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