|"Watchmen" Chapter IX: "The Darkness of Mere Being"|
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.
If you missed previous installments of RE-READING WATCHMEN, you can check out Atom! and Carr's past commentaries right here.
CHAPTER IX: THE DARKNESS OF MERE BEING
CARR: We're 3/4 of the way through the book, the movie is only three weeks away and the TV spots are everywhere. It's exciting.
ATOM!: Absolutely, it is. Just when I think that everyone in the world must have a copy of this book, we set a new record for sales again. We're doing a screening for Brave New World customers.
Let’s get into this issue. If we haven’t said it before, everyone should stop reading this and go back to read issue #9 of “Watchmen” from page 1 to the end of Sally’s scrapbook. I would use the “We’ll wait” line, but the truth is that we’re going to dive right in. In this issue, Laurie and Dr. Manhattan take a walk around Mars, and Laurie reaches deep to discover something startling about her past.
CARR: Matt Lehman, who owns the excellent shop Comicopia in Boston, was telling me that he was doing what we are doing now when “Watchmen” was first published. He was writing his notes and observations on every issue up on CompuServe or Usenet or whatever the Internet used to be called and he also printed those notes up as a newsletter that he gave out in the shop he worked in. Matt has a very mathematical mind and was acutely aware of all the patterns and symmetries in the storytelling and made it a game to try and call the next issue's cover. Remember, this was at a time when solicits and promo information was not for public consumption, so you didn't see every comic book cover two months before release. Well, he mapped it out that the Silk Spectre issue would have the Nostalgia bottle on the cover as the symbol that represents her; he may have called it for issue #10 instead of #9, but he also predicted that Sally's scrapbook would be the back-up so he gets the credit.
ATOM!: Doesn't surprise me a bit. Matt's smart like a robot.
Pages 1 – 5: Strife on Mars.
ATOM!: “Jon, you never take me anywhere good.” I guess it’s lucky for Laurie that Jon didn’t see her as predestined to die on Mars.
CARR: Years ago, around 1990, Terry Gilliam was attached to “Watchmen” and he was doing “Baron Munchausen” at the time. There's a scene on the moon with a weird bit of moving architecture and I always wondered if Gilliam was inspired by Doc's Mars palace.
Pages 6 – 9: Little Laurie and the snow globe. Jon gets his feelings hurt.
ATOM!: Poor Jon. Can’t avoid the crazy girl. Can’t avoid the heartache he knows is coming.
CARR: This is a visual device we've seen now with almost every major character: the p.o.v. shots that almost always involve the hands reaching out toward some sort of face or mask. Here, it's Laurie reaching for the snow globe, which in turn reflects her face. And yes, the roundness, the eyes, the reflective arcs all combine to form another variation of the smiley face motif. All sorts of stuff we recognize in Sally's apartment. Amazing how minimally Gibbons can draw a photo and we recognize it as the Minutemen group shot.
ATOM!: All of the origin stories so far have memories that involve angry parents. Maybe Moore & Gibbons needed to work out some stuff.
CARR: Some of the scenes definitely recall Rorschach's flashbacks. The castle inside the snow globe is an unusual image for “Watchmen.” Fairytales and fantasy stories have not been shown. No reason they wouldn't exist. The snow globe would seem to be from a Disneyland-type tourist attraction.
ATOM!: Hard to imagine a happiest place on this particular earth.
Pages 10 – 13: Old Home Week.
ATOM!: Can someone who’s paying closer attention remind me who Byron is?
CARR: Byron is Moth Man. According to “Under the Hood,” he was an alcoholic who was eventually institutionalized. But it is an odd scene that just shows another character ruined by their decision to don a costume.
ATOM!: Or their decision to down a bottle.
Pages 14 – 16: Young Laurie’s screen-test.
ATOM!: “Black Unrest” still makes me laugh. Answer to the civil rights issue? Put on a costume!
CARR: Well, that was Captain Metropolis's agenda. Clearly, a bit of an old-fashioned guy.
ATOM!: Ah, yes, the good ol' days...
CARR: The scene where Laurie meets the Comedian in the street. Wow. This one of those scenes that has so much more going on when you're re-reading.
ATOM!: Laurie sees it one way in the present and another in retrospect, Blake another and the audience still another.
