Watchmen Watch: Issue #5, “Fearful Symmetry”
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What do you see in the fifth issue of Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons’ Watchmen, “Fearful Symmetry”? The focus turns to Rorschach, as he gets closer to discovering the truth about Eddie Blake’s murder — and the police get closer to him. Plus, we explore Alan Moore’s greatest Dad jokes.
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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 Watchmen, where we talk about Watchmen the comic, we talk about Watchmen the TV show, we talk about Watchmen the movie, we talk about Watchmen the bread, we talk about Watchmen the breakfast cereal, Watchmen the shoes, Watchmen the building, Watchmen my cousin, who is named Watchmen Zalben. We talk about all of this and so much more on this podcast. I am Alex.
Justin: I’m Justin.
Pete: I am Pete. And it’s too much Alex, it’s too much.
Alex: It’s never enough.
Pete: Too much watching.
Alex: It’s never enough. You watch things with your eyes, it’s an unlimited amount of things you can watch. So that’s what’s exciting about it. Justin-
Pete: I watch things with my heart.
Justin: Nice. Me too, buddy.
Alex: I couldn’t help but notice, our fourth co-host, he’s not here. What’s going on? You got any news on that?
Justin: Ah yes, I was hoping it wouldn’t come up, but it does, because he’s one of four. He just texted me, Alan Moore, our fourth co-host, the writer of Watchmen, very famous. He really has planned on being here, but he’s finished taking his name off stuff and now he’s taking my name off stuff.
Pete: Oh man.
Justin: He’s erasing, I won’t have an identity. He took my name off my birth certificate.
Alex: Oh that’s crazy. I was going to say, you just released that erotic novella.
Justin: Yeah. Thank you for pronouncing it correctly. As I said, lightly Italian. It is a novella.
Alex: You had a really beautiful reception the other day. Alan Moore was there. We got a little tipsy on some pink sparkling champagne bubbles, some pink bubbles as he likes to call them.
Justin: Yes. My drink of choice, yep.
Alex: Yeah. But I’m sad he’s not here. I was very excited to talk about this issue. We’re going to be talking about issue five of Watchmen, Fearful Symmetry. Pete, I know you’re clapping because you love fear, right?
Pete: No. This was one of my favorite issues.
Justin: He loves symmetry. Pete’s a symmetry dude. Real chasing butterflies type guy.
Alex: Well this is interesting. This is something that’s come up that we’ve talked about a little bit when we first launched the podcast on our Patreon Slack. People were saying, “Eww, I wonder what’s going to happen when Pete gets the issue about Rorschach because the discussion which I thought was very well-said with the Patreon members, a bunch of people were talking about how Rorschach as a teenager or potentially when you first read Watchmen when you’re sort of coming of age, you potentially identify with Rorschach. You’re like, “Oh, I’m this other. I’m this nerd who’s reading comic books.”
Alex: But as you get older and particularly now, you understand that Rorschach is a bit of a conspiracy nut and that’s saying it very lightly. And that’s something that they’re playing off of. We talked about this in the preview episode on the HBO show. They’re blowing it out there, having seemingly a bunch of people called the Seventh Cavalry who completely misunderstood the writings of Rorschach and are using him to spur on an alt-right-esque movement.
Alex: Now this is the issue, last issue, focused almost completely on Doctor Manhattan, his origin, what was going on in his head.
Justin: Yeah. It was a real thinking man’s issue.
Alex: It was. This issue, it’s not completely Rorschach, but it’s certainly the Rorschach issue. Is that why you were excited, Pete? And in total, given that you do love Rorschach that much, but we’ve been having these discussions in the podcast, did you view this issue any differently?
Pete: No. I still very much love Rorschach, think he’s a solid dude. I … It’s funny because …
Justin: Solid dude. He’s [crosstalk 00:03:43] my bachelor party.
Alex: Do you know what? I would expect the most Rorschach if he saw you, give you a sweet fist bump.
Pete: Yeah. Yeah. I tell you what, though, it’s funny because now I relate the dude reading the comic next to the newsstand.
Justin: Why is that, because you read comics?
Pete: Because I read comics and I swear the same way he does. So yeah, I still think Rorschach is great. I don’t know, I love how grimy he is, how real and raw he is, his problem with authority. I think he’s a solid character and I think he’s a lot of fun. I definitely don’t agree with a lot of his [crosstalk 00:04:29].
Justin: I would argue that he is not. He’s not fun.
Pete: What’s that?
Justin: He’s not fun. I would argue he’s not fun.
Pete: Oh weird.
Justin: He’s super negative. He has a horrible world view.
Pete: But what about that whole thing about look behind you? That was fun. What about shoving that dude in the fridge? That was fun.
Justin: Well, he’s throwing around this poor, broken-down man who’s dying anyway and he’s one of the few people that Rorschach encounters who is truly below him and I think he takes pleasure in inflicting pain on him which is something not super heroic.
Justin: And I just think Rorschach is conspiracy theorist sort of head space and the fact that he doubts everything happens to be right in this case and he’s the only one that sniffs out the mystery here. But think of any other day in his life before this when he was like, “Oh, look at this diner flyer,” from the …
Pete: Yeah. But it’s all leading up to this day, though. This is when he’s the hero.
