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Trollheart 05-05-2022 10:19 AM

Dying of the Light: A Forensic Deep Dive into Alan Moore's "Watchmen"

Note: this began as part of my comic book journal Trollheart's Futureshock. I may get back to that at some point, but for now I want to concentrate on resurrecting this part of the journal, and so have given it its own separate one.

One of the most important and influential works in the field of comic books and graphic novels of the late 1980s - indeed, of the twentieth century - Watchmen has the distinction of being one of the very first to bring the term "graphic novel "into the mainstream, even though its writer professes to dislike the term. I can see where he's coming from: it's like people who don't want to be accused of reading comics are able to sniff and say “Comic? No no no. This is a graphic novel!” as if that makes a difference. Of course, there is something that distinguishes what we think of as comics from graphic novels. Firstly, and most importantly, they do follow the format of a novel in that there is a complete story within their pages, whereas comics will tend to continue the story or stories in other issues, and the story or stories could run for weeks, months or even longer. Secondly, generally they're in a hardback or semi-hardback format and usually all pages are in colour, as opposed to some comic books where maybe only the cover and the middle pages are in colour.

Graphic novels can be written specifically for that format, but often they have been previously published in a series and this series is then collected within the pages of what becomes a graphic novel. This is in fact what happened with Watchmen, along with Batman: The Dark Knight Returns and V for Vendetta: intrinsically just a way of appealing I guess to comics collectors and squeezing more money out of them, but it's how I came into contact with Watchmen, through my younger brother.

I should like to make it clear that this journal will concentrate on the graphic novel only; there may be mention of the movie, but only in passing. The fact that it has a different ending (though largely is otherwise very faithful to the graphic novel) keeps me from going into it, and anyway I don't want to. This is not just a synopsis of Moore's meisterwerk, it is, as the title says, a forensic deep dive, in which I will be examining in almost minute detail every aspect of this incredible work, which bears repeated readings and offers new insights every time it is again approached.

Written by Alan Moore and illustrated by Dave Gibbons, two men who had made their name working for 2000AD in the seventies, Watchmen imagines an alternative future in which the USA won the Vietnam War very quickly with the aid of superheroes sanctioned by the government. As the novel opens however it is a much different time, and tensions are building between the US and the USSR on a scale not seen since the Cuban Missile Crisis of the sixties. It is here we begin our tale.

Trollheart 05-05-2022 01:24 PM

Chapter I: “At midnight, all the agents...”

(A quote from Bob Dylan: "At midnight all the agents and superhuman crew go out and round up all those who know more than they do".)

We open on an extract from the journal of one of the principal characters, one of the superheroes who goes only by the name of Rorschach (yeah, like the psychology test) which plays out as cops investigate what appears to be a murder. A guy called Blake has been hurled from the top window of his apartment; the cops can see the door, which was chained up, has been broken, as has the window through which the unfortunate Blake made his last exit. The cops become interested though when they see a photograph of the deceased shaking hands with Vice President Ford, and realise he must have been someone important. They're prepared to let it lie however, alluding to the unwanted interference of “masked avengers” and “vigilantes”, and mentioning the name Rorschach for the first time. They remember that the object of their conversation is wanted for two counts of murder and has gone into hiding somewhere, but fear the worst if he should surface and get involved in this with “his other buddies”.

Once the cops have gone out of sight, a shadowy figure emerges, hunkers down and picks up a “happy face” badge that was on the pavement, near the blood that is all that remains to mark the passing of the man known as Edward Blake. The badge is almost ready to be washed down the drain but has remained on the ground. The figure, wearing a trenchcoat, hat and a mask that makes him look completely faceless, notes that the badge is stained with a splash of blood. He then uses a grapple hook to scale the side of the building and enters the room through the broken window from which the previous occupant so fatally exited. He quickly sets about searching the place, methodically, as if he is looking for something specific, something he knows he will find, something that must be there. We note that he is careful, using a straightened clothes hanger to push open the door, as if he expects a booby trap to be set. Having located what he has been looking for, a small push button on the side of one of the walls of the wardrobe, he pushes it and reveals a hidden panel.

