Our Watchmen podcast kicks off in earnest as we break down the first issue of Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons’ seminal comic book series, “At Midnight, All the Agents…” Spoilers abound, but find out more about the structure behind the issue, Easter eggs, and how it all might tie into the upcoming HBO series of the same name.
The theme music for Watchmen Watch was written and performed by Jeff Solomon.
Plus, here’s a transcript of the episode for you to read through as you listen:
Alex: Welcome to Watchmen Watch. A podcast about HBO’s Watchmen where we watch Watchmen, and then watch you watching Watchmen, while you watch us watch Watchmen. I’m Alex.
Justin: I’m Justin.
Pete: I’m Pete. That’s too much, dude. That’s too much.
Alex: No, no. It’s just the right amount, it’s just the right amount.
Pete: No. That’s a little too much.
Alex: I got it. I nailed it. I nailed it. Crushed it, you guys. Episode over.
Justin: It’s very short. We’re doing short podcasts.
Alex: Now, we do need to apologize before we get into the bulk of our podcast. We do have a fourth cohost.
Justin: Alan Moore is our fourth host for this. He… We should say the writer of Watchmen, the comic book.
Alex: Yeah, so we’re very excited to have him on board.
Justin: And eventually, obviously he took his name off of the movie and the other comic book versions of it, and he was going to be here today but he actually isn’t here. He’s actually at DC comics physically taking his name off the comics.
Alex: Oh wow.
Pete: Oh wow.
Alex: That’s going to take him a while. They have a lot of copies.
Pete: Yeah, it’s a long [crosstalk 00:00:52].
Justin: But he’s going to be here, he said he’s definitely going to be here next week to talk about-
Alex: Well he better hurry up because Watchmen is I think the highest selling graphic novel of all time.
Justin: It’s got a lot of-
Alex: A lot of copies.
Justin: A lot of white out. A lot of white out coming in.
Alex: This guy is going to have to invest in it.
Justin: Yes, no, and he likes to smell it a little bit as well.
Pete: It’s going to take more time.
Alex: You probably know this, but Watchmen the TV series, is not going to be on until October on HBO. So in the intervening time, what we’re going to be doing on the next 12 episodes of Watchmen Watch is we’re going to be looking back at the comic issue by issue. And this week we’re going to be talking about the first issue of Watchmen At Midnight, All the Agents. That’s based on a Bob Dylan quote, I believe you dudes.
Alex: Let’s talk about this issue. I don’t know. I want to be honest about something upfront here.
Pete: Oh, here we go.
Alex: I want to be honest with you guys.
Justin: Ooh. Confessions.
Pete: Oh. Confessions.
Alex: I read Watchmen, all in a chunk, probably decades ago at this point.
Alex: I think I read it maybe, or skimmed it again, before the movie came out just so I could kind of familiarize myself with it. But it’s been years since I actually read this book.
Pete: Are you talking about the 80s? It’s been since the 80s?
Alex: The Zack Snyder Watchmen movie did not come out in the 80s. What is your joke?
Pete: I don’t know.
Justin: The 80s is when it came out.
Justin: That’s when you were there.
Alex: The book. Yes. He was there when Alan Moore was like, “The end.”
Justin: That’s why we got the connect.
Pete: Yeah. That’s how we got the phone number.
Alex: Anyway, I haven’t actually deeply read it in decades at this point. So doing that for this podcast, actually taking the time to make sure that I synthesized as much of the words, of the panels, and everything as possible, was first of all fascinating. Because I don’t know if you guys know this, this is a very good comic.
Justin: This is a very good comic.
Alex: Yes. It’s very well done. Alan Moore, good on writing. Dave Gibbons, very good on art.
Justin: He’s good on writing.
Justin: He’s good on writing.
Pete: Very good on writing.
Justin: He’s as good on writing as you are on saying that.
Alex: Yes, John Higgins on color. And it was edited by Len Wein and Barbara Kesel. This is… I really honestly was kind of blown away by how good this is.
Alex: Because we do a regular live comic book talk show.
Pete: We do.
Alex: Watchmen comes up a lot when we’re talking about it.
