LOOK ON MY WORKS, YE MIGHTY…
This penultimate chapter focuses on Adrian Veidt – Ozymandias. Detached from humanity, his only kinship with a king, Alexander of Macedon, who died over 2300 years earlier, Veidt is a singular being. His admiration for the lateral thinking of Alexander, with the ancient king’s solution of simply cutting the Gordian Knot, is second to none and has fueled aspirations to solve his own Gordian Knot – the policy of Mutually Assured Destruction was a “knot to try even Alexander’s ingenuity” (p. 21).
Fittingly, this chapter revolves around knots, both literal and metaphorical. The knot-tops, whom we have seen throughout the story, are the most obvious example of this motif, as Chapter XI opens, even though we don’t see any besides Aline until the very end of the chapter. But they are mentioned a few times – specifically by the newsvendor, Bernie – as many knot-tops are at the Pale Horse/Krystalnacht concert in Madison Square Garden.
Aline carries another example of the “knots” motif in the form of the relationship advice book she shares with Joey, entitled Knots. This is an obvious metaphor for the romantic entanglements we often find ourselves in, and the messy knots from which we must divest ourselves when those relationships do not work out. And this reality plays out in front of us, as Joey and Aline suffer the fraying of their relationship.
These invisible connections are the ties that bind us as a civilization, and this most important and most significant knot is exemplified across the breadth of this chapter, as we watch the various secondary characters introduced over the course of this story all come together at a single intersection. And it is at this intersection where the fragility of these binding connections is revealed, as Veidt puts his plan into action and devastates the city of New York – with this intersection as ground zero.
Cover Image: Like the other covers for Watchmen, this cover is well designed – a stark, white background with a glimpse of a tropical scene through a blinding snow. It may not be immediately evident, but this small opening in the snow is in the shape of the blood spatter from the Comedian’s smiley-face button, as seen in Chapter I.
This close up of a tropical image glimpsed through the snow transitions to
Panel 1: with a completely white panel. The image from the cover returns – as the “camera” pulls out from this scene – in
Panel 2: where we can see the same “blood spatter” opening into a lush, tropical scene.
The speaker here is Adrian Veidt, and the first dialogue balloon in this panel – “…Burroughs’ cut-up technique…re-arranging words and images…allowing subliminal hints of the future…” – could certainly be seen as a meta-commentary on the manner in which the entire story of Watchmen was crafted, jumping back and forth through time, offering glimpses of the whole and forcing readers to glean what they could from the narrative of the future of the narrative.
Panel 4: Veidt’s continuing commentary: “…an emergent worldview becomes gradually discernible amidst the media’s white noise…” accentuates the succession of images in these first few panels, as a lush, tropical landscape emerges amid the stark white of the blowing snow.
Panel 5: Veidt’s commentary: “…this jigsaw-fragment model of tomorrow aligns itself…areas necessarily obscured…broad assumptions regarding this postulated future may be drawn…” can also be seen as a commentary upon his ultimate plan (and is also a meta-commentary upon the structure of Watchmen, from a storytelling point of view) where readers have been offered glimpses of the jigsaw puzzle that began with the murder of Edward Blake, while certain facets have been obscured to allow for overall conspiracy’s success (both within the narrative and as a reading experience).
Panel 7: Note the buildings in the background are colored purple, signifying that they are indeed Veidt’s.
Panel 2: Veidt mentions that it is 11:18 pm, New York time, which is important, as his ultimate plan – we will discover – goes into effect at 11:25.
Panels 6-7: Veidt’s comments here: “…the ice [Nite Owl and Rorschach are] skating on is…thinner than it looks…let’s hope they know where to stop…” are not only comments on the approach of his two former allies across the Antarctic, but also remarks upon how far they may be willing to go to stop Veidt’s plan.
Panel 3: Note the sugar cube Rorschach is unpeeling – a call back to Chapter I and the sugar cubes he took from Dan (Nite Owl) when he visited to warn him of the mask killer.
Panel 5: As we have come to learn, when Moore & Gibbons craft a large panel that encompasses more than one of the 9-grid panels, it is a visual signal of the importance of that panel. Veidt’s remark that there is “…no time like the present,” which is made as he exits the main hall through a door beneath the painting of Alexander solving the puzzle of the Gordian Knot, symbolizes Veidt’s intent to finally put his plan into motion.