Behind the panel is a suit of some sort, a costume as well as weapons, and, looking a little further, an old photograph of what appears to be some friends, all dressed in costumes of some sort, looking very happy. The scene switches to a garage, where two people, one old and one not so old, are reminiscing over old times. Each appear to be the alter-ego of someone or thing called Nite Owl, as the younger advises the older he was the better of the two, but when the younger one, who is named as Danny, leaves and heads back to his own apartment he finds he has an uninvited visitor. It is the man we saw climb into the apartment of the dead man earlier, he with the odd mask on his face. He is sitting eating a can of beans and seems to know Danny, as he addresses him without turning around. We now learn this man is called Rorschach, the same one whose journal was quoted at the beginning and whom the police are hunting for murder.

Now details begin to get filled in a little. Rorschach hands Danny the smiley face badge he picked up off the ground, and tells him it belongs to someone called “The Comedian”. It seems this person's identity was, up to now, a secret, as Rorschach tells him without real interest that it seems Edward Blake was the Comedian. On hearing that the guy is dead - Danny says “THE Comedian?” so he obviously at least knows of him - he leads Rorschach down into the basement where they can talk more privately. Rorschach reveals - to us anyway, through his journal writings; it's unclear as to whether or not Danny knows - that the Comedian had been working for the government for the last ten years or so, helping to effect regime change where the US wanted it effected, and he points out too that Hollis Mason, the original Nite Owl, wrote a book in which he said some unkind things about the Comedian. Danny does not like the implication that Mason might have been involved in the Comedian's murder, but Rorschach shrugs and says he's not implying anything, just making an observation.

As they talk, it becomes clear that Rorschach and Danny (Nite Owl) were once heroes or vigilantes of some sort, as was the Comedian. They obviously partnered up at some point, as when Danny asks what happened to those days, Rorschach snaps “You quit”. It's pretty clear that he, at any rate, is still continuing on in his own special way as some sort of vigilante, even if not one sanctioned by the government, and the final panel before he leaves Danny in the tunnel depicts a man ashamed of himself, and alone.

Having failed to get any information on Blake's death via his usual sources - breaking a man's fingers (a man he doesn't even know and certainly doesn't care about) in a local seedy dive he frequents - Rorschach goes to see Adrian Veidt, a billionaire technology tycoon and said to the the most intelligent man in the world. He theorises that the killing may have been politically motivated - as has already been established, the Comedian was working for the government and had surely stacked up a lot of enemies - but Rorschach discounts this, saying the US has “Doctor Manhattan” and the Soviets are scared of that. Is this a reference, perhaps, to the atomic bomb? Has that really not been used yet in this world? Rorschach seems to think the “Reds” are terrified of it anyway. Rorschach's own theory is that they have a “mask killer” on their hands. He doesn't say what that is, but we can take a guess.

Given that at least three of the people we've met so far (four, including the late Comedian, five if you assume Veidt was also involved) have spoken of heroic deeds, villains and the old days, I think we can put it together. We've already heard of Nite Owl, and Rorschach appears to be another superhero, perhaps part of an “Avengers” or “X-Men”-style group who defended America against crime in maybe the forties or fifties. Most appear to be retired (or dead) now, but it looks like Rorschach is still operating, if independently and alone. He seems disgusted that his former comrades have all given up, and determined to carry on a personal, solo fight against the tide of crime and corruption, as revealed in scathing prose through the entries in his diary.

He goes to see Doctor Manhattan, whom we find out is a person, if such a thing can be said of a blue giant who stands about forty feet high and has no pupils in his eyes. He is in the company of Laurie Jupiter, who does not shed a tear when she hears of the Comedian's death. She tells Rorschach hotly that he tried to rape her mother, back when Blake and she were both Minutemen. Seems this is the older equivalent of the superheroes that Rorschach, Nite Owl and Veidt became; their earlier ancestors, so to speak. Rorschach is not impressed with Jupiter's histrionics; the idea of rape does not seem to impact upon him the way it does us. Doctor Manhattan tells Rorschach that he was informed of the death of the Comedian, as now he is the only agent left working for the government. It's hard to see though, how anyone could even hurt the blue giant, let alone kill him!

