Tuesday, February 05, 1985

Watchmen Chapter V: "Fearful Symmetry"

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

Cover: Reflection in a puddle of the symmetric sign of the Rumrunner. Rorschach's hat is also reflected near the top; apparently this is the same moment as the first panel, from a different angle.

Page 1, panel 1: Chapter V has all of its panels (with very minor exceptions) laid out in a symmetrical pattern from front to back both visually and thematically, i.e. page 1 mirrors page 28, 2 mirrors 27, etc. The blinking neon light of the Rumrunner creates further visual symmetry in those pages in and near Moloch's apartment.

Page 2, panel 5: Moloch is left-handed.

Page 6, panel 3: The corner of fortieth and seventh is the focal point of all the New York action in Watchmen. The Utopia Theater, behind which Dan and Laurie were mugged, the Gunga Diner where they (and Rorschach) have lunch that day, the Promethian Cab Company, where Joey works, and The Institute for Extraspatial Studies, where the newsvendor has his kiosk.

Page 7, panel 1: Spot of blood over Buddha's right eye.

Page 7, panel 6: Grateful Dead poster on wall has a couple points of significance. Obviously, the father thought his family would be better off dead. Also, the poster is symmetrical with a skull and crossbones and represents the cover of an album with a palindromic title, "Aoxomoxoa".

Page 8, panel 1: The splash of water and triangle on the side of the Pyramid Delivery truck is a mirror image to the poster just seen. The boxes on this page are from part two of "Marooned", and of course form a parallel narration to the dialogue.

Page 8, panel 2: This driver is later revealed to have ordered the hit on Adrian. By now, he's already dropped off the message.

Page 8, panel 4: "...where's there to split to?" Well, two characters have found someplace else to go; Jon to Mars, and Adrian to Antarctica.

Page 9, panel 1: Now we get to the grisly focus of "Marooned", which parallels the revelation of the plot in the end: The protagonist has decided the solution to saving the world he knows is to literally rest on the bodies of those sacrificed to the horror from which he hopes to save others.

Page 10, panel 1: Dan's facial expression and activities mimic the previous frame. Also, in the theme of symmetry, note that most of this scene is viewed in a mirror.

Page 11, panel 1: Rorschach's watch, *not* at midnight. Rorschach knows time is running out, but he doesn't realize how immediate his own danger is.

Page 11, panel 4: Actually, once we get to know her, it turns out that Rorschach's landlady is a lot like his mother.

Page 12, panel 1: Note knothead kicking a can into the trash. This is the exact same moment as the previous panel.

Page 12, panel 5: In the background, we see the doomsday prophet come out of the diner where Rorschach was just having coffee...

Page 12, panel 9: ...and dig in the trash, Rorschach's "drop".

Page 13, panel 1: The central story arc concerning Adrian starts with a shot of a 'V' cufflink reflected in the polished desk, making an 'X'.

Page 13, panel 3: Adrian's assistant doesn't think it's worth thinking about death. She will soon reevaluate.

Page 13, panel 7: "Spiritual discovery..."

Page 13, panel 8: "Oh, God."

Page 14, panel 4: The composition of this panel along with its mate on the facing page is quite striking. There is a giant 'V' on the wall behind the action, symmetric and, of course, the letter of this chapter. If Adrian and the assassin were not in the foreground, no doubt it would reflect in the water, making an 'X', which is horizontally, vertically and rotationally symmetrical. As it is, however, there is a suggestion of an 'X' made by the foreground figures. At the endpoints of the 'X', there are three faces and a gun: The Egyptian head symbolizing death, the gun being an instrument of death, and Adrian and the assassin representing a murderer and his target--yet which is which? Even without the underlying knowledge of where the story is heading, the immediate truth is that the apparent roles have been reversed.

Page 16, panel 4: But of course, this is a lie, isn't it? After all, Adrian already knows.

