|"Watchmen" Chapter XIII: "Old Ghosts"|
WHO ARE YOU? WHO? WHO? WHO?
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.
As the excrement hits the propeller, we thought we’d bring in one of our favorite rabble-rousers, Steve Marmel. Steve started his professional career by earning beer money in college by standing up on a stage with a microphone and making fun of liberals. Stand up on those kinds of stages long enough and eventually someone will ask you to write fart jokes for cartoons. Do that long enough and eventually someone will let you create a show for the girl other tweenage girls will want on their iPod covers. This is how you become Steve Marmel. Oh, and you might want to get injured by karate girls and start a political blog along the way.
All of that is to say that Steve Marmel is a comedian, writer and producer who's credits include his own Comedy Central special, “Fairly Odd Parents,” “Yin Yang Yo,” a Disney channel series that premieres next week, and, I swear to god, six episodes of “Hollywood Squares.”
CHAPTER VIII: OLD GHOSTS
Pages 1, 2 & 3: When Hollis drunk-dials Sally. Meanwhile, back at the newsstand and corpse-raft.
CARR: One major bit of poetic license is the concept of preparing for Halloween by wearing your costume in the street the week before. Moore and Gibbons wanted the image of the kids in costume with the title "Old Ghosts," but it's a stretch. Or two Brits with a lack of understanding of American culture.
ATOM!: I haven’t smoked in 15 years or so, but I think I would choose Hollis’ beer and cigarettes over Sally’s wheat germ and ginseng.
CARR: When my wife and I were house hunting for our first home, we used to nickname the houses we saw based on decor. The "mermaid" house had a mermaid carved into the poolside cement. The "serial killer" house had clown paintings and secret rooms. And the "owl house" was chock full of owl collectibles and knick-knacks just like Hollis Mason's apartment. There was an owl-shaped welcome mat, an owl-shaped weather thermometer, all these little owl objects everywhere. It was a nice house and for a minute, I was expecting to see a Minutemen photo on the wall. And probably, Hollis bought none of this stuff. It starts with one person buying you an owl then everyone thinks you collect them.
ATOM!: Dr. Long just can’t seem to escape Ole’ Inkblot.
MARMEL: And why is he wearing an "Old Timey" football helmet? Is he going to go back in time and play for the Green Bay Packers? By the way, this is as good of a time as any to say, even two panels of this pirate thing is enough for me. I get that it's metaphorical, but I just want to see neutered middle-class people in spandex, por favor.
CARR: Repeating this scene of Long at the newsstand shows that the last few issues are all happening contemporaneously. It's almost like the reader experiences the story of “Watchmen” the way Dr. Manhattan experiences life: repeating the same timeline over and over.
Pages 4 & 5: Dan & Laurie get ready for a caper. Get it? He’s wearing a cape.
ATOM!: So, finally Dan gets laid and now he’s loungin’ around in a t-shirt, got his hair in just the right shape of owl that he likes and gets to do some detective work with his owl-computer. Life is good.
MARMEL: I like the fact that Dan kept the Owl Cave up just enough that if he wanted to use it to get laid, he could. I mean, it's not like it's run down, but it's not completely in disrepair. It's almost like he knew - "One day, I'm gonna need this to impress a girl after the New York Comic Con."
CARR: The design of these pages is pretty cool. Atom! was talking about the restrictions of the nine-panel grid in the first issue, but now, as the story gets bigger, the panels get bigger and break out of their "prison."
ATOM!: “Oh Dan, I’m sorry. I keep mentioning Jon. He just pops up when I don’t expect it.” Sometimes foreshadowing just isn’t enough. You have to eightshadow.
MARMEL: "Wow, Dan. A lot of guys can't rock the dockers, but you can."
ATOM!: "I know. The flat panel front really shows off my eightshadow."
Pages 6 & 7: Rorschach catches up with a little friend.
ATOM!: I have a buck that says that if they use the insulting puns in the movie, it gets a laugh every time.
MARMEL: I love panels four, five and six. It's almost as though Mulhearney is talking to his own genitalia. "What's that little Mulhearney? It burns when I talk?"
CARR: It's a great example of post-modern comic book storytelling. If a character shows up who is shorter than the bottom of the panel, well, all he gets is a word balloon. Usually in comics, villains are hidden artificially by being drawn in shadows or focusing the camera off their faces (the way Eisner only showed the Octopus's gloves in “The Spirit,” for example). But here's a villain we don't see right away just because he's not tall enough.
