D,” which one must assume would represent the word “DAD,” giving us a bit more insight into Dr. Long’s life.
Panel 3: This early in the case Dr. Long is insistent that anyone discussing it – in this instance, his wife – not use the “fantasy personality” of Rorschach for his patient. Walter Kovacs is his patient, and losing sight of that could hamper any progress.
Panel 4: The remarks by Dr. Long’s wife in this panel foreshadow what will happen through the course of Dr. Long’s work with Kovacs/Rorschach, despite Dr. Long’s protests to the contrary.
The coffee mug is fully visible in this panel, and it does say “DAD.”
Also, the odd mobile hanging from the office ceiling – which is more evident in Panel 6 of this page – foreshadows the end of the series. The form of the mobile being closely related to the “squid” transported to New York by Ozymandias at the end, and symbolizes the threat hanging over everyone in this story.
Panel 5: In the background, on the wall, we see the shadows of Dr. Long and his wife, shadows that closely resemble the “Hiroshima lovers” spray-painted around the city, as seen in earlier chapters. The relationship to those silhouettes symbolizes and foreshadows the breakdown of the Long’s marriage, which we will observe through the course of this chapter.
Panel 6: The shadows of Dr. Long and his wife here, juxtaposed with the dialogue that Long feels he “can guide [Kovacs] out of [his psychosis],” along with his wife agreeing that “if anybody can, it’s you,” symbolizes how this case will not only make him a shadow of his former self, but it will also make their marriage a shadow of its former self.
Panel 7: Again, Dr. Long’s wife foreshadows what is coming for her husband. Her anxiety will be proved out.
Panel 9: Note the inkblot spreading from Dr. Long’s pen, which foreshadows the transformation Dr. Long will go through in this chapter – from the jovial contented man he and his wife discuss on this page, to someone more akin to Rorschach (symbolized by that inkblot).
Panel 2: Note the pill bottle in front of Dr. Long, which was not on the table during his first session with Kovacs. This will become an important piece of Dr. Long’s story as we progress through this chapter.
Panel 3: The “butterfly” Rorschach blot is on display at the top of Dr. Long’s pile of inkblots. Not just a symbol of Rorschach, the “butterfly” inkblot symbolizes the metamorphosis both of these characters go through in this chapter – Rorschach’s metamorphosis is observed through flashbacks, while Dr. Long’s metamorphosis happens in the story’s present.
Panel 6: In this panel, the pill bottle is fully visible, and we can see that it holds pain killers – probably similar to aspirin, but maybe a bit stronger – as evidenced by the name, “GOPAIN.”
Panel 2: Dr. Manhattan is indirectly responsible for the “birth” of Rorschach, thanks to the Dr. Manhattan fabric that would become his mask.
Panel 3: Note how the fluids in the dress almost form a face, symbolizing the face that Kovacs would make from this fabric for his alter-ego, Rorschach.
Also, the voiceover caption exhibits Rorschach’s most basic instinct, that there is no gray in the world, only black and white, only good and evil. This is the primary tenet of Rorschach and this fabric perfectly embodies that philosophy.
Panel 4: “When I had cut it enough, it didn’t look like a woman anymore,” reveals the deep psychological scars Kovacs has from the time he lived with his mother, and also exhibits a very real, and terrifying, personality trait within Kovacs/Rorschach.
Panel 5: This monologue by Kovacs is quickly getting to Dr. Long, as exhibited by his hands working to get the GOPAIN bottle open.
Panel 6: Here Moore brings in real-world events, not only to ground the story a bit more, but to more readily exemplify the horrors that man can perpetrate against one’s fellow man, which is what spurs Rorschach/Kovacs to action. By utilizing this event, Moore adds depth to Rorschach’s motivation and, in turn, makes it more real for those reading who are familiar with the case.
Panel 7: Kovacs’s remark, “Some of them even watched,” can be taken a number of ways – as a statement on humanity and its ugliness, as a reference to the “Watchmen,” or even as a statement on Dr. Long and how he could be described as a voyeur on his patients’ lives – in particular, on Kovacs, at this point in time – with the invasive questioning he utilizes to get at their basic problems.
It can also be seen as a reference to this chapter’s title, “The Abyss Gazes Also,” with those gazing down at the horror occurring beneath them seen, in Rorschach’s and others’ eyes, as becoming just as ugly and horrific as that which they witnessed, due to the fact that nobody tried to help.