As a side note, Moore & Gibbons again play the dialogue against the imagery in an ironic manner, as Veidt’s comment about there being “…no time like the present…” is made beneath an image of an ancient event, while on the adjoining wall multiple clocks show the “present” time in varying time zones.
Also, it is important to note that it is roughly 11:25, New York time, right now.
Panel 1: The fact that Bubastis will come no further foreshadows what will happen to this big cat in the final chapter.
Panel 3: Note that there is something large within this chamber.
Panel 5: The time, 11:25 EST, is verified for us.
Panel 6: The fact that Veidt is bathed in a blue light – similar to the color of Dr. Manhattan – is a bit of foreshadowing on the part of Moore, Gibbons & Higgins.
Panel 8: And now, the chamber is empty.
Also note that this chamber is reminiscent of the one in which Jon Osterman was trapped and atomized – resulting in his transformation into Dr. Manhattan.
Panel 9: The image of Veidt, from behind, transitions directly to
Panel 1: where Bernie, the newsvendor, is standing with his back to the audience as he pours himself a cup of coffee from his thermos. Note that the magazine just in front of his hands appears to be titled “Holiday _____.”
Bernie’s comment that the music from Madison Square – which is a reference to the Pale Horse/Krystalnacht concert we’ve seen fliers for throughout the story – is “…music to drop bombs by…” is a symbolic reference to what Veidt just did, though that won’t become evident until later in this chapter.
Bernie’s remarks are also juxtaposed against the Black Freighter caption, which describes Davidstown – the protagonist’s home in this pirate comic – as “…deserted save for silence.”
In the background of this panel, Dr. Long’s wife can be seen walking toward the corner. And, we will soon discover, the other woman walking toward that same corner is Aline, Joey’s girlfriend.
Panel 2: Again, the Black Freighter captions are juxtaposed against the dialogue from the main narrative, as we see the protagonist enter his home “noiselessly” while Bernie complains that the knot-tops will exit the concert “fightin’ drunk,” which implies a raucous exit for the concert goers.
Bernie’s continued commentary on the knot-tops – “…covered in tattoos and earrings…” – also connects the contemporary narrative with the pirate one, as pirates are typically viewed as tattooed with earrings.
And the image of the protagonist walking away from the “camera” into his home transitions directly to
Panel 3: where we see Aline walking away from us toward the street corner where Dr. Long is waiting to cross the street.
In the background, Bernie continues to talk. His remark that it’s “…a bad intersection…” foreshadows Watchmen’s climax, which is fast approaching. This is followed by his comment that “…you never know what’s gonna turn up next…” which not only symbolizes this impending climax, but is also a remark on the approaching Aline, whom Bernie has never met but knows of from his interactions with Joey the cab driver. And here, though we might have surmised it from Joey’s earlier frustration that Aline wanted to go to the concert, we can see that Aline is a knot-top.
And Bernie’s dialogue is again juxtaposed against the Black Freighter caption – “…unaware that death was amongst them…” – in a parallel, rather than ironic, fashion this time.
Panel 4: The juxtaposition of the Black Freighter caption and the contemporary dialogue here is a bit more subtle. In the Black Freighter, the protagonist attacks one he believes to be a pirate who slaughtered his family, while in the main narrative, Bernie makes a comment about the knot-top hairdos that makes it clear he wants to verbally attack the next one he sees. But when a knot-top approaches, whom we can in the panel adjacent to this one see is Aline, he loses his braggadocio and greets her in a congenial manner, as a true salesman.
Panel 5: Aline’s remark that she and Joey have been fighting is juxtaposed against the Black Freighter caption describing the protagonist as bludgeoning the intruder in his home.
Panel 6: Aline’s comment that she isn’t looking forward to talking with Joey, since she obviously sees their relationship as over, emphasizes the terror of the protagonist in the Black Freighter panel when he encounters something worse than the pirates he expected – his family, intact, terror on their faces as he raises his fist once more against his wife, whom he believed to be a pirate butcher.
Panel 7: In the background, we see the Gordian Knot lock service truck.
