|“Watchmen” Chapter XI: “The Abyss Gazes Also”|
Each week until the March release of Warner Bros.’ film adaptation of Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons’ “Watchmen,” Eisner-Award winning retailers Carr D’Angelo (Earth-2 Comics in Sherman Oaks, CA) and Atom! Freeman (Brave New World in Newhall, CA) will review one chapter of the landmark DC Comics graphic novel with a new perspective.
Carr is reading from his “Absolute Watchmen” while Atom! is perusing his well-worn early edition trade paperback. There’s also a full set of original issues handy to settle the questions of what was in the first printing and what wasn’t.
If you missed previous installments of RE-READING WATCHMEN, you can check out Atom! and Carr’s past commentaries right here.
CHAPTER VI: THE ABYSS GAZES ALSO
Pages 1-2: A Pretty Butterfly
ATOM!: That is obviously a picture of girls making out.
CARR: The last two issues were so much about the style as the content that this issue feels like the world’s first decompressed comic. There’s a 10-page scene that caps the issue. A 10-page scene! “Watchmen” has rarely stayed in the same scene from panel to panel. It’s a stylistic departure, but maybe Moore needed to build that in after the symmetrical design of last issue, which must have been massively time-consuming.
ATOM!: Maybe he figured he hadn’t innovated the entire medium since the last page of the last issue. Slacker.
CARR: The two shots of Walter’s face on that first page are brilliant. His attempt to play dumb. I bet it’s harder writing smart characters than stupid ones.
ATOM!: And again with the girls making out pictures. What is this guy obsessed?
Pages 3-4: What Walter Saw
CARR: Once again, it comes back to sex. Young Walter is traumatized by seeing his mother have sex. He sees it as a violent act. Yet strangely, he admires the Comedian.
ATOM!: Am I reading too much into the fact that the John is in a pinstriped suit that looks a bit like Rorschach’s ‘uniform’ (costume just seems weird here).
CARR: And the purple doorknob looks like his hat! Seriously though, that’s how this book gets into your head. So many connections are written and drawn into the story that anything that looks like a connection is presumed to be intentional. But the more I think about it, giving the John the pinstriped suit does make sense. Little Walter sees that as the uniform (good word) of macho violence, the armor you wear while working out your aggressions against your mother.
What we’re getting in this sequence is the background that explains some of Rorschach’s journal entries in preivous issues. He hates his landlady who strikes him as a bit of a slut, and he later says she reminds him of his mother. He also reacts to the “lover silhouettes” in the alley as “haunting.” Well, they haunt him because they remind him of what he saw in his mother’s bedroom growing up.
Pages 5-10: A History of Violence
CARR: Has anyone in America ever called anyone a “whore son?” Sounds a bit too British for me. Maybe Moore can justify it by saying the existence of Dr. Manhattan brought the term “whore son” into popularity in America somehow but I doubt it.
ATOM!: I’m having a hard time imagining a hardened prisoner threatening that “you’re gonna make in your grays” as well, but, what are you gonna do?
CARR: And on the previous page, his mom calls him a “little shit” so there wasn’t an editorial barrier to tougher language. There may have been a slang barrier here.
Dr. Long and his wife’s intimacy casts a shadow on the wall, another use of the recurring image. Do you remember “Comics Journal” #116? It was a special “Watchmen” issue and the cover was Dave Gibbons’ illustration of his desk and the light created a yellow circle and the way the pencil and paper clips laid out, it looked like the bloody smiley face. I am trying very hard to see that same thing on Long’s desk but I don’t think it’s there.
ATOM!: Sometimes a desk is just a desk.
So, what are the chances that you can see through viscous fluids between two layers of latex?
CARR: Let’s talk about the mask. The one in the movie looks furry to me. Have you noticed that? The Kitty Genovese story is a true story and another example of Moore’s use of real world events to give verisimilitude to the proceedings. I grew up in New York so it was a familiar story, but I wonder if other people thought this was made up. It usually comes up in psychology classes to explain the concept of diffused responsibility; people are more likely to step forward and do something when they are the only one there. But when there’s a crowd, it’s easier to be one of many not doing anything. Again, lots of repeated visual motifs (hands holding the mask, the corner of the newspaper).
Pages 11-15: Jailhouse Rot, the Brave and the Bold
ATOM!: How many married men do you know would say, “Not tonight, honey, I’m too busy studying the crazy man?” Something was definitely wrong with the good doctor long before Walter Kovacs showed up.
CARR: I love the scenes of Rorschach and Nite-Owl palling around. A real fun ’60s team-up vibe. When there were thoughts about spinning-off “Watchmen,” I think a Rorschach/Nite-Owl prequel series was one of the possibilities mentioned.