Justin: But there’s so many days that he was just shaking down some random strangers and them for something that wasn’t there.
Pete: That’s just him sacrificing himself for the moment.
Justin: And also, all the people he beats up because he thinks they ate at the same diner where there was a crime.
Pete: Right. Right. That makes sense. Well I just want to say, though, I’m not saying that I agree with how he’s doing things, just someone who’s reading a comic, I think he’s a fun character and I’m super glad that he’s a part of this world. I love how he fits into all of this.
Alex: Wait. Sorry. Are you talking about the kid sitting next to the newsstand or Rorschach?
Pete: Well I mean it’s a great character in the story.
Pete: Alex’s point, it’s just so interesting the way you read it when you’re a kid and it’s cool to be … and this was also when we were reading this was probably in the mid-to-late ’90s/early 2000s, where badass comics were all about who is this mysterious badass who dwells in darkness? All that shit. And he seemed just cool and now you see all the stuff that sticks out. It’s whoa! His world view is actually the bad.
Alex: Well on a thematic bent, just to take a step back from this a bit and we were talking about this quite a bit during the Doctor Manhattan podcast, but I think it’s also very much applicable here. Among the other themes that they’re dealing with very heavily in this comic, on the character bent, it’s a lot about can you change?
Alex: And more than can you change, it’s can you change from whatever your formative point was? That’s something that Doctor Manhattan is dealing with. He was remade when he was blasted apart. Is he Jon Osterman? Is he Doctor Manhattan? What is he now? Is he something that exists simultaneously in that moment when he was destroyed, as well as the past and present and future? And Rorschach …
Pete: Or is he the pirate and you know, on that raft?
Justin: That’s the one thing I don’t think he is.
Alex: No. No. He’s not. Again, I was talking about Doctor Manhattan. But Rorschach is … very good, jumping all over the place, Pete. Rorschach in a parallel, he is the character that cannot move on from the heyday of being a vigilante. The very rare glimpses we get of him during his partnership with Nite Owl, that’s when it seems like he was probably at his best, right?
Alex: He was at his cleanest. He was probably not happy, but he was certainly at his happiest. And he is the person that is holding onto that. He’s the person that’s resisted the Keene Act, resisted the future and ultimately to jump ahead to the end of the story, that’s his undoing. He can’t change. He can’t move forward with the times, even though Adrian Veidt is the person who is adapting to the times and not only adapting to them, but trying to force them forward in a certain way. So I think that something that plays really heavily here is …
Justin: I mean it checks out. I think that’s why Rorschach is such a perfect name and identity for him. The world around him is changing. He does not and so the interpretation of his actions is different. Just like the Rorschach Test, depending on who’s looking at it …
Alex: Yeah, exactly.
Justin: They’re going to see whatever they see in it. And I also think that plays into how we read this when we were younger and we’re reading it now and we have a totally different interpretation because we’ve changed. This character has not changed. The Rorschach blot is exactly what it was when Alan Moore wrote this and Dave Gibbons drew it and now we have a totally different understanding of him. And that’s amazing to have that level of synergy. So cool.
Pete: It also says something about the writing, how it’s the same. You change around it. You get different things from it, you know? It’s pretty awesome.
Alex: The other thing that I’d say, though, is that Watchmen was so influential, the comics, that as you were pointing out, Justin, we … I know I didn’t read Watchmen when it came out in 1986. I probably read it 10 years later after there had been a full decade of Watchmen influencing comics and then there was a reaction to that reaction and a reaction to that reaction and so on and so forth.
Alex: So whereas Watchmen was coming out and redefining things as it was happening, this also, we’ve seen, we’ve grown up reading comics for the past couple of decades that have influenced our thinking about comics. We’ve seen comics … You know, just to get into the specific structure of this issue, I thought it was funny because we were reading this one because there’s another comic book that we read recently that we reviewed that was very similar structurally.
Alex: So this is structured like a Rorschach blot. It’s essentially a palindrome. It starts at the beginning, meets in the middle and then parallels towards the end. There’s a book called Ice Cream Man that came out recently that did that, as well. It was more specifically a palindrome where you could read it backwards and forwards and change the story, depending on how you looked at it, which clearly is based on this issue. So even now, even decades later, there are still comic books that are adapting and using the influence of Watchmen, which makes a lot of sense.
Alex: Should we jump into the issue? Should we walk through it?
Justin: Yeah. Let’s walk through it. Do you wish that there were more characters named after psychological evaluation tests?
Justin: Like role play would be a fun … Okay you, I’m the hero, but now I’m going to be the villain, you be the hero and let’s see how this goes.
Alex: Yeah. There was that comic book that came out that was called Sometimes Just A Cigar Man.
Justin: Oh yes, yes.
Alex: That was kind of interesting. Of course, Oedipus, the original superhero.
Justin: Oh yeah, yeah. Cool.
Alex: So here, I’ll start walking us through the issue. So we have this first page, which again is paralleled in the final page, as well, where we see some footsteps. One of the great things about this issue in particular, we’ve talked certainly about Alan Moore and we’ve talked about Dave Gibbons, we’ve only touched on John Higgins’ coloring a little bit in various issues. It’s so prominent here because almost every panel changes the coloring. There’s almost a light flashing back and forth, sort of rolling back and forth here.