Panel 8: Bernie’s remark to not “…go away mad…” is emphasized in this Black Freighter panel, as the protagonist comes to an “…understanding so large, it left no room for sanity…” thus, driving him mad, as he ran away from his horrified family.
A note on the coloring: In panels 4, 6, and 8 of this page, John Higgins again utilizes red to symbolize the vicious, murderous nature of the scenes, bathing the protagonist and his wife, whom he is beating, in red in those first two panels, and then offsetting the cadaverous woman in red in panel 8.
Panel 9: Bernie’s question about people being hostile is a remark on the violence we have just witnessed in the Black Freighter panels. And his continued remark about how he and his wife Rosa should have left New York and “…escaped from everything…” is juxtaposed against the Black Freighter caption of the protagonist trying to escape his damnation, and failing.
The drop of coffee spilled by Bernie is a call-back to the drop of blood we have seen fall onto the Comedian’s smiley-face button a number of times throughout this narrative.
This theme of escape is emphasized by the “Holiday _____” magazine in the background here, which shows a lush, tropical setting where one might like to escape for a vacation. And this tropical image transitions to
Panel 1: where we return to the vivarium at Karnak, a lush, tropical area housed within a greenhouse here in the Antarctic.
Panel 3: Note that Veidt’s glass of wine is still full, while we will see that his servants did indeed drink from their glasses.
Panel 1: Veidt’s remark that one “…need not delve quite so deeply into antiquity…” to discover the reason for his celebration is emphasized by the shallow pool he stands at, a pool that one would not have to reach too far into, in order to find the bottom.
This image is also a call-back to Chapter V – which was laid out as a reflection of itself, and within which Veidt played a major role.
Panel 2: 1939 is an important year, as that is when Batman debuted in Detective Comics #27 (a year after Superman’s auspicious debut in Action Comics #1), and is a point when comics – and superhero comics, in particular – begin their ascendance in America.
Visually, note that Veidt is only seen in shadow in this panel – which is also the case for subsequent panels exhibiting this past he is recounting. This symbolizes the fact that the man who became Ozymandias was only a shadow of himself before the epiphany that led to his physically and intellectually superior alter-ego.
Panel 3: Note that Veidt’s wine glass is still untouched.
Panel 5: The butterfly in the background – the same one seen on the cover of this chapter – will play a minor role later.
Panel 6: The large painting of Alexander of Macedonia looks very much like Adrian Veidt and transitions directly to
Panel 7: and the close-up of Adrian – his blond locks and chiseled features mirroring his role model.
The significance of Veidt’s remark – “...true, people died…perhaps unnecessarily…” – as stated with his servants visible in the background will become evident two pages hence.
Panel 9: Veidt’s remark that he “…wanted to have something to say to [Alexander], should [they] meet in the hall of legends…” is made over an image where we look up through the pool at Veidt. This emphasizes the fact that he aspired to these objectives in order to impress a dead man, whose point of view would be similar to Gibbons’s point of view in this panel.
And this image transitions directly to
Panel 1: where Joey is seen from a similar angle.
Note that the time clock in the background reads roughly 11:20.
Panel 2: In the background, calling to Joey, we have the same serviceman who put in the new locks at Dan Dreiberg’s apartment earlier in the story.
Panel 3: In the background we can see Dr. Long’s wife on the right and the younger Bernie, leaning against the car charger, on the left.
Panel 4: It is ironic that Joey and Aline are fighting about their relationship as they approach the wife of Dr. Long, a man who might have been able to assist them.
Panel 7: Notice that Dr. Long’s wife is speaking with Bernie, the newsvendor, in the background. In a couple of pages we will see this same scene from across the street.
It is ironic, but appropriate, that the book on relationships Aline offers to Joey is titled Knots, as Aline is a “Knot-top,” which is one of the things that has created the schism between these two.
Panels 8-9: Joey’s admission here – particularly her frustration at never having made love to Aline, followed by her wish to be dead – is mirrored by the Black Freighter captions, where we know the horror the protagonist feels as he laments how he came to this place “…with love, only love, as [his] guide.”
The description of a “black ocean” in the Black Freighter caption transitions directly to
Panel 1: and Veidt’s description of Alexander’s path marching along the “black sea coast.”