Panel 9: As Kovacs relates the tipping point, at which time he took on “a face that [he] could bear to look at in the mirror,” one that did not exhibit the ugliness humanity hides behind with their benign countenances, we see that Dr. Long has finally gotten the cap off of the GOPAIN and is dropping two pills into his hand. With the “climax” of Kovacs’s story, Dr. Long is so overwhelmed that he needs those pain pills.
Panel 9: The dialogue: “‘You’ll find out.’ I wonder what [Kovacs] meant?” juxtaposed with the image of the “butterfly” Rorschach blot symbolizes, once more, the metamorphosis Dr. Long experiences throughout this issue. He will slowly come to be more like Rorschach, foreshadowed by Kovacs’s remark, “You’ll find out.”
Panel 5: Kovacs’s use of hot cooking fat – throwing it into the face of the inmate threatening him – mirrors the image of a young Kovacs having the fruit smashed into his face by the older boys from Page 7, Panel 1, even down to the coloring by John Higgins for the faces. Kovacs has come full circle.
Also, the burning fat is used as a visual transition into
Panel 1: and the boiling coffee that is making a similar splatter as the hot fat did when Kovacs thrust it in the face of the inmate.
Panel 2: One thing that is distinct about Kovacs/Rorschach is his perspective on things. Not only does he have a black and white view of the world, but he also seems to see all scenarios/experiences in a manner slightly askew to everyone else. The line in this panel: “None of you understand. I’m not locked up in here with you. You’re locked up in here with me,” exemplifies this very distinct perspective perfectly.
Also of note in this panel – Dr. Long now has two different kinds of pain killers he is using, as evidenced by the bottles of GOPAIN and PAIN AWAY in the foreground of the image.
And possibly the most important bit in this panel can be found in the first caption box where we see Dr. Long’s notes discussing “Rorschach” rather than Kovacs. It’s the first major sign that his will is starting to break down and the metamorphosis he undergoes has begun in earnest.
Panel 3: Dr. Long makes note of the error in calling his patient Rorschach instead of Kovacs – also pointing it out to the readers who may have missed it – but he does not see this slip for what it is, the first step down into the abyss.
Panel 4: Note that the dripping coffee in the coffee maker has formed a tiny butterfly, emphasizing his metamorphosis (evidenced by the juxtaposition with the captions: “Kovacs. Not Rorschach.”).
Panel 5: Note the clock on Dr. Long’s desk is at the familiar 5 to midnight that permeates this story, signifying the lack of time we all have left – and, more specifically, symbolizing the lack of time Dr. Long has to save his marriage, which shows the first signs of cracking in the following panels.
Panel 6: This crack in the Longs’ marriage begins here with Malcolm basically telling his wife he isn’t in the mood for sex – mirroring Rorschach’s aversion to women and sex – which comes as a result of Dr. Long’s obsession with his patient – mirroring Rorschach’s obsession with crime and criminals.
Panel 9: It’s interesting that Gibbons chose a down-shot here (or Moore, if this shot was in the script), as it feels more voyeuristic, since it is not from a “typical” angle, i.e. head-on. Juxtaposed with the repeat of Rorschach’s comment, “You’re in here with me,” makes it feel as if we are looking down on Dr. Long in his own personal cell. We also see that he is reaching for his painkillers again, and that the coffee pot is in the 5 to midnight position, again accentuating the sense of inevitability and doom that permeates this story. And this image transitions directly into
Panel 1: which is also an overhead scene, but back in the prison, as Dr. Long speaks with Kovacs.
As this scene opens, we see Dr. Long now slip verbally, almost calling his patient Rorschach, but catching himself before finishing the name. Also note, Dr. Long appears to have three bottles of pain killers before him on the table, the increase in his medication symbolizing the deeper he is sinking into the “abyss.”
Panel 3: The idea that when Kovacs first put on the mask of Rorschach he was still only, “Kovacs pretending to be Rorschach,” is a very interesting one. At this point, through the flashbacks, we will experience the metamorphosis of Kovacs into Rorschach.
Panel 6: Not only does Rorschach leave a calling card that is a Rorschach blot – the mirror image of a stylized ‘R” – but the criminals he “let live” in this image are also a near mirror image, a human Rorschach blot for the police to find.
Panel 4: Yet another image of a clock at 5 to midnight. Also, from this angle – in a flashback that we’ve seen before in Chapter II, Page 11 – we are able to verify that Captain Metropolis was indeed worried about “Black Unrest” as something for the Crimebusters to tackle.