Alex: So it’s almost become abstract to me in terms of like, “Yeah, yeah, yeah. That’s the best comic book of all time. I get it. That’s fine.”
Justin: Yeah, no exactly. You don’t think about it as much anymore.
Alex: Right, but this is legitimately an excellent comic book.
Justin: Breaking news. Breaking news.
Pete: [crosstalk 00:03:28] blown away you are by this comic.
Justin: I felt the same way because… Like Alex was saying, actually rereading it, the pacing of this comic book is unbelievable.
Pete: Yeah. It really is.
Justin: It’s so shocking.
Pete: It starts out so well, grabs your attention, never lets go. It’s really impressive.
Justin: Just how much control Alan Moore has of the story from the jump and the art on top of that is just so good. Dave Gibbons’ art, it’s so… It’s of the era but it also feels timeless. It has a lot of the sort of dark shadowing to it, which gives it this sort of tense, bleak tone, but it still feels just as relevant as modern art.
Alex: Well, I think just real quick, the thing that I was going to say about the timeless thing, the thing that struck me is so many things you go back and read and you’re like, “Oh that, I can see how that worked at the time, why it was important.”
Alex: This is still a very good comic book.
Pete: And it’s also one of those things where the imagery and the stuff that they use in comics, everything that I see kind of informs them. It’s like one of those things that sticks with you. When I picture someone getting thrown out of a window, it’s always The Comedian.
Justin: Yeah. What you picture often, right?
Alex: Usually as you’re being thrown out a window.
Pete: But it’s done so iconically and so well-
Justin: First story windows.
Pete: Everything after that blows.
Justin: Yeah. The 9-panel grid that, it’s used in this is sort of a, and it’s not all… There’s not nine panels on every page, but using that grid as a basis, I feel like that’s something that a lot of comic book artists are coming back to now.
Pete: Yeah. Especially recently.
Justin: I also want to say in the 80s, this was in sort of the Cold War, like nuclear threat that definitely weighs heavily on this series. And now we’re sort of back in international politics being terrifying. Our American politics being expressed-
Pete: Keanu Reeves is popular again. It’s like the 80s all over again.
Justin: He really weighs in here, the Keanu Reeves of it all. So I do think rereading it now just in 2019 with our politics and culture definitely feels more relevant now than it did even when I read it in the 90s.
Pete: Oh wow.
Alex: Right. Well, you do have the whole weight of the Doomsday Clock playing throughout it and that’s something we regularly hear about right now.
Justin: It’s close.
Justin: To Midnight in our time, now.
Alex: It is.
Justin: I think we’re going to get
right here in New York City.
Pete: Oh man.
Justin: That would be-
Alex: Squidded right here in New York City.
Justin: That would be a fun surprise.
Pete: We should move, guys. We should move.
Justin: But do you think… It wouldn’t have the same impact because if we got squidded, we’d be like, “Oh, squid.”
Pete: Oh, cool. This is a promo for Watchmen on HBO.
Alex: Nice. Thanks guys.
Justin: Cool promo.
Pete: We’ve got to stay away from Times Square, they’re throwing squids.
Justin: Should we walk through the issue a little bit?
Alex: Yeah, absolutely.
Justin: So we start with, as Pete mentioned, a recap. Two cops are talking about the death of The Comedian.
Alex: Well, so let’s… This is one other… I mean I was struck by a lot in the issue.
Alex: But one of the things I definitely did not pick up on the first couple of times that I read it, is you have this first page, it starts on The Comedian’s, now iconic, button in a pool of blood. It pulls up, up, up, up, up as it goes up to this cop saying… What does he say? “It’s a long drop?”
Justin: “Hmm. That’s quite a drop.”
Alex: “That’s quite a drop.” You have Rorschach’s [crosstalk 00:06:36] narration over the entire thing, but you also have the guy that we don’t know yet is Rorschach walking through the blood, trailing the blood as he goes.
Alex: Pulling it with him. He’s pulling this death with him, which I think is very cool.
Pete: Yeah, he’s a creepy dude.
Justin: Yeah, as the cops are leaving that’s when you really see Rorschach for the first time.
Alex: And we still don’t… In this issue-
Justin: We do not.
