Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Reading Watchmen - pages 1-5 + the cover image

My grand experiment (can he make it through the whole year?) has begun over at Reading Watchmen.  Here is an example of what you'll find over there - the annotations for pages 1-5 plus a look at the cover image, which happens to be panel 1 (or panel 0, if you must) for the issue. 

SPOILER ALERT: The answer to the murder mystery that encompasses the surface narrative of the book is revealed in my annotations for page one.  Don't read any further if you've never read the book or watched the film and still plan on doing so. 

Fair warning.  Turn away now.

Okay.  Here we go:

At Midnight, All the Agents . . .


Cover Image:  As we will see in future issues, a common design element for each of the twelve chapters is that the cover image is always an extreme close-up of the first panel within the issue proper, essentially making the cover the first panel of each issue.  Here we see a close-up of what will be one of the major recurring symbols throughout Watchmen – that of the smiley faced button with its spot of blood above the right eye.


Panel 1:  Introduction to Rorschach through his journal.  The initial statement: “Dog carcass in alley this morning, tire tread on burst stomach,” relates directly to a later issue in which we discover Rorschach’s origin and the incident that sent him over the edge to crazed vigilante.

We also see a storytelling technique that Moore & Gibbons use liberally throughout the book – though often for very different reasons.  That is, a bit of dialogue is juxtaposed against the image in order to, among other things, heighten readers’ awareness of events, comment upon two varying scenes, or offer a bit of irony to the audience.  In this case the statement: “I have seen its true face,” hangs just above the bloody smiley faced button in the gutter.

Panel 2:  Again, the juxtaposition of dialogue and imagery, as Rorschach writes: “The streets are extended gutters . . . full of blood” over a scene focused on a gutter that is full of blood.

Also, note the first clue to Rorschach’s identity as his feet walk out of the journal entry into the blood, foreshadowing the bloody path down which he and his fellow “heroes” are about to tread.

Panel 3:  First look at the man holding the “The End is Nigh” sign – whom I’ve seen dubbed the Doomsayer elsewhere but whose name we will discover is Walter Kovacs, alter-ego of Rorschach.

We also have more dialogue/imagery juxtaposition with Rorschach’s: “. . . I’ll look down and whisper ‘no.’ ”seen from a camera angle above the two men in the panel.

Panel 4:  And more juxtaposition as we read Rorschach’s journal entry:  “They could have followed in the footsteps of good men . . .” and see Kovacs’s bloody footprints lead away from the pool of blood.

Panel 5:  The camera angle continues to pull back higher and higher as Rorschach writes:  “. . . and didn’t realize that the trail led over a precipice . . .”

Also note our first clue as to who killed the Comedian.  The large truck in front of the bloodstained sidewalk sports a pyramid within a circle, the corporate logo for Adrian Veidt’s companies.

Panel 6:  The camera rises still higher as the pool of blood becomes nothing but a spot on the scenery below.  Rorschach writes:  “. . . the whole world stands on the brink, staring down into bloody hell . . .” which also foreshadows later events.

And the statement:  “. . . nobody can think of anything to say.” carries over into

Panel 7:  as an ironic comment on the detective’s flippant remark:  “That’s quite a drop.”

This panel, and the slow pan away from the gutter in panels one through six, also highlights a visual theme for this issue, that of great heights (whether that of these skyscrapers or, figuratively, those heights to which the heroes once attained) and staring down into the abyss.


Panel 1:  Detective #2:  “Do you think you black out before you hit the sidewalk, or what?” 
This question will be answered in a later flashback.

Also, in the distant background we see one of the zeppelins that will pepper the skylines of the book, signifying this is a different Earth from ours, and also symbolically displaying the reality that Dr. Manhattan – whose symbol is a hydrogen atom, which would be the fuel for the zeppelins – is looming above everything in this brave new world.

Panel 3:  With this panel, we see something novel for comics in the mid-80s, though more commonly utilized today – the use of color to evoke an emotion or imprint a scene or scenes with a common hue.  The flashback scenes of Edward Blake’s murder are all bathed in red.