Panel 6: Kovacs’s voiceover in this panel, particularly the lines that, “we do not do this thing because it is permitted. We do it because we have to,” is related over imagery showcasing the illegality and suspicion the populace has toward “masks.” Specifically, we see the unfinished graffiti, Who Watches the Watchmen?, the news headline that the Keene Act has passed, outlawing masked vigilantes, and the sign that says: “Badges not Masks,” all of which are being ignored by Rorschach, who has turned his back on these cries against him as well as the person who was spray-painting the graffiti whom Rorschach obviously “worked over” to stop him from defacing the building.
Panel 5: Note, in the background, the edition of NOVA that included the exposé on Dr. Manhattan.
Panel 6: Only three days into his sessions with Kovacs – as evidenced by the dates of Dr. Long’s journal in the caption boxes – we see he has finished at least one of his bottles of painkillers.
Panel 7: Note the clock in the background is at the familiar 5 to midnight position, and that Dr. Long and his wife, Gloria, are back to back forming a reversal of the “Hiroshima lovers” graffiti, as seen in the previous panel, which is also a Rorschach blot. Dr. Long’s rather quick transition from taking his wife up on the offer of making love the first night after speaking to Kovacs to turning in early with no affection – as symbolized by their sleeping arrangement in this panel – is symbolic of Dr. Long’s metamorphosis into a person more like Rorschach, who has a strong distaste for women and sex, in general.
Panel 2: Kovacs’s reply to the question from Dr. Long, “How are you today?” is another example of his distinct perspective, as he answers, “In prison.”
Panel 3: Again, the “butterfly” Rorschach blot is here not only for the narrative, but it also accentuates the metamorphosis of these two men. In this next scene, Dr. Long will tumble even deeper into the abyss, while we, and the good doctor, will finally come to understand what it was that birthed Rorschach.
Panel 1: By utilizing this aerial view of the scene – a technique used rarely throughout this story – Gibbons puts the “butterfly” Rorschach blot at the center of the image, emphasizing the theme of metamorphosis that permeates this chapter.
Also note that the shadows of Dr. Long and Kovacs hearken back to the “Hiroshima lovers” we have seen spray painted on the edifices of this alternate version of New York City. This use of shadow could be seen to symbolize the ontological deaths of these two characters – which we will observe over the following pages and which will result in the true “birth” of Rorschach (in the flashback sequences) and the “birth” of a new Dr. Long more in line with Rorschach.
Panels 2-3: By closing in on the “butterfly” image, Moore & Gibbons accentuate the metamorphosis we are about to observe. And the use of this Rorschach blot allows for a smooth transition to
Panel 4: which has a close-up image of Rorschach and his “ink blot” mask, in flashback, when he was investigating the kidnapping he is recounting to Dr. Long in the present.
Also note how this scene, wherein we will finally see the true birth of the vigilante Rorschach that we have come to know in the present, mirrors Kovacs’s initial foray into vigilantism, as both “births” take place at a dressmaker’s.
Panel 6: That “knob of bone” over which the two dogs are fighting will become important shortly.
Panel 7: Again, Moore & Gibbons use similar imagery/actions – i.e. the kicking in of a door, dislodging the lock mechanism in the process – to create these very real characters. The attention to their actions, their body language, and the way they interact with others – and keeping that consistent throughout the book – helps ground this story in a manner not often seen in comic stories. Of course, it helps that Moore & Gibbons conceived this as a single narrative, forestalling the possibility of other writers and artists coming on and utilizing these “heroes” in manners that would be seen as out of character.
Also, it’s interesting to note that, despite his black-and-white view of the world, Rorschach still has a sense of irony, as evidenced by his description of his entrance: “Went in through front, like respectable visitor,” juxtaposed against the kicking in of the door.
Panel 8: Note the time-clock on the right of the image; its hands are near the familiar 5 to midnight position.
It is worth noting how rare it is for a writer, especially one who is prone to purple prose like Moore can be, to allow the images to tell the story. But it works perfectly here; everything we need to know is featured in these eighteen panels, and the realization of what happened to the young girl – as we close in on the two German shepherds fighting with what appears to be a leg bone – is shocking, and accentuated by the “look” on Rorschach’s face (a look of shock on his mask) and the coloring transition of panels 7-9 of Page 20 from orange with spots of red (specifically one of the dog’s eyes) to Rorschach bathed in red in that final panel.