The image in this panel is a call back to Chapter VIII, Page 26, panel 2 when the protagonist of the Black Freighter came ashore after sailing the ocean on a raft of his dead comrades. With this panel, Moore & Gibbons link Veidt and the protagonist from that pirate comic.
Panel 5: Alexander’s failing – “…he’d not united all the world, nor built a unity that would survive him…” – is the aspiration to which Veidt has been working most of his life.
Panel 7: This panel – Veidt’s nude body turned away from us, the starscape, and the red hues (particularly of the sand surrounding Veidt) – hearkens back to Dr. Manhattan, symbolizing the connection and respect Veidt feels with the only truly “super”human.
Panel 1: Veidt’s comment that the great thinkers from ancient times entrusted their greatest secrets to “…their servants, buried alive with them in sand-flooded chambers…” foreshadows what we will discover two panels hence – that Veidt has killed his servants.
Panel 2: Note the clock, partially hidden in the background, reads minutes to midnight.
Panel 3: And the perching of the butterfly on the servant’s nose – with no reaction from the servant – reveals the ultimate fate of these three men. The static nature of the images in a comic is the one thing that allows for this delayed realization – something that could not have been done convincingly in any other visual medium.
Panels 1-7: Instead of flooding his servants’ burial chamber with sand, Veidt floods it with snow.
Opening his vivarium, exposing the flora and his servants to the harsh and devastating elements, is a metaphor for Veidt’s larger plan and foreshadows the climax of this story.
Panel 7: Note that the image of the servant’s submerged face, as Adrian exits in the background, transitions directly to
Panel 1: where the layout is mirrored with the submerged body, and barely visible face, of the moneylender as the protagonist of the Black Freighter runs away in the background.
The Black Freighter caption – “…the righteous anger fueling my ingenious, awful scheme was but delusion...” – is a commentary on Bernie’s remark in the contemporary narrative – “Morally, we oughtta strike first.” Bernie’s righteousness is as wrong-headed as that of the protagonist from the “Tales of the Black Freighter” story.
Panel 2: The phrase “…step by step…” in the Black Freighter caption not only alludes to Dr. Long’s wife approaching Bernie, step by step, but it is also symbolic of Adrian Veidt’s plan, and of the final act fast approaching the people at this intersection – as well as the greater populace of New York City and, figuratively speaking, the citizens of the world.
The approach of Dr. Long’s wife here transitions directly to
Panel 3: where the approaching Black Freighter mirrors her approach in the previous panel.
The Black Freighter caption – “…I raised my head and saw her…” – is a description of what we cannot see in the contemporary narrative – i.e. Bernie looking up (or raising his head) at the query, “Excuse me?” and encountering Mrs. Long (or her).
Panel 4: In the background we can see Aline handing Joey the book, Knots, as seen four pages earlier.
Again, the Black Freighter caption is a commentary on the contemporary narrative, as it describes Dr. Long’s wife – “She seemed to be waiting…”
Panel 5: Bernie’s innocence (wrapped in his unintended ignorance) – “…I didn’t mean no harm…” – when confronted by Mrs. Long’s reaction to his offending remark, is mirrored in the Black Freighter text where the protagonist finally comes to realize what his “innocent intent” had gotten him.
Panel 6: The “unspeakable truth” remarked upon in the Black Freighter caption symbolizes the truth that goes unsaid between Bernie and Mrs. Long in this panel.
Panel 7: The Black Freighter dialogue about the pirates of the ship “…who’d reaped the wealth of the Sargasso…” is mirrored by Bernie’s remark that “…everybody[‘s] gotta fight…” since that is how these vicious pirates managed to reap their wealth.
Panel 8: Again, Moore juxtaposes the dialogue from the Black Freighter comic with the main narrative, as Bernie complains of how “…you try to help, you wind up in trouble…” which is mirrored by the Freighter dialogue, where the protagonist laments that his “…well-meaning plans…” led to his soul being damned for eternity.
Panel 9: Bernie’s remark – “…where’s the percentage…” – meaning what reward is there for one’s deeds, is mirrored in the Black Freighter caption, where it becomes evident that the only prize the occupants of the Black Freighter wanted was the protagonist’s soul.
