This is the second article based on re-reading Watchmen. The first covered chapters one through six. This article covers the remaining six chapters. Note that this article does contain spoilers (if you consider notes about a book published over twenty years ago "spoilers").
A reminder from the first article: in graphic novels, nothing appears by accident. Not all such novels are as rich and textured as this one, but Watchmen is so visually rich it is worth detailed study. These articles don't pretend to be the last word on the book; they are just some notes from my reading.
Motifs & Devices
As mentioned in the first article, Watchmen is rich with visual motifs. One very predominant motif is the alternation of panels between two different scenes. The alternation can be between a flashback and the present, or between two scenes occurring at the same time. Another strong motif is that each chapter begins and ends with a connecting or related image.
Literary themes also occur as repeated motifs in Watchmen. One of the most powerful is the idea of connections. The latter half of the novel is particularly rich in connections as threads established in the first half are woven together.
We now rejoin the story in progress. Kovacs (Rorschach) has been captured and imprisoned; Jon (Dr. Manhattan) has gone to Mars; and Laurie (Silk Spectre) and Dan (Nite Owl) have joined forces...
A common device in Watchmen is multi-use dialog. Often the dialog from one source is over a different visual and provides comment to the visual. This device is used repeatedly through the novel and adds a texture of counterpoint, humor and irony.
Reflections are a repeating motif in this chapter. The opening image is of the owlship reflected in one of Nite Owl's goggles. Dust wiped first from the right (our right) goggle lens, then from the right owlship window.
Laurie explores the "batcave", Nite Owl's underground garage. A nice touch: Dan upstairs replacing the sugar cubes recently depleted by Rorschach. Laurie sets the garage on fire looking for the dashboard lighter.
Many Batman references here. Laurie's line, "It's like a magician's cave or something..." Nite Owl keeps souvenirs (but no giant penny). Different owl costumes for different occasions. There's a flying ship and a car and personal flying "scooters".
Back upstairs Dan and Laurie watch TV. The news mentions the disappearance of Max Shea (the author of the Pirate sub-story) and the Russian invasion. Their foreshadowed relationship becomes physical, while the TV sound track provides counterpoint. "...Entering spaces we thought impossible." "It's incredible that someone so unforgettable should think I am unforgettable, too." The TV gymnastics by Ozymandias provides ironic counterpoint to the gymnastics of Laurie and Dan.
Later, TV white noise reflected in his discarded glasses, Dan dreams of sex... and nuclear war. The now familiar image of standing lovers is in his dream.
For the first time, the book veers from the 3x3 panel format used so far. Not all pages have nine panels, sometimes panels are merged into larger panels. But here in the dream there are smaller panels.
Dan and Laurie go on patrol for the first time in many years. They save occupants from an apartment fire, which kindles their passion. The chapter ends with a repeat of the owlship's flamethrower (different reason!) and the image of the ship.
To me, this is the sad chapter. It begins and ends with an image of a trophy given to Hollis Mason, the first Nite Owl. Alternating panels of a phone call between Hollis and Sally (Laurie's mom). Note the respective images of the same group photo which both own.
It's Halloween, and an image of a boy in pirate costume segues back to the Pirate sub-story. Dual level dialog touches the news vendor's wife and the sailor's wife. Dr. Malcolm Long buys a paper, the flip side of the same scene in chapter VI.
Back in the owlcave, a now common visual device: Several panels combine show the same large "set", but divisions between panels allow the same character to appear in more than one. This opens the visual scope and provides a sense of character movement. Dan uses the
It begins to appear things are not quite what they seem. We find out where Max Shea is, but not yet exactly why.
Smoke is a repeated motif in this chapter: Laurie, Detective Fine, Big Figure, the comic-reading kid and the owlship all smoke.
Madness and riots form another motif. A prison riot breaks out, Nite Owl and Silk Spectre rescue Rorschach from prison. A small riot begins at the news stand and ends with the death of Hollis Mason (and his dog). Panels alternate between past Nite Owl battles and this one. Hollis is slain with his own trophy.
A close up of a flying perfume bottle; Nostalgia by Viedt. (Does the "N" remind you vaguely of Superman's "S"?) In this case, the flying bottle foreshadows the chapter's end.
Jon and Laurie on Mars. Jon's palace looks like the innards of a giant clock (another time reference). There is much talk about time and many flashbacks.
An image of slow time inside a snow globe. The globe falls and shatters, pre-echoing the perfume bottle's chapter-end destiny. Byron Lewis drops his drink in a flashback, another pre-echo. Laurie's grasp of the goblet segues to her grasp of a barbell in flashback.
There's a cute Watergate reference–how it might have gone. Blake holds Laurie's chin the same way in two different scenes. The chapter's punch line is telegraphed repeatedly.
Laurie throws the perfume bottle, shattering Jon's palace.
The camera pulls up and up and up. We see a smiley face Martian crater (echoing the novel's beginning). The camera pulls back until Mars is just another dot.
The image of a radar screen: DEFCON 2. A white-haired Nixon arrives at an underground base to monitor and weather possible nuclear war. He carries the "football"... which is actually football-shaped.
The Pirate story turns very dark and mad. Two figures on horseback are echoed by two figures on bicycles.
Nite Owl and Rorschach together again. Two sides of a Batman coin: one too mild; one too wild. They interrogate the delivery truck seen in chapters past (e.g. chapter V).
Perhaps unregarded then was the triangle logo on that delivery truck. The triangle appears again on the side of an ocean-going ship. (We learn what Max Shea has been doing and how he ends.)
Nite Owl and Rorschach invade Adrian Viedt's offices. The pyramid image at last revealed.
Rorschach mails his diary to "a friend", and we follow the diary's path to its ironic destination.
Ozymandias in his Antarctic palace watches his monitors as Nite Owl and Rorschach crash land nearby. (The tie back to the opening image is less strong than in other chapters, but radar=monitor.
White snow and white noise begins the chapter. The camera pulls back to reveal Viedt's vivarium. Later the snow will invade the tropical garden covering certain evidence.
At 11:25 Viedt presses a button. A shape partially seen two panels prior is absent in a repeated view three panels later.
Threads and connections begin to come together.
We see The Gordian Knot Lock Company (the ones who did Dan's door many chapters earlier). Viedt speaks of Alexander and the Gordian Knot. Joey the cabdrivers' girlfriend gives her a book, titled Knots by R.D.Laing.
We learn both the news vendor and the kid are named Bernie. (A poster with a tropical picture seen behind Bernie's coffee segues to Viedt's vivarium.)
The Pirate story reaches it horrific conclusion. Gloria finds Dr. Malcolm Long, now a changed man. Joey and her girlfriend fight. The cops, Fine and Bourquin intercede along with Malcolm.
We learn, finally, what's really going on. Viedt, a smart criminal, explains after it's too late. Much too late.
New York goes white.
A yellow disc splatters in red blood recalls the book's beginning. There's much more blood than in chapter I. Full page drawings show the destruction of half of New York.
Pale Horse was playing in concert. ("Death came riding a pale horse.") The Utopia theatre was showing The Day The Earth Stood Still.
Jon and Laurie arrive in New York, back from Mars; behind them the painted shadow of lovers. Laurie spots something and puts it in her bag.
The pyramid symbol represented a pyramid plot.
Dan and Laurie cast the shadow of lovers. Jon walks on water and up walls.
Dan and Laurie visit her mom; Outer Limits episode "Architects of Fear" is on the TV. The discuss the absurdity of a cowboy with the initials R.R. in the White House (Robert Redford).
It ends (or does it) with the smiley face icon splattered by... catsup.
© 2008 Chris from MN