The meeting does not go as planned though. When Rorschach shrugs off the idea that Blake raped Laurie's mother - he does not necessarily deny it, but makes it clear he does not care about the event - Doctor Manhattan tells him to go. When he refuses, he finds himself teleported out of the building. One of the many powers of the titan we will come to learn about. Laurie, chafing in her role of being the one to keep Doctor Manhattan happy, as she tells Danny when she meets him later for dinner, reminisces about the old days and wonders what happened to them. The final line is perfect: she says “There don't seem to be so many laughs around these days” and Danny replies sombrely “What do you expect? The Comedian is dead.”

Trollheart 05-06-2022 07:39 PM


Rorschach (from his journal): “Dog carcass in alley this morning, tire tread on burst stomach. This city is afraid of me. I have seen its true face. The streets are extended gutters and the gutters are full of blood and when the drains finally scab over all the vermin will drown. The accumulated filth of all their sex and murder will foam up about their waists and all the whores and politicians will look up and shout “Save us!” And I'll look down and whisper “No”.”

Cop 1: “I saw the body and he looked beefy enough to protect himself. For a guy his age he was in terrific shape.”
Cop 2: “What, you mean apart from being dead?”

Hollis: “So there I was in the supermarket buying dogfood for ol' Phantom here. I turn the corner of the aisle and wham! Who do I bump into in the aisles but the Screaming Skull! You remember him?”
Danny: “I think I heard you mention him..”
Hollis: “I put him away a dozen times in the forties. But he reformed and turned to Jesus since then. Married, got two kids. We traded addresses. Nice guy.”

Nite Owl: “That little stain, is that bean juice?”
Rorschach: “That's right. Human bean juice!”

(I can't believe that for years - literally, years - I didn't get the double meaning here. I thought Rorschach was just likening bean juice to blood because of its colour and the fact that it's kind of the life fluid of a bean. It took me a long time to realise he was making a double entendre here, referring to “human bean juice” but meaning “human being juice”!)

Rorschach (from his journal): “This city is dying of rabies. Is the best I can do to wipe random flecks of foam from its lips?”

Rorschach (to Veidt): “He (the Comedian) stood up for his country, Veidt. Never let anyone retire him . Never cashed in on his reputation. Never set up a company selling posters and diet books and toy soldiers based on himself. Never became a prostitute.”

Rorschach (from his journal): “Meeting with Veidt left bad taste in mouth. He is shallow, pampered, decadent, betraying even his own liberal affectations. Possibly homosexual? Must remember to investigate further. Why are so few of us left active, healthy and without personality disorders?”

(This is a very telling passage: first, it shows that as we could see, Rorschach has little time for Veidt but it also hints that he has serious problems with homosexuals, and if Veidt is one then he plans to find out. More importantly though, he deplores the fact that so few of his comrades are left without personality disorders. He obviously includes himself as one who does not have a problem, while refusing to recognise that if anyone has a serious personality disorder, it is him. To Rorschach, everyone else is sick and he is the only sane man in the asylum. This speaks volumes as to how he sees the world, and how he deals with it, and also explains to a degree why he is such a cold, unfeeling, uncaring person and yet fights for what he believes to be right.)

Rorschach (from his journal): “I shall go and tell the indestructible man that someone plans to murder him.”

Rorschach: “I'm not here to speculate upon the moral lapses of men who died in their country's service. I came to warn...”
Jupiter: “Moral lapses! Rape is a moral lapse? You know he broke her ribs? You know he almost choked her!”

Rorschach (from his journal): “Nobody cares. Nobody but me. Are they right? Is it futile? Soon there will be war. Millions will burn. Millions will perish in sickness and misery. What does one death matter against so many? Because there is good and there is evil, and evil must be punished. Even in the face of Armageddon, I shall not compromise in this. But there are so many deserving of retribution, and there is so little time.”

(This speech totally encapsulates Rorschach's view of the world. No matter the cost, no matter the mitigating factors, he sees evil as an absolute and there is only one way to deal with it. Like his mask, like his name, like his very soul, the world for Rorschach is black and white, and there are no grey areas. This is what he holds on to, what sustains him in the terrible times to come. This is also what will prove to be his undoing, and will impact massively upon the storyline, to the end and beyond.)