And the layout of this image transitions directly to
Panel 1: where the arms of the Black Freighter’s main character are transposed with those of Rorschach’s, as he and Nite Owl approach their own Black Freighter in the form of Adrian Veidt’s Antarctic fortress, Karnak. This visual link between panels 13:9 and 14:1 also yields yet another symbolic link between Veidt and the main character of the Black Freighter story.
Panel 2: It may not have been readily evident in panel 1, but the presence of the palm tree in the background of this panel allows us to orient ourselves to where Rorschach and Nite Owl are approaching – the previous site for Veidt’s vivarium, where he offered up his servants to their final rest.
Panel 5: Nite Owl’s comment – “…up here…we’re out of our natural environment…” – is emphasized by the butterfly (a warm weather creature) half-buried in the snow.
Panel 3: Note again, in the design of the serving bowl, the multiple occurrences of the letter V that runs around its circumference – yet another example of Veidt’s ego, which is what allows him to achieve his successes but is also his Achilles heel.
Panel 7: Note that Veidt – who claims a great kinship with the ancient king of Macedon, Alexander the Great – only asks to hear Rorschach’s and Nite Owl’s concerns once they are kneeling to him (as if to a king).
Panel 6: Blake “mistaking [Veidt] for a criminal” is a typical trope of superhero comics – one of the many that Moore & Gibbons circumvent in Watchmen.
Panel 7: Couple this knowledge of the Comedian’s whereabouts on the day Kennedy was killed with the off-hand remark he made during the flashback in Chapter IX, Page 20, panel 5 and it is safe to assume that the Comedian – even if he did not pull the trigger – was integral in the death of JFK, in this reality.
Panel 9: The quote Veidt offers here is indeed from President Kennedy’s intended speech on November 22, 1963. The images on the screens in front of Veidt, in this flashback, are scenes from the parade that day. It is also worth noting that the reason Veidt only has three television sets at this juncture is because there were only three stations at the time JFK was assassinated. This would also be the reason why Veidt is recording his findings on a phonograph.
Note that the clock in the background is, once again, at the “minutes to midnight” position.
And finally, note the young cat at Veidt’s feet. This is possibly a very young Bubastis, or a precursor to the genetic breakthrough that created Bubastis, or possibly just a simple cat, revered in Egypt and at home with Veidt, who feels a strong connection to ancient Egypt, as we have seen throughout the story.
Panel 1: Veidt’s commentary on Kennedy’s ignorance of the cross-hairs aimed at his head emphasizes how alert and prepared Veidt himself is, as he takes care of Rorschach’s next attack without bothering to turn and face him.
Panel 2: This is one of Moloch’s gambling dens and is reminiscent of a similar scene of Dr. Manhattan’s early crime fighting from Chapter IV, Page 14, panel 2.
Panel 3: Again, Veidt’s remarks upon earlier events (this time, his embarrassment at his early adventuring, which did nothing to solve the very real problems facing mankind) mirror events in the contemporary narrative, as he “blinds” Rorschach while commenting how he had “blinded” himself to mankind’s problems.
This image is yet another subtle example of how Moore & Gibbons circumvented the common tropes of superhero comics with Watchmen – in this instance, showcasing how foolish and tactically unsound it would be to wear a full-face mask, as many superheroes in the comics do.
Panel 4: Note the clock – its hands at the familiar “minutes to midnight” position.
Panel 5: In this panel, Veidt’s reminiscences are juxtaposed ironically – as he recounts how the Comedian “opened [his] eyes” even as he continues to keep Rorschach blinded.
Panel 6: Linking the two separate caption boxes, we come to realize that this is when Veidt understood he needed to be the one “…to save the world…” as stated by Captain Metropolis.
Panel 7: Veidt’s comment – “…that’s when it hit me…” – emphasizes the punch that was landed by Veidt, between panels, on Rorschach, as the latter falls to the floor.
Panel 9: Veidt’s comment that he vowed to always meet his foes on his own terms transitions directly to
Panel 1: where Mrs. Long has surprised her husband, in order to meet him on her own terms.
The newspaper headline – “WAR?” – above the newsvendor’s head foreshadows the hostility that is about to erupt at this intersection over the final pages of this chapter.