Alex: We don’t know that he’s Rorschach.
Alex: But he is. This red-haired man is Rorschach as we find out later in the series. But the thing that I thought was so neat, when you look at it, is there’s three things in the issue, right? There’s this first page where the cops are looking down at the pool of [blotted death 00:00:07:12]. You have the final page where you have Dan Dreiberg and Laurie Blake? Wait, Laurie-
Justin: Laurie Jupiter or Juspeczyk.
Alex: Jupiter. Yeah, exactly. Not Laurie Blake. She’s Laurie Blake in the TV series. Laurie standing on that rooftop and you have the same zoom-out at the same pace looking down above them, which could imply that that’s another murder. That we’ve watched another death happening at the same time.
Alex: But then you also have Rorschach’s narration saying, “And I would look down at them and I would say no.”
Alex: There’s so many different layered things going on here at the same time.
Justin: And to add another layer, at that last panel to me, it’s Doctor Manhattan spying on them-
Justin: As Nite Owl’s out with his wife.
Alex: Right. And it’s his heart dying, potentially. Well, if Doctor Manhattan potentially has a heart.
Alex: I mean that’s really up for-
Pete: A heart breaking.
Alex: The other thing that I was really struck by in this issue as we walk through it, is it’s funny.
Alex: That’s something that I think people forget about Watchmen is there’s some funny moments. There’s some weird moments in here. It’s not… The wrong lesson that so many people have taken from Watchmen is, “You’ve got to make things dark and serious.”
Alex: And that’s not what this book is about at all.
Justin: In fact, it is dark and serious, but it’s the feeling, the way that lands is by having comedy, which creates a greater distance between the laughs to the really dark stuff. So you’re really on a roller coaster ride.
Pete: So you’re asking yourself, “Why so serious?”
Justin: Right. That’s exactly what my point is.
Alex: Yeah. Watchmen walked so the Dark Knight could run.
Justin: Watchmen watched so the Dark Knight could watch harder.
Alex: So we got that first page, you want to move to-
Justin: Yeah. So we have… And these cops, they seem sort of [scumbaggy 00:08:59] cops. And they’re sort of the heroes here.
Justin: And we’re seeing, interspersed with their investigation of the crime scene, you see flashback the murder happening of The Comedian, which was… Just hadn’t seen that before when I first read this. And, reading here, it’s really well-paced and it really creates this essential mystery. And at the same time, we don’t know who The Comedian is.
Justin: We don’t know this is a take on a Justice League-type team until much later. Not even in this issue.
Alex: Yeah. There’s something this issue does. Another thing this issue does very well, is introduce all the characters in a very fluid way through both these detectives initially, and then through Rorschach’s investigation where he approaches each of the characters. But it never feels like, “And now meet this character. And now meet this character.” And part of the reason is that Moore and Gibbons, Gibbons through the body language of the characters, but Moore through the writing, has set up all of these backstories and all this history. So people are not coming into it as, “We are fresh friends who have met each other for the first time.”
Alex: It’s when Nite Owl and Rorschach see each other for the first time. It’s for the first time in years.
Alex: And they broke apart and at least one of them doesn’t know why.
Justin: And you feel the weight of their relationship on all of these characters.
Pete: I really do think that because we read so many comic books, we can kind of tell at this point when people are just moving characters around to get them to a certain thing for something they have planned. And this is done in such a creative way. You don’t feel like they’re just moving characters.
Alex: It’s very fluid in terms of introducing the characters, in terms of the plot. Alan Moore, again, huge shocker here, a very good writer. But he knows how to get us across both plot and character at the same time because of all of the dialogue.
Justin: It would have been great if he was here to answer some of these questions I’m asking [crosstalk 00:00:10:51].
Alex: It’s a real disappointment to me.
Justin: He is going to be here next week, as we keep saying.
Alex: Yes. I’m excited. We’ll save some of the questions while we talk about episode two.
Justin: Definitely. Definitely. Definitely. Definitely. Yeah, so the spine of the issue is Rorschach sort of going around to the different heroes and warning them like, “Hey, The Comedian is dead and you might be next.”
Justin: And it’s telling them-
Pete: And what a good friend.
