THE DARKNESS OF MERE BEING
Chapter IX centers on the haze through which we view our memories. Whether the metaphorical rose-colored glasses (visually symbolized by the bottle of Nostalgia perfume) or the holes that crop into our minds with the distance of time, our memories are more subjective than objective, despite how ardently we might argue the point. And with “The Darkness of Mere Being,” Alan Moore & Dave Gibbons put that truth on full display.
This chapter is most prominently about Laurie Juspeczyk – Silk Spectre II – learning the truth about who her father was, shattering the fallacies built up over the course of her life. Not only does her mother deceive her, but Laurie also deceived herself, placing many of her memories into a distorted context that helped keep the truth suppressed. This blurring of her history, of these memories, is most obviously represented in this chapter by the multiple times we see Laurie in a blurred or formless reflection – both in the polished surfaces of Dr. Manhattan’s Martian fortress as well as the recurring image of Laurie’s young face reflected in the snowglobe.
Despite this focus, the vagaries of memory are not relegated solely to Laurie. Dr. Manhattan, who is able to see all things at all times, admits, in this chapter, to having trouble seeing the future. Images of destruction flicker in his mind’s eye, but the details are vague, stripping this information of proper context. This is a first for the omnipotent Dr. Manhattan, but he quickly offers a plausible, if hypothetical, explanation, giving readers permission to let that little bit of data to fade away – in the same manner that memories fade over time. But it is this inability of Dr. Manhattan to precisely see the future that leads to the climax of this chapter. And, in the end, these indistinct memories are sometimes the realities that allow us to deal with the hardships life throws at us.
Cover Image: Once again, the cover image for this chapter is also the first panel of the story. The image this time is a bottle of Nostalgia perfume, for which we have seen numerous ads throughout the story thus far, and which is also Sally Jupiter’s fragrance of choice. This bottle of Nostalgia is significant to this chapter, as this particular bottle was given to Laurie by her mother, according to Laurie’s dialogue in Chapter VIII, page 22, panels 4-6. And in this way, the bottle of Nostalgia connects mother and daughter.
Panel 1: The caption – “Laurie?” – as spoken by Dan, links up this image of the tumbling bottle of Nostalgia perfume with Laurie, signifying it is hers and foreshadowing that Laurie will be taking a journey through her memories over the course of this chapter, in order to discover a hidden truth about her past. All of the nostalgia that has clouded her memory will finally be drained away to reveal the secret of her heritage that Laurie has kept suppressed all these years.
This tumbling bottle of Nostalgia will continue throughout the chapter, emphasizing Laurie’s emotional journey, which is the lynchpin to the final act of Watchmen.
Panel 1-2: Note how the angle of the Nostalgia bottle transitions directly to the angle of Laurie, as she tumbles down a small hill here on Mars. Again, this accentuates the connection between Laurie and her bottle of Nostalgia.
Panel 4: The tumbling Nostalgia bottle we will see throughout this chapter is a glimpse of the future, as it is actually the opened bottle from page 24 and not that same bottle – which is closed – that we see in the background here.
The fact that we return to this image and watch the Nostalgia bottle fall in slow motion over the course of this entire chapter emphasizes Dr. Manhattan’s perspective of the fluidity of time. He lives in the past, present, and future all at once, and coming back to this bottle – a thematic lynchpin for Chapter IX – as we experience the main narrative of this chapter can be seen as similar to Dr. Manhattan’s experience of moving through time. And, of course, it emphasizes Laurie’s journey through the rubble of her emotional past to a realization that will change everything.
Panel 1: Laurie’s vomiting here foreshadows, while also symbolizing, the violent expulsion of her regressed memories that she will experience at the end of this chapter.
Panel 4: Jon’s (Dr. Manhattan’s) Martian fortress of solitude – a meticulously crafted edifice constructed of gears and clock hands (one could argue those towering spears are clock hands) and architectural features that resemble an hourglass – can be interpreted on many levels.
First, one could argue that the care taken to delineate this structure, along with its recurring architectural patterns, can be seen as a metaphor for the manner in which Moore & Gibbons crafted this book. Watchmen includes recurring motifs and patterns meticulously created and ordered to showcase the unique qualities of the comic narrative.