Alex: And we get that in particular, it sets that up right in the first page as somebody, it turns out it’s Rorschach, walks up this dirty stairway on his way to find Moloch, who he knows, knows more about whatever conspiracy is going on.
Alex: And then to Pete’s point, I sort of get what Pete’s saying because you do have a sense of the extreme vigilante, the punisher and whatnot, him doing things where he … Moloch slowly walks through his house and then eventually finds a note in the refrigerator with a Rorschach blot that says behind you. And then he turns around and Rorschach is there and Rorschach pushes him into the fridge. What do you think, Justin? You seem a little conflicted about this. Moves like this, are they cool to you or do they feel dangerous?
Justin: It was cool. It’s a cool move. It’s a cool storytelling thing, but putting myself in the head of Rorschach, why do this to this poor … He’s just scaring. Maybe I just have more sympathy for Moloch now. He didn’t need to … This is like playing a prank on this poor man who he knows he’s dying, he knows he’s terrified. It’s just unnecessary. And then you’re just going to hassle him anyway.
Pete: Yeah. But just to back up the truck a little bit, the coloring … Just it’s one of these things where it’s art and stuff like this that makes it so easy to go back to this book, because the paneling, because the coloring is so awesome. It doesn’t get tired to look at it and to kind of go back and re-read it again. There is so much cool stuff going on in this book that it’s just, you know, you kind of, as we mentioned, get different stuff.
Pete: But yeah. Sure. But he doesn’t know what’s going on with Moloch. He thinks that Moloch is maybe holding back information. So regardless of his health, regardless of that stuff, he wants information and he feels he’s in the right and getting it this kind of gruff, you know, overly masculine way.
Justin: I mean I take that point. I guess Moloch could be involved somehow.
Justin: But do you think Rorschach thinks that he is here?
Pete: Well he definitely does because he goes to his place to get info from him and in his mind, it’s he knows what’s going on, he’s on the list, he’s got to be in the loop.
Alex: I do think Moloch, not Moloch, excuse me, Rorschach is very much grasping at straws. This is one of the flaws with him, right, is that he is eventually right. He does manage to stumble on the right answers, but he’s going for everything. There was an issue back where he looked at Laurie and Dan being together and he was like, “Well, well, well. They’re probably cheating on Doctor Manhattan. Maybe they planned the whole thing. Maybe it’s Laurie. I’m going to go after her.” Which is just as crazy as any other possibility. It just turns out he stuffs Moloch in a fridge and eventually discovers the right answer and gets on the right track with things.
Alex: To your point, Justin, I think part of it is that we’ve already … Now we’re five issues in, right? These superheroes are not good people. They haven’t had a good relationship with the world. They haven’t done a good thing. So if it was another comic book or like, “Fuck yeah, Rorschach. Yeah. Go for it Rorschach. Get him. Get that fucker Moloch the Mystic.” I get it, but we know he’s a sick dude with cancer who maybe did some not so nice things in the past, but ultimately, he’s going to die very soon. So it’s not deserved what’s happening to him from Rorschach.
Justin: And at the end of this issue, he goes back to hassle Moloch again and that’s where he gets caught. So he does pay a price for his cruelty.
Pete: Well, no, no, no.
Justin: And at the end of his panel …
Pete: Hold on. Hold on a second. Hold on a second. First off, when he’s got the fridge closed, there’s that whole panel where Rorschach is thinking and then he realizes oh, I’m wrong. I’m going to let him out of the fridge. And the only reason he goes back to his place is not to beat information out of him, it’s because he got a note in the trashcan that says, “Meet me at 11:30. I have news.” So he doesn’t go back to harass him. He gets set up.
Alex: I think you’re wrong about that and I think you’re wrong on both counts. First of all, with the refrigerator thing, he’s stuffing Moloch in the refrigerator and Moloch says, “Oh no, no, no. Oh God, don’t. Rorschach please, it wasn’t me. I don’t know. I don’t know who it was.” He closed him in the refrigerator and he doesn’t think better of it. He realizes okay, I think Moloch is kind of telling me the truth now, so I’ll go let him out of this refrigerator.
Pete: Yeah, he doesn’t know.
Alex: He doesn’t feel bad about it.
Pete: No. He realizes, oh, he doesn’t know anything and he lets him out.
Alex: I guess. But I don’t know. Rorschach’s not a good guy here. I’m sorry.
Justin: And he hasn’t slept in many days, so he’s not thinking straight.
Alex: Right. Have you ever been stuffed in a fridge Pete?
Pete: Huh. I’m thinking.
Alex: What’s the weirdest place you’ve ever been stuffed Pete?
Pete: In a locker. I had my head shoved in the toilet for a swirley.
Alex: Oh jeez. Yikes. Wait, were you really stuffed in a locker?
Pete: Yeah dude.
Alex: By a bully.
Alex: Oh man.
Pete: Football players.
Alex: Oh wow. I had to do that to myself.
Justin: Oh, you didn’t even have a bully?
Alex: No. That’s not a joke.
