Friday, February 01, 1985

Watchmen Chapter I: "At Midnight, All the Agents"

Spoiler warning: If you have not read Watchmen, do not read these notes. See intro/disclaimer.

Cover: The cover of book one is an image of a happy face button lying in a pool of blood, a single drop of blood on its face over the right eye. This incorporates numerous themes that are found throughout the whole of Watchmen. First, the shape of the drop--which is seen repeatedly in various places, notably the beginning and end of chapter XI--which is suggestive of the hands of a clock pointing at midnight (the title of this chapter being "At Midnight, All the Agents") yet another very pervasive theme. Another theme that is repeated is that of faces partially obscured. This may be meant to be provocative of the idea of masks. Note that the Comedian, the owner of the button, had a scar across the left side of his face, in roughly the same spot as the blood on the button. More subtle are the possible allusions to the idea of comedy <=> comics, and the idea of the finding of happiness and tranquility in the midst of violent bloodshed.

Page 1: Note that the layout of this page and zooming out effect centered on the button are repeated on the last page of this chapter.

Page 1, panel 1: The giving of the date in Rorschach's journal establishes that these events happen in the past, and therefore, we are made to understand immediately that this is not meant to be happening in the world with which we're familiar. Centered on the button, we read "I have seen its true face."

Page 1, panel 2: Rorschach talks metaphorically of the streets being gutters filled with blood, while the image is that literally. The first image we see of a character is the shoes of the doomsday prophet. We are meant to see it as metaphor, but of course, there are two levels of literalness to it. Real doomsday seems to be coming, in the form of possible nuclear war, and of course, while Rorschach "narrates" the opening scene, we eventually realize that this character is Rorschach in disguise. (Rorschach considers his mask to be his "true face".)

Page 1, panel 3: In the journal, the world is shouting at Rorschach as the world comes to an end; in the panel, the man with the hose is yelling at the doomsday prophet.

Page 1, panel 4: Rorschach talks of footsteps, while bloody footprints are left on the concrete.

Page 1, panel 7: Obviously, when "nobody can think of anything to say" people say stupid things. This is quite an understatement.

Page 2, panel 2: The police figure it must have been more than one person who attacked Blake. Although the killer's identity is not revealed in these flashbacks, it's clear it was a single person.

Page 2, panel 8: Note "Vice-president" Ford. Ford has not been President in this world, and with good reason as we will find out.

Page 3, panel 3: Note that this is the moment the button gets blood on it.

Page 3, panel 7: "Ground floor coming up", indeed.

Page 4, panel 3: According to the cover of the Times, Vietnam has just been made the 51st state. Also, the comics on sale are all pirate-themed, including one called "X-Ships". All of this is indicating what a very different world this is from our own.

Page 4, panel 5: The cars and the fashions are very different; a prominent restaurant seen here for the first time is "Gunga Diner", an Indian fast food place. Also, there is an ad for Mmeltdowns, a nuclear-themed candy. Note that at the mention of Rorschach, the doomsday prophet reappears.

Page 4, panel 7: Watch on right wrist? The doomsday prophet is left-handed.

Page 5, panel 1: This is the first of several page transitions with evocative panels found throughout Watchmen. This panel is the same spot as the last on the previous page, with Rorschach in the place of the doomsday prophet.

Page 5, panel 7: Note the shape that the grappling hook makes at this angle: a mirror-image of the drop of blood.

Page 7, panel 4: Rorschach, unlike Nite Owl, doesn't have fancy devices, but rather improvises.

Page 8, panel 2: Rorschach's "facial expression" in this panel is apparently a display of surprise. We see it at least two more times, in V.24.5 and VI.20.9.

Page 8, panel 7: It's interesting to me that the Comedian has a copy of this photo, given the circumstances surrounding the photo shoot. One might wonder how and why he got a copy in the first place, and also why Silk Specter I kept hers (at least at first).

Page 9, panel 3: "It's almost midnight." A bit of thematic dialogue, no doubt.

Page 9, panel 6: This panel and the next are the first appearance of graffiti, suggesting that Mason lives in a pretty bad neighborhood. In general, very little graffiti in Watchmen is without symbolism. Here we see "PALE HORSE"--the name of the knothead band playing the concert at the end of the story, whose name is taken from the book of Revelation, symbolic of the personification of Death--and a starburst cross, a symbol of Day of the Dead.

Page 9, panel 7: Here we see the first instance of "WHO WATCHES THE WATCHMEN?" a graffito that appears several times, but never in full.

Page 9, panel 8: The sign declares "OBSOLETE MODELS A SPECIALTY", a literal reference to the modern electrical car technologies that have replaced older gasoline models, and a symbolic reference to the new breed of superheroes that have replaced the old. Both of course, are in no small part due to Dr. Manhattan.

Page 10, panel 1: A headline concerning Afghanistan is in the foreground, that country being a political focus throughout the story. The lyrics are referring to Rorschach, who leaves Dan Dreiberg's house via the back door, and in chapter X (see pg. 27) claims to not be bothered by the cold.

Page 10, panel 4: Most people, upon finding their front door smashed in, would probably call the police. Dan, of course, isn't most people.

Page 10, panel 5: Dan looks rather owl-like in this panel, doesn't he?

Page 10, panel 8: Minor note: in this world, Heinz has "58 varieties".

Page 11, panel 5: These sugar cubes of course form the basis for a minor plot point later.

Page 12, panel 5: Rorschach's wording is perhaps a bit ironically paranoid here.

Page 12, panel 6: It's made immediately clear that Rorschach doesn't consider anyone above suspicion.

Page 14, panel 1: Rorschach is left-handed.