Between the lines

If there was ever a graphic novel which, like some movies, you really have to read over and over again, and that even if you pay close attention you're still not going to see everything there is to see in it, then this is the one. I have read it about six times and I still find new surprises each time I do. It's like an onion with a skin that is endless, revealing more and more as each layer is peeled away. You simply cannot skim through this comic book: well, you can, but you will miss so much. This is one of the reasons, I expect, why making it into a movie, somewhat like it was with Nineteen Eighty-Four, seemed almost impossible. Here I'll be pointing out all the little things you might miss if this is your first read through.

From the very first panel we're shown how deep the writing and the art is in this, as Rorschach goes on about the gutters being full of blood, we see a stained pavement with blood all over it, and someone is washing it away, while beside him another man holds a sign that says “The end is nigh”. A moment later, Rorschach speaks of a road leading over a precipice and then the world standing on the brink, as we see the view from a window, down onto the street, and a hand appears at the window, which we will shortly discover is that of a cop, one of a team investigating what turns out to be a murder or a suicide.

Another great little touch is when the cops investigating Blake's murder head out for the lift they're asked “What floor” and say the ground floor. As the lift attendant mutters “Ground floor comin' up” we see a panel showing Blake falling headfirst from the window to his death: the ultimate ground floor!

Behind the kid reading Tales of the Black Freighter you can just about see a headline on a newspaper, which screams “Vietnam 51st State: official!” So in this reality, the southeast Asian country has in fact been annexed by the USA and added to its states following their quick victory.

Again, as the lead detective suggests “What say we let this one just drop out of sight?” we see the figure of the plummeting Blake.

As the two cops pass the sign bearer one shivers, the other asks what's wrong and the first one surmises he must be getting a cold. Cold war?

A sign on the wall near the building from which Blake has been thrown read “Mmeltdowns!” With the threat of nuclear war in the air, surely tempting fate?

On the wall as the two ex-Nite Owls trade stories is a partial headline of a newspaper which reads “Hero retires, opens own auto business” and outside, as Hollis, the older one, leaves, we see the word Masons going down the side of the building, which immediately tells us the owner is Danny Mason, without it having to be explained. Also interestingly, someone has graffitied over the front of the shop the question “Who watches the Watchmen?” Also shown is the word “Pale horse”, an obvious reference to Revelations, and with the possible apocalypse on the horizon, chillingly appropriate.

Another clever touch: a sign outside the garage says “We fix 'em” and “Obsolete models a specialty!” Given that the younger (though also retired) Nite Owl has just left the older one who is standing there looking sad, this is particularly telling. The torch has been passed, indeed.

On a postbox another headline seems to shout “Russia protests US advances in Afghanistan”, adding more political tension and telling us a little more about the state of the relations between the two biggest superpowers in the world.

A sticker on a window advises “Stick with Dick in 84”, telling is that Nixon has retained the presidency right up to at least 1984 and is surely in power now until 1988.

As Rorschach writes in his journal he sits on a roof high above the city. His disapproving description of the metropolis below throws into sharp relief his position as he sits in judgement, high above the city, almost in a mockery of the likes of Spiderman and Batman; rather than anxious to protect New York, he is disgusted by it. But he is more disgusted at the crime that runs rampant through its streets like idiot children with machetes and guns. Rorschach is almost a superhero by default.

More graffiti: on a shop is scrawled the words “Viet Bronx”...

Interesting little clue as to how technology has progressed here in this alternate Earth. As we see the towering imposing magnificence of Veidt's headquarters, in the distance sailing through the sky is an airship. Seems such things survived, perhaps even thrived, in this world right up to the late eighties.

As Rorschach leaves Veidt, he says “Be seeing you”. A clear tip of Moore's hat to the TV cult series, The Prisoner.

In the last panel of this confrontation, as Veidt stands looking out the window of his office, cutting a similar figure to how Nite Owl was left after seeing Rorschach and being somewhat humiliated by him, there is a newspaper open on the desk behind him. Its headline says “Nuclear doomsday clock stands at five to twelve, say experts", further confirming that the holocaust is hovering ever closer. Another panel mentions “Geneva Talks: US refuse to discuss Doctor Manhattan”. And so we have another mention of the enigmatic figure.