Justin: Back in my day, we didn’t have bullies. Last week of school [crosstalk 00:17:26].
Alex: I was a nerd. I had never been stuffed in a locker, so I stuffed myself in a locker just to get the experience.
Justin: Wow, nice. Got your cred.
Alex: Yeah, I did.
Pete: Did you close it all the way and did someone have to let you out?
Alex: Yeah. I closed it all the way and my friend was waiting out there and I said, “Okay, you can let me out now.” And then he did.
Justin: Did you give yourself a wedgie? Were you playing out your own father issues on yourself?
Alex: Listen. I don’t want to get into it, but yes.
Justin: Did you comb your hair back?
Alex: Wait. Hold on Justin. I see what you’re doing. Where’s the weirdest place you’ve been stuffed?
Justin: Oh, interesting. I guess I haven’t really been stuffed in a lot of places. I was in a cave once for a long time.
Alex: For a long time?
Justin: Well I was in there. I was like, “I don’t want to leave.”
Alex: Oh okay. You went on a cave tour?
Justin: Oh. I was in a culvert underneath a railroad tracks and there was a beaver in there with us and that was a place I didn’t want to be.
Alex: Were you in a cartoon at the time or what was going on?
Justin: This was just out … My countrified cred which clashes my nerd cred. There was a beaver dam we had to break up because the water in the lake was getting too high, so we had to go down and break up the beaver dam. And part of doing that, we crawled into this culvert because it was dammed up and the beaver happened to be there and he was in the water like the monster in Star Wars in A New Hope that’s after them in the trash compacter.
Pete: Yeah. In the trash compacter, right?
Pete: That’s called Dianoga. Anyway, go on.
Alex: Did you try shooting the beaver with your laser gun?
Justin: Alex, get back in your locker for saying that.
Alex: All right. Yeah. Sorry about that guys.
Justin: You didn’t need to say that. Get in your locker. And that’s where my third brother was killed by that beaver that day.
Alex: Oh Jesus.
Pete: Oh man.
Justin: Wow, the third Tyler brother.
Alex: They rumored that for so long in the comics and then finally they revealed the third Tyler brother. That was huge.
Justin: Yeah. We called him Jason X.
Pete: Oh dude. You’re way to casual.
Alex: Let’s get to Rorschach just for a second. So as he’s walking out of Moloch’s place, we get a glimpse again of the sign that’s outside there which is a skull and crossbones made out of an R. To the point that Pete made earlier, do you think, at least in this issue or is it all of the issues, that Rorschach is the pirate in Tales of the Black Freighter? Could be?
Justin: Interesting. Yes. I mean, this issue has the most Black Freighter stuff up to this point, as well. And he is the one who’s life is at the ultimate low point, where he’s lashing together pieces of information like the dead bodies of the people around him. I would argue that’s what his world view is, that nothing is worthwhile. He’s just trying to get by and he’s willing to do anything no matter how horrifying to keep moving.
Alex: Well and he’s also the person who is … He’s the only one that realizes there’s some sort of doom coming, unlike the pirate in Tales of the Black Freighter who knows specifically it’s the Black Freighter that’s coming for everybody, that’s coming for his family. Rorschach doesn’t know what it is yet. He just knows something bad is going to happen and he’s trying to go as fast as he can to stop it while everybody else, Dan, Laurie, even Doctor Manhattan are kind of just going about their lives and doing their own things. So I think that point is well-made, Pete. Then we …
Alex: Yeah. Then we get a scene with the two cops who are such interesting characters to me.
Alex: Well they’re interesting because there’s all these other bigger than life, lifelike characters which are the superheroes, the Minute Men and the Crime Busters and everybody else. And then you just have these two cops on the beat who keep coming in every once in a while sort of like a Rosencrantz and Guildenstern figure. And it’s fun to see them. I don’t remember how many more times they turn up, but it was surprising to me to see them again in this issue.
Pete: All right. Well before I unpack that, I just want to talk about I love how, you know, we kind of have Rorschach’s journal talking about a flash of enlightenment and then you kind of, the next panel is Buddha on the back of a door, you know, with blood. I think that’s pretty awesome.
Justin: You love a little Buddha?
Alex: You love a little Buddha?
Pete: Well I love the enlightenment cut-to. I think that’s a fun thing.
Alex: Well a couple of things about it. I mean first of all, it has the same blood splash as what’s going on on Eddie Blake’s smiley button, so it’s definitely a bit defaced in that way. It’s exactly the same way. And then also, it’s something that’s perfectly even and parallel like the Rorschach blot, like the sign outside Moloch the Mystic. So there’s that …
Pete: Also like Doctor Manhattan’s world he’s building on Mars.
Alex: No, I don’t think so. I mean, that’s a little uneven in terms of his watch cogs and stuff, right? He’s just trying to create order, but Rorschach has the same thing backwards and forwards and I think that’s what’s going on.
Pete: I don’t know why you’re fighting me on this.
Alex: Well, we also get … we also get in the first half of the issue, we get this triangle with the Buddha and in the second half of the issue, we get the triangle with the, oh gosh what do you call them? Gay … not gay/lesbians. Whatever they’re called in this world. It’s something slightly different than what it actually should be. We’ll find it when we get to it.