Panel 3: Mrs. Long’s remarks here – “…I can’t’ live with someone who feels driven to help hopeless cases, then lets their misery affect our lives…” – is not only a commentary on their marriage, but also a commentary on the relationship between Joey and Aline, and specifically Aline’s feelings about Joey, which we can see unraveling in the foreground of this panel.
Joey’s ripping up of the book Knots is her own futile attempt to cut her own Gordian Knot – this relationship that she wants to have with Aline, but which Aline is walking away from, and the internal conflict such an experience generates within us.
Panel 5: Again, Mrs. Long’s remarks are a reflection of this panel’s imagery. She tells her husband that she won’t share him “with a world full of screw-ups and manic depressives…” even as she shares this sidewalk with people who are emotionally injured in a manner similar to those she describes.
Panel 6: Ironically, Dr. Long and his wife are having the opposite discussion that Laurie and Dr. Manhattan had on Mars in Chapter IX.
Panel 8: This panel is yet another example of the way in which Moore & Gibbons create an image that resonates with multiple meanings. As Dr. Long is drawn into yet another instance of others’ grief, the younger Bernie is drawn into the grief of the Black Freighter protagonist as he continues to read this pirate story, even while we, the readers of Watchmen, are pulled into that same grief in the Black Freighter comic, as the “camera” pulls in closer to the younger Bernie and transitions to
Panel 9: and a close-up of the comic page that Bernie is reading.
Dr. Long’s comment that he “can’t run” from the ugliness in this world is mirrored by the Black Freighter captions as the ugliness of the actual Black Freighter comes closer and closer to the comic’s protagonist – something he too is unable to run away from.
The tall rectangles created by the prow of the ship and the panel border within the Black Freighter comic, along with the sea bird (most likely a gull) flying over the surface of the water, transition directly to
Panel 1: where the general layout of that previous panel is mirrored by the tall pillars on the exterior of Veidt’s fortress and the dead butterfly lying in the snow, roughly where the gull was on Page 20, panel 9.
The dialogue is also mirrored with the previous panel’s admission of how the Black Freighter moved “closer…closer…” through Veidt’s remark that he had “…been brought nose to nose with mankind’s mortality…”
Veidt’s remarks about the imminent mortality of humankind and the fragility of the Earth and its ecosystem are emphasized by the dead butterfly in the foreground. Its specific fragility was displayed by its quick death earlier in this chapter.
The butterfly is also a call-back to Rorschach’s sessions with Dr. Long while he was incarcerated, in Chapter VI. In that instance, Rorschach told Dr. Long that one of the Rorschach blots was nothing more than a pretty butterfly, despite the ugly memories it actually conjured up in Rorschach’s memory.
Panel 2: Veidt’s admission that, once faced with the very real possibility of the Earth’s, and humanity’s, demise, he needed to step back and look at the problem from a “fresh perspective” is emphasized by Gibbons’s artwork in this panel, as we see Veidt in the extreme background, standing high above the main hall of Karnak, looking down upon us, the readers.
Panel 3: Veidt’s comment that he eventually “…closed upon the heart of the dilemma…” is emphasized by the fact that Gibbons is pulling in closer to Veidt with this panel’s image.
Panel 4: Veidt’s remarks about the nuclear arms race and the Americans’ and Russians’ fears – particularly their fear to “turn their backs…” – emphasizes Veidt’s confidence, as he has turned his back on Rorschach and Nite Owl, who have come to Karnak in order to thwart his plans.
Panel 5: The remark that “…the spectre of accidental apocalypse stalked ever closer…” is emphasized by the fact that Rorschach and Nite Owl, as well as Bubastis in the foreground, are moving closer to Veidt, while he speaks.
Panel 6: Veidt’s dialogue is, again, mirrored in the imagery of this panel. Veidt talks of inevitable conflict and the need to have a “practical solution” once one “…notice[s] the perils of the situation…” even as a second physical altercation between Veidt and his former allies seems imminent while Nite Owl notices the peril that the approaching Bubastis will present to him and Rorschach.
Panel 7: Veidt’s remark that a solution for this problem of the escalating nuclear arms race between East and West would be useless without “…the muscle to back it up…” is mirrored in the reality that Rorschach and Nite Owl do not have the muscle to stop Bubastis, if they were to attack Veidt again.