And again, this scene where Rorschach quietly investigates the scene mirrors the scene from Chapter I when he investigated Blake’s death, accentuating the consistency of these characters.
Panel 5: Note how colorist, John Higgins, bathes the panel in red, signaling the killing blow that Rorschach is about to execute upon the German shepherds with the cleaver – which is the instant just before the image in PAGE 1, Panel 7 of this issue.
Panel 6: The image of the “butterfly” Rorschach blot in extreme close-up symbolizes the transformation from “playing Rorschach” to actually “being Rorschach” that Kovacs recounts in this and the following panel.
Panel 9: The Rorschach blot – now, even closer to “us” – fully bathed in red signals the death of the child molester at the hands of Rorschach.
Panel 1: Note that the street number for this dressmaker’s is 808 – a palindrome that is also a mirror image of itself when bisected, in the same manner that a Rorschach blot is a mirror of itself when bisected.
Panel 1: The use of a large panel – taking up the top tier usually reserved for panels 1-3 – magnifies the impact of this scene, and John Higgins’s use of reds, once again, heightens the drama and symbolizes not only the death of the dogs and the “death of Kovacs,” but it also foreshadows the death of this child molester, Grice.
Panel 5: It isn’t as vivid a shade of red in this panel, but again, Gibbons and Higgins utilize the space on the page and the hue of red to accentuate the tension of the scene.
Panel 4: The large stain of blood on Rorschach’s overcoat can be taken a number of ways. Obviously, it is a result of his killing of the German shepherds, but it also hearkens back to the spot of blood on the Comedian’s smiley-face button – an image that hangs over this entire story – and it could also be seen as the result of a blood ritual performed by Kovacs that transformed him into Rorschach – the unrepentant, unforgiving vigilante who is the scourge of this world’s underbelly and a thorn in the side of the police.
Panel 7: If there was any doubt about this man’s guilt, the fact that Grice voluntarily states he had nothing to do with the kidnapped little girl, even though Rorschach has said nothing to him and made no accusation to that effect, incriminates him fully.
Note: Again, Higgins utilizes various hues of red to accentuate this harrowing scene with Rorschach.
Panel 7: Rorschach stepping out of the dressmaker’s with the fire fully engaged behind him can be seen as a phoenix-like symbol, as this whole incident is the turning point where Kovacs transforms into Rorschach, reborn in an episode of blood and fire like the mythical Phoenix.
Panel 9: Again, the “butterfly” Rorschach blot is evident on the table, symbolizing the metamorphosis of Rorschach, as just recounted by Kovacs.
Panels 1-3: These three panels really hit home the “Phoenix” symbolism, as we watch the dressmaker’s go up in flames while Rorschach talks over the scene, commenting on how he felt “cleansed,” as if born anew in that instant.
Panel 4: Kovacs’s description of life here: “… has no pattern … save what we choose to impose,” is also an apt description of the Rorschach blot test, accentuated by the extreme close-up of the significant “butterfly” Rorschach blot in this panel.
It is worth noting that, within the personal timeline of Rorschach, it is this point in his career where he goes from being a “proactive” hero who tries to help people and forestall crime, to becoming a “reactive” anti-hero who metes out punishment on the guilty with little regard for much else. When he snapped, his agenda was flipped on its head, so to speak.
Panel 1: The man selling Rolex watches, who curses at Dr. Long, will be seen again. Having a watch seller in this panel is a call-back to Dr. Manhattan, who has been absent in these past two chapters, but could also be seen as a symbolic emphasis upon Rorschach’s thoughts on God – Rorschach says that “God [does not] kill the children … it’s us,” which falls in line with the Watchmaker theory of God, a divine being who created the world, set things in motion, and then stepped away to allow events to transpire of their own accord.
Panel 3: Once again, Moore & Gibbons infuse the narrative with irony and symbolism as they juxtapose the words – a recounting of what to do with dead family members in the case of a nuclear attack (they should be wrapped in plastic garbage bags and placed outside for collection) – with the pictures – that of the Hiroshima lovers graffiti (an image that reminds us of the devastation wrought by the United States nuclear attack on Japan during WWII) just behind a trash can, where the young boy reading the pirate comic at the newsstand is throwing away a mmmeltdowns wrapper.