Pete: Yeah. I’m just saying, though, when Doctor Manhattan is floating on Mars, all these triangles start appearing in the ground and then keep growing up.
Alex: Yeah. Those are the watch cogs.
Pete: Right. But I’m saying they look like triangles, which is what Buddha is in [crosstalk 00:23:23].
Alex: They’re wheels. They’re circles Pete.
Justin: We see a lot of triangles just in [inaudible 00:23:27].
Pete: Dude. You’re killing me man. The page here, there’s just literally triangles on it where Doctor Manhattan is … I don’t know why you’re fighting that [crosstalk 00:23:36].
Justin: If you go to the next page, there’s a triangle. Think about that.
Alex: Yeah. If you fold over the corner of the page, there’s a triangle.
Pete: Okay. Cool.
Justin: Pete’s is a triangle.
Alex: All I’m saying is some people see triangles, some people see circles. Let’s just call them shapes, you know?
Pete: All right. Let’s talk about the cops that you love so much.
Alex: I do like those cops. But I think we could actually move on. We talked about the Black Freighter a little bit. There’s a scene …
Pete: Wait. Why do you like the cops? They don’t seem very good at their job or aware of anything.
Alex: I like them because I am curious to see more of them and how they play into the narrative.
Alex: That’s all. I’m [crosstalk 00:24:20].
Justin: You may feel like they’re just another example of sort of the bleakness of the everyday world. We get these two scenes back-to-back with the cops who sort of don’t know what they’re doing and just talking about how the world is all fucked. And then the next scene is the kid reading the comic book or I guess the man reading the comic book and the newspaper dealer. And they’re talking about the same thing, but they’re sort of a little more scared, as opposed to being resigned to their fate.
Pete: Yeah. Now I just want to also say we talked about reading it younger and then reading it now. When I was a kid, I definitely didn’t pick up on how meta this was, having a kid read the comic while I’m reading the comic, you know?
Alex: Do you think, it would have been kind of interesting if they had the pirate in the Black Freighter tale also reading a comic, maybe a comic about Pete LePage?
Justin: Oh, that’s good.
Pete: I think I would have picked up on that when I was younger.
Justin: Maybe they’ll do that in the show.
Alex: Personalized shows. That’s the next iteration. After that, we get a quick scene with Dan and Laurie as their relationship starts to build a little bit in this issue. Laurie has been kicked out of the place she was living. She’s lost all of her money. She doesn’t necessarily want to look for a handout, but Dan offers, says, “Hey, you can stay at my place. That’s absolutely fine.” And there’s this great panel. We’ve talked a lot about the juxtaposition in this comic book. But this great panel at the end where they’ve finished their meal, they’re walking away and it says, “We’re both leftovers.”
Alex: Now the other thing …
Justin: HBO’s The Leftovers.
Alex: HBO’s The Leftovers. It’s a huge hint going on there.
Alex: He also says we’re lost.
Alex: And #DamonLindelof.
Justin: It’s crazy they said hashtag back then because that was sort of not very popular. Maybe they …
Pete: Now Justin …
Pete: When you were … it was just you and the beaver in that, you know, little tunnel thing …
Pete: Did you see … Oh, sorry. We see a, you know, a guy stranded in a raft and kind of pulls a pigeon out of the air and eats it and then it cuts to, you know, Nite Owl there eating, kind of holding it the same way. Were you worried it would come down to you and the beaver and you would have to eat the beaver?
Justin: Yeah. I’d eat the beaver and I’d make a little hat out of it. No, it was just, I didn’t like when the beaver was bumping into my leg with it’s sharp teeth.
Pete: Ouch. That’s terrifying.
Justin: I’m not … You know, a beaver is not a scary animal, but put yourself in a tube where you can’t really see the exit, it’s very far away, it gets scary.
Alex: I want to say something else about …
Justin: One quick thing.
Alex: Yeah, please.
Justin: Before we move on, I love this panel where you have Dan looking out, it’s straight out of a romance comic, except he’s in what traditionally would be the woman’s role of looking fraught right at the camera as someone walks away. And I feel like that’s a purposeful reference here and it’s great.
Pete: Also, it’s nice to see that the guy is looking that way, you know?
Alex: That’s what Justin just said.
Alex: There’s also the other two things that I’m going to point out about the scene and then we’ll move on. You mentioned, Pete, the cut from the pirate on the Black Freighter desperately eating a seagull to Dan Dreiberg desperately eating a chicken leg. And I think the implication there is pretty clear, is that he’s been starving for companionship for a woman to be in his life for a very long time and he’s being fed for the first time. So that’s what we’re getting there. The other thing, with the Rorschach of it all, there’s reflections throughout the issue and pretty much every scene with Dan and Laurie has a mirror in it to the point where there is one of the panels is completely them having a conversation in the mirror and you don’t see them at all, which I think is kind of just graphically fascinating.
Pete: Yeah. Yeah.
Alex: So there you go. Then we get the big centerpiece right in the middle of the issue which is Adrian Veidt’s big fight. He is walking with his new assistant. He walks downstairs and a man attacks him.