ATOM!: Generally, I’m against the idea of a “Watchmen” spin-off. But Rorschach and Nite-Owl go on the road and learn about how society is changing and Nite-Owl’s junior sidekick gets addicted to the white pony? That, I’m totally down for.
Pages 16-25: Origin-al Sins
ATOM!: “In Prison. Yourself?” Classic stuff.
CARR: Reminds me of foreshadowing from earlier issues. Lots of shots of Rorschach behind fences (the military base) and gates (the cemetary) created the image of Rorschach in prison before he was actually arrested.
ATOM!: Again with the lesbians! Dr. Long is some kind of pervert. I think one of them is Ann Margret.
CARR: One of my favorite jokes to tell is the one about the psychiatrist showing a guy Rorschach blots. It’s an improv-style joke where you can describe the most perverse images that the guy sees in the blots. After a few lurid descriptions, the doctor says, “Well, I am concerned you have some serious problems.” To which the subject responds, “I got problems? You’re the one showing me the dirty pictures!” I think that’s a good summary of this issue.
ATOM!: You know, if I’m going to all the trouble to do old, tired material, the least you can do is not explain it. I didn’t really see girls making out. It’s obvious that they’re all Dick Cheney making out with himself.
CARR: So many of the Rorschach sequences are silent, really training you as a comic book reader to look at the pictures and glean information. You really need to read pages 19-20 carefully to come to the same conclusion as Rorachach. Though I do like reading it out loud with Bob Haney-style thought balloons. “What’s this in the furnace? A piece of a little girl’s dress? And in this cupboard, so many knives. And it looks like they’ve been used recently. What’s that noise? Just dogs playing with a bone, but it looks like a… no, it can’t be… that bone looks (choke) human.”
ATOM!: Okay, one the scale of one to Creepy, “Behind you” just fell well below Butchered Dogs Flying in Through The Windows At You.
CARR: Wasn’t the “cut off a limb or burn to death” challenge also the poetic justice at the end of “Mad Max?”
ATOM!: I think that was Shakespeare’s “Much Ado About Nothing.” No, wait, I think you’re right. It was “Mad Max.”
CARR: Did you ever read the essay Grant Morrison wrote listing Alan Moore’s sources for his work, such as the novel “Super-Folks” as inspiration for “Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow?” and “Miracleman?” Is this bit a homage to “Mad Max “or an out-and-out rip-off? Or maybe there’s a source that precedes “Mad Max.”
ATOM!: Hrrmmm. I dunno. Some gags become so common that you forget that they had to have been done first. Maybe.
CARR: Like the Rorschach blot joke?
Pages 26-28: Nietzsche Keen
ATOM!: Poor Dr Long. He thought he was making his career. Now, he has no choice but to put on a costume and go after drug dealers.
CARR: If Nietzsche didn’t exist, Alan Moore would have had to invent him. The “abyss gazes also” quote is so perfect for this issue.
Walter Kovacs’ Police File
CARR: There’s a picture of young Walter wearing a pinstripe suit. I also like the description of the contents of his pockets. All the sugar and cologne he “borrowed” from Dreiberg. And the home he came from was the Charlton Home. I don’t think I noticed that before. Another tip of the hat to the inspiration. And in terms of re-inventing the Question, Rorschach blots were a smart theme to replace the blank face mask. Instead of a blank, a blot shows you something you want to see.
ATOM!: So, did young Walter Kovacs illustrate for Frankie Goes To Hollywood album covers?
CARR: You know, this is the halfway point, six issues out of twelve. Plot-wise, it seems we don’t know much except that the Comedian was murdered and Rorschach’s theory that there’s a conspiracy against the masked vigilantes must be true since we know he was framed for Moloch’s murder. If you asked me for my recollection, I would have thought we knew more about the mysterious island by now. So far, it’s a simple story but told in a complex way.
ATOM!: Or, perhaps that’s just what you’re projecting on it.
Carr D’Angelo is a member of the Board of Directors of ComicsPRO, the Comics Professional Retailer Organization. and co-owner of Earth-2 Comics in Sherman Oaks, California, the 2007 winner of the Will Eisner Spirit of Comics Retailer Award. Visit them online at: http://www.earth2comics.com.
Atom! Freeman co-owns Brave New World Comics (2008 winner of the Will Eisner Spirit of Comics Retailer Award) in Santa Clarita with his wife Portlyn. Since Watchmen came out the first time, he’s lived in 10 different houses, had 5 different jobs, got married, bought a business and had a son. Read it today and maybe you can, too.