Justin: Yes, he’s a good friend but he also is… He feels like he’s the one character after their super team broke up. And you feel the sadness for everyone in different ways. Like Nite Owl, he’s sad because he doesn’t have anything else going on in his life. He’s visiting the original Nite Owl who also has a sad life and wrote a book about superheroes. As he visits everyone, it’s clear it was a bad relationship. Their relationships have not maintained throughout. But he’s the only one who’s sort of still in his mode, on the case trying to figure this out.
Justin: So you definitely identify with him as the character, the hero driving through.
Pete: Oh yeah.
Justin: But some of the things we were talking about before, he is saying some stuff that now, I’m in our modern politics and culture. He’s saying some pretty out-right shit here.
Alex: Yes. I do not think you’re supposed to identify with Rorschach at all.
Alex: No, I really don’t think so.
Pete: He’s the only guy I identify with.
Alex: Really? What do you identify with in him? And I’m scared to ask.
Pete: The way that he doesn’t trust people, the way that he feels like he is creepier or dirtier than people. The way he lives is different.
Justin: He’s an outsider?
Pete: He’s an outsider. Yeah, thank you.
Pete: And also the fact that he covers his face and doesn’t show people kind of who he is and what he’s about.
Justin: And his dedication to the sort of the case and being-
Pete: Yeah, exactly. He’s above all else. We’re above getting proper meals or [crosstalk 00:12:46].
Justin: I think that’s the trap. That’s the trap of what you were saying before about the lesson a lot of comic book writers and companies took from this was like, “Oh, we gotta do this.” I think now after we’ve read hundreds of issues of The Punisher and all these other darker heroes that came out after Watchmen, it’s tricked us into thinking we should identify with Rorschach when really he has just as many-
Pete: Plus, he’s fucked up.
Alex: He’s violent.
Justin: He’s super violent.
Pete: Which is great.
Justin: He’s a loner. He considers the rest of the world filth and just like an [abattoir 00:13:13].
Alex: Let’s talk about that a little bit because his… It’s interesting. I’m sure there’s much better ways of saying this in a much… There’s been so much research and writing about Watchmen in the intervening years, but he’s Rorschach, right? Like his mask is a fluid Rorschach test that people can ostensibly see whatever they want.
Justin: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Alex: They look at him and they see whatever they want in him, but everybody sees the same thing in Rorschach.
Alex: Everybody sees exactly who he is and he is pretty straight up exactly who he is at the same time. Versus everybody else who is currently, they’re not wearing masks. They’re all supposedly being who they are, including say, and this is a huge spoiler if you’ve never watched Watchmen, but Adrian Veidt, Ozymandias, who is the real villain of the series, he’s not wearing a mask right now. He’s not wearing a costume. He’s like, “This is who I am. I’m a businessman. I’m smart, but I’m not really the smartest man in the world. This is me upfront.” But everybody else is hiding something.
Justin: Yeah, except Rorschach.
Alex: Rorschach’s the only one-
Pete: Rorschach’s [crosstalk 00:14:21] honest one.
Justin: Rorschach is calling them out. He’s going out and calling each of them out in these missions.
Alex: Right. So I guess what I was getting around to is the point that I think he wants you to see whatever you see in the world on him, but all he sees in the world is that filth. Is that disgustingness, is everybody is airing on the side of bad. That’s why he makes this, frankly crazy assumption off of one murder, that somebody is killing capes.
Alex: You know, there’s really no evidence there and he’s not necessarily wrong, but he’s not necessarily right either. It’s because he goes to, The Comedian is dead, what is the worst case scenario?
Alex: And the worst case scenario is they’re coming for all of us.
Alex: He lives walking through that puddle of blood all the time.
Justin: And he comments so much on the culture.
Justin: But at the same time he’s a reflection of all of the comments he’s making. He is the Rorschach test for the culture.
Justin: But like some of the [outrights 00:15:18] tell you.
Pete: Are you okay, are you dying there?
Justin: Sorry. Yeah, I’m choking. The truth… Betraying even his own shallow liberal affectations. There’s just some stuff in here that really hit me in this rereading of it in our modern world where the… In all this kind of language and mentality really like proliferates on Reddit and different spots on the internet where a lot of bad shit comes out of it.