Second, it can be seen as the ordered creation that stands as a metaphor for the way in which Dr. Manhattan sees time – able to view past, present, and future simultaneously, all the underpinnings (the gears) of time are revealed to Dr. Manhattan in their meticulous glory.
Third, the clockwork features of the various sections of the fortress are symbolic of time and the distinct aspect it holds within this chapter, in particular.
Panels 1-3: Dr. Manhattan’s dialogue in these three panels gives us a bit more insight into his perception of time – “Everything is preordained. Even my responses.” – and sets the stage for the fluid nature of this chapter. It brings up an interesting quandary regarding free will, not only in this narrative, but also in one’s own life. How much authority do we have over our lives? How much influence do outside events and our own living conditions bear upon our lives? I find it an interesting philosophical question.
Panel 3: The line from Dr. Manhattan – “Everything is preordained…” – is also a bit of foreshadowing. At the end of the chapter, we will see Dr. Manhattan react to something unexpected, even to him, and it will have major consequences upon this story.
Laurie’s response – “…you just go through the motions…you’re just a puppet following a script…” – is a commentary on the reality of this comic. Yes, Dr. Manhattan and Laurie and all the others are merely puppets – following the script written by Moore and the images drawn by Gibbons – to be moved around the stage of this narrative. The trick, obviously, is to make readers forget that while they read.
Panel 4: Nodus Gordii is Latin for Gordian Knot, another of the recurring motifs throughout Watchmen.
Dr. Manhattan tells Laurie that everyone is a puppet, and she offers the converse of that position when she challenges his assertion that she will go up to the balcony with him by saying: “Well, what if I don’t?”
Panels 5-6: In these panels we get an elegant answer to Laurie’s question from Panel 4. Dr. Manhattan does not respond to her continued queries about what will happen if she does not follow him. By ignoring Laurie, he forces her to follow him upstairs, in order to discover the answer to her question – a question made moot by her actions.
Panel 6: Dr. Manhattan’s description of time – that it is simultaneous and “humans insist on viewing one edge at a time, when the whole design is visible…” – symbolizes Laurie’s view of her history and heritage. Deep down she knows the truth about who her father is, but she insists on clinging to the deception that Hooded Justice was her father. She, like other of us, refuses to see the truth that has sitting in the back of her mind all these years.
Also note that Dr. Manhattan’s inquiry – “What is your earliest memory?” – prompts this initial flashback scene of the chapter. Also noteworthy is the fact that we only see Laurie’s hands in this panel, symbolizing the fact that she is not in control of her own story, as Dr. Manhattan controls this conversation and pushes her to remember. This will generally be the case throughout Chapter IX – Dr. Manhattan will initiate the memories within Laurie’s mind, controlling her narrative, in the same way she has been controlled, or led along by others, all her life.
Panel 7: This image of a young Laurie’s reflection staring out from the snowglobe is reminiscent of Edward Blake’s smiley face button. This is also the first instance of the “blurred reflection” visual motif that will continue through this chapter.
Panel 8: Dr. Manhattan’s comment to Laurie that the “[snowglobe] is still here. Let yourself see it,” is a result of his insistence that “time is simultaneous.” When discussing the past, as in this instance, his perception is more easily understood, as we are all able to access our memories.
Panel 1: It will become obvious by the end of the chapter, but the remarks from Laurie’s mother in this memory – “…shouted at him, he looked surprised, couldn’t imagine why I’d bear a grudge…” – refer to Eddie Blake (the “him” in her dialogue).
Panel 3: And, as we can surmise from Sally’s remark of how her husband – Larry Schexnayder, whom we discover in the back-matter was Sally’s agent before they married – might dramatize Sally’s encounter with Blake – “…my wife described how his rough hands slowly squeezed…” – she and Eddie have had at least one intimate encounter.
Panel 4: The objects in this room – dedicated to Sally’s adventuring as the original Silk Spectre and which include her costume, pictures of Sally in her heroic identity, and the Minutemen picture in the far background – when juxtaposed against Sally’s dialogue, “…he was there…plus, he was gentle. You know what gentleness means in a guy like that…” are more subtle indications that the man in question is Edward Blake.