Alex: Yes Pete. What do you want to talk about that happened right before that?
Pete: I want to talk about the … we skipped over the Rorschach kind of starting his day and being at the diner. I think that’s kind of we kind of get to see how Rorschach kind of wakes up, starts his day and it’s not a normal kind of thing. But it is interesting how there is parallels, you know? Some people say oh, I have to put on my face in the morning, I have to apply makeup or something like that. Or you know, in Rorschach’s case, this mask is his face. And I thought that was kind of an interesting …
Pete: You know, we all kind of put on masks or whatever when we’re going out in public and I think that’s kind of interesting.
Alex: Well and that also ties into what happens at the end of the issue where the cops do finally unmask Rorschach.
Alex: And they realize they have no idea who he is because he’s just some guy. But that’s also how Rorschach feels. He is some guy under the mask, but that doesn’t matter. He is Rorschach through-and-through.
Pete: Yeah. He says, “You’re taking my skin off,” I think.
Justin: Yeah. Gross. Gross.
Alex: Did that ever happen to you? Did a bully ever do that to you?
Pete: Take my skin off? Yeah.
Alex: Take your skin off. Yeah.
Pete: I’ve been unskinned before, taking the face skin off.
Alex: All right. I want to get back to the Adrian Veidt thing because he does have this big fight with this dude in the lobby of his building. We get a layout that I don’t think is like anything else that happens in the comic book. We get almost a two-page spread of the fight with a double vertical panel in the middle where you see Adrian Veidt whipping back this trophy I want to say and then whipping it forward.
Justin: It’s an ashtray.
Alex: Ashtray. Yes. Thank you. And the guy eats a poison pill and dies. Now this is getting into big spoilers if for whatever reason you haven’t read it before. But again, it’s very fascinating reading all of the Adrian Veidt stuff, knowing what we know and knowing what he’s going to head towards because clearly, he’s setting this up to make it feel like oh, the conspiracy is coming after me, too, when in fact, he is the one that is setting it up the entire time.
Justin: Yeah. He orchestrated this …
Pete: Spoiler, dude.
Justin: We find out later. Yeah. But that’s why I think this panel construction is so unique for this comic. We don’t see anywhere else this number of splash pages, like you said, Alex, and these are really hero … every one’s a hero shot. It’s him dodging a bullet, grabbing a weapon, wrecking the dude and then pulling him out. It’s straight out of any other superhero comic and I just love that in the end, we find out that these hero shots are really setting up the villain. It’s the one person that gets the hero shot.
Pete: Yeah and it’s really cool that you get the V in the background with the two big panels back-to-back like that, you know? It’s really very powerful and reminds me of the kind of X-Men stuff I would see later.
Alex: We’ve talked about this a bit, as well, in the podcast just how well-constructed a mystery this book is, this whole series is because they give you all the clues, just like Mr. Snowman, you know? And there’s a panel in here which I love where it’s Adrian Veidt looking directly at the camera towards the end and he’s talking to the guy, but he’s looking directly at us and says, “I want to know who’s behind this.” But it’s him who’s behind it, so he knows. “Don’t bite down you scum. I want to know who sent you.” It’s great. The whole thing. He’s telling you the entire time exactly that he did it and they’re telling you.
Justin: But it’s crazy. If this were a Law and Order episode or something, it would be how did he know he had a poison pill in his tooth? He just knew? That’s crazy.
Justin: It’s something … that’s a big, stupid thing to say because he wouldn’t have known that.
Alex: Right. But in this case, he’s a superhero, right? So they all trust him. They know him. And right on the next page, the newspaper man is talking about oh who would dare attack that lovely Adrian Veidt? Everybody thinks he’s absolutely wonderful. So of course, him being the superhero, to your point, Justin, this incredible hero, he would know about it absolutely. And then the one last thing, just again in terms of him straight up telling us what’s going on, there’s this whole thing where the assistant wants to make some action figures. In his action figure line, they want to make enemies. And he’s like, “Well who would you make them of?” And the last thing he says in the scene is, “If they ask why, just tell them I don’t have any enemies.” And that’s true. He is the enemy himself. He doesn’t have any enemies other than him.
Justin: Yeah. And I think the fact that he’s making action figures is a clear indication that he is meant to be Todd McFarlane.
Alex: Again, looking very far ahead, but interesting and correct.
Justin: [inaudible 00:33:33] forward looking.
Pete: Yeah, just the part where he is reaching into this dude’s mouth and his hand is all bloody and the cop is looking on in horror in the background. That really just screams this guy is the villain.
Alex: It’s great. So then we get another page of the Black Freighter and people reacting to what went down with Adrian Veidt. We get another page of Rorschach and then we go back to Dan and Laurie, again with the mirrors. We get a scene where he walks her into her bedroom, stares at her longingly in the mirror for a moment. Now we touched on this the last episode with the Doctor Manhattan-Laurie relationship. How do you feel about the Dan Dreiberg-Laurie relationship because he’s also crazy older than her?
Justin: Yeah. Is he? I guess I don’t know that. He is, though, I guess. He must be, at least to some degree.
Alex: Yeah. I think he’s mid-to-late 40s and she’s 20-30 years younger than that, something like that.
