A quick note: In Chapter VI, I identified the character of Rorschach according to how he looked physically within any given scene – whether in his civilian guise of Walter Kovacs or his costumed identity of Rorschach. I had considered identifying him in that chapter according to his psychology within a given scene, as Kovacs related to Dr. Long: for many of the early years of his career he was only Kovacs pretending to be Rorschach. But I felt that would be too confusing.
As I continue with this project, I realize that to call Rorschach anything other than his true name, regardless of the different speech pattern we see from the unmasked Rorschach, is not only confusing, but wrong. So, with this chapter, I will identify him as Rorschach, despite the fact that he is without his mask. This may seem a little thing, but I do not wish there to be any confusion for those who have been reading along as I have been writing these notes on Watchmen. Eventually, I expect to go back and revise the notes for Chapter VI to better reflect a continuity of thought that must be present within such an endeavor. But for now, I will keep them as is.
The main theme for Chapter VIII is liberation. After the calm before the storm that was the previous chapter, we now see that storm bearing down on our heroes, and our heroes must unshackle themselves in order to confront it. Derf’s misremembered comment, “like the spirit of ’76,” on the recent return of these outlawed adventurers sums things up nicely. It is a reaction to these heroes while it also evokes a sense of patriotism that is also appropriate to these vigilantes coming out of the shadows.
On its surface, this chapter concerns the liberation of Rorschach from prison – a plan put forth by Dan Dreiberg at the end of Chapter VII. Over the course of this chapter, the main narrative moves back and forth between Dan and Laurie’s preparations and Rorschach’s own actions to effect his personal independence and survival. These threads come together in the latter half of the chapter, resulting in Rorschach’s liberation, which is the first step in this final act of Watchmen.
Less obvious, but equally important, is the liberation of Dan and Laurie from their self-imposed shackles. For too long, these two have denied their “true” identities – their heroic identities – a result of the Keene Act of 1977. Despite arguments to the contrary – that Laurie’s mother, the first Silk Spectre, forced her into costumed adventuring or that all of Dan’s gadgets seem childish, in retrospect – both are more comfortable, and more alive, when in their costumes, helping others. With the previous chapter’s tenement fire rescue, Dan and Laurie finally tested those waters. But it seemed Laurie only saw that as a one-time thing, not a return to adventuring. Dan’s point of view was decidedly different, born from the confidence and relative ease he felt after finally putting the costume back on. And, with this chapter, Dan and Laurie release those shackles and embark upon a new age of costumed adventuring.
And finally, the saddest part of this chapter acts as an exclamation point for its theme of liberation. Hollis Mason – known for being Nite Owl and mistakenly believed to have saved the residents in the tenement fire last chapter – is beaten to death by a small group of Knot-Tops. Thrown into a fury by the sense of impending doom, emphasized by Russia’s march into Pakistan, these young punks race to Mason’s home with an unreasonable rage in their hearts. The leader, Derf, is beyond reason and uses the statue given to Mason in 1962, as a commemoration of his service as Nite Owl, to kill this kind, old man. In a sense, Derf “liberates” Mason from this mortal coil, leaving a pall hanging over the story that parallels that which hangs over the citizenry of this alternate Earth.
Cover Image: Once again, the cover image is also the first panel of this chapter. This statue was first seen in Chapter 1, Page 9, upon our introduction to both Nite Owls. The next time it is seen is in Chapter 4, page 15, during Mason’s retirement celebration. The statue was presented to Hollis as a memento of his service as Nite Owl.
In this image, the meaning of the statue is provided by its juxtaposition against the newspaper article on Mason’s retirement. The inscription, “In Gratitude,” can be taken, as with much of what is found within Watchmen, in two ways. First, there is the manner in which it was meant, an expression of gratitude for all the good Mason did in his guise of Nite Owl. But, at this point in the narrative, it could also be seen as one word, ingratitude, which seems to be the prevailing sentiment toward costumed adventurers at this point in the world of Watchmen. With the Keene Act of 1977 outlawing costumed vigilantes, and the negative feelings toward the single adventurer who refused to retire or work for the government, Rorschach, it is indeed not a welcoming world for the likes of Nite Owl, Silk Spectre, or any of the former heroes of this world.
Panels 1-2: The foreground images in these first two panels – the statue given to Hollis and the bottle of Nostalgia perfume – take on a number of symbolic representations here, at the opening of Chapter VIII.
First, it symbolizes the connection between these two speakers – Hollis Mason, the former Nite Owl, and Sally Jupiter, the former Silk Spectre – who worked side-by-side as this alternate world’s first generation of costumed adventurers.
Second, it symbolizes their current mental state of being. Hollis, in his weekly beer sessions with Dan Dreiberg (Nite Owl II), relives his adventuring past as he and Dan trade stories. And, in her rest home on the American west coast, Sally surrounds herself with similar memories, mainly in the form of pictures of herself from those earlier days, basking in the nostalgia that comes from being so far removed from the actual events.
Third, these two symbols also signify the recent return of their namesakes, Dan Dreiberg and Laurie Juspeczyk, to costumed adventuring, which is the impetus for Hollis’s phone call to Sally.
Panels 3-4: On Hollis’s television in Panel 3, we can see a repeat of the news report of Russian forces spreading through Afghanistan, moving closer to the Pakistani border, as seen in the previous chapter.
In Panel 4, we see that Sally is watching what appears to be a soap opera. Regardless, it is obvious that while Hollis is watching the news, Sally is watching something less “serious,” which helps to exhibit the differences between these two old friends.
Panel 5: Hollis’s comment: “Takes you back, huh?” is emphasized by the images in this panel – the photograph of the Minute Men, Mason’s autobiography, Under the Hood, and the glimpses of the statue and news article on his retirement.
Panel 6: Similar to the previous panel, we have Sally commenting, “I’ve been thinking about old times a lot lately…” with similar pieces from her history showcased in this panel. We have the same photo of the Minute Men on her nightstand, and, judging from the Tijuana Bible open on her bed (introduced in Chapter II), we could probably assume that Sally is lamenting the loss of attention her retirement and subsequent slide into obscurity have brought.
Panels 7-8: Details from the Minute Men photograph in these two panels show us what these adventurers looked like in their prime. Interestingly, these are the only images of the speakers’ faces, Hollis and Sally, that we get in this opening scene, as if Moore & Gibbons want us to have these vigorous, youthful conceptions of these two heroes in our mind as we read this chapter.