ATOM!: “You’re alone in the valley of the shadow” is a great line.
MARMEL: This is the first time I've ever noticed this, but Rorschach looks a little like an all grow'd up version of Archie, from Archie comics. If I had noticed that before, I would have probably cheered for Big Figure. Archie was a jackass who strung girls along, and if it was Archie in there, I'd have for him to get a shank in the liver. Archie was a tool.
CARR: I have always wondered if the villains like Moloch and Big Figure had any specific precedents in the Charlton Comics. I don't know if The Question had any sort of Rogues' Gallery.
Pages 8 & 9: Dan, The Fuzz, and more green sugar cubes.
ATOM!: It’s amazing how quick post-coital, bad-ass Dan wears off and gives way to the cardigan-wearing, doddering Dan.
CARR: Here's a 20-year-later thought: the way Moore and Gibbons use newspaper headlines to build the tension and create the feeling of an imminent World War III. It has to be 1985 because newspapers don't serve the same function in the modern world. They are old news the moment they are printed. If “Watchmen” happened today, Dan would be getting headlines on his iPhone.
MARMEL: This is a good cop. Finds the sugar cubes, notices the owl, smells Laurie's cigarettes in the air (and spots her cig holder) and asks Dan if he smokes. When we don't see him, he's probably helping old ladies cross the street. Consequently, I'm sure this guy dies in the end.
ATOM!: I give up. Maybe the sugar cubes are green and they were supposed to be when Rorschach pops them.
CARR: Finally, after eight issues you have figured it out. In the original printing of the first issue, they were colored incorrectly so the green ones looked wrong later. Obviously, the cubes are an important clue and were supposed to be green all along.
ATOM!: You can just come out and call me dumb. I probably won't understand you anyway.
CARR: I’m trying to figure out if there's comic-book history significance to 1977. If he picked 1974 or 1975, I would argue Moore was drawing a parallel to the "modern age" of comics, which is usually tied in to the emergence of the new X-Men. But maybe 1977 marks the end of the Silver Age for Moore?
MARMEL: Judging by the photo in the “Watchmen” hardcover, it's probably the last time Alan Moore got a haircut. (He's not off limits, right? It's just a joke, right? We're all fans here, right?)
CARR: Alan Moore just put a curse on you, Steve.
MARMEL: Yay! Alan Moore knows my name!
Pages 10 – 21: Paste-up, Sketch-up, Carve up, Hook up, Hang up, Break Out.
ATOM!: It’s easy to forget that, not too long ago, “Cut and Paste” used to refer to razorblades and glue.
MARMEL: It reminds me how I feel when I watch “Superman: The Movie” and see the typewriters as writing devices, or Margot Kidder sane. Baffling in the context of time.
CARR: The previous scene ended with Dan saying "deadline." We've kind of avoided talking about the Moore "every transition needs to be connected" obsession, but some of them do feel forced. Like that one.
CARR: More storytelling things you can only do in comics: the six-panel scenes on top of the page while the Nite-Owl/Silk Spectre story progresses in larger panels below. You can say "split screen" in movies, but with the exception of "The Thomas Crown Affair," it usually comes off cheesy.
ATOM!: Ang Lee just put a curse on you, Carr. Say, who are these mysterious creative types on a desert island?
CARR: And what are they creating? I remember the first time I read this scene and was like, "What the hell is going on? How does this have anything to do with the mask-killer conspiracy?” At the time, I did not know a lot about Lovecraft, but in retrospect I imagine there is something Chthulu-like about this design--not to mention the disturbing sexual imagery.
MARMEL: It does look like something that even Captain James T. Kirk wouldn't hit, and that's saying something.
ATOM!: This scene that takes place on either side of the jailhouse bars is bad-ass.
CARR: And similar to the hacksaw scene in Rorschach's "origin." Give the villains a terrible choice to make. But tell me this, if the thug has a knife, why couldn't he cut through the cloth that Rorschach tied the bald guy with? I suppose he didn't want to take a chance putting his arms in the cell, but still…
MARMEL: Good thing for Rorschach that his main villains in the joint were fatty and shorty. Moore did a smart thing - using two white dudes with physical issues to mock. It's a whole different "Wow, that's dated" conversation if he's got Rorschach being attacked by an African-American and he goes all Archie Bunker on him.
CARR: You know I am loving all this owship stuff.