Quite matter-of-factly, and without any warning or preamble, we see Doctor Manhattan put his hand into a computer – as in, he passes through it like a ghost - and it's clear that this is a being with almost godlike powers. It is not remarked upon; Laurie obviously is aware of his powers and Rorschach has been teleported outside by now.

As Rorschach leaves the Experimental Centre, he walks past the wreckage of a building. It's interesting that we can see a sign in the rubble which shows that it was the “Gunga Diner”, which only a few pages ago was intact. Obviously some ethnic/racial violence going on here. Also, on the wall is scrawled again that question “Who watches the Watchmen?” and on the other side a bill for “Pale Horse” at Madison Square Gardens. We've seen this name on the back of a biker jacket, and it's becoming clear they're some sort of rock band. Extremely telling too is the word “Kristalnacht” daubed on the wall opposite the now-ruin of the “Gunga Diner”. Someone is evidently putting the ideas of that night of terror into practice, fifty years on.

Leaving the restaurant, Laurie remembers with distaste the costume she wore as a superhero: “That stupid little short skirt! And the neckline going down to my navel! God, that was so dreadful!” And Danny, walking slightly behind her and no doubt suddenly envisaging her younger and in that skimpy costume, agrees hoarsely “God, yes, dreadful.”

Tales of the Black Freighter

The genius of this comic - sorry, sorry: graphic novel! - is just astounding! Not content with creating an amazing and absorbing storyline, Moore has another sub-comic going, centring around a comic book called Tales of the Black Freighter. This proceeds within Watchmen, in tandem with it and will eventually, at the end, dovetail with the main storyline in the most accomplished and incredible piece of storytelling I have seen in a very long time.

Here, we see our very first glimpse of the other comic; as the detectives exit the lift, a kid is reading the comic leaning against the wall. You have to look hard, but that's the title on the cover.

After the storm: Under the hood

Each chapter of the story is followed by some text material that refers to, or adds to the story. In the initial chapters these are extracts from Under the hood, the autobiography of the original Nite Owl, Hollis Mason. This helps to fill in the history of the superheroes, gives a flavour of the time before this and also opens a window into why someone would want to pull on a funny suit and go out fighting crime at night. It's also a clever play on words, given that Mason is now a mechanic.

The opening chapter tells of how Mason, having heard about the emergence of the very first bona fide real-world superhero, Hooded Justice, and wishing to make a difference, joined the police. It was while on his beat that he came across Action Comics and learned of Superman, and shortly afterwards that he would don his own costume and become the first Nite Owl.

The story so far

It's 1985 and Richard Nixon has won yet another term, presumably on the basis of the US winning the war in Vietnam within weeks. This has been achieved through the aid of one of many government sanctioned superheroes, Doctor Manhattan, who is a giant with blue skin. One of the other superheroes - who are, largely, all by now retired - has been killed and another who knew him, who goes by the name of Rorschach, is trying to find out who murdered the Comedian. He fears that someone is targeting “masks”, which is to say, superheroes. The world is hovering on the brink of nuclear war, much of it possibly brought about by the distrust the Soviet Union has in America's biggest and most unstoppable weapon, the aforementioned Doctor Manhattan.

The Comedian has a chequered past: he worked for the government abroad, taking down regimes they wished gone, and Adrian Veidt, another ex-superhero, turned media mogul, believes that his killing may have been the result of that. A man makes a lot of enemies in that field. Rorschach is not convinced though. He also visits another old ally, Danny Dreiberg, who was once the superhero known as Nite Owl, but is now also in retirement. In fact, this retirement is enforced, as something called the Keene Act outlawed all but two of the superheroes, the late Comedian and of course Doctor Manhattan, who is still working for the government in the field this time of research and development.

One of the other ex-heroes, Laurie Jupiter, has history with the Comedian, believing he tried to rape her mother back in the forties when they were both Minutemen, the precursors to today's (or rather, yesterday's) superheroes, and Rorschach must wonder if she is involved in the murder in some way? She is far too slight and weak to have been able to throw him through the window through which he fell, but perhaps she contracted someone?