Panel 9: In the background, we have another incomplete look at the graffiti: “Who Watches the Watchmen?” And, in the foreground, we have children in their costumes, mirroring the discussion between Hollis and Sally about whether either one of them ever puts on their old adventuring costume, now that they’re far beyond their physical prime.
Note that Mason’s reaction to Sally’s question of whether he ever puts on his old Nite Owl costume – “Nah. It’s different for guys. I’d feel stupid…” – is a far different one from Dan’s reaction to wearing his costume again. Mason would feel ridiculous, whereas Dan feels more alive, more virile, when he puts his costume back on. This exhibits these two characters’ different approaches to their adventuring days, but can also be seen as a response to how each of them retired. Hollis Mason was able to go out on his own terms, while Dan Dreiberg was forced out before his time.
Mason’s follow-up comment, “Maybe I’ll dig out the old threads and go trick-or-treatin,” is a bit of foreshadowing on the part of Moore. The fact that Mason used to dress up as Nite Owl and fight crime will be very important to the series of events that closes out Chapter VIII.
As an aside: the fact that these children are “preparing for Halloween next week” by putting on their costumes early and running around the streets is very strange. Sure, we could chalk it up to this being an alternate reality, and it works for the plot of this issue as well as emphasizing the costumed aspect of the main characters in Watchmen, but it feels off just the same. If anyone has a different perspective on this, please drop a note in the comments and convince me of a better reason for this oddity.
Panel 1: Note that the rest home where Sally Jupiter now resides is called Nepenthe Gardens. Nepenthe, in ancient times, was a draught that could help the imbiber forget one’s sorrows or troubles. Sally Jupiter, with the personal outlook we have seen from her thus far, is one who works to remember just the good things in her past and pushes aside those negative experiences – particularly her rape at the hands of Eddie Blake, as shown in Chapter II– in order to, one must assume, have a better life.
This attitude is emphasized with Sally’s remark that, “maybe [Laurie]’ll thank me for all that training I made her do.” She needs to believe that the way she pushed Laurie into adventuring – something that has driven a wedge between mother and daughter – was the right thing to do.
Panel 2: Hollis’s comment that kids show “no gratitude till it’s too late,” is emphasized by the image of his statue in the background, which was given to him “In Gratitude” for his service as a costumed adventurer.
Panel 3: Sally’s comment that, “choosing the right lifestyle’s just so important,” is emphasized by the imagery in this and the previous panel. In panel 2, we see that Hollis is smoking the most recent in a string of cigarettes, as revealed by the stubs in his ashtray, while drinking a beer. Conversely, Sally has a number of vitamin supplements, including ginseng, on the table beside her.
Her remark about indecision and her quandary about whether to “book extra analysis or aerobics” accentuate the frivolous nature of her current existence. This final remark leads directly into
Panel 4: where we can read into Hollis’s sudden conclusion of their phone conversation a few ways.
It could be interpreted as Hollis being overwhelmed by nostalgia himself and not wishing to allow those emotions to build up any more.
Or, we could see it as the differences between he and Sally becoming sharply defined in his mind, compelling a desire for him to hang up.
Finally, it could be seen as the gap in their personal fiscal realities coming to the fore as Hollis realizes how pampered Sally is, and he ends the conversation so that he doesn’t need to consider this disparity (and for evidence of this, see panel 6, where a tin can marked “Phone Money” is revealed, as Hollis stands up)
Panel 5: Nixonomics is a reference to Reaganomics, which was the term given to the economic policy of President Ronald Reagan, who was the U.S. President during the initial publication of Watchmen.
Panel 7: Note that there are no superhero costumes on these boys, but there is a pirate, in keeping with the prevalence of pirates in comic books on this alternate Earth.
A NOTE ON THE COLORING FOR PAGES 1 & 2:
John Higgins must be given his due, once more. It would seem obvious that Hollis Mason’s scenes on these opening pages would be cloaked in darkness, while Sally Jupiter’s are brightly lit, considering the fact that Hollis is on the east coast and Sally on the west coast of the United States – signifying that Hollis is calling in the early evening. But this coloring also accentuates the personal realities of these two characters. Hollis, evidenced by the fact that the news is playing on his television, is a more serious person, up on current events (note that Sally seems only to have a cursory knowledge of the return of Nite Owl and Silk Spectre at the tenement fire the previous night, which could be explained as more relevant to New York residents such as Mason, except that the return of costumed adventurers would be national news), and has a more pragmatic outlook.
Sally, on the other hand, is blissful with her rose-tinted glasses, preferring to remember and take note of those aspects that feed into her personal outlook on the world while ignoring things that might contravene her perspective. She is re-reading a Tijuana Bible that puts her in a salacious and desired position, while getting her nails done by Acme Manicure, as she considers whether to have extra analysis or aerobics. It also appears that Sally is in a better place financially than Hollis – as Sally is living in a rest home where all her needs are taken care of for what one must assume is a costly fee, while Hollis continues to work on cars in order to make ends meet, living in the apartment above his garage. Higgins masterfully chooses muted, darker colors for Hollis’s panels, while Sally’s are infused with brighter yellows and pinks – a wonderful example of how the coloring of a comic can help drive home the narrative and symbolic aspects of that comic.
Panel 1: With this panel, we return to the intersection that has acted as a focal point for this series. The dialogue from the newsvendor, Bernie, and the captions from the pirate comic being read by the young boy, also named Bernie, at the newsstand parallel one another. We have the newsvendor commenting on how it’s “…like all our old nightmares come back…” while in the comic book’s captions we have the commentary, “…my darkest imaginings welled up unchecked…like black ink”
This feeling of one’s darkest dreams becoming real is also accentuated by the recurring image of the “Hiroshima Lovers” graffiti on the building in this panel, which is another example of “black ink [that is] impossible to remove.”
Panel 2: The parallel texts continue here as the newsvendor’s comment, “Red invasion…” is juxtaposed against the comic’s caption, “I pictured Davidstown’s quiet streets overrun…” while the subsequent remark by the newsvendor, “…I mean, I remember 1977…” mirrors the comic’s caption, “…Recalling their brutality, I moaned.”