Panel 5:  “He would have put up some kind’a fight, I’m certain.”  We can see with the imagery – and again, we see the juxtaposition between words and images – just how hard a time the victim was having of it, despite his physical size.

Panel 7:  “Maybe he just got soft.” 
Again, this statement juxtaposes with the imagery, and we can see that, although he’s taking a pounding, Blake is someone who has not lived a soft life.  We also see that, contrary to the theory these detectives are positing, it appears it was only one person that took out Blake.  Of course, the point of view of the reader is such, that this is not conclusive. 

Panel 8:  “It’s Vice President Ford!” 
This is our first indication that the world in which the Watchmen live is not the same as the world in which we are living.  Ford was out of office – as the President – in 1976, but this story takes place in 1985.


Panel 2:  Note the pirate ship on the bookshelf behind the detective.  Pirates are the most popular characters for comics in this world where superheroes walk among the populace, and the “Tales of the Black Freighter” comic that will be shown later will have far-reaching symbolic significance on the main story itself.

Panel 3:  Here we see the blood spattering the smiley face button.

Panel 6:  More hints at a different world:  fashion as exemplified by the hat worn by the man in the elevator, and the smoking implement utilized by this same man – especially as compared to the traditional cigarette Detective #2 is smoking.

Panel 7:  Another example of juxtaposition, this time used for black humor as the man in the elevator tells the detectives:  “Ground floor comin’ up.” as we see the image of Edward Blake being thrown through the window.


Panel 1:  Knot-tops, KT-28s, and ‘Luudes are references to kid gangs that exist in this alternate reality.

Panel 2:  Juxtaposition:  “A lot of crazy things happen in a city this size.” overlaid on the image of Edward Blake falling to his death.

Panel 3:  An insinuation that heroes are not beloved on this Earth as they are in our comics when Detective #2 makes the comment:  “We don’t need any masked avengers getting interested and cutting in.” 

Note the comic in the boy’s hands in the foreground – the first look at the “Tales of the Black Freighter.”  Also note behind him two other comics – “Pirate” and “X-Ships,” and, more importantly, the headline on the newspaper states “Vietnam 51st State” an even more ominous indication that this is not our world.

Panel 4:  Juxtaposition:  “. . . well, what say we let this one drop out of sight?” as Edward Blake falls into the night.

Panel 5:  First mention of the Keene Act of 1977, which we find out later is the legislation that outlawed masked heroes. 
The cars look different, another sign this is a parallel reality. 
On the right of the panel we see Kovacs marching with his sign toward the detectives. 

In the foreground, a symbol of another of the overriding themes of the book – the threat and fear of nuclear devastation – can be seen in a flyer for a popular candy, MMeltdowns, which has as its brand image a mushroom cloud, symbolic of the meltdown from a nuclear detonation.

Panel 6:  The statement, “Rorschach’s still out there.” carries over to

Panel 7:  as, in the foreground, we see Kovacs (the alter-ego of Rorschach) approaching the detectives. 

Note Kovacs is checking his watch, which is on his right wrist, signifying that he is left-handed.  (Clue #2 that he’s Rorschach)

The statement, “What’s the matter?” from Detective #2 as Detective #1 pulls his jacket closer about his neck, carries over to

Panel 8:  as Detective #1 says, “Uh, nothing . . . just a shiver,” as they pass the man with the “End is Nigh” poster.  This is significant because the man they are discussing, Rorschach – a violent and feared vigilante – is the man with the “End is Nigh” poster.


Panel 1:  Clue #3 that Kovacs is Rorschach: 
It is now night, but looking back at the final panel of Page 4, we see that this is the same image from a slightly different angle, and where we saw Kovacs’s head in Page 4, Panel 8, we now see the top of Rorschach’s hat.

Panels 6 & 7:  Rorschach takes out his grappling gun to fire it with his left hand, tracing back to panel 7 of the previous page, where we see that Kovacs is left-handed from how he wears his watch.

Panel 9:  Rorschach scaling the façade of this skyscraper is another indication of the overall theme in this issue of the heroes looming over everything in this world. 

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