MARMEL: This entire sequence falls under the "stuff I can't wait to see in the film and I'm sure they'll have time for it since I doubt they're doing the pirate stuff" category.
CARR: I suppose "diving head first into things" tells us that Rorschach killed Big Figure via death by swirly, but the dialogue is a bit heavy-handed.
CARR: Nite-Owl set up emergency secret identities years ago. Not sure I caught that line before. More foreshadowing. But it's also another example of Dan's "run away" style of heroism.
Pages 22 – 24: Pack it up. Pop-up Jon.
ATOM!: It seems that Moore is trying to tell us that Jon can only see flashes of the future and is trying to connect the dots.
MARMEL: I find it interesting that Moore thought it was important to cover Jon's nads here. Plus, he's reading about his past, which he knows. That's gotta be a special kind of bored to have to do that.
CARR: I think Jon lives with some killer deja vu that makes him feel like he can't change anything. It's one of the basic philosophical discussions about God and pre-destination. If God is omniscient and knows the future, how can man have free will? Am I choosing to buy a DC Direct Bat Signal if God knew I was going to do it from the beginning of time?
ATOM!: Poor Dan. I bet he designed that belt when his tummy was flat and regrets it every time he sits down now.
CARR: Have we talked about the Gordian Knot Lock Company? They are the ones who fixed the locks in Dan's apartment and maybe Moloch's as well.
MARMEL: I still miss Jon's nads.
CARR: "I'll be damned." "Oh sure. At the very least." Great exchange between our cops, who I have been calling Rosencrantz and Guildenstern.
MARMEL: I love the one guy at the foot of the tunnel taking one last futile rifle shot at Dan's escaping Owl ship. If it were a '50s TV series, he'd have emptied the gun on Superman's chest, and thrown it at the "S." And thrown it like a girl, too.
Pages 25 – 28: Memento.
CARR: One Easter egg is on page #27, Hollis Mason has a copy of the Philip Wylie's novel “Gladiator,” reputed to be one of the inspirations for Siegel and Shuster's Superman. Arguably the first piece of superhero fiction.
ATOM!: Obviously, the plan is not to show Hollis's old face until his death mask, but why is what I don't get.
CARR: And the shadow makes an actual mask on his face. There is one clear shot of him in the first issue, when he says Dan was a better Nite-Owl, but it does seem a clear decision not to show him. Maybe because the Golden Age heroes exist more as an idea than actual characters? “Watchmen” is clearly a six-character play. But you're right, for a character whose voice we hear for four issues’ worth of "Under the Hood" backups, there is something odd about the decision to keep his face off-panel.
CARR: I love that middle panel on page #27, Nite-Owl beating up all of these "science villains" as Moore would come to call them in later works like “Tom Strong.”
MARMEL: I like the dog in the mask. Of course, what they should really be obscuring with a mask is that dog's butt. That's the first thing any other dog is gonna look at anyway.
CARR: I have a very strong memory of reading this issue for the first time. I was working at “Starlog” magazine in New York, and on the day this comic came out, I took an early lunch and took the subway to Forbidden Planet in the Village to get the issue as early as possible. And I read the comic on the subway ride back and I was devastated when Hollis Mason was murdered. It is such a senseless crime. And in that last panel, the blood on the base of the statue actually makes it one word: ingratitude.
ATOM!: The quote is from a poem called "Hallowe'en" and, if Google is any judge, was written to give pretentious teenagers something to use in the Quotes section of their blogs.
CARR: The quote made me laugh because I read "dumb" as "stupid" instead of "mute."
MARMEL: So much subtlety that I missed the first um... hundred times I read it. But then again, I was in college, and back then, I got my comics on Fridays, so there was an excellent chance my weekend had already begun.
The New Frontiersman.
ATOM!: Who hasn't, at some point, "had it up to here with these commie cowards?"
MARMEL: What's the difference between "The New Frontiersman" and "O'Reilly Factor?" "Frontiersman" is more subtle.
CARR: There's some serious hate-mongering here that's hard to read. This issue runs the gamut of reasons to wear masks, from the innocent kids trick-or-treating on Halloween, to our costumed crime fighters, to a comparison with the Klan protecting "American culture" from being "mongrelized." I do like the idea that the Boston Tea Party was in essence the first Justice League adventure, but seriously, the editor of “The New Frontiersman” is not the guy you want defending your masked antics.
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.