Panel 6: Sally’s comment that Laurie is “[her] child” and not “[their] child,” as Schexnayder remarked in the previous panel is important, as Laurie is not the daughter of Schexnayder.
Also note that Sally’s assertion that “[Laurie’s] future [is] taken care of…” is juxtaposed with a young Laurie fondling the Silk Spectre costume, symbolizing that Laurie’s future involves carrying on the legacy of her mother’s costumed identity.
Panel 9: Laurie’s description of the snowglobe seeming to have “some different sort of time. Slow time…” is a remark on the structure of this chapter, and, more importantly, a reflection on the recurring image of the tumbling Nostalgia bottle.
Panel 3: Sally’s comment regarding Laurie – that she’s “fragile” – is not only a commentary on this memory we are experiencing, but, when juxtaposed with the falling bottle of Nostalgia perfume in this panel, is also a comment on the bottle of perfume.
More importantly, this single word is also a comment on the fragility of the memories that Laurie is reliving and acts as a bit of foreshadowing for the climax of this chapter. We, and Laurie, will learn just how fragile those memories of hers are when she comes to realize that much of what she has believed about her heritage, and much of what has colored her relationship with her mother – as well as the limited relationship she had with Edward Blake – was wrong.
And the cascading bottle of perfume (spilling its contents across this red world), along with the word “fragile,” signify the end of this flashback and transition directly into
Panel 4: where the snowglobe falls and shatters at Laurie’s and her stepfather’s feet, spilling water across the floor.
This shattered snowglobe can be seen in various symbolic lights. It can obviously symbolize the deteriorating marriage of Schexnayder and Sally Jupiter. It could also represent the eventual schism between Sally and her daughter as Sally tries to push Laurie into costumed adventuring. The shattered globe could also represent the shattered dreams of our heroes. But perhaps the most significant symbolism, and foreshadowing, that one can take away from this shattered snowglobe – dropped from Laurie’s hands – will be Laurie’s shattered reality, revealed at the end of this chapter.
Another recurring motif in this chapter is the fact that every flashback scene ends with the spilling of a liquid, in one form or another, from a shattered vessel.
Panel 6: And here, as a natural consequence of the conversation Laurie is having with Dr. Manhattan, Laurie “reveals” to Dr. Manhattan that she is in a relationship with Dan Dreiberg. Even though Dr. Manhattan shared this pending moment only two pages prior, it come so naturally from the discussion they are having that it doesn’t feel like a significant revelation.
It is this authenticity of Moore’s dialogue, along with the sublime characterizations by Gibbons, that really sells these types of moments.
Note how the final bit of dialogue by Laurie – “[Dan’s] the type [of person] you can pour your troubles out to…” – is emphasized by the imagery in the foreground of this panel, the cup and chalice that Dr. Manhattan created only moments before.
Panel 4: Again, we have an oversized panel to help convey the drama and enormity of the scene. In this instance, Dr. Manhattan releases his fortress from the red earth of Mars in preparation for sailing across this world to share with Laurie the wonders he sees there. This image – of the giant clockwork fortress hovering just above the Martian ground – is juxtaposed ironically with Dr. Manhattan’s dialogue – “[I understand] the gravity of the situation.” He does understand the grave situation of Earth, as pleaded by Laurie, and he understands how to manipulate gravity so that he might sail across this red world in his clockwork fortress.
Panel 1: This is a panel layout we’ve only rarely seen before. In this instance, the tall panel on the left that extends the entire height of the page provides scale for the elevation of Dr. Manhattan’s fortress, as he shows Laurie around Mars.
Panel 4: Dr. Manhattan – Jon – is a god among men. He is able to do things that are beyond the comprehension, let alone the ability, of anyone else. The world does not work the same for him as it does for the rest of us. And, in this panel, we have a subversion of the story of Christ changing water into wine. In this case, Dr. Manhattan merely creates the water Laurie desires, needing no catalyst for this miracle.