Also note the delivery van, from Pyramid Deliveries, in this panel. Pyramid Deliveries is owned by Adrian Veidt – whose heroic name, Ozymandias, comes from the Shelley poem about the Egyptian pharaoh Ramses, and whose motif revolves around ancient Egypt and its pyramids – and it is important to note that the delivery person in the following panel,
Panel 3: is delivering something to the Institute for Interspatial Studies, which is another holding of Veidt’s.
And, once again, the twin dialogues parallel one another as the newsvendor and the comic’s protagonist both comment on their wives – the vendor remarking he’s glad “…[his] Rosa ain’t alive to see [things going to hell],” while the sailor in the comic expects that “…[his] wife was almost certainly dead.”
Also worth noting is the movie poster in the foreground for The Day the Earth Stood Still, which not only emphasizes how people are feeling with recent events in this story, but also foreshadows what will happen when Veidt’s ultimate plan finally reaches its conclusion.
Panel 4: Again, the dialogues parallel as the newsvendor and the comic’s protagonist both reflect on memories of their respective wives, as we get an image of the actual pirate comic being read. Visually, having the woman’s face mostly hidden in shadow also emphasizes the feeling of impending loss that the main character of the comic is feeling.
Panel 5: I’m not sure if it was intentional – though I would never put it out of the realm of possibility with this book – but the waving handkerchief in the girl’s hand in panel 4 is mirrored by the wafting smoke from the boy’s cigarette in the newsstand in this panel, a visual transition that is subtle but still links the “comic book” panel with the “real-world” panel.
The newsvendor’s remark on how his wife would have hated to see how the “superhero thing turned out,” with the loss of innocence that is permeating society at this point is emphasized by the dialogue of the comic, wherein the protagonist laments the death of his own innocence and the innocent times in which he lived with his wife and family.
Some bits of visual minutiae – In the background, we can see Dr. Long approaching the newsvendor. On the back cover of the comic book, we see an ad for the “Veidt Method,” which is a take on the “Atlas Method” where one could send away for a booklet that could provide one with the “secret” to becoming a prime physical specimen. Also, we can see the “Pink Triangles” poster still exhibited on the news vendor’s booth, as seen in Chapter V.
Panel 6: The newsvendor’s comment, in response to discovering that Rorschach was a regular customer at his newsstand, that a “…a lotta stuff happens under the waterline…” is accentuated by the “comic” panel of the bloated corpse “under the waterline” that is keeping the comic protagonist’s raft afloat, which is overlaid with the caption, “Dead: I imagined my shipmates’ bloated corpses, carrying my raft on fisheaten backs…”
This commentary on things hiding beneath the surface is not only a response to everything the newsvendor and the comic’s protagonist see around them, but is also a commentary on the actual book itself, a remark by Moore on the hidden depths of this book – and other well-crafted comics and books – that too often go overlooked by readers unwilling or unable to dig beneath the surface narrative.
Panel 8: The dialogue for the pirate comic here – “I [see]…their cutlasses carving relentlessly until all [my wife’s] personality, all her subtleties of posture and expression are obliterated, reduced to meat…” – mirrors the remarks made by Rorschach when he told Dr. Long about how he created his mask: “…cut it enough, [until] it didn’t look like a woman anymore.”
Panel 9: The newsvendor’s comments regarding Dr. Long are ironic considering the horrors he has experienced with his recent work with Rorschach. Dr. Long understands better than most how the world is going crazy and he is right in the thick of it.
The text from the comic is a truer account of Dr. Long’s journey – he was faced with the intolerable horrors remarked upon in the dialogue and he chooses the madness of Rorschach (without the ac of punishment) because he is now unable to return to the blissfully ignorant worldview he held before.
Panels 1-3: These three panels together form a super-panel – a concept examined by comic artist Michel Fiffe here. This layout provides a novel way to experience time within a comic. The first three panels of the previous page also did this, but in that super-panel time was carried across the single image through the use of word balloons from the newsvendor. No people actually moved through the scene. In this super-panel, we have Laurie passing across the three panels, the panel borders providing the breaks in each scene as she walks across the floor to Dan.
Without the panel borders, it would be confusing to have the three images of Laurie crossing the floor. And if all of this dialogue were included in one oversized panel, it would collapse under the weight of credibility – the figures would remain static in that single panel, but the amount of dialogue shared between them encompasses too long a span of time for them not to move, which could strain a reader’s suspension of disbelief. This super-panel, as noted by Fiffe in the link above, is an elegant solution to this storytelling challenge.
Panel 4: This is the point where we begin to learn of the pyramid scheme set up by Veidt – who owns Pyramid Deliveries, IES, and other notable entities involved with this whole “mask killer” scheme – which is appropriate and ironic considering his connection with the Egyptian pyramid motif.
Panel 6: Note that the newspaper headline states that the Reds (Russians) have crossed the Pakistani border. The world is at a tipping point, almost past the point of no return for a resolution between the United States and the USSR.
Panel 3: Laurie’s remark that, “[Jon] just pops up when [she] least expect[s] it…” foreshadows what occurs toward the end of this chapter.
Panel 4: The skeletons alluded to by Dan not only represent the metaphorical, romantic ones on the surface of his dialogue, but also the actual skeletons of their adventuring days, as shown by their costumes strewn about the interior of Archie, in these three panels.
Panel 4-6: And, once again, we get a super-panel from Gibbons, the passage of time across these three panels enhanced by the panel borders, as Dan and Laurie walk in front of Archie on their way back upstairs.
Panel 9: With this panel, and throughout the rest of this scene, we get another prime example of Rorschach’s distinct perspective on the world, along with what we will come to find is his signature sarcasm, a result of his unfailing confidence.
In this panel it comes with his two short bits of dialogue: “Big Figure” is the name of this underworld boss, which is obviously a clichéd ironic name, remarked upon by Rorschach with the comment, “Small world,” which is a none-too-subtle dig at Big Figure’s short stature.
Panel 4: More sarcasm from Rorschach with his comment, “Tall order,” which again is a backhanded remark on Big Figure’s short stature.
This sarcasm can also be seen as a wise technique, on the part of Rorschach. He is always able to keep his cool demeanor, and when he makes these sarcastic remarks, he is trying to make his opponent lose his cool, something working on Big Figure’s henchmen. If you can get under the skin of your enemy, then you’re that much closer to winning the battle. Rorschach knows this and is working to do just that.