An interesting point about these superheroes is that none of them - with the obvious exception of Doctor Manhattan - seem to have any actual superpowers. There are no Mister Fantastics, no Spidermen, no Hulks. They all seem to simply trust in (or trusted in) agility, cunning and physical stamina to carry out their duties. There are no laser eyes, sixth senses or flaming bodies here. To all intents and purposes, the superheroes of Watchmen are just really quite ordinary people. On the surface. If they can, as a group, be compared to anyone, it's probably Batman.

Another very clever thing about this incredible comic book is that each chapter (or originally, issue) ends with a stylised clock against a black background. In chapter/issue one the clock's hands stand at 23:48, or twelve minutes to midnight, and there are exactly twelve chapters, to reflect the original twelve issues that made up Watchmen. What will happen when the clock reaches midnight? It's almost televisual in its immediacy, like the digital clock that would come up at the end of the series 24 and run down to the last second of that particular hour. It really hits home and makes you realise that the whole thing is counting down to some momentous and surely terrible event.

Mindfulness 05-07-2022 03:57 PM

awesome work Trollheart!

Trollheart 05-07-2022 06:32 PM

Hey thanks. Have you read it?

Mindfulness 05-07-2022 07:22 PM


Originally Posted by Trollheart (Post 2204518)
Hey thanks. Have you read it?

Nope, just think you're journals are nice. Mine are mostly just copy and paste video links and typing a few words but yours, on another level :love:

Trollheart 05-22-2022 10:13 AM
Chapter II: Absent Friends

( A quote from Elvis Costello: ”And I'm up while the dawn is breaking, even though my heart is aching. I should be drinking a toast to absent friends instead of these comedians.”)

It's the morning of the funeral of Eddie Blake, but Lori does not want to attend the Comedian's burial and so has instead gone to visit her mother. She is shocked to find out that the woman who used to be the Silk Specter, Sally Jupiter, still has feelings for Blake, after what he did, but her mother says the past is history. This leads to recollections about Sally's own past, when she was part of the Minutemen, and she remembers vividly the time Eddie Blake attacked and tried to rape her, she only being saved by the intervention of one of the other superheroes, Hooded Justice. At the graveside, we see a sad and thoughtful Adrian Veidt, as his own memories drift back to a time we're not told the date of, but I'm thinking it's somewhere in the sixties or seventies. He remembers another grouping of superheroes, who called themselves The Crimebusters, but quickly disbanded when it became clear there really was no real interest there. We see Rorschach and Nite Owl, two of the few (other than the organiser, Captain Metropolis) who seem to be into the idea, though Rorschach believes the group is too big and cumbersome, and will only get in the way of the work.

The Comedian spits on the idea, laughing at how little the others seem to know of the world and how futile their attempts to change it will be, must be. “Inside thirty years”, he sneers, “the nukes will be flying like mayflys. Then Ozzy (Veidt, whose alter-ego was Ozymandius) here will be the smartest man on the cinder!” Back at the graveside, we now see the memories of the enigmatic Doctor Manhattan, as he recalls the victory in Viet Nam, 1971. He is keeping company with The Comedian, who tells him he can't wait to get out of the place, when a woman approaches. She is evidently carrying Blake's baby, but he is not interested. Enraged, hurt, she slashes him with a bottle and he shoots her down like a dog, despite Manhattan's protests.

Next to remember is Nite Owl, and he recalls a police strike which resulted in riots on the street as the superheroes (specifically, he and The Comedian) took control and tried to restore order. He notes that Blake seems to be happiest when he's making the crowd run, throwing tear gas cannisters and basically acting like a riot cop, whereas Danny is more worried about maintaining order but not hurting anyone. The Comedian seems to treat the whole thing as a massive joke, an adventure; it seems to fire his blood and Danny must wonder what sort of person could actually enjoy and look forward to scenes like these?
As he leaves the cemetery, a man in an overcoat is shadowed by Rorschach, who knows the stranger as Moloch, one of his arch enemies. Moloch tells Rorschach, after he's been beaten up a little, that he has renounced being a supervillain, paid his debt to society and now just wants to live as an ordinary citizen. He tells Rorschach that Blake came to visit him, without his mask but wearing his costume, so that his old enemy could tell they were one and the same. Blake was drunk, he tells Rorschach, and started babbling about some list, and then an airship and an island, saying he wished he had never got involved. This was all a week before he died. He talked about writers, Moloch tells Rorschach; writers and artists and scientists, all on that island, and he seemed to shudder at what was being done there. And then he left.