Panel 6: The image of Laurie picking up the chalice, which is formed like an hour glass, and the dialogue from Dr. Manhattan – “…all those generations of struggle, what purpose did they ever achieve…” – transition directly into
Panel 7: where we have a similar image – a younger Laurie lifting weights that form a similar silhouette to the hourglass chalice – that exhibits the struggle Laurie went through to realize her mother’s dream of becoming the second Silk Spectre. This is emphasized by the continuation of Dr. Manhattan’s remark – “…all that effort, and what did it ever lead to…” – which is not only a comment upon Earth’s civilization, but also a comment on Laurie’s efforts to become an adventurer, begging the question of “what did it … lead to?”
Panels 8-9: Again, we only see Laurie’s hands in the picture as Dr. Manhattan speaks to her, initiating another memory in Laurie’s mind.
Panel 3: And this idea, put forth by Dr. Manhattan, of what exactly has been achieved by such struggle is continued with Hollis Mason’s dialogue from the next room: “…[all] those years we worked our asses [off] …[what] did we achieve?”
Panel 3: Byron Lewis was the friend Dan went to see in the “bughouse in Maine” that he wrote about in the back-matter for Chapter VII. And his question – “What time is it?” – can be seen as a continuation of the doomsday clock motif permeating this book.
Panel 6: Byron’s spilling glass transitions directly into
Panel 7: and the spinning, spilling bottle of Nostalgia perfume that continues to tumble over the Martian landscape – accentuated by the continuation of Hollis’s dialogue – “…you’re spilling everything…” – which transitions back to
Panel 8: where we return to Byron’s spilled drink, which has smashed on the floor, spilling its contents everywhere and signifying the end of this flashback.
Dr. Manhattan interrupts Laurie’s memory by asking if she is listening to him, which can also be seen as a commentary on the flashback scene that ends with this panel. Laurie, thirteen years old at the point of this flashback, has been working for much of her life toward becoming a costumed adventurer. But this experience, seeing Byron Lewis as the madman he became from his time with the Minutemen, should have been a wake-up call to Laurie not to continue with her training, as she would come to despise her time as Silk Spectre – mainly because it was not a choice she made, but one her mother made for her and pressed upon the younger Laurie. If Laurie had been “listening” closely enough during this reunion in the flashback, she may have discovered she did not want to follow in her mother’s footsteps.
Panel 9: Dr. Manhattan’s remark of “…leaving people broken…” can be taken as a commentary on Laurie’s life, most directly, but can also be seen as a commentary on the lives of all the heroes in Watchmen, and is accentuated by the broken glasses we have seen thus far in this chapter – Byron’s glass of water and Laurie’s snowglobe.
Panel 5: Laurie’s remark here – “…even my life. That has to be worth something…” – is a bit of foreshadowing for the climax of this chapter.
Panel 1: It is ironic that Dr. Manhattan, who claims to be following the script proscribed for him within his omnipotent point of view, would claim that an inanimate object such as the planet Mars is able to make a choice: “Life could have flourished here then, but Mars did not choose life. It chose this.”
Panel 2: Dr. Manhattan’s comment in the previous panel has initiated yet another memory for Laurie, and again we see only her hands in this panel as she begins to recount how chaotic her life was, which will lead to the flashback beginning in the second panel following this one.
Also note, this is another instance of the “blurred reflection” motif found in this chapter.
Panel 3: Laurie’s remark that her mother “eroded [her] adolescence, chipping [her] into shape…” is emphasized by the image of one of the many canyons on Mars, which was formed by erosion and the chipping away of its surface over millennia.
Panel 4: Note that, in this panel, we can see clearly the card reading “black unrest” that Captain Metropolis noted as one of the social evils he wished to stamp out with the formation of the Crimebusters, as seen in Chapter II.
Panel 9: This outburst by Sally could be attributed to her experience when Blake raped her, as seen in Chapter II. But we will come to find out there are additional circumstances inspiring this rage.
Panel 4: Blake’s remark – “Sally…I thought we’d settled all that a long time ago.” – is in reference to their subsequent romantic entanglement, which Sally was arguing about with then-husband Larry Schexnayder in the flashback on Page 7, panels 4-5.
