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.