Alex: Yeah. Now, one other visual thing that I really loved throughout the issue, just in terms of the body language, there’s so many little subtle things that happen. There is a… There’s a bunch of graffiti like, “Who watches the Watchmen?” But it’s kind of cut off each time. I don’t think we see it fully each time it pops up.
Alex: There’s also pirate comics throughout, which I think we should talk about the whole comic book, in a second when we get to the Under the Hood, because there’s some fascinating stuff there. But there’s this little moment where Rorschach takes a pocket full of sugar cubes, they never talk about it, and then five pages later he’s eating a sugar cube and it’s so gross. He’s like a fly who’s feasting on garbage the entire time.
Justin: He eats a can of cold beans.
Alex: I don’t know why you’re still into this after we talked about it.
Pete: I love it. I love how gross he is.
Alex: Let’s talk about the Doctor Manhattan stuff.
Justin: Yeah, so after Rorschach goes to Nite Owl, who’s living a sad life, he goes and beats up a bunch of people in a bar.
Justin: To try, what Pete obviously likes, to try to figure out… And they’re like-
Alex: I really think you’re taking the wrong lessons from this comic book.
Justin: It’s crazy though. He calls it his exercise and it’s just… Because there’s no real, it was a one-person job killing The Comedian. The fact that there would be henchmen there. It seems like he’s doing this fully just to beat people up for [crosstalk 00:17:02].
Alex: Yeah. Absolutely.
Pete: Well, it’s his exercise. Some people like to walk in the park. Other people have gym memberships. He goes to a bar-
Justin: All equally reasonable things.
Justin: He goes and talks to Ozymandias. Veidt, who’s a corporate sellout basically, shits on him a little bit. Then he goes to talk to Doctor Manhattan who lives in the… Works for the government, is still ostensibly a mask. He’s distant from the world. We see this great panel where he’s three stories tall to first meet him.
Justin: Such a great visual.
Alex: And everything else throughout the book, for the most part, is very, very tight. It holds that 9-panel grid until we see Doctor Manhattan where it completely opens up.
Alex: And this gets to something that I think… Also in particular, not to lump on it too much, but the Zack Snyder movie got completely wrong about Watchmen, is these aren’t superheroes.
Alex: These are regular people. Even Adrian Veidt is, certainly he’s pushing down his intelligence a little bit.
Alex: He’s trying to be modest about it, but he’s not actually the smartest man in the world. He just has a lot of resources at this point.
Alex: Same with Rorschach. Rorschach isn’t super strong. The Comedian isn’t super strong. Superheroes have developed in a way, but they’re really just humans.
Alex: The one exception is Doctor Manhattan. But the other thing that I think even everybody gets wrong about Doctor Manhattan, that’s very clear in this issue, is he’s not all powerful.
Alex: He doesn’t know everything and he can’t do everything.
Justin: No, and he’s even learning about his powers. The whole series is about him figuring out what it means to be this sort of godlike person, but he doesn’t have command of it. And he’s so obsessed with research that he’s not able… It’s not about power for him.
Justin: It’s about, “Oh, I can look into this now.”
Justin: It’s like someone who would have the internet for the first time. Like a scientist having the internet is what Doctor Manhattan feels like in this.
Alex: Yeah. So we do get this great character scene and we get to see a lot of what’s going on with Doctor Manhattan. We get to see what’s going on with Laurie and also Rorschach, who she doesn’t like at all. And then we get the other big plot that’s gonna play out throughout the series, which they dance around for the first half of the issue very purposely until Laurie comes out and says it, which is that The Comedian raped her mom.
Alex: He raped her mom, he assaulted her mom. That came out during the Hollis Mason, who’s the original Nite Owl in his book Under the Hood, and she believes the story. Rorschach is not 100% sure, if I remember correctly.
Justin: Yeah. And she actually says almost. She doesn’t say it.
Justin: So everyone, it’s like a suspicious, you don’t know what the deal is in this moment.
Alex: Right. And we’re still learning a lot about these characters. We don’t even really… We haven’t heard The Comedian say a word.