Panel 7: Moore & Gibbons once again end a flashback scene with the breaking of a vessel holding a liquid – in this case, that vessel is Laurie’s Mom – as Sally, a broken woman, spills her tears and her pain that she has held inside for so many years. And these tears transition directly to
Panel 8: and the tumbling bottle of Nostalgia perfume. And the dialogue in this panel’s caption box relates to both the perfume pouring out of the bottle in this image as well as the metaphorical pouring out of Sally’s experience with Edward Blake.
Panel 9: Note that this panel is laid out in the same fashion as panel 7 of this page, with Dr. Manhattan taking the place of Laurie’s mother, Sally, from the flashback. This parallel imagery symbolizes how Laurie is confronting the dominating forces of her formative years through Dr. Manhattan, who is a stand-in for all of those similar figures in Laurie’s life.
Panel 2: Olympus Mons is Latin for Mount Olympus, which was the mythical home of the Olympian gods in Greek times, and, rising to a height of nearly 14 miles, it stands as the tallest mountain on any planet of our solar system.
Also of note in this panel (reiterated in a slightly different fashion in subsequent panels) is the fact that “the details are vague” to Dr. Manhattan, with regard to the images of the near future he recounts to Laurie. The fact that Dr. Manhattan cannot see these details, despite his attempts to rationalize it away, is significant and foreshadows that much more is going on than is immediately evident.
Panels 2-3: Yes, all of these things Dr. Manhattan relates will come to pass. But we will need to experience them in their full context to fully appreciate what he sees.
The most noteworthy remark made here is what appears to be a throwaway line: “There’s some sort of static obscuring the future…” for which Dr. Manhattan provides a possible reason, “…the electromagnetic pulse of a mass warhead detonation might conceivably cause that…” This possibility is deftly planted into readers’ minds, in order to distract us from the true nature of this static.
Panel 1: Dr. Manhattan’s remark – “breathtaking…” – is made in reference to the 14-mile high volcano they approach, but is also a commentary on Laurie’s reaction to all that he has just shared with her.
Panel 2: Once more, Dr. Manhattan’s comments lead to another important memory for Laurie. This panel is unusual, in that we can see Laurie from the thighs up, but it is from such a distance that her features are indistinct, continuing the visual motif of Dr. Manhattan controlling her remembrances, while she is little more than a cipher in her own story, in her own life.
Panel 4: The fog, to which Laurie refers in this panel, is not just the fog from the previous panel, but also the fog through which she walked her life – the fog of what it meant to be a hero and the fog of what her mother endured at the hands of the “cool” hero, Edward Blake.
The cigar smoke in the foreground, most likely belonging to Blake if judged by the way Laurie is glaring, also accentuates this sense of “fog,” which transitions directly to
Panel 1: where Laurie reiterates being lost in “the fog” – a result of drinking too much Scotch on the night in question.
The “blurred reflection” visual motif – or, in this case, refraction – continues, as we see Edward Blake speaking with someone through the lens of Laurie’s Scotch tumbler.
Panel 3: In the background, we can see Dr. Manhattan talking with Henry Kissinger, who became the 56th Secretary of State under President Richard Nixon, who is still President of the United States in Watchmen.
Panel 4: Woodward and Bernstein were the reporters who wrote the story of the Watergate break-in that eventually led to President Richard Nixon’s resignation.
Panel 5: This offhand remark by Blake not to ask where he was when JFK was shot will have greater meaning later in the book and can be seen as a bit of foreshadowing couched subtly within a fairly common rejoinder to deflect suspicion.
Also note that Blake has his smiley face button on, even at a black tie event.
Panel 7: Blake’s comment – “…didn’t take your old man’s name either…” – is a bit of foreshadowing, as Laurie moves closer to uncovering the secrets of her heritage.
Panel 3: Blake’s succinct remark here – “Only once.” – reinforces the understanding that he and Sally did have at least one intimate encounter long after his sexual assault of her.
Panel 4: Here Moore deflects this suspicion with Laurie’s reading of Blake’s remark that he raped her mother “only once.”
And note that the scotch Laurie throws in Blake’s face splashes into his right eye – the same eye upon which his blood splattered onto the smiley face button in Chapter I – and a drop of the scotch falls onto that same eye on his smiley face button, accentuating this visual motif of the blood-spattered smiley face button that runs throughout the whole book.
