|"Watchmen" Chapter III: "The Judge of All the Earth"|
I'LL TAKE MANHATTAN
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. Along the way, they may get some help from a friend or two.
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're just joining us you can check out Atom! and Carr's commentary from the beginning right here.
CHAPTER III: THE JUDGE OF ALL THE EARTH
ATOM!: This issue reminds me of when I read “Lord Of The Flies” as a kid. I wanted a story about other kids surviving on their own, but there were weird sections that didn't seem like they were supposed to be there. It wasn't until later that I realized that it was something more than a boy's adventure story.
CARR: I kind of remember this chapter as the one where I started to "get it." The devices and motifs start coming together. The close-up of the Fallout Shelter sign that sends a different message: "All Out Helter." This is when it starts to hit the fan. And when you really start poring over the art looking for clues.
ATOM!: You know what’s wrong with the American comics industry? It’s all these damn pirate comics. If we could just get past all these pirate comics, the general public would take comics more seriously. Our comics shops are like shrines to sailing!
CARR: The first time around, I do remember thinking, "Why am I reading a pirate comic?" In retrospect, and maybe I am going too far, but the hero of the Black Freighter comic book does seem like an extension of the Comedian. He's a guy who has been through hell and seen the horrors. The difference is that Pirate-Man lives to tell the tale. And later, his plight mirrors Dr. Manhattan’s.
ATOM!: See there? I knew there was more there than a kid worshipping a pig's head.
CARR: To quote “Bloom County,” “Foreshadowing: the clue to quality literature.”
ATOM!: I’m not sure which is kinkier here. Pirates loving on wooden sculptures or a former superheroine loving on a multiplying energy being with the ability to split his personality across time and space. Strangely enough, I think the pirate and his splintered girlfriend are the healthy couple in that comparison.
CARR: You're missing the real love story in these pages. The bond that develops between the Newsstand owner and the kid reading the comic. At this point, they are our "regular folk," like the detectives were in the first issue. The Newsvendor says something very important: "Everything's connected." He echoes Rorschach's conspiracy theories.
ATOM!: You softy. No wonder you won the Eisner first.
CARR: The Manhattan-a-trois scene is still a shocker. More importantly, it tells us a lot about how Doc has changed in his relationship with Laurie. Last issue, Sally said that it was her daughter’s job essentially to sleep with the A-bomb. But now, Manhattan has no interest in sex; instead he creates doppelgangers because he feels obliged to bring Laurie pleasure while he keeps working. If Dr. Manhattan thinks this is a good idea, well, clearly he's never been married.
ATOM!: Not at all disagreeing with you here. Just wanted to say that "Manhattan-a-trois" is pretty damn funny.
CARR: Actually, the pirate story is a distraction to keep you from noticing all the "Easter eggs" in the newsstand scene: there's a guy with a truck full of "Fallout Shelter" signs. A poster for a missing writer, which connects to the Comedian's rant to Moloch last issue. The recharging station for electric vehicles that the kid is leaning on has The Flash's emblem, a "Top Ten" sort of touch. An ad for the "Veidt Method" on the back of the comic, making Ozymandias this world's answer to Charles Atlas, or maybe Flex Mentallo. The End-is-Nigh guy is played as comic relief: he says the world is coming to an end today but he'll come back for his paper tomorrow. Again, I forgot how funny Moore could be.
ATOM!: I don’t know much about who’s cast in the movie, but how great would it be if Janey Slater was played by Margot Kidder? She always seemed like she would be a good ex-girlfriend.
CARR: I get a bit of a Dr. Girlfriend vibe from her. But it makes sense she would have the Jackie Kennedy hair-flip. What we're seeing on these pages between the Janey Slater and Laurie scenes is what would be "split screen" in a movie. Two entangled events happening simultaneously, commenting on each other. It also underscores how the comic is "shot" as well as drawn. Gibbons picks angles for his shots and sticks to them. Maybe he moves in for a close-up or pulls back, but he holds the 180-degree line better than a lot of TV directors.
Pages 11 – 16: Working Blue, The Girl’s Got Balls and They’re Yours, Quiet On The Set
ATOM!: The guy gets dressed just by wanting to and can move from one place to another with a thought and can clear a room when he’s tired of being badgered. I think I’ve just found my favorite superpower.
CARR: At this point, Dr. Manhattan is just going through the motions. He's so inexpressive. Janey mentions that she thought he changed when he failed to stop Kennedy's assassination. It's a throwaway line but maybe that was Dr. Manhattan's defining moment; when he realized that even as the most powerful being in the world, there were things he was powerless to change.
ATOM!: My impression was more that Kennedy dying was the final nail in his humanity. Why even pretend to himself that he's human? Or, perhaps, this scene is the final nail which is what leads to his Martian walk-about. Excuse me, sit-about.
CARR: When Doc doesn’t stop the Comedian from shooting the pregnant woman in chapter 2, that would have been after the Kennedy assassination. Another man of inaction.