Panel 6: The remark about there being “one crummy lock” between Rorschach and his past catching up to him is a call back to the crummy locks that have failed to keep Rorschach out of places where he desires entry, whether that was Dan’s apartment or that of the kidnapper seen in Chapter VI.
Panel 7: In this panel the crummy lock is the focus of the panel, and it transitions directly to
Panel 1: where we see Dan getting yet another new lock from the Gordian Knot Lock Company, for his apartment, to replace the one that Rorschach broke at the end of Chapter III (which itself was a replacement earlier in that same third chapter for the lock Rorschach busted in Chapter I)
Detective Steven Fine, as identified (sans first name) in the back-matter for Chapter VI, is one of the detectives working the Eddie Blake murder.
Panel 3: Note the owl on the calendar that Detective Fine is looking at in the background, an obvious visual metaphor for Dan’s alter-ego.
Panel 5: All of Detective Fine’s remarks and questions are meant to clue Dan in that the detective knows he is Nite Owl, including his offer of a cigarette to Dan. Significantly, Dan tells the detective that he doesn’t smoke – the importance of this statement made more obvious in just a few panels.
Also, Detective Fine no doubt already did a little research on Dan and knows that he lives alone. The two coffee mugs would be a tip off to him that someone relatively new is living there, whom he most likely suspects is Laurie Juspeczyk, the Silk Spectre.
Some bits of visual minutiae – Another headline about the increasing hostilities on the Eurasian continent as tanks mass in Eastern Europe, close to Afghanistan and Pakistan.
Note that Governor [Ronald] Reagan (who was actually President at the time, but obviously could not be if Nixon had achieved his five terms) is urging a hard line on these hostilities, which can certainly be taken as a remark on Reagan’s Presidential policies of the time, especially his hard-line stance against the USSR.
There’s the Nova Express issue with the “Spirit of ‘77” theme, as noted by Bernie the newsvendor earlier in this chapter.
The bag of sugar on the counter is new, a result of Rorschach’s first visit to Dan in this book.
Panel 6: Detective Fine would have also noted the two coats hanging on the hooks as he entered, visible in this image.
Also note that the new lock shines quite brightly – an ironic visual statement possibly, considering how easily similar locks have been breached earlier in the story. And the manner in which those locks have been breached is similar to the manner in which the riddle of the Gordian Knot from ancient times was solved, through lateral thinking and brute force.
Panel 8: Detective Fine notes the Sweet Chariot sugar cubes, making the remark that they only come in “catering packs,” as yet another indication he realizes Dan is Nite Owl – followed by his description of witnesses’ testimony regarding the tenement fire rescue wherein the rescuer served coffee on his airship and would most likely have needed sugar cubes in larger catering packs in order to have enough sweetener for those rescued.
Panel 1: Detective Fine’s remark that, “…I forgot. You don’t smoke…” is said right in front of the ashtray with the discarded cigarette of Laurie’s sitting there. Detective Fine is, once again, indicating to Dan that he knows more than he’s telling outright.
Panel 4: The following month’s image on Dan’s calendar – a hawk taking a sparrow in flight, as revealed by Detective Fine – foreshadows what is to come for Dan and Laurie as they go on the offensive to stop the series of events put in motion with the murder of Edward Blake, and is also mirrored by the back-matter for this issue, the main article from Nova Express titled: “Honor is Like the Hawk: Sometimes it Must Go Hooded.”
Panel 6: Detective Fine is looking right at the two jackets on the hooks as he asks where that “…dame, the Silk Spectre…” is now. He knows. She’s living with Dan.
Panel 7: And here’s Detective Fine’s final warning to Dan – he tells him that when they arrested Rorschach they found sugar cubes in his pockets, the implicit statement being that they were sugar cubes most likely taken from Dan’s apartment.
Note the lock continues to glint in the apartment’s light.
Panel 9: Once more the lock shines in the apartment’s light, which, along with the ironic symbolism alluded to earlier, also foreshadows what is going to occur toward the end of this chapter, as the Gordian Knot lock is once again busted, allowing entry to Dan’s apartment.
And Dan’s remark, “Suddenly, we have a deadline,” leads directly into
Panel 1: where Hector Godfrey, editor for the New Frontiersman, is working to get his article pasted up in time for their printing deadline.
Of note in this panel is the fact that Seymour is wearing a smiley face t-shirt, hearkening back to the Comedian’s button, which has acted as a recurring visual motif throughout this story.
Panel 2: Interestingly, the clock in the background has Roman numerals, similar to the chapter numbers utilized in Watchmen.
Panel 5: The picture Seymour finds – for the aforementioned “missing writer” piece – is that of Max Shea, whom we have seen briefly in Chapter III (on the cover of the New Frontiersman on Page 1, Panel 3) and Chapter VII (on the newscast on Page 13, panel 2) as well as in the back-matter for Chapter V. He is the writer of the pirate comic that has been interspersed throughout Watchmen.
Panel 6: With the cover for the latest edition of the New Frontiersman pasted up, we can see that this article is the back-matter created for this chapter.
The New Frontiersman is obviously the conservative counterpoint to the more liberal-biased Nova Express, mentioned by Godfrey. But, along with the fact that this article is the back-matter for this chapter, Godfrey and Seymour will come to play small but important roles in this final third of the book.
Godfrey’s final bit of dialogue in this panel – “…I’ll get this … ready to hit the streets…” transitions directly into
Panel 7: where we see Dan and Laurie getting ready to hit the streets.
Gibbons’s use of a large panel – taking up the entirety of the bottom tier, which would typically encompass three separate panels - emphasizes the importance of this scene (Dan and Laurie are just about to leave in order to break Rorschach out of the prison, the schematics of which are shown on the computer screen).
This change in page layout also does something else, as the pattern of two tiers of three panels stacked on top of a single, larger, seventh panel will carry through the next six pages, allowing Moore & Gibbons to jump back and forth between scenes, with the bottom panel relating one scene – that of Dan and Laurie’s approach on the prison – while the upper 6 panels on each page show us a different, concurrent scene that will have consequences later in the story.
Panel 1: It isn’t necessarily obvious here, but the artist, Ms. Hira Manish, is sketching what is under the tarp in the background. We will learn slightly more about her in the back-matter for this chapter.