Again we come to the end of the flashback scene with a broken vessel – in this instance, the broken vessel is Laurie, which splashes scotch instead of water this time – that transitions directly into
Panel 5: and the tumbling bottle of Nostalgia perfume.
Panel 7: Laurie’s scattering of her mother’s scrapbook clippings – news stories about the original Silk Spectre – can be viewed as Laurie running away from her history, trying vainly to be rid of something that lives inside of us and can never be excised.
Panel 1: Again, we have Dr. Manhattan controlling the conversation, while the only parts of Laurie visible to us are portions of her legs. Dr. Manhattan’s words obscure Laurie, as they instigate this final journey through her memories.
The indistinct nature of memory is again symbolized visually by the warped reflection of Laurie, continuing with the chapter’s primary visual motif, which transitions directly to
Panel 2: where Laurie’s reflection is reversed as we flashback to the evening when she was a little girl exploring the darkened house while her mother and stepfather fought.
The dialogue also threads these two panels together as Dr. Manhattan’s final word in panel 1 – “shouting” – sparks this memory in Laurie, as she returns to her mother’s diatribe at the point where she was telling Schexnayder that she “…shouted at [Blake]…” but “…couldn’t sustain…the anger.”
And this phrase – that Sally couldn’t sustain the anger – transitions directly to
Panel 3: where Dr. Manhattan advises Laurie to relax enough so that she might see the bigger picture.
And Dr. Manhattan’s final comment to Laurie in this panel – “…as if you’re too delicate…” – transitions into
Panel 4: where we see a young Laurie peering into the fragile (or delicate) snowglobe once more, which is the most prevalent example of the blurred reflection motif found in this chapter.
Also noteworthy in this panel is the fact that the image, one we saw earlier, is from when Laurie was five, but the accompanying text, which we also read earlier, is from when she was thirteen. Laurie’s memories are beginning to coalesce into a singular memory that will allow her to make the connections she has been missing, or denying, all these years.
Panel 5: Laurie’s denial here – her remark that her life is “a dumb design…” – juxtaposed against the intricate design of Dr. Manhattan’s fortress provides a visual cue that this is not true, and can also be seen as a meta-commentary on the structure of this story as crafted by Moore & Gibbons.
Panel 6: Moore continues tethering successive panels together as the remark by Blake from Laurie’s memory – “What do you think I am?” – transitions directly to
Panel 7: where Dr. Manhattan tells Laurie he thinks she’s avoiding something. Dr. Manhattan’s indictment, juxtaposed with the recurrence of Blake’s words in Laurie’s head, points us and Laurie to what she has been avoiding all her life.
And Laurie’s final remark in this panel – “I-I’ve never had any occasion to avoid the truth…” – transitions into
Panel 8: where Blake’s past response – “…only once…” – answers how many times Laurie has had need to avoid the truth, and it all revolves around Blake and his intimate encounter with Sally.
As the remarks by Blake on that evening honoring him begin to swirl and congeal in Laurie’s mind, realization starts bubbling to the surface.
Panel 1: The image of the snowglobe smashing at Laurie’s and Schexnayder’s feet symbolizes the shattering of Laurie’s beliefs about her heritage. She believed that Hooded Justice was her father. She now realizes that Blake was her father.
This smashing snowglobe, and the spilling of the water, signifies the end of this final flashback scene.
Panel 2: Laurie unscrewing the cover of the bottle of Nostalgia perfume is symbolic of the purging of the nostalgia she has harbored all these years. That is now gone, as she comes to understand the man who was her father was also the man who raped her mother years before she was ever conceived.
The reflection of Laurie’s adult face in this bottle of Nostalgia perfume is a call-back to the reflection of her face in the snowglobe of her earliest memory.
Panel 4: And here we see when the Nostalgia bottle, which we have watched slowly tumble across the Martian landscape throughout this chapter, was launched into its orbit.
Panels 1-4: These four panels are the symbolic purging of her distorted memories, as foreshadowed by Laurie’s actual vomiting on Page 4, panel 1 of this chapter.
This emotional vomiting is a metaphorical variation on her exclamation from Page 4, panel 2 of this chapter that, “[she] always throw[s] up whenever [Dr. Manhattan] take[s] her anywhere…” which is triggered here by the completion of this journey through her memories that Dr. Manhattan initiated at the outset of this chapter.