Blake: “Once you figure out what a joke everything is, bein' The Comedian is the only thing that makes sense!”

Doctor Manhattan: “Blake! She was pregnant! You gunned her down!”
Blake: “Yeah that's right. Pregnant woman and I gunned her down. Bang! And you know what? You watched me. You coulda changed the gun into steam or the bullets into mercury or the bottle into snowflakes. You could have teleported either of us to Australia, but you didn't lift a finger. You don't really give a damn about human beings. I've watched you.”

Rorschach (from his journal): “42nd Street: women's breasts draped across every billboard, every sign, littering the sidewalk. Was offered French love and Swedish love, but not American love. American love, like Coke in green glass bottles, they don't make it anymore. Thought about Moloch's story on way to cemetery. Could all be lies. Could all be part of a revenge scheme, planned during his decade behind bars. But if true, then what? Puzzling reference to an island. Also to Doctor Manhattan. Might he be at risk? So many questions. Never mind: answers soon. Nothing is insoluble. Nothing is hopeless. Not while there's life.”

Rorschach (from his journal): “Heard joke once: man goes to doctor, says he feels depressed. Says life is harsh and cruel. Says he feel all alone in a threatening world, where what lies ahead is vague and uncertain. Doctor says "Treatment is simple. Great clown Pagliacci is in town tonight. Go see him. Should pick you up." Man bursts into tears. "But Doctor, he says, I am Pagliacci!”

Between the Lines

The very first panel shows a statue of an angel in a graveyard, as we witness the arrival of Blake's coffin to the cemetery, and a speech bubble offscreen says “Will you look at her! Pretty as a picture, and still keeping her figure!” The comment is from Lori's mother, directed at her daughter in a sort of offhand jealous/spiteful way, but the positioning of it makes it look like someone is talking about the angel.

As the gates are closed for the ceremony, we see a hand holding a sign down which the rain trickles, leaking down the pole onto the hand. In the next panel we can see it's a doomsayer, plying his trade outside the graveyard. In the background, on the other coast, Lori's mother says “In the end, you just wash your hands of it.”
When Lori's mother asks “Without your health, where are you?” we see again the scene as Blake is lowered into his grave, and in the next panel Lori, annoyed at her mother's attempts to get rid of the smoke from the cigarette she is smoking stubs it out and says testily “There! It's dead. Extinguished.” She might well be talking about Blake.

Lori's mother snarls “It rains on the just and the unjust alike” and we see Adrian Veidt under an umbrella at the funeral. Is he just or unjust? Time will tell, but keep a close eye on the multi-millionaire industrialist.

As Sally breathes “Life goes on, honey” outside the cemetery we see a man walking up and down with a placard that refutes this: “The end is nigh!” it howls. I have my suspicions about the signbearer too, but I don't remember if I'm right so will reserve judgement for now.

Time for some more on-point graffiti: as the smoke clears and Nite Owl and The Comedian walk away, having dispensed the crowds, a rioter with a handkerchief pressed to her nose and mouth stands at one of the walls and again spraypaints the words “Who watches the Watchmen?”

As Rorschach walks past a seedy movie theatre, the attraction is “Enola Gay and the Little Boys”. Obviously, Enola Gay was the B-29 which dropped the atom bomb on Hiroshima and Little Boy was the bomb itself, but even aside from that, the inference of underage homosexual acts is hard to miss.

Those clever little touches

I still find it amazing that this comic book manages to play like TV at times. In one panel (a sequence of three, reproduced below) Lori's mother holds an old photograph of her and the Minutemen, the superheroes from the forties, of whom Night Owl, the Comedian and herself were part, and a tear drops on it. Light shines on the tear. Next panel, a camera flashes and then in the third panel we're back in time as the camera flashes again and the picture she now holds is originally taken. I could see that working onscreen, easily: it may have, I don't recall that much about the movie. But to be able to get that across in a few graphics drawn on paper is truly amazing.