Panel 2: The speaker is Max Shea, missing writer. Shea’s remark that he is “admiring the coast of mosquitoes and daydreaming about getting back to the mainland” is important. It obviously means these people are on an island. The significance here is that they are on the island Eddie Blake saw, the island – and, more importantly, what he discovered there – that sent Blake, in a drunken stupor, to Moloch to confess. Blake discovered the conspiracy put in motion by Ozymandias. It overwhelmed him, and, ultimately, it was this knowledge that got Blake killed.
Note that the tanker ship in the background has a pyramid symbol on its prow, communicating to us that Adrian Veidt, Ozymandias, is somehow involved with this as well.
Panel 4: Of course, the story that Shea is reminiscing about is the pirate story the young boy from the newsstand, Bernie, is reading – the same one we readers have also been reading.
Panel 5: This seemingly throwaway line: “…that sequence where the young chew their way out of their mother’s womb…” is actually important to the overall story of Watchmen, and its significance will be revealed in the final chapter.
Panel 6: Shea’s final bit of dialogue in this panel – “…let’s give the tyke a final once-over…” transitions directly into
Panel 7: where we see Dan and Laurie giving Archie, the owlship, a final once-over.
Panel 1: Again, Moore plays with the juxtaposition of images and words as the news commentator – a professor no doubt brought in as an “expert” – remarks on the impending possibility of nuclear war with “…what [do] these people have instead of brains…” while Hollis Mason digs out the “brains” of a pumpkin in order to make it into a proper jack-o-lantern.
Panel 2: The newsman’s summation of the New Frontiersman article is obviously in reference to the one we saw Hector Godfrey pasting up two pages earlier.
Panel 3: Mason’s remark that his jack-o-lantern is “like Rodin,” is a reference to the famous French sculptor Auguste Rodin – an ironic remark on Mason’s obviously simplistic carving of the pumpkin.
Panel 4: The delivery company, referenced by Doug Roth here, that finances Nova Express is obviously Pyramid Deliveries, which is owned by Adrian Veidt. The web of Ozymandias’s dealings and machinations are beginning to reveal itself, and will unravel, to a point, as more strands become apparent.
Roth’s comment that the New Frontiersman editorial should be called “Spirit of Nuremberg” is a reference to the Nuremberg Trials held after World War II by Allied Forces to prosecute prominent members of the Nazi party. These military tribunals have been criticized for a number of deficiencies, including the low bar of judges assigned to try cases, the creation of law ex post facto to fit with the tenor of the times, and the fact that the defendants were not allowed to appeal or affect judge selection, among many other things. Roth is basically stating that the attack on his paper, Nova Express, is unjust and wholly without merit, with this statement.
Panel 5: Note the drop of pumpkin “guts” that has fallen across the right eye (left from our point of view) of the jack-o-lantern, which will be even more obvious once the candle is lit in the next panel. This is obviously yet another instance of the “bloody smiley face button” motif found throughout the book.
Panel 6: With the death of the inmate scalded with hot fat by Walter Kovacs (Rorschach), the prison spokesperson states that they are “looking into the jaws of hell.” This remark hearkens back to the Chapter VI title, “The Abyss Gazes Also,” which is an apt symbolic representation of Rorschach.
There is also a bit of foreshadowing in this panel as Hollis Mason makes the comment that he “can hardly wait till it’s dark.” If he knew what was coming, Mason would undoubtedly have a different feeling toward what is coming for him later that night. And this line – “…can hardly wait till it’s dark…” transitions directly into
Panel 7: where we see Dan and Laurie moving Archie through the underground tunnel system, having waited till it was dark in order to put their plan into motion.
Panel 1: With the return to the newsstand, we get Moore’s juxtaposition of the two narratives – the main one alongside the pirate comic. In this panel we have the newsvendor commenting that the movies shown at the Utopia (an ironic title for such an establishment) are “raves outta the grave…” Meanwhile, the narration in the comic has the protagonist, still on his raft, considering his “ravings” as a desperate plea for company, as if he were “convers[ing] with [his] perished shipmates,” who would obviously be in graves if they were not keeping his raft afloat.
Panel 2: The customer’s comment – note that he’s a member of the Knot-Top gang – is in reference to the film currently showing at the Utopia, The Day the Earth Stood Still, which is a classic science fiction film about an alien that comes to Earth and tells its citizens they must live in peace or be destroyed – which parallels Adrian Veidt’s self-proclaimed mission, and is an apt summation of the book’s overall theme.
The film has an obvious connection to the contemporary fears in the world of Watchmen, as the “space guy” in the film warned of nuclear war, even as newscasters are predicting a ten-day window within which nuclear war could be launched in this reality, which is what the second Knot-Top is raving about. Her reference to “katies” is a reference to a popular designer drug in this reality. She wants to “get crazy” and not have to think about the doom that is approaching.
And that comment, “I wanna get crazy,” is a commentary on the pirate comic dialogue, wherein the protagonist hears the voices of his dead companions seeping up from the water, something that only a “crazy” person would experience.
Also of note: the Pale Horse jacket, for fans of that band, is a common apocalyptic symbol seen throughout the book.
Panel 3: Joey is the cab driver we’ve seen before. She was the one who picked up Laurie when she left the Rockefeller Military Research Center in Chapter III, and she is also the one who asked the newsvendor to put up the Pink Triangle poster in Chapter V.
Now, with regard to the juxtaposition of the two sets of dialogue, the tables are turned as the pirate comic’s text: “The conversation of the dead: dreary, bitter, endlessly sad…” is a commentary on the “real-world” conversation being had. With the impending nuclear war, which everyone believes is coming, these people could all be seen as “the dead.” And their conversation – Joey commenting that she has broken up with her longtime girlfriend; the Knot-Top making an ugly slur against homosexuals (Joey being one) with his “superfags” remark – is indeed dreary and bitter and sad.
If you look in the background, just above Joey’s head, you will note that the delivery truck for the New York Gazette, the paper both the Knot-Top and Joey asked for, is approaching.
Panel 4: The juxtaposition of the two dialogues in this panel can be seen as a piece of foreshadowing. The Knot-Top is going on about how Dr. Manhattan is the cause of this nuclear fear, along with those who were involved with the tenement rescue – which, despite the newscaster’s claims to the contrary, is known to have been carried out by Nite Owl and Silk Spectre.