Justin: Wow. I think it must be … it’s probably a 20-year age gap or something.
Alex: Yeah. Something like that.
Justin: I mean, the way they are in the issue, they feel like contemporaries, so I don’t think we’re meant to … I guess in the same way, why is she so young? Because that’s a weird thing and it keeps coming up. But the comic doesn’t emphasize that in any way.
Pete: Yeah. I didn’t … It’s not something that I was … I mean when you talk about it, yeah. But it’s not something that they play with at all it doesn’t seem like [crosstalk 00:35:10].
Alex: Well, I mean I think they do, but she says, “You’re like a big brother. You know that?” Which I guess doesn’t necessarily imply a 20-year age difference, but certainly she’s not thinking about him, it seems at this point as a potential lover so much as somebody who is older, somebody who does take care of her. The more that I read this book, again, at this point it feels like in a 2019 vein, the women certainly get a short shrift in this book. The focus is much more on the men and if there is one modern quibble that I think you can have with it, it’s definitely that.
Justin: Yeah. It’s written from a crazy male perspective. The women don’t really exist but in relationship to the men. There’s no real … Her whole function here is to be Doctor Manhattan’s wife who leaves him for this other guy. And that’s not good.
Alex: No. It’s not good. Also not good is what happens to the pirate of the Black Freighter is he gets attacked by a shark. This is, I’ve got to tell you, the first time I read Watchmen, I sort of skimmed the Black Freighter segments because it was well what’s with all the pirates? I don’t get this at all. This is ridiculous. But I definitely remember the shark part. There is specifically the coloring that John Higgins does here with all the reds and the pink of the shark and everything. Terrifying, absolutely terrifying.
Justin: Yeah. Terrifying. Super intense. It really plays well. I agree with you. When you’re younger, I feel like you’re not able to draw the literary juxtaposition that is there quite as much, but it’s so cool reading it now.
Pete: Yeah. And it’s also very interesting to kind of get across how crazy the pirate is or whatever. We can see the coloring of the shark, but he also describes it in a different color, which also just hammering down what he’s been through and how not really … He’s aware of everything that’s happening, but also has a skewed vision.
Alex: Do you think, though, that this scene with the shark is all to set up the raw shark joke that happens in two pages?
Justin: Yes. No, but I think … I also think it’s about … I mean this is the parallel to the story and it’s just another sort of advanced clue to what is actually happening in this whole story.
Alex: Right because then we get the Rosencrantz and Guildenstern style cops. Again, they’re trying to figure out what’s going on with Eddie Blake. And in the middle of that, they get a phone call telling them that somebody has seen raw shark and they realize what it actually is. Did you realize when they said raw shark and they realized what it is what they were talking about or did it take you a minute [crosstalk 00:38:10]?
Justin: It took me a minute. It’s one of those things that sort of makes you think. It draws you out of the story. It sort of makes you look at the matrix of it for a second because it’s wait, what are they talking about? And then it … And I think that’s an interesting technique to do here. It sort of resets your brain in a weird way. Because look, it’s one of the only panels, especially with these cops, where there’s just the punchline of the joke and a huge reaction from the cop in the foreground. It’s such an emphasized moment and I think it’s meant to sort of get you keyed back into the mystery.
Pete: Yeah. I don’t know, it just seems like this weird dad joke in the middle of a comic. I don’t know.
Alex: It made me laugh when I realized I also felt super dumb that I didn’t pick up on it as it happened until I saw Rorschach on the next page. And I was like, “Oh yeah. Okay. I get it. I get what we’re going for.” But then we get into the next scene with Moloch that we talked about before which does visually parallel almost exactly what happens towards the beginning of the issue, except this time, as we come around Moloch, we find that he’s been shot in the head, Rorschach has been set up and then we get this action sequence which to the point you were making earlier Justin, Rorschach goes beyond vigilante justice here to the point where I think he is cruel to these cops who are trying to track him down. What’s your guys take on it?
Pete: Well I would just like to say the coloring of Moloch being shot in the head is really powerful and amazing.
Pete: And it’s kind of spooky. The first time I read it, I was really grossed out.
Justin: I wouldn’t say he’s cruel, it ends up being cruelty to these cops, but he’s just desperate. He’s not trying to hurt them more than he needs to for pleasure. I think he’s just like, “Oh fuck. I have to do everything I can to get away.” Because he’s never been boxed in like this.
Pete: Yeah. Backed against a wall.
Justin: And his whole life is at stake. Yeah.
Alex: So yeah. He does, though. He gets out. He jumps through a window. He sets people on fire.
Pete: Yeah, he does.
Alex: Ultimately they catch him. They unmask him. And there’s one, again, I read this personally as a joke similar to the raw shark thing. But the second-to-last panel after he’s screaming, “No! My face! Give it back! Who the hell is he?” They drag him off. He’s lost one shoe. His hat is hanging on the other side and the dialogue is everything balances. When clearly, this panel in particular does not at all. You have one shoe on, one shoe off. You have the hat in the upper left corner.
Alex: Certainly it parallels stuff that’s gone on in the beginning because we had the newspaper, we had one shoe hitting the puddle at the beginning. We end with the reflection of the pirate S sign. I don’t know, I just thought this was a funny thing where you’ve had this whole mirror image issue and the second-to-last panel is something that throws off that pattern in a certain way.