CARR: More of that mixed-up sexual energy. Laurie is jazzed up from Jon's staring and here comes another older man--a very macho older man--lighting her cigarette.
ATOM!: Jon, Blake, Dan... if Laurie has a type it has more to do with costumes than anything else.
Pages 17 – 21: The beauty of deathscapes. Laurie confronts her past.
ATOM!: Is the balding guy at the party supposed to be G. Gordon Liddy?
CARR: Possibly, except Liddy would know why the Post reporters were shot, wouldn't he? This is one of those scenes that delineates the alternate history Moore was trying to create. The Comedian kills Woodward and Bernstein while they are investigating Watergate so Nixon remains a popular leader. Presumably, if they were killed in a garage, it was while they were meeting their main source Deep Throat.
ATOM!: It's a shame that Deep Throat didn't come out of that closet until recently. I'm sure Moore would have liked to put that in.
CARR: "Only once" is another of those great lines that you realize later has so many levels of meaning.
Pages 22-28 – The pieces come together. The clubhouse falls apart.
ATOM!: Each of these segments end with fluids being spilled. The snow-globe breaking Laurie’s tears, Byron’s glass, Laurie’s glass into Blake’s face, and here at the end, Laurie’s perfume bottle breaking the glass house.
CARR: Another symmetry is that an object falling to the Mars landscape also paced Jon’s trip down memory lane.
ATOM!: Past and present are all the same for Jon. The future is maybe a bit more blurry.
CARR: Laurie's whole realization is a bit over-written but I think Moore was afraid he had to spell it out. I have to say this sequence/issue is perhaps the most emotional part of Watchmen for me. Laurie realizing who her father is and having to deal with all the hatred she's carried around for years. It's powerful stuff. Talk about wondering about the road not taken. What if Sally told her...how different would life be for her? The Comedian might be a different person. She might not have been with Jon. Laurie really had the power to change the world and story of Watchmen. That's the thermodynamic miracle.
ATOM!: I've always been a sucker for these realization moments. It's one of those things that storytellers in different media attempt but so rarely get just right that it's fascinating to see them try. The use of the snow globe/perfume motif does draw some pretty thick lines of reference back to Citizen Kane.
CARR: In most detective stories, the murder is a device, it's not personal. A detective's job is to find out who the killer is. But here, in issue 9, Moore transforms the murder mystery and suddenly makes it personal.
Sally Jupiter’s Scrapbook
ATOM!: I keep imagining one of those VH1 specials ala “Behind The Music.” “With Sally’s hopes for Hollywood fame and fortune dashed, her life took an even worse turn with the loss of her team of masked adventures.”
CARR: I think that's what they are doing with "Under the Hood," taking the book as narration and making a documentary out of it for the DVD. It might be more Ken Burns than VH1, but similar.
ATOM!: That right there is the difference between us, ladies and gentlemen. I think VH1, Carr thinks Ken Burns.
CARR: The scrapbook reminds me of the National Lampoon Sunday Newspaper. Ever read it?
ATOM!: Don't think so. But, then again, you are a lot older than me.
CARR: It originally was published in the form of a newspaper with multiple sections, comics pages, magazine, ad circulars. But if you read everything and pieced together all the stories, you saw a portrait of the small town of Dacron that the townsfolk completely missed. That's how I feel reading the sordid tale of how Sally's 1940s biopic devolved into a Saturday adventure serial and eventually cheapo porn. But she's still proud enough to put the notices in her scrapbook.
ATOM!: Well, sure, we've both had embarrassing press about our shops lately, but that didn't stop us from buying multiple copies.
CARR: The letter from Larry mentions that Nelly and H.J. are still at it. H.J. is Hooded Justice and Nelly is Nelson Gardner aka "Captain Metropolis." So they were the gay couple. Earlier I had thought Larry was H.J.'s secret lover since Sally was being used as a beard. I still don't think Larry was that into Sally sexually and married her to protect her reputation.
ATOM!: He did, at least, seem to like straight porn.
CARR: Moore does not shy away from being politically incorrect. Sally admits in the interview that she feels responsible for her assault by the Comedian.
ATOM!: Well, look what she was wearing! Of course she was asking for it.
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.