Page 16, panel 8: "Tell them I don't have any enemies." This statement is doubly-ironic: on the face of it, it would seem obvious that he does have enemies, and he's being facetious; of course in reality, his statement is completely true, because all of his enemies are dead. Note the 'V' reflected in the polished floor, making an 'X' and echoing the image from 13.1.

Page 17, panel 1: Once again, an 'X', creating a mimicking of both the visual appearance and the dialogue of the last panel. While the dialogue of Watchmen and narrative panels of "Marooned" mimic each other, they also may be said to narrate Rorschach's current situation, as the doomsday prophet moves through the background.

Page 17, panel 8: "I bet there's all kinda stuff we never notice..." like the guy digging through the trashcan again? I certainly didn't notice it the first time I read this chapter.

Page 18, panel 1: The slant on the handwriting appears to have been written by a left-handed person, but of course, it's almost certainly a forgery. Adrian knows Rorschach is a keen detective.

Page 18, panel 2: "Things to Come" is a movie about a world war that essentially destroys mankind.

Page 18, panel 6: "...spotless gloves"? We must assume he's speaking metaphorically.

Page 18, panel 7: This panel is opposite 11.3, which is virtually identical, but represents the reverse action.

Page 19, panel 1: Like page 10, this is a conversation between Laurie and Dan viewed mostly in a mirror. The poses in the first four panels mimic in reverse order and a reversal of characters the poses in the last four panels on that page.

Page 20, panel 1: The dead body in this panel mimics the position of Dan in the previous.

Page 20, panel 6: The shark has been stabbed in the right eye.

Page 21, panel 7: Is "inversion of natural roles" a commentary on homosexuality? The protagonist of "Marooned" here eats "raw shark", get it? The appearance of the shark here becomes very suggestive of the button-with blood spot motif.

Page 21, panel 8: The poster very strikingly mimics the panel from "Marooned".

Page 22, panel 1: The positions of the characters and the poster mimic the previous panel, as does the dialogue.

Page 22, panel 4: "It's like there's a pattern..."

Page 22, panel 6: Blake's case number is not just a palindrome, it's completely symmetric.

Page 22, panel 7: "Raw shark" get it? Ha, ha, ha.

Page 23, panel 1: Rorschach is "ignoring some red lights"(22.9) like "an omen of doom"(7.5).

Page 24, panel 5: Here's that look again (see I.8.2).

Page 25, panel 2: Rorschach leaves the gun...

Page 25, panel 4: ...but improvises other weapons from pepper,...

Page 25, panel 6: ...hairspray...

Page 25, panel 7: ...and matches.

Page 26, panel 3: "Tygers"? This is hinting back to the chapter's quote.

Page 27, panel 6: This panel is framed like its opposite, 2.6.

Page 28, panel 6: Dan's aftershave bottle breaks in the fall.

Page 28, panel 9: Final panel mimics the cover page, with the sign reflected in the puddle, and Rorschach's hat at the top.

Page 29: "A Man of Fifteen Dead Men's Chests" from Treasure Island Treasury of Comics The article talks about many things, including how the government came to the defense of comics publishers because of their own real-life comic book heroes. Note that in our world, EC was nearly destroyed in a similar bit of history.


migca said...

I can only chuckle over your replies to my small observations in previous chapters. You're way too hard on yourself! Thanks to your earlier annotations, I thought I was starting to get a handle on Watchmen's visual style--and a magnifying glass has become an essential reading tool.

Well, my delusions of grandeur are over. I missed at least half of the items you point out in this chapter. Again, your work has made Watchmen a much richer and more enjoyable experience. Thank you.

Brucker said...

I just keep thinking of all the things that I noticed (or should have) but forgot to put in. For instance, I came across my writen notes yesterday, and noticed something I scribbled down, but failed to include that seems like it might have significance: Adrian's servants are ex-Viet Cong; does their work in helping bring down Dr. Manhattan constitute some form of revenge?