It's interesting too to note that when Hooded Justice rescues Lori's mother, he must believe that there is something in what the Comedian suggested, ie that she asked for it. Rather than help her up or comfort her or ask if she is okay, he stands over her like a judgment, looming down in a personification of distaste and disgust, and growls “Get up, and for god's sake, cover yourself!” as if the sight of her half-naked is both an affront to his sensibilities, and proof of what she has just been involved in.
Another fantastic little link: when we go back to the past, as the new superhero squadron to be known as The Crimebusters (yeah) :rolleyes: fall very quickly apart under the withering contempt of The Comedian, Captain Metropolis, who had organised the group (this was to have been their first meeting) stammers “Somebody has to do it, don't you see? Somebody has to save the world!” While he's protesting about this as everyone leaves, as he appeals for support, we see the thoughtful face of Adrian Veidt, in his mask, then cut back to the present, his face is there again, now without the mask but as pensive as ever. Someone has to save the world? He believes this, and he believes too that he is that someone. And he will. He will save the world. But the world may wish he had not bothered.

And another good one: as The Comedian accuses Doctor Manhattan of being out of touch and not caring for humans, the big blue giant strikes a certain thoughtful pose. As his memories return him to the present and the graveside, he is again in that exact pose.

I'm sure it's coincidence (or maybe not) but when The Comedian shoots at a rioter, the flare from his gun looks like the happy face badge he wears, his own insignia.

As others toss in earth on the coffin, as per our custom, Danny drops his happy face badge (cleaned of blood now) onto the wooden box. It's certainly not the biggest fall this little piece of tin has had recently, but it is the last.

As Rorschach visits the grave of The Comedian to pay his last respects, we see once again Blake's final fall played out, and the last panel of that fall is totally red, signifying obviously the blood as he hits. The next panel shows blood-red roses (which we've already seen and which Rorschach has remarked upon -”Only our enemies leave us roses”) with rain dripping on them, and the symbolism could not be stronger, as Rorschach snips one off and sticks it in his lapel.

After the storm: Under the Hood

Mason goes on to describe how he became a superhero, the challenges that existed even in as seemingly simple a thing as designing his costume - “Should I have a cape, or no cape? What sort of a mask should I have? Do bright colours make you more of a target than dark ones?” - and how he eventually joined the emerging league of superheroes (or masked adventurers, as he prefers to refer to them, and probably more accurately, since as has already been pointed out in the first chapter, these guys had no actual superpowers), together mostly for publicity purposes in the forties, the Minutemen. He alludes strongly to The Comedian's attempt to rape Sally Jupiter, but oddly informs us that Hooded Justice and she were an item (“though I never saw him kiss her”), perhaps making sense of his cold reaction to her almost-rape at the time. He recalls the tragic death of Dollar Bill, one of the younger heroes, who was actually contracted to protect a particular bank, and whose cloak got entangled in the bank's revolving doors, leading to him being shot dead.

He also notes the damage being a superhero or masked adventurer had on some of the people he knew, some ending up in asylums, some dying, some marrying. He speaks too of how while the Minutemen were prancing about America's city skylines, dealing out justice, “Across in Europe they were making soap and lampshades out of human beings” and mentions that some of the heroes held what could only be deemed questionable attitudes, some supporting Hitler, some making racist slurs. By the end of the forties, he tells us that there was simply “Nobody interesting left to fight, and nothing worth talking about”, so they disbanded. But, he says with a sigh, the damage had already been done.

The story so far

All of the ex-superheroes (or as many as are left alive or at liberty) gather at the graveyard to bid farewell to their comrade, as Edward Blake, formerly known as The Comedian, begins his final journey. Thoughts of each drift back to the past, and some of the events we have been told about or which have been alluded to are explored and in part explained, particularly the almost-rape of Lori's mother. Rorschach meets Moloch, one of their old enemies, who has retired now and is dying of cancer. He tells him that Blake visited him about a week before he was found splattered all over the pavement, and spoke in a drunken fog about a mysterious island and some very nefarious things that were going on there, things he was involved in in some way.

Note: incidentally, I was wrong about the clock at the end of chapter one. It actually stands at eleven minutes to twelve, since by the final chapter we want to hit midnight, not one minute to. So chapter two then ends with the clock at ten minutes to the witching hour...

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