ARCHIE'S PALS & GALS
|"Watchmen" Chapter VII: A Brother to Dragons"|
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.
This week, in order to get a new set of eyes on our subject, we thought we’d bring in a special guest. Shelby Ehrenkranz is a 30-something mother of two teenage boys who works as a retail manager (what can I say? We run in herds) for a major clothing retailer. While she is an avid consumer of pop-culture, Shelby is currently reading her first graphic novel. Guess what it is.
If you missed previous installments of RE-READING WATCHMEN, you can check out Atom! and Carr's past commentaries right here.
CHAPTER VII: A BROTHER TO DRAGONS
ATOM!: Shelby, the gentleman that my mother tried so desperately to pound into my head is a bit embarrassed that we brought you in to comment on “the sex issue.”
SHELBY: Well, I like sex. I mean, yeah, hello Nite-Owl, you look like a middle aged fat man. I've heard of rebound sex, but really a girl needs to have her standards! I liked how much better he looks in his own dream, than how he actually looked. Poor Laurie. She's hot, though.
CARR: This is one of my favorite issues because it is the back story for Nite-Owl. Ironically, Nite Owl is the character who never gets his own flashback. We see him in the flashbacks of others but rarely do we see him as a man of action. Even in his team-ups with Rorschach and Comedian, he seems to be off to the side while they are doing the fighting. I do believe this is all very deliberate in creating the image of Dan as impotent. I'm not sure if there are past scenes that we are simply not seeing or if Moore is trying to indicate that Dreiberg really was more of a poseur. He dressed the part and invented the weapons but maybe he wasn't really on the frontlines.
Pages 1 – 3: Going through his closet
ATOM!: I think the movie was “9 ½ Weeks” where Kim Bassinger gets caught going through her boyfriend’s stuff while he was out. Immediately sexy and abhorrent that “she,” whoever she is, is interested enough in you to go exploring through your Owl Cave.
SHELBY: You wish somebody would go through your Owl Cave!
CARR: I know Gibbons was probably playing with the idea of utilitarian futuristic clothing, but Laurie wears some horrible-looking outfits. This pantsuit with the front pockets. Is she supposed to be a cobbler? Does she have an awl in there? I do love Gibbons as an artist but he really doesn't draw sexy women. At least not in this book. Since we spend so much time psychoanalyzing the characters, perhaps it could be argued that Laurie dresses dowdy to distance herself from her Silk Spectre days and her mom's trampy image. But I don't think that's it.
SHELBY: Maybe the back-story has her working at Hot Dog on a Stick. Or you nerds don't recognize haute couture when you see it. I did spend a good portion of this book wondering what the hell people were wearing. When I read a novel, the characters wear what I want them to wear. The apron thing was a little too Carol Brady for my taste. The Silk Spectre outfit is cute, but how does she lift her arms in it? If there were any girls reading this, they would know what I mean. Superhero chicks should really consider wearing pants.
ATOM!: What is that girl smoking? I don’t mean that as a euphemism for “she’s crazy” (though she’s obviously bat-guano), I’m really trying to figure out what kind of pipe that is.
SHELBY: I don't think she's smoking anything. I think she just wanted to blow some bubbles in her milk.
CARR: It’s another example of the retro-future style. An update on old-fashioned cigarette holders/filters. The gag of her thinking the flamethrower button is the cigarette lighter is great.
ATOM!: GREEN SUGAR CUBES!!!
SHELBY: Well, he is a lonely, middle-aged fat man. Maybe he thought they meant the same thing as green M&M's.
CARR: All of Dan's talk certainly suggests he was playing at a fantasy. His mission wasn't strong enough for him to buck the Keene act like Rorschach or sign up with government like Comedian. When it stopped being fun, he preferred to hide and live out the fantasy by hanging out with Hollis and telling war stories over cocoa.
Pages 4 – 10: Touring the Cave
ATOM!: Hello, Twilight Lady. Night bird, indeed.
CARR: That autographed photo of "The Twilight Lady" says so much. On one hand, it suggests the kind of sexual tension that Batman and Catwoman have in the comics. And since Moore was writing this before “Dark Knight Returns” and “Batman: Year One,” he was suggesting a kinkier vibe than had been seen in a Batman comic at that point. And there's two ways to read Dan's reaction: did he ask her for a picture because he's a collector? Or is this a memento of an actual sexual relationship they had? The signed photo has a real fannish quality to it but since we know what gets Dan turned on, I am guessing he and the Twilight Lady had some fun together.
I got a chill re-reading the section where Dan and Laurie climb into the Owlship. In San Diego, I wept seeing the Owlship, standing close enough to touch it and look in and see the controls. It was slightly smaller than scale, but damn was it impressive.