Panels 5-7: All of the captions in these three panels are from earlier in the chapter, from Laurie recounting that first memory when she found and broke the snowglobe. The words are juxtaposed against the present scene of the Nostalgia perfume bottle tumbling toward Dr. Manhattan’s fortress, and in each panel the caption relates not only to the initial memory, but also to the Nostalgia bottle in the particular panel.
In panel 5, the “…toy, this snowstorm ball…” relates to the round bottle of perfume.
In panel 6, Laurie’s comments of “…slow time…” relates directly to how we, the readers, have experienced the tumbling of this perfume bottle throughout this chapter.
In panel 7, her final remark upon dropping and smashing the snowglobe in the previous recounting – “…and inside there was only water…” – relates to the perfume bottle as it smashes against Dr. Manhattan’s fortress.
And the smashing of the bottle of Nostalgia perfume ultimately symbolizes the draining of Laurie’s nostalgia, which has left her an empty, broken vessel.
Panels 1-4: The smashing of Dr. Manhattan’s fortress by the Nostalgia perfume bottle is a larger, more direct symbol of the shattering of the walls that Laurie erected to keep secret from herself the fact that the Comedian, Eddie Blake, the man who raped her mother, is her father. Like the deception she formed to explain away her heritage, this edifice shatters, symbolizing Laurie’s shattered reality.
The ease with which this clockwork tower shatters also symbolizes the fragility of Dr. Manhattan’s own self-deceptions (that all of time is set in stone and he has no ability to step out of the blueprint laid before him) as he finally makes a choice, on the following page, and changes his mind – something he claimed to be impossible.
Panel 1: Laurie’s remark that her life is one big joke because Blake was her father, which was kept hidden from Laurie by her mother, is not only a rather natural reaction, but it is also a commentary on the fact that Blake was known as the Comedian.
Panel 1: The shattering of Dr. Manhattan’s fortress occurring next to a boulder that forms the right eye of a “smiley face” crater on Mars is yet another instance of this blood-spattered smiley face button motif.
And for anyone unable to accept this “contrivance” of a smiley face crater on Mars, look no further than this photograph from NASA
Panel 1: And if it wasn’t obvious before, Dr. Manhattan’s remark to Laurie to “come…dry your eyes…” shows us that she did indeed end up crying at the end of their conversation, as he said she would on page 17. However, these tears did not come about because Dr. Manhattan refused to intervene on Earth as Laurie had suspected. They were a result of her realization that Blake was her father, and could possibly now be tears of joy thanks to Dr. Manhattan’s change of heart regarding the human race.
And the comment, “dry your eyes,” is also emphasized by the “eyes” we can see in this panel formed by Mars and the sun – and, of course, there is a small satellite orbiting Mars (the right eye in this case), which is yet another example of the blood-spattered smiley face button motif.
Once again, Alan Moore – with Dave Gibbons providing the “photos” – gives us something new in the way of the back-matter. This time we are able to read some of the items found in Sally Jupiter’s scrapbook, items that end up scattered across the Martian landscape when Laurie tosses them overboard on page 21 of this chapter.
There are some interesting details to be found in the memorabilia here – consisting of newspaper clippings, letters to Sally, and an excerpt from a Playboy-style interview with the magazine Probe. A movie was made based around Sally’s (Silk Spectre’s) exploits as a masked adventurer. We also learn that this film met with a critical backlash in a rather humorous review that makes light of the “unconvincing and dated footage of a stuntwoman” who happens to be Sally herself. We also learn that Sally’s relationship with Hooded Justice – whom Laurie believed was her real father – was merely a ruse to cover up his homosexuality, while providing some provocative PR for the Minutemen.
While these details afford us, the audience, a broader picture of Sally Jupiter’s character, they add little to the overall narrative. However, there is one item in this scrapbook that does. In the Probe interview Sally questions how much responsibility she bears in the sexual assault b Blake. This is a sad, misplaced, but not uncommon reaction for rape victims, which adds another human layer to this character while also helping explain, a little, how she could become intimate with him, and help conceive his daughter, years later.