Justin: We don’t know anything about anything in this.
Justin: And it’s crazy how much they just give us right out of the gate and we’re just like, “Okay, we’ll keep up with this.” It’s dense in a great way.
Alex: And then at the end, we see Nite Owl and Laurie end up going on a pseudo-date together.
Alex: It’s not supposed to be a date. It’s mostly catching up. But they both like it because they’re friends. One thing that I do want to point out that I thought was kind of fascinating, there’s little things here. This is an alternate history. It’s split off from some point, both from our world, from the DC Universe, from anything else. There are little things. I believe there’s a turkey there with four legs that they’re serving at the restaurant. And there are other things like that that give you little indicators, not just through the fashion but literally the things that people are eating. The world is a little different.
Justin: Oh yeah.
Justin: That feels like… The turkey with four legs feels like a mistake, but maybe not.
Alex: No, I don’t think it is.
Justin: Really? It’s so small in this panel.
Alex: If you have a world, again jumping to the end here, where Ozymandias is able to build genetically a cat creature. He’s able to build a squid.
Alex: What’s to say he hasn’t also done that where, “Great, we’ve created a Turkey with a little more meat on it.”
Justin: That’s true. That’s fair.
Justin: We do get a mention of Action Comics in the back matter, an excerpt from Under the Hood, which is the book that the first Nite Owl read. Was sort of a superhero tell-all, which I reread for this as well and man, it’s so good.
Alex: I want to say I reread it, but this is another… This is the second thing I wanted to be honest with you guys about, I don’t think I ever read it.
Justin: Oh really?
Alex: I don’t. I think I completely was like, “Eh, word book. No thanks.”
Pete: Yeah, that’s exactly [crosstalk 00:21:12].
Alex: And I was so wrong because reading it for this, I was blown away.
Justin: The first story, it’s sort of the intro to the book and it’s just a story about him and his dad at this auto-mechanic shop that he worked at. It’s such a great, short story.
Alex: It’s a great short story. It parallels what went on in the first issue. But from a continuity standpoint, when you’re talking about that alternative evolution, as you mentioned, he talks about, Hollis Mason talks about, “Oh, I remember reading Action Comics and seeing the introduction of Superman, but the alternate history of Watchmen, what actually happened was they released Action Comics.” It was big, people loved it, but then a couple of years later, the first vigilante hooded justice showed up and then people didn’t need superhero comics anymore because superheroes existed in real life and that’s why pirate comics became the biggest thing.
Alex: So when we link up in the current continuity in Watchmen, everybody reads pirate comics and we’re going to get into that pretty soon with the Black Freighter-
Pete: Curse of the Black Freighter.
Alex: Curse of the Black Freighter, and everything else, which again provides a lot of parallels for what’s going on. But yeah, I felt super dumb for having not read it that first time through.
Justin: Yeah, no, it’s so good. Just rereading it I was like, “Oh right, I forgot how good this was.”
Alex: Yeah, definitely check out Watchmen #1 from DC comics.
Justin: Well, you can’t recommend it.
Alex: Oh man.
Justin: Find it if you’re-
Pete: [Hard take 00:22:37]. Hard take.
Alex: All right. Next week we are going to be talking about the second issue of Watchmen, so be sure to read it before then if you want to check it out with us. And of course as the series gets closer we’ll talk more and more about that. You could support this podcast at patreon.com/comicbookclub. Also, we do a live show every Tuesday night at 8:00 PM at the Peoples Improv Theater Loft in New York. Come on by. We’ll chat with you about Watchmen. Pete, what do you want to plug?
Pete: Find us on Facebook so you get to know about the amazing guests we have on our live show.
Justin: Follow us on Twitter @comicbooklive.
Alex: Also, follow us on Twitter [@atwatchWatchmen1 00:23:20] for Watchmen stuff.
Pete: Yeah. Number one.
Alex: Number one. Watch Watchmen number one podcast. Comicbookclublive.com for this podcast and more. You can subscribe all sorts of places. Our RSS feed is on the website and remember we taped this podcast 35 minutes ago.
Justin: Oh, Alan just texted me again. He’s definitely going to be here next week.