ATOM!: The Owl-Mobile looks like a mini-van.
CARR: Oh no, you didn't.
SHELBY: It looks like a bloated Light Cycle.
CARR: Another Batman riff on Nite-Owl is all the different Owl suits he has around for a variety of purposes. There's a great silver age story, "The Many Costumes of the Batman," and you see all the different suits. The one for the arctic, the one for underwater. Jeph Loeb and Jim Lee revived that a bit with Stealth Jumper Batman in “Hush.” You'd think there would have been more of that in Grant Morrison's “Batman R.I.P.” If Neil Gaiman's "Whatever Happened to the Caped Crusader" is truly a descendant of Moore's "Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow," then I expect there will be some crazy Bat-costumes in that.
I do not recall seeing a lot of Nite-Owl figures in Adrian’s office. Definitely a source of tension.
ATOM!: Poor rebound-guy, Dan. Is there anything worse than being on what you thought was a date with someone and they won’t stop talking about the ex?
SHELBY: How about being on a date with someone that gets chills from “Watchmen?” Carr's wife is one lucky gal.
CARR: I believe in the power of fiction. My wife’s a writer and I just read her new script, the best thing she’s ever written,. It’s a good thing we both believe in the power of storytelling.
More great dialogue: "I know the romance is over...I guess I just don't have the heart to throw out all the engagement presents." An even better description of superhero gadgetry than the Joker’s “Where does he get those marvelous toys?” line in Tim Burton’s Batman movie.
Pages 11 – 15: It's business time
CARR: In some ways, and I am getting all meta-ficitony again, I think I identify with Dreiberg because in a way, he is the Silver Age comic book fan trapped in the Dark Age. He wishes it could be the way it used to be where heroes beat up villains and stopped crimes and nobody really got hurt. But Comedian and Rorschach engage in real violence with long-lasting effects. Dan prefers to live in the past. Nostalgia.
ATOM!: Nostalgia, the new scent from Veidt Industries. Inspires images of dust, moth balls, and rotting paper.
SHELBY: I gotta say I identify more with Sally Jupiter. Great outfit. Have you seen the shot of the actress in the “Watchmen Portraits” book? Great hair, too. Nostalgia! And available now at Brave New World or Earth-2 Comics.
ATOM!: Reading this, I’m wondering if it’s not actually possible that Rorschach propositioned his landlady. It would seem to figure that he would be drawn to someone so like his mother. Especially since he wasn’t really capable of normal relationships.
CARR: I read that as her lying. She couldn't very well go on TV and say that he called her a slut.
SHELBY: Works for Bill O'Reilly. I have to agree with Carr on this one. People are going to look for their 15 minutes almost anywhere.
ATOM!: This has been bothering me. Sure, the Afghans had help from the US through back channels, but even so, the Russians weren’t exactly running them over. Is there some piece of this puzzle that I’m missing?
CARR: This part of the book, as they watch the news, almost feels like the first scene in a play after intermission. Trying to remind you of all the things you should remember from the first act. Everything on this channel is directed precisely at Laurie, Dan and the reader.
ATOM!: Vanishing artists? What’s this?
SHELBY: Vanishing artists? Who? Like Manhattan Transfer?
ATOM!: It’s business time.
CARR: Obviously, Dan finds it impossible to perform in front of Ozymandias, the world's most perfect being.
ATOM!: I kept hearing Meatloaf in my head during this sequence.
Pages 16 – 21: Suiting up.
CARR: Dan's creepy dream sequence. We get a 17-panel page here, another departure for “Watchmen.” In terms of dream imagery, I think the increased number of panels creates a staccato rhythm, like a slideshow. I think it confirms pretty much that Dan and Twilight Lady got it on. The panel of the skeletal lovers echoes Jon Osterman being disintegrated as well as the silhouettes in the alleys.
SHELBY: That was my favorite part of the whole chapter, actually. The dream sequence was the most visually stimulating thing about it. And I liked how it had a whole “doomsday-the-end-is-nigh” feel to it.
CARR: All the attention on lenses this issue. Eyes are the window to the soul, anyone? When naked Dan is slipping on his goggles, it's an intense portrait. I imagine that's what he looked like more in his young adventurer days. The absurdity of him standing there naked but for goggles is a great counterbalance.
Moore and Gibbons knew what they were doing. By keeping Nite-Owl out of the action, it makes it so much more powerful to see Dan transform and reclaim his mantle.
Pages 22 – 26: Working out the kinks.
CARR: The Owlship still works. That's a relief.
SHELBY: Of course it still works! He ran a scan of Archie earlier. Duh.