Justin: But I think on the theme of the story, at the beginning of this issue, Rorschach is walking in, super confident, cocky when he’s confronting Moloch. He plays a weird trick on him as part of the mystery. And he steps in this puddle with intention to go do that and in the second-to-last panel, he’s being dragged back out of the house at his absolute lowest. So I think it balances out emotionally for Rorschach, where he goes from the top, he’s in his element, he’s solving a mystery, he’s making moves forward to absolutely back to the lowest point he could possibly imagine.
Alex: I think that’s fair. That makes sense. Let’s talk about the back matter, as well, because there’s a whole history of pirate comics that goes on here, which I thought was so neat. And it actually includes a lot of real writers and artists and contemporaries of Alan Moore who were working at D.C. Comics. And for those of you who didn’t read this or didn’t maybe listen to a previous episode of the podcast, one of the things that’s going on in this world is because superheroes existed.
Alex: Very specifically, Marvel Comics totally failed and Marvel Comics totally failed because their big hit was Fantastic Four #1. They made all of their money off of superhero comics, so they never became a thing in this world versus D.C. Comics which has historically, actually always been very adaptable in terms of the times or at least more adaptable seemingly than Marvel. And here, what they did was they had some hit pirate comics when their superhero line was starting to fail and they followed that path down and pirate comics became the biggest thing in the world. I thought that was great. Even more than the under-the-hood stuff, I really loved this one. I thought it was fantastic.
Justin: Yeah. That’s such a funny detail and I know we’ve talked about it before that pirate comics are so successful in this world. It’s so weird and so it reminds me of, what is it? The comic about eating, where …
Justin: Chew, where the chickens are revered.
Justin: Yeah. That’s such a funny random detail of that world that doesn’t really play into the action, at least at the beginning and so funny.
Alex: Yeah. Another thing that I really like about these sections and again, I’ll cop to the fact that I pretty much skipped over them the first time that I read Watchmen is how good Alan Moore is at writing in different styles, which I think is an incredibly different thing to do. Specifically, I find a lot of times when people try to do the Watchmen thing of having back matter, it feels like a comic book writer tried to do it. You know, my day job is writing news, so certainly I focus on that and I get very picky about that. But when somebody who is not a news writer writes a news article in a comic book, it always feels super off. It does not feel like something anybody would actually write.
Alex: But the under-the-hood sections feel like a dishy tell-all autobiography. This section writing about the pirate comics really does feel like a super scholarly look into the history of comics. Again, not that it’s a huge revelation that Alan Moore is a good writer, but I’ve been very impressed to read those just in terms of the different voices that he puts throughout them.
Justin: Yeah, the specificities. Cool.
Pete: It also reminds me since we also talk about other comics, it reminds me of Hickman’s X-Men run where it’s you’re getting a lot more layers to what’s happening and there’s actual just writing in between the art and real comic.
Alex: Do you think he ripped off Hickman’s X-Men run?
Pete: Yeah. I definitely think Alan Moore ripped off Hickman. Yeah. Yeah.
Justin: Alan Moore just texted me and he said he did.
Alex: Oh wow. I love how he always does exactly what we’re talking about even though we’re not here. That’s why he’s my pink champagne buddy.
Justin: That’s the weirdest thing is since we’re recording this separately over Skype, he is Skyped into this call, he’s just not saying anything.
Alex: I can see your face buddy.
Justin: That’s just [crosstalk 00:45:32] busy.
Alex: I can see your face.
Justin: He’s taking … Yeah.
Alex: Oh, I love that guy. If you would like to support our podcast patreon.com/comicbookclub, also we do a live show every Tuesday night at 8:00 p.m. at the People’s Improv Theater Loft in New York, and I will chat with you about Watchmen. A couple of different places socially you can check out this podcast. Pete you remember what the Facebook page is?
Pete: Nope. Slam.
Alex: Great. It’s watchmanwatchpodcast on Facebook and Instagram. Justin, you want to plug that Twitter?
Justin: Yes. It is … our Twitter is comicbooklive and the Watchmen one is watchmenwatch1, is that right?
Pete: Yeah. I know there’s a 1 in there.
Alex: There is a 1 in there. Also, we didn’t do this on the first couple episodes, did want to give a shout out to Jeff Solomon who wrote the theme music for the show.
Justin: Yeah. So good.
Alex: You can check him out on Instagram at megajerf. That’s his Instagram address. It’s mostly pictures of beautiful food and cocktails he made, but he writes good music, as well. So thank you, Jeff, for doing that.
Pete: Thanks Jeff.
Alex: Check us out at comicbooklive.com for this podcast and more. Our podcast is now live everywhere so please be sure to subscribe to the specific podcast feed, iTunes, Android, Spotify, Stitcher, app of your choice. Particularly on iTunes, if you wouldn’t mind going over and rating it and leaving us a comment, that would be much appreciated. And remember, we taped this podcast 35 minutes ago.
Justin: Bye Alan. Oh you’ll be here next … He just texted me. He’ll definitely be here next week and he means it.