Panel 1: Again, Moore & Gibbons mirror a comment in the dialogue with the imagery in the panel, as Veidt talks of how “…atomic deadlock guided [humanity] downhill…” even as Veidt makes his way down the expansive staircase that leads to the main floor of his fortress.
Panel 2: Veidt continues to descend the stairs, with Rorschach and Nite Owl now following, and this descent is mirrored in his dialogue as he comments upon how the rising political tensions ran parallel to the descent of the costumed adventurers’ public approval.
Panel 3: Veidt’s commentary of how he understood that the esteem with which costumed adventurers were perceived would reach bottom by the late 1970s is mirrored by him reaching the bottom of the stairs.
Panel 5-7: Veidt’s grim outlook of where the world was heading – to a point where the past, present, and future of humanity would be wiped out – is mirrored by the transition, visually, from inside Karnak, with Veidt, Bubastis, Rorschach, and Nite Owl, to the wind-swept and desolate setting outside on the Antarctic plain.
The final piece of dialogue in Panel 7 – “…as if it had never been…” – transitions directly to
Panel 1: where the captions from the Black Freighter read: “The world I’d tried to save was lost beyond recall.”
The caption – “…a rope snaked down…[and] I grabbed it…” – is mirrored ironically in the contemporary narrative’s dialogue (from Bernie, the newsvendor): “…people don’t reach out and make contact.”
Panel 2: The final Black Freighter caption – appropriately enough, “The End” – is placed above Joey and Aline just as their relationship comes to an end.
Again, Bernie shows how oblivious he can be to the world around him despite his assertions to the contrary earlier in the story, as he laments the fact that “…people don’t connect with each other…” even as his obliviousness keeps him from immediately connecting with the conflict – something else from his dialogue – between Joey and Aline in the background.
Panel 7: More of the secondary characters come together on this intersection, as Detectives Bourquin and Fine pull up to the altercation between Joey and Aline.
Detective Fine was most likely suspended over the “Nite Owl incident” from Chapter VIII (where Detective Fine knew that Dan Dreiberg was Nite Owl, but instead of bringing him in for questioning he merely tried to warn Dreiberg with a visit, resulting in Dan and Laurie getting away from any possible incarceration, at that time). We can also see Dr. Long has reached the feuding couple.
Note that the time on the dashboard of the police cruiser reads 11:24.
Panel 9: Now we have the Gordian Knot Lock serviceman and his brother, the manager of the Promethean Cab Company, pulled into the fight on the corner.
The locksmith’s remark – “…another minute, we’d have been gone…lousy timing…” – is a bit of foreshadowing, as the culmination of Veidt’s plan will occur at 11:25 (as we saw – though we may not have been aware of this at the time – on Page 5, panel 5 of this chapter), within the very next minute.
This importance of time is emphasized by the counterfeit watch salesman packing up his gear in the foreground. And this image of the watchman and his watches transitions directly to
Panel 1: where Veidt talks about how each step of his plan was synchronized.
Panel 4: In the flashbacks to the Comedian’s death, over the course of the next few pages, the panels are awash in red, symbolizing the violence of his demise.
Veidt’s comment of his plan, and its enormity, crashing in on him is emphasized by the image of Veidt crashing into Blake’s apartment.
Panel 6: Again, the commentary in the present – “… [it] must have come as a terrible blow [to the Comedian]…” – is mirrored in the flashback image, as the Comedian is sent reeling into the wall by a forceful blow from Veidt.
Panel 7: Veidt’s remark – “…an end to fighting…” – is obviously emphasized by the fight between Joey and Aline in this panel, and Dr. Long’s attempt to end their fighting.
Panel 2: Veidt’s comment that the Comedian’s “…practiced cynicism cracked…” when confronted with the truth of Veidt’s plans is emphasized by Dave Gibbons’s visuals, as the Comedian is smashed into a mirror, cracking it into myriad shards of glass.
Panel 4: Veidt’s remark that the Comedian’s discovery of this plan “…drove the wind from his sails…” is accentuated by the image of the Comedian struggling to catch his breath and regain his composure in this panel. This remark also hearkens back to the Black Freighter comic and the truth the protagonist in that horror discovered.
Panel 6: “At the end, he understood.” This remark is made over an image of the Comedian just before he is thrown to his death – the blood spatter on his smiley-face pin bringing the entire narrative full circle.