CARR: Gotta admit, the movie Silk Spectre costume is a definite improvement over this. I never got the see-through dress. Is there a Golden Age precedent for it? Or was to suggest the "spectre" quality, something see through. I guess it's supposed to be silk? Moore also pursued this theme with the Cobweb and that's probably a better costume design. Maybe the dress was necessary to keep her from looking like an exact knock-off of Nightshade. Or trying to avoid the fishnet cliché of Black Canary and Zatanna.
As grandiose heroic stunts go, you really can't argue with saving people from a burning building. I hope they use the Billie Holliday song in the movie. And of course, there's the sexual metaphor, Nite Owl standing tall, steering the Owlship with the big stick between his legs.
Pages 27 – 28: A Walk In the Clouds
CARR: And here we go with another compressed series of panels and though it feels like a dream, it's not, it's reality. The triptych of Dan and Laurie kissing is powerful stuff. I don't think there are many series of panels like this (if any) in “Watchmen.” One moment broken up into multiple images. usually each panel represents a unique snapshot. Again, Gibbons really designed ways (and some of this is presumably in Moore's script) to say: stop, look, listen.
SHELBY: More like stop, drop, and roll.
CARR: There goes that flamethrower again. And now get the title: Archie is a dragon, a flying creature that breathes fire.
“Watchmen” trains us to see smiley faces on things that do not have faces. The last three panels of this issue are great in the way that Archie's "face" in the second panel substitutes for the shocked look we presume is on Laurie's face in reaction to Dan's idea: "We should spring Rorschach." It's a bit like Ernst Lubitsch’s direction. he often had actors ply emotional scenes with their backs to the camera (NInotchka is the example I remember) so the audience would imagine their faces.
SHELBY: I'm surprised you guys don't want to talk about the fact that the only way Dan can get it up is by using the adrenaline rush of saving all those people. (Typical male.) Then he admits that the costume makes it better. That's like someone admitting that they like to wear your underwear when you're not around. I'm sure that's supposed to be sexy, but it's kind of creepy.
CARR: Well, it’s a running theme of the series. The first time we see Dan and Laurie together, they are joking about a bad guy who gets a sexual thrill from being beaten up by costumed heroes. Well, it turns out there’s a little Captain Carnage in all of us… or them.
And the last panel. You got your eyes, your smile and your blood streak.
CARR: The biblical quote that ends the issue is intriguing. Seems a bit more poetic than I remember from the bible but there you go.
ATOM!: Have you ever seen the Shakespearean link to the King James Version of the bible? It's a code implant that would make Alan Moore proud.
CARR: That sent me to Google again. The quote here is King James. The American Standard version is, “I am a brother to jackals, and a companion to ostriches.” If the Bible can be translated that differently, well it makes you wonder. Just glad we didn’t get Nite-Ostritch.
Blood From The Shoulder of Pallas
ATOM!: I have a confession to make. I’ve tried four times to read this and keep nodding off. What am I missing?
SHELBY: This is the part of the chapters that I look forward to the most. The thought of looking at something for so long and so closely that it becomes invisible was something that struck me as beautiful. I loved the imagery that came from this text piece, it says so much to how desensitized we have become as a society. The powerful image of the mighty owl against the weak trembling in the soil. This text piece also sends a very powerful message, no matter how much you know about a subject it only takes one more look to not only remember why you to started to look in the first place but to see the beauty in the details. I hope that all you comic book readers that tend to "nod off" at these final pages take the time to re-read the text piece of this chapter and see the beauty and the imagery that Mr. Moore had provided so skillfully.
CARR: I like the text pieces but this one’s an indulgence, clever wordplay and a roundabout way to tell us: Dan Dreiberg really likes owls. I wiki'd Pallas and it turns out he is a Titan of War in Greek mythology. When I look at the drawing on the first page of the article, though, it reminds me of Alexander the Great and isn't Alexander one of Ozymandias' influences? The imagery of the shoulder of Pallas signifies the owl as the sidekick to the warrior. So maybe Dan is aware of his own passive role as an action hero.
And on that note, I'm going home to play with my Nite-Owl action figure.
SHELBY: Boys and their toys. Be careful with your cape.
ATOM!: As a side note, on Friday, February 6, here at Brave New World, we're having our world's famous Geek Single's Night. Click on over to the BraveNewWorldComics.com for details. Shelby will be here and, yes boys, she's available.
CARR: If we’re doing that, we’re having "Punisher MAX" and "Foolkiller" writer and mystery novelist Gregg Hurwitz at the shop on Saturday afternoon February 7 to sign his new Punisher trade paperback, "Girls in White Dresses."