The juxtaposition of a minor, disposable candy wrapper with the thought of doing the same to one’s family is ironic, while the use of the Hiroshima lovers graffiti accentuates the message of a nuclear holocaust that may be raining down on America any minute, within this alternate world – a literal meltdown.
And the image of the Hiroshima lovers facing one another as they embrace transitions directly into
Panel 4: where we have Dr. Long and his wife in a reversal of the graffiti, as they get dressed with their backs to each other. The curtains in the background, which separate directly between the couple, emphasize this symbolic “breaking” of their marriage.
Panel 7: Here we see the finalized metamorphosis of Dr. Long into someone akin to Rorschach. Asked a titillating and immature question, he does not shy away from the stated query and answers his dinner guests directly with simple statements that do not hide the true “black and white” nature of the incident. Typically, in such company, one might consider glossing over the facts because society expects that. But Dr. Long now sees the world in a manner similar to Rorschach and seems unable to do that.
Panel 2: The “crude sexual insults” toward Dr. Long from his wife mirrors the similarly crude insults we can infer Rorschach received in Chapter II, Page 25 as he cruised through the red light district and did not respond to the prostitute’s propositions, just as Dr. Long had stopped responding to his wife’s propositions. These two are now more alike than Dr. Long might like to admit.
Panel 3: Note that the pain killers Dr. Long has been taking have a typical warning at the bottom – “Caution: Do Not Exceed Stated Dose” – and from what we have seen throughout this issue, it is easy to assume Dr. Long has been regularly exceeding the stated dose.
Panel 5: Dr. Long’s description of what he sees in this “butterfly” Rorschach blot is evidence of the transformation he has undergone in this chapter, a transformation symbolized by the presence of this “butterfly” blot.
The grubs he describes in the caption, “frantically tunneling away from the light,” are symbolic of the populace at large, and of Randy and Diane and his wife, specifically. They were the ones who asked him about “weird” and “kinky” things that Rorschach may have shared with him, but when Dr. Long revealed the truth of what Rorschach told him, with the all too real horrors inherent with the story, they were reviled by it and pulled away, just as the grubs did in the dead cat Dr. Long saw so long ago.
Panel 8: And we fall, along with Dr. Long, into the dark abyss that has been gazing back at him, and us, throughout this entire chapter.
As with the past few chapters, Moore again offers up a very different text pieces as a means to flesh out this chapter’s narrative. With Chapter VI focusing on Dr. Malcolm Long’s attempt to rehabilitate Walter Kovacs (Rorschach), it is only fitting that we should get a glimpse into the file Long had on his infamous patient. We get the police report, a summary of Kovacs’s life from the New York State Psychiatric Hospital, two essays – with accompanying artwork – from Kovacs’s time at boarding school, a photo of a young Kovacs, and a note from Dr. Long expressing his enthusiasm to commence his work with Kovacs. These shreds of Kovacs’s personal history, like the moments chosen in the main narrative by Moore & Gibbons, provide, when combined, a relatively broad view of Kovacs.
Most of what is found on these few pages speaks for itself, recounting – and in some instances expanding slightly – events already seen in the main chapters of the story. But there are a few things of note that can be taken away from these documents. The essay title, “Dream 5/27/63” and the accompanying artwork emphasize how scarred Kovacs was by his mother’s prostitution. The second essay, “My Parents,” provides better insight into Kovacs’s fixation with President Truman – attributing it to his father, as recounted by his mother. Of course, realizing that President Truman did not take office until a few years after Walter’s father had already left, one must question his mother’s motivation for sharing such a fallacy with her son. She could have been confusing Kovacs’s father with one of her johns, or it might have been fabricated on a drunken whim. You can draw your own conclusions as to that, but it’s these little pieces of humanity (even the sadder parts of humanity) that add depth to even the most minor characters in this story. And the police report provides the names of the detectives working this case, Detectives Fine and Bourquin, who have gone nameless up to this point.
Perhaps most interesting, though, is the name of the boarding school Kovacs attended, as noted on the letterhead of the stationary used for his essays. The Charlton House. Originally, the story that became Watchmen was initiated by Moore as a treatment for the Charlton characters DC had recently acquired – characters such as Blue Beetle, Nightshade, and the Question. But when DC editorial realized how radical Moore’s story was going to be, they balked at utilizing the Charlton heroes. So Moore & Gibbons were free to create their own characters for this story. The letterhead on this stationary is a recognition of that.