In the pirate comic, the text states that “interminable bad news” came from the mouths of the dead. As the Knot-Top follows his line of thinking that these superheroes are responsible for all the bad stuff happening to them, coupled with the knowledge that Nite Owl was involved in the tenement rescue, his thinking will become bad news for Hollis Mason.
The caption remarking on the “interminable bad news” is also a remark on the arrival of the New York Gazette delivery man, as the headline for the current edition will make things even less stable for the general populace.
Panel 5: As the newsvendor will relate in the following panel, the headline for the New York Gazette reads:
Riot: Five Dead
The Knot-Tops mistaken remark that the sudden re-emergence of these heroes is like the “Spirit of ‘76” is a comment on the Nova Express cover blurb, “The Spirit of ‘77” – 1977 being the last year heroes were able to work unhindered, prior to passage of the Keene Act. It is humorous, but understandable, that he would get this wrong, as the “Spirit of ‘76” is a famous painting by Archibald MacNeal Willard, which was exhibited at the 1876 Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia as a commemoration of United States independence in 1776.
Mistakenly inserting ’76 for ’77 puts the heroes and their current actions into a different light. Using the “Spirit of ‘76” phrase and all that it conjures up about America, one can then look upon Dan and Laurie as trying to win back their independence from the strictures of the Keene Act, even as they embark upon a mission to free Rorschach and provide him his independence from prison. This remark can also put the costumed adventurers into a more patriotic light – a position, one could argue, many people might take with regard to these heroes.
And again, the pirate comic text comments on the contemporary dialogue as the “rotted fellows,” those contemporary characters in this panel who feel the end of the world fast approaching, “talked together,” as exhibited by all the dialogue balloons vying for space in the primary image of this panel.
Panel 6: The conversation the “rotted fellows” (from the previous panel) were having was of “life, and its endings,” as related by the pirate comic caption box in this panel. This relates directly to the events swirling around everyone here, exacerbated by the aforementioned headline about the prison riots in Sing Sing. The newsvendor sums up this reality –that the end is nigh – as he says, “Well, I guess that’s it.” This is a variation on the warning he saw daily, when Rorschach was a regular customer at his newsstand.
The smoke being blown by the young Bernie reading the pirate comic, and the remark by the older Bernie, the newsvendor, that, “…the balloon’s gone up,” leads directly into
Panel 7: where smoke surrounds Archie, Dan’s airship, as it lifts into the air. And that smoke transitions directly into
Panel 1: where we can see the smoke wafting through the prison, a clear visual shortcut for the damage therein. And the plumes of smoke transition directly to
Panel 2: where Big Figure is smoking his cigar as he gives orders.
Panel 3: Again, it is important to note how well Dave Gibbons conveys the calm, almost detached, demeanor of Rorschach. He never loses his cool, never gives in to emotion, and this is where much of his strength comes from.
Panel 4: Once more, we get the ironic sarcasm of Rorschach, as he remarks to Big Figure’s overweight henchman, Lawrence, that there’s “fat chance” of him not making such remarks. Of course, these remarks from Rorschach are not just meant as insults, they are meant to force his opponents into compromising positions, which he achieves over the course of the next few panels.
Panel 6: Rorschach’s final bit of dialogue here – “…my perspective…” – transitions directly into
Panel 7: where we get Dan and Laurie’s perspective of the prison, from the owlship, high in the air.
Panel 1: And we see Rorschach’s motivation for his “fat chance” remark. He forced Lawrence to lose his cool, and now Big Figure’s guy is pinned to Rorschach’s jail cell door, right in front of the lock mechanism.
Panel 4: This blood stain mirrors the one Rorschach got on his trench coat during his metamorphosis from Kovacs to Rorschach, as seen in Chapter V on Page 24, panel 4.
Panel 6: Rorschach’s line here – “…come and get me...” – transitions directly into
Panel 7: where we are inside the cockpit of the owlship as Dan and Laurie come to get Rorschach.
Panel 1: This first panel takes up the top two-thirds of the page. Again, the use of a regular, fixed 9-panel grid throughout this story makes these page layouts – where larger panels fill up the space usually reserved for multiple panels – stand out. With this larger panel, readers are made aware of this scene’s importance, of its emotional crescendo, and its size almost forces readers to linger over the image, taking more time with it because it is so much bigger and atypical, which is at it should be with such a scene.
Panels 2-4: Dan’s use of the screamers he mentions in panel 2 – and their devastating effect in panels 3 & 4 – transitions directly into
Panel 1: where the Big Figure’s henchman asks his boss if he “hear[s] that sorta screaming, like a siren…” which would be the aforementioned screamers of Archie, the owlship.
Panel 3: Again, note the detail that Dave Gibbons puts into his artwork – most importantly, the frayed covering for the wire that attaches the arc welder to its power source.
Panel 4: The comment from Big Figure’s henchman that Rorschach is going to be “smoked meat” foreshadows exactly what is going to happen to him two panels following.
Panels 6-9: Note the red hues once again incorporated by John Higgins – not only signifying the death of the Big Figure’s henchman at the hands of Rorschach, but also foreshadowing Big Figure’s demise at those same hands.
And the dropped cigar – fallen into the edge of the toilet water, which will extinguish it – transitions directly to Laurie’s dialogue on
Panel 1: where she comments on the sudden loss of electricity and lights by saying, “…extinguished!”
Panel 3: Dan’s remark that “old grudges and bad blood” get worked out in prison riots, transitions directly to
Panel 4: where Rorschach is walking through the mixture of toilet water and “bad blood” from Lawrence, whose tied hands are still visible in this image.
Panel 5: Dan’s response to Laurie that Rorschach “shouldn’t be too difficult to track down” leads directly into
Panel 6: where we can see Rorschach is leaving a trail of his footprints, from walking through the toilet water and blood, that leads directly from his cell.
Panel 7: Moore continues to play the dialogue off Dave Gibbons’s artwork, as we have Dan commenting to Laurie that he feels Rorschach’s recent meeting with Dan was a result of his old partner attempting to reconnect with him, “as if the gap between [them] were narrowing.” This comment leads directly into
Panel 8: where we can see the “gap” between Big Figure and Rorschach narrowing.
Panel 9: Dan’s remark that Rorschach lives, metaphorically, in this violent world, “under this shadow…” transitions directly into
Panel 1: where we see Rorschach from below, bathed in shadow.