Page 14, panel 4: Poster hints of extended Nixon presidency.

Page 14, panel 5: Graffito: VIET BRONX. Headline: CONGRESS APPROVES LUNAR SILOS

Page 15, panel 1: Happy Harry's is a pretty rough sort of crowd, but everyone seems pretty intimidated by Rorschach.

Page 15, panel 3: Rorschach has the same "facial expression" the second time we see him enter Happy Harry's in X.14.2.

Page 15, panel 6: This is not the first appearance, but the first fairly close look at one of these strange smoking devices.

Page 15, panel 7: People who are not intimidated by Rorschach seem to have a bad time of it...

Page 16, panel 3: Not your stereotypical hero behavior, eh?

Page 17, panel 2: Rorschach has removed his hat in Adrian's presence. Is this an indication of some respect that he refuses to verbalize? Rorschach of course has no idea that he's asking the one person who actually knows the answer.

Page 17, panel 8: No doubt, Adrian is thinking, "Yes, you might as well, I suppose."

Page 18, panel 3: "Have a nice day." Say, isn't that a slogan for something?

Page 18, panel 4: "Doomsday clock at five to twelve" A continuing theme.

Page 19, panel 1: Note Superman symbol on sign. I'm fairly certain that "Rockefeller Military Research Center" does not exist in our world; in this world, it was probably named after Nelson Rockefeller, a prominent Republican who served as Gerald Ford's vice-President, and died in 1979.

Page 19, panel 2: "Possibly homosexual?" A fair number of the heroes in the story are, and Adrian is never seen with a girlfriend. Rorschach may be right, but it's never clear why it should matter.

Page 19, panel 3: Rorschach no doubt thinks himself the exception. Clearly he's active and healthy, but really, "without personality disorder?"

Page 19, panel 8: The idea that someone plans to murder an "indestructible man" may seem laughable, but of course an attempt is made on his life in the final chapter.

Page 19, panel 9: Jon always talks in these blue double-bubbles. Surely there must be significance to him and Rorschach having unusual dialog, visually, but it would be pure speculation on my part to suppose what.

Page 20, panel 1: Visually stunning first view of Jon, including his nudity. Aside from needing no clothing to regulate his body temperature (like Rorschach, but more so, he "don't really feel the weather") his lack of clothing symbolizes to some extent his lost grasp on human social standards.

Page 20, panel 2: Laurie and Rorschach don't like each other, and neither one hides it.

Page 20, panel 4: One gets the impression that Rorschach is one of the few people that finds the Comedian's demise to be "bad news". On the next page, it's clear Jon doesn't care, and Laurie is glad he's gone.

Page 21, panel 6: Evidently, Rorschach doesn't think much of Under the Hood.

Page 21, panel 8: Rorschach seems to be unable to think badly of the Comedian.

Page 22, panel 5: It's hard to argue with Jon.

Page 23, panel 4: A continuing display of Jon's godlike abilities, note that this is run-of-the-mill stuff for those who know him; nobody comments or reacts on his resizing himself, lifting a huge machine, teleporting Rorschach, or making machine parts float in midair.

Page 23, panel 7: "That's fascinating." I'm pretty sure it's not.

Page 23, panel 8: In continuing to look for significance to even seemingly minor details, one might ask if the name "Rafael" is meaningful. One of Renaissance painter Raphael's most well-known works is titled "Slaughter of the Innocents". In Islam, the archangel Raphael is the angel in charge of signaling Judgment Day, and in Christianity, Raphael is the patron saint of matchmakers.

Page 23, panel 9: Why is Jon smiling? Is he enjoying his work, or is he happy for Laurie, who is going to end up in a much happier relationship with Dan in the future?

Page 24, panel 1: More graffiti: KRYSTALNACHT (the band playing with Pale Horse, meaning "Night of broken glass"), ONE IN EIGHT GO MAD (of the original eight minutemen, one ended up in an asylum), WHO WATCHES THE WATCHMEN?, the looping arrow, the cross, peace and anarchy.

Page 24, panel 2: Why does Rorschach stop to watch this scene? Surely it's more than just that he's a peeping tom.

Page 24, panel 6: Compare this "facial expression" and narration to XII.20.7; Rorschach means what he says.

Page 24, panel 7: Nixon reelection poster.

Page 25, panel 3: In the face of possible nuclear war, Jon's happiness is of great importance.

Page 25, panel 4: Small but important details from left to right: Genetically engineered four-legged bird. Knot-top hairdo on upper-class woman. Open display of homosexuality. Egyptian makeup motif.

Page 25, panel 6: One seriously doubts Dan thought that such a costume was awful.

Page 25, panel 8: They don't look like they really think the Keene act was "the best thing".

Page 26: Repeat of first page structure: Seven-panel zoom out centered on button.

Page 26, panel 2: This is the first mention of the concept of costumed adventuring as a sexual fetish, and the only outright discussion of it. Several other parts of the story make veiled references to the idea that some of the heroes are doing this for more than just a need to see evil punished.

Page 26, panel 4: Rorschach clearly doesn't play games.

Page 27: Under the Hood by Hollis Mason. Hollis talks about how Action Comics and Superman were part of what inspired him to become Nite Owl, as well as the appearance of Hooded Justice. While on some level there may seem to be something inspiring about a man who decides to fight crime, one also wonders about the similarity between the costume of Hooded Justice to the outfits worn by the KKK.

1 comment:

migca said...

Page 25, panel 4: I believe the "Egyptian make-up motif" is actually the Eye of Horus. Sometimes called "The All-Seeing Eye," there are many variations including the eye on top of the pyramid that appears on the US dollar bill.