ATOM!: So, if I’m reading this right, when all the comics are about pirates, the street toughs start carrying swords when mugging someone. And how dare these guys take work away from black character drawings. Over fifty pages into this thing and the only black role is the kid reading. If you can’t cast black characters into mugger roles, what’s left? “Kid Reading Comics?” Please.
CARR: I see Asian writing on the back of one of the jackets so I was thinking the Knot-Tops were Samurai-inspired. But come on, Dr. Malcolm Long is coming up in issue 6. Moore and Gibbons' New York is certainly not stereotypical.
ATOM!: Stereotypical San Francisco maybe? Or, have I just seen “Big Trouble in Little China” too many times?
CARR: You can’t see that movie too many times.
ATOM!: Okay, I’ve figured out the joke. “I like my women like I like my coffee: Wearing nothing but a trench coat and sweaty from abusing the crotches of street thugs.” Is that blue enough?
CARR: More sexual perversion. Dan and Laurie are getting aroused from the fight; she even lights up after. How dare they mock Captain Carnage!
ATOM!: I hear Mars is nice this time of year.
CARR: When I was reading “Watchmen” for the first time, cancer and nuclear war were extremely scary to me, so the tension was really building this issue. When I look back at it though, does the conspiracy against Manhattan hold water? Three people he knew get cancer; is that statistically significant? Laurie needs to be tested but she's been with him 20 years and seems fine. And let's face it, Janey is a three-pack-a-day smoker who gets lung cancer. This is big news?
The guy putting up the quarantine signs at the lab is a bookend of the guy putting up shelter signs at the beginning. Two sides of the same coin.
Pages 22 – 28: News Rats, Pirate Graves and Gods of War
ATOM!: One of my favorite bits in the whole book. “I see the world didn’t end yesterday.” “Are you sure?” So many ways for that line to work.
CARR: The Comedian knew. That's why he had to die. He saw the list with Janey Slater's name on it and Wally Weaver's and Moloch's. Rorschach's right when he wakes up Dreiberg but on first reading, I think I thought Rorschach was nuts.
ATOM!: Admit it, how often have you been tempted to say: “When are ya thinkin’ o’ payin’ for that funny book?”
CARR: And the flip side is the customer who reads the whole book and bitches about it. But you know, when it looks like World War III is about to happen, you might as well give the comics away for free.
ATOM!: Careful, with talk like that you'll have fans staging “War Of The Worlds” with Jud as the only audience.
CARR: We’ll just give them the Free Comic Book Day edition of “Resurrection.”
ATOM!: If there is anything in this book that would lead one to the conclusion that it’s a horror story, I can’t think of anything more compelling than the fact that Nixon is in place to deal with the Russians entering Afghanistan.
CARR: Weren't the Russians already in Afghanistan in our world in the 1980s? I guess the horror is that with Manhattan gone, the U.S. isn't in the position to stop Russian aggression without resorting to conventional nukes. Nixon's in his sixth term here. Obviously, the Comedian helped cover up Watergate, meaning Jimmy Carter was never President. But the Nixon here plays into the Reagan-era "Red Scare" and the Doomsday Clock was an actual anti-Reagan poster back in the day.
ATOM!: Yeah, they entered in '79. I guess this also means that with a six term Nixon one Charles Wilson of Texas was never elected to the Senate. Who knew being an Aaron Sorkin fan would come in handy in a conversation about the Red Tide?
CARR: I've had customers ask if they had to read the text pages and this is the chapter that demonstrates why you have to. It's not just Moore adding atmosphere, there is actually story content in these pages. After issue #2, Hooded Justice seemed like the most likely suspect for the Comedian's murder. But when you read "Under the Hood," you realize the Comedian probably got to Hooded Justice first. There's also more sexual subtext: Sally Jupiter was Hooded Justice's beard, and Schexnayder, Sally's husband, seems to be... not very macho, to say the least, from his photo.
ATOM!: Ooh, I didn't get that at all. I'm gonna have to Re-re-read.
CARR: Yeah, we’ll start all over again on March 13.
ATOM!: I love the constant commentary on the history of American comics through the lens of actual superheroes in this world.
CARR: Another of Moore's specialties. When Hollis Mason talks about how weird the 1950s got, it reminds me of the chapter in Alan Moore's “Supreme” when the Golden Age superheroes are trapped in an EC Comics-inspired world and freaked out by all the "relevance." There's also a Golden Age/Silver Age parallel: superheroes would have died out as a fad if not for 1960s sensation Dr. Manhattan. Is Doc a metaphor for Marvel Comics?
ATOM!: Silver Surfer anyone?
CARR: Oooh, excellent point.
ATOM!: Here again, mining these "Under the Hood" pages would prop up any comics writing career. Superheroes brought before the Senate and forced to register or go underground? That sounds so familiar...
CARR: The Justice Society was asked to unmask for the House Un-American Activities Committee first in a 1979 story by Paul Levitz so Alan Moore can't get credit for everything.
ATOM!: So, can we also give Paul the blame for the Russians entering Afghanistan?
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.