Panel 2: Laurie’s remark that the cell she and Dan have found has “…[Rorschach’s] stamp on it…” transitions directly into
Panel 3: where we can take that remark in one of two ways. Firstly, the wreckage surrounding Rorschach in this prison is reminiscent of his disorganized and grimy apartment or can be seen as symbolic of the harsh manner with which he metes out justice on those he views as villainous. Secondly, we could see his shadow, formed by emergency lights from either side of the hallway, as a variation on the Rorschach blot that is his personal symbol – his stamp on this prison hall, as he pursue Big Figure.
Panel 4: Again, Dan’s remark that if they don’t find Rorschach soon their “whole plan is in the toilet…” transitions directly into
Panel 5: where we see Big Figure going into the men’s room (or the men’s toilet).
Panel 6: As Laurie and Dan walk the prison halls searching for Rorschach, Dan comments that it would be easier “if only there [were] some sign…” which leads directly into
Panel 7: where we can see the shadow of Rorschach approaching the men’s room into which Big Figure just ran. The fact that the door is swinging out, from having just been pushed through, is a sign as to where Big Figure went.
Panels 2-3: This little aside by Dan and Laurie, where they are discussing the pragmatic problems with wearing a superhero costume (specifically the need to use the bathroom in the middle of apprehending a criminal), is an example of the verisimilitude that Moore added to this story – addressing real-world issues of superheroes that were rarely considered in comics before.
Panel 6: Laurie’s comment to Rorschach that one wouldn’t want to “go diving headfirst into things…” is not only a sarcastic remark to express her frustration with Rorschach, but is also a commentary on what just occurred in the bathroom while she and Dan waited outside. Big Figure did indeed dive headfirst into one of the toilets, at the physical insistence of Rorschach.
This reading of the remark is confirmed by Rorschach’s response in
Panel 7: where he says, “Sure there are many who’d agree with you,” meaning Big Figure.
Panel 4: Laurie’s off-handed remark that she wishes “Jon (Dr. Manhattan) was here to straighten everything…” is a bit of foreshadowing, which will be made apparent in just a few pages.
Panel 7: This oversized panel not only provides closure to this scene – mirroring all the scenes with Archie in them for this chapter – but it also provides scope and perspective on how far up into the atmosphere they are going.
Panel 1: Laurie turns the calendar over to November, revealing the hawk taking the sparrow in flight, as mentioned by Detective Fine earlier in the chapter, which symbolizes the coming conflict.
Panel 3: Again, Laurie’s dialogue foreshadows Jon’s (Dr. Manhattan’s) return – revealed just a few panels hence – with her remark that she “want[s] somebody to wave a wand and make it all better…”
Panel 9: The bottle of Nostalgia perfume in the immediate foreground emphasizes the symbolism of this scene – a return to nostalgic, “better” days when Jon could take care of any problem Laurie might have had. It’s what Laurie has been pining for in this chapter, but will it ultimately be what she had hoped for, or something completely different?
Panel 2: The pink background utilized here by John Higgins subtly emphasizes Jon’s statement in this panel: “I am on Mars,” which has been colored this shade by Higgins.
Panel 3: With Laurie’s dialogue in this panel – “…it’s all so deus ex machina…” – Moore is commenting on his own story and the choice he has made here. Deus ex machina comes from the tendency in Greek and Roman tragedy of introducing a god by means of a crane to decide the final outcomes and, in contemporary terms, is a moment in a drama when a person or thing suddenly and unexpectedly appears to provide a contrived solution to an insoluble difficulty. Moore is acknowledging the contrivance Jon’s return at this particular moment in time is – a result of the god-like powers Dr. Manhattan wields.
Also, as Dr. Manhattan notes the direct translation of the Latin phrase – “the God out of the machine” – he is literally that: a god-like being who has come out of the machine-like sanctuary he created on Mars.
Panel 9: Rorschach’s remark, “…door won’t hold long…” is humorous and appropriate, as he has an intimate understanding of just how long one of those Gordian Knot locks on Dan’s door holds.
Panel 1: Note that the lock face glints in the light, just as it did earlier.
Panel 7: Again, Gibbons utilizes a larger panel, encompassing the entire bottom tier of this page, in order to provide scale and infuse a dramatic “tone” to the scene.
And Detective Fine’s response to Dan’s hideaway, “I’ll be damned,” leads directly into
Panel 1: with the pirate comic’s caption box: “our damnation…”
The latter text in this caption box – remarking how their damnation dominated “their bubbling dialogues” – is, again, a commentary on the contemporary dialogue where the Knot-Tops at the newsstand are talking over one another, each one hoping his/her remark will “bubble” to the top.
Panel 2: Moore continues to juxtapose the pirate comic’s caption boxes against the contemporary scene, as the formerly marooned sailor considers that we were banished from Heaven for our sins and sentenced to “this pandemonium … call[ed] the world.” This remark is a direct commentary upon the tensions rising at the newsstand, as the girl who wants to “get crazy” is mumbling frantically about the end of the world to the newsvendor, while more Knot-Tops show up with news that will incite these gang members to murder in a few pages.
Panel 3: The pirate caption: “…death’s rough hand [is] our only deliverance…” is not only metaphorical, in the context of the pirate comic, but also literal, as we see the bearded and broken sailor pulling on the hand of one of his deceased comrades whose gas-bloated bodies are keeping his raft afloat.
And again, it is a commentary on the contemporary dialogue, where the newer Knot-Top is recounting how Rorschach was delivered from prison by his friends, which will result in the death of a superhero not involved in the jailbreak.
Panel 5: the female Knot-Top’s remark, “… the sky, burning …” is realized by the coloring of John Higgins in the pirate comic panel, where the sky is a mix of reds and oranges, as if it were truly burning.
Panel 6: The caption box: “…feet first into cold and dank mortality…” foreshadows the climax of this chapter, as the Knot-Tops rush off in order to find and “deal” with Nite Owl.
The newsvendor’s final remark here, “Just like old times,” transitions directly to
Panel 7: where the Nostalgia (a sentimental yearning for “old times”) advertisement is prominently displayed.
Also note, the New York Gazette headline is more easily read here, as seen in the newspaper vending machine.
Panel 1: The pirate caption, “…the water’s surface seemed as stone beneath my [feet]…” once more is a commentary on the contemporary scene, as we see a close-up view of the Knot-Tops’ feet racing through puddles on the paved streets.