Panel 7: The portents commented upon by Veidt in this panel can be seen as a meta-commentary on all of the symbolism and foreshadowing that Moore & Gibbons have included within Watchmen. The final portent is the flying elephant (advertising for the Gunga Diner) seen in the sky in the very center of this panel and mirrored by Veidt’s edification that humanity was “…rushing to join the mastodon…in extinction…” even as these secondary characters rush toward their own personal extinction at this intersection – a smaller extinction (relatively speaking) that Veidt hopes will herald in the extinction of the hostility and war-mongering that has plagued humanity for so long.
Panel 2: And here, we get the first flashback image that is entirely new – the revelation that Veidt was indeed the one who came to the Edward Blake’s apartment and killed him, killed the Comedian.
And again, Veidt’s commentary – “…humanity’s fate rested safely in my hands…” – is mirrored by the image of him holding the Comedian’s fate in his hands, holding Blake aloft before throwing him through the window to his death.
Panel 4: Veidt’s comment that teleportation works fine “…assuming you want things to explode on arrival…” is mirrored by the image of the Comedian exploding through the shattered window.
The remarks about the psychic shockwave that would result upon the “death” of the monster Veidt had created on that secret island is the key to the success of his plan, as we will see in the final chapter.
Panel 6: Nite Owl’s inquiry of Veidt – “…when was this hopeless black fantasy supposed to happen…” – is played over the scene in New York just seconds before it did happen, as shown by the clock that reads 11:25 in the background.
Panel 2: We see that, according to the clock, it is almost midnight in New York, verifying the fact that Veidt put his plan into action at 11:25. This giant clock, reading a minute to midnight, is also the latest example of the clock motif that runs throughout Watchmen. The fact that it is only a minute to midnight emphasizes the reality that we are at the climax of this story.
An aside: This revelation also reveals the narrative structure of this chapter, within which there are two parallel storylines unfolding, but they do not unfold in a parallel time, which allows for tension to build by keeping the final, horrific revelation hidden until the final page, even though the narrative in Karnak takes place after this final twist. It is yet another example of a narrative structure that comics, through its combination of visuals and prose, can more easily achieve than other mediums.
The large yellow clock transitions directly to
Panel 3: and the large yellow moon hanging high in the New York sky.
Panel 1: And we see that the clock on the police cruiser’s dashboard reads 11:25.
Panels 2-13: And the realization of Veidt’s plan comes to this intersection of New York.
Panels 6-12: And the older Bernie finally realizes his goal (“I took this job to meet people, y’know?”) as he and the younger Bernie embrace in the final seconds of their lives.
Panel 9: This image of the two Bernies embracing in silhouette against the enveloping white is reminiscent of the Hiroshima Lovers’ graffiti seen throughout this story.
Panel 12: Note that the final image of the two Bernies forms into the blood spatter, which opened this chapter. And, like the butterfly seen through that initial opening in the snow, this image demonstrates the fragility of life, as the two Bernies become this formless spatter and then fade away into
Panel 13: and an all-white panel. This white panel – white being the absence of color – symbolizes the absence of life at ground zero of Veidt’s “attack.”
The C.R.E.E.P. acronym mentioned in Veidt’s opening statement of this interview was, in reality, the Committee for the Re-Election of the President, abbreviated as CRP by Nixon’s campaign but circumvented by his adversaries through the CREEP moniker. It was a fundraising organization for Nixon’s second term as President. Besides its fundraising activities it was also directly involved with the Watergate scandal that eventually brought President Nixon down, in our reality.
Veidt’s use of humanoids to describe Nixon’s retinue is easily deflected by Veidt with his anecdote, but the use of this term is very much in keeping with Veidt’s character. Adrian Veidt is detached from humanity. Ascribed to the much higher functioning of his intellect and physicality, this facet of Veidt is evident in the “secret origin” of this chapter – particularly the nonchalant manner with which he accepted his parents’ passing. And it is this detachment that allows him to conceive and go through with his horrific plan.
And, finally, the text in the Nostalgia ad at the bottom of the final page – “The Times They Are A’Changing” – foreshadows the denouement of the next, and final, chapter of Watchmen. Things are certainly going to change, but will it be for the better or the worse?