Panel 2: Dave Gibbons’s imagery here – of a man standing upon the water, haloed by the sun – emphasizes the voice-over dialogue from this marooned sailor, specifically “…a charnel messiah…”
Panel 3: The caption box text, specifically “…had [death’s] terrible shadow passed me by…” is accentuated by the shadows of the Knot-Tops passing across the old fence, which is sprayed with graffiti for, among other things seen in earlier chapters, the band Krystalnacht, which is a variation on the term Kristallnacht, known as the night of broken glass, which refers to a rash of violent anti-Jewish pogroms that occurred on November 9-10, 1938.
Panel 3-4: The captions from the pirate comic that carry across these two panels – “…I lifted my uncomprehending eyes to the heavens and saw instead the Earth…” – symbolizes this protagonist’s descent into Hell, metaphorically. By looking up and seeing the Earth, it signifies that he is below the Earth, or in Hell. Which he is.
Panel 5: Even as we see the destination of these Knot-Tops – the home of Hollis Mason, the original Nite Owl, whom they have come to mistakenly believe was responsible for Rorschach’s jailbreak – the pirate comic’s text, again, does double duty as we learn the marooned sailor has “…reached [his] destination…” at the same time these gang members have reached theirs.
Panel 7: Again, we see bits, but never the entirety, of the “Who Watches the Watchmen?” graffiti.
Panel 1: Note that the clock in the background reads five minutes to midnight. An artistic liberty utilized for the apocalyptic symbolism that permeates the book, which could be explained away with the assumption that the clock is either broken or has not been wound up (old, like Mason).
Panels 5-9: These five panels shift back and forth from the contemporary reality of Hollis Mason being pummeled and overrun by the younger, stronger, more vicious gang members with the nostalgic look back at how Hollis might have handled a similar group of thugs during his prime as a costumed adventurer. This technique, which is brilliantly colored by Higgins (who, again, utilizes red hues to symbolize the ruin, figurative and otherwise, occurring here in the present), really adds an emotional tenor to this sequence that might have been lost in a direct representation of the Hollis’s beating by these Knot-Tops. The illusory flashback scenes deftly exhibit the gap between what Hollis’s reaction is – to fight back in the manner he trained himself for decades – with what Hollis’s aged body is able to do – which is far less than that seen in the flashbacks.
Panel 8: As Derf picks up the statue given to Mason to commemorate his retirement from adventuring, the inscription “In Gratitude” now can be read, in this context, as “ingratitude.”
Panel 9: The contemporary dialogue, “…try an’ put a brave face on this…” is juxtaposed against the image of Hollis Mason’s younger, stronger, and braver visage, which leads directly to
Panel 1: where we see an older, battered, and very scared image of Hollis’s face, just as Derf is about to bring down the heavy statue onto Mason’s face.
Panel 2: The stark contrast between the white background and the deep red used to color Derf, as he begins to swing the statue down onto Hollis Mason’s head, is dramatic and really drives home what is happening.
Panel 3: The jack-o-lantern smashing onto the floor obviously symbolizes the smashing of Hollis Mason’s skull by Derf.
Panel 7: Note the blood spatter across the right side of Hollis Mason’s face in the smashed picture of the Minute Men, which not only signifies his death (by having his head caved in), but is also a continuation of the bloody smiley button motif, where Eddie Blake’s spot of blood fell across the same eye of the smiley face.
As noted earlier, the back-matter for this chapter consists of the edition of the New Frontiersman Hector Godfrey and his assistant, Seymour, were putting together on page 10. The main piece is an editorial on patriotism and masked adventurers by Godfrey, meant as a response to Doug Roth’s piece, “The Spirit of ‘77” in Nova Express, which we can assume denounced the recent spotlight on masked adventurers. Moore, again, writes this piece in a distinct voice, one appropriate in its skewed, conservative ideals – even going so far as to defend the inception of the Ku Klux Klan as a righteous endeavor intended to avoid the “mongrelization” of society from a “culture far less morally advanced.”
As with any extreme article of this nature – regardless of whichever end of the spectrum the writer may be coming from – this piece, “Honor is Like the Hawk: Sometimes It Must Go Hooded,” reveals its biases throughout its arguments, vindicating like-minded ideologues while inviting ridicule from those on the opposite arc of the pendulum. There is little new that we can glean from this piece, with two exceptions. First, we get yet another example of how this world differs from our real world with the mention of the United States’ “justified retaliatory bombing of Beirut in 1979,” an event that never took place. Second, if we missed it in the background of Page 11, panel 3 in Chapter V, we get confirmation of Rorschach’s collection of the New Frontiersman, emphasizing his conservative principles.
More important, though it may not be obvious at this point, is the article on page 4 of this edition of the New Frontiersman. “Missing Writer: Vanished Persons List Grows as Hunt Called Off,” deals with Max Shea, whose disappearance has been alluded to in the background of the main narrative a couple of times. The argument of whether the New Frontiersman possesses any journalistic integrity cannot refute the fact that, in this instance, they are correct to put forth the conspiracy theory surrounding Shea’s disappearance – though tracing it back to Cuban interests is a dead end. The Frontiersman cites the disappearance of other prominent creative figures around the same time of Shea’s disappearance as the main evidence for their supposition.
Architect Norman Leith, painter Hira Manish, science fiction writer James Trafford March, and composer Linette Paley are all mentioned in the article, as well as a large number of people from the scientific community, including eugenics specialist Dr. Whittaker Furnesse. Ms. Manish we have already seen, as she and Shea were introduced on page 11 of this chapter. From their conversation, we can surmise they believe themselves part of a motion picture company working secretly on a new film and, judging from Manish’s drawing, it would take little effort to conclude that Leith was integral in the crafting of the beast under the tarp. Likewise, having a second sci-fi writer, a composer, and a number of “semi-skilled menial workers” from the scientific community along with Dr. Furnesse – as a possible consultant – would make sense within this context of a movie production.
The most tantalizing bit of information, described as most likely unconnected, is the disappearance of a corpse’s head in the same week that Max Shea went missing. The cadaverous head of Robert Deschaines, a noted psychic and clairvoyant, is indeed connected with the secret activities on this island. The reason behind its disappearance, and those of the other notables mentioned above, will all be made clear with the final chapter of Watchmen.