"Reader, take comfort from this:
in Hell, at least the gulls are contented. "
in Hell, at least the gulls are contented. "
Not content with the impressive array of mirror-narratives already in play, Chapter Three of the Watchmen saga introduces two more: a news vendor and his young companion, and the pirate comic he's reading, Tales of the Black Freighter.
I'll save discussion of Tales until the Coda, though it's such an indelible part of the stories-to-come that it'll inevitably pop up here and there.
The news vendor and the kid reading the pirate-comic function mainly as man-in-the-street color commentary and conduit into the pirate comic, respectively. The other narrative(s) intersect with them in interesting ways, though, as we'll see down the line.
The action switches from the survivor-protagonist of the comic book, caressing the figurehead from the boat to which he clung during the shipwreck, to Jon, caressing Laurie's face at Rockefeller Military Research Center.
"The self-reflecting cross-referral of image and text reached fever pitch as Watchmen unfolded. A drawing of Doctor Manhattan telekinetically looping a tie around his neck for a rare clothed appearance in a TV interview has his estranged lover (...) ask in voiceover:
|"While a scene in which she crushes a mugger’s balls in her grip is cross-cut with another character’s words to Doctor Manhattan:"|
"The parallel narrative threads of Manhattan and Laurie reflected and commented upon each other in a kind of remote quantum entanglement that perfectly suited Manhattan’s nature (and also) dramatized the breakdown of a relationship."
Everything connected in a dazzling, elaborate hall of narrative mirrors."
|Relentless self-awareness aside:|
Laurie finally walks out on Jon directly before he leaves for his interview. They have, as noted above, been increasingly estranged of late.
When she discovers he split himself into three beings - two to go to bed with her and one to continue watching quarks stick to gluinos in his lab:
|it's the final straw.|
She goes to Dan Dreiberg's house and unburdens herself.
|If you know the way the comic ends, this panel is a bit of a wink. If not, it just seems the caption and the advertisement are mirroring one another.|
He asks her if she wants to come along for his weekly get-together with Hollis Mason, and she agrees. The action cuts back and forth between Jon being grilled by the studio audience about his former associates (and first love) all contracting cancer and Dan's and Laurie getting jumped on their way across town. The interview ends with Doctor Manhattan teleporting everyone away (to where we don't know) when they won't stop swarming him, demanding answers -
- while the attempted mugging comprises this chapter's showcase scene for the ongoing examination of sex and violence in comics.
The rest of the issue deals with the immediate fallout of Doctor Manhattan's sudden disappearance, namely the Soviet Union invading Afghanistan and President Nixon's meeting with Kissinger and his generals about both.
I love that "If he wanted to live on a Red planet, he should have stayed home" line. At the time, I admit, the full effect of Nixon's and Kissinger's appearance in this story went over my twelve-year-old head. I appreciate it now, of course, though I wouldn't mind a little more information on this level of the Tower where the Nixon/ Kissinger regime never went away on account of having the human H-bomb at their command. But, you can't have everything.
So many shots in this issue emphasize what the Comedian lamented in Chapter Two: the increasing alienation of Doctor Manhattan.
But it is not Laurie's leaving that is the catalyst for his removing himself to Mars; it is the mention of Janey Slater - his first love - and her dying from cancer. Although this will be revealed to be a precisely coordinated event, it nevertheless reconnects him to that quantum of humanity left in that swirl of quarks and leptons he calls a heart. All that comes later, of course, and is an arguable interpretation at best. For now, we see him start this journey, stopping in at Ground Zero to pick up this old photo of him and Janey before warping out to Mars.
I think Watchmen may have been the first comic to truly open my eyes to the role of the colorist in the whole comics-making process. Again, not when I was twelve but coming back to it later. John Higgins' work in these twelve issues is fantastic. He offers some commentary both on his craft and also personal recollections of working with Dave Gibbons and Alan Moore here. The garish-but-always-fascinating-and-consistent color design is as much an identifying feature of Watchmen as exaggerated light-and-shadow contrast is to film noir.
Like everything else in Watchmen, even the color design deconstructs the history of the medium itself:
"A very brief color history to all you who now can print in your own homes near perfect facsimiles of any color art you can imagine: In 1986 everything was done by hand. I colored the black and white copies of Dave's pages with watercolor, and then marked the equivalent printing ink combination for each color. So for Rorschach's brown overcoat it would be Y3M2C1. Then that page would be sent to hand separators who would do up to twelve separate acetate overlays for each page to create a four-color effect. (...) No matter how subtle I tried to be with the color, what I was trying to get from my mind to the printed page was getting confused before it had even been printed. Also we found early on when we had the new option of using tones of grey, we should not have used them on the first couple of issues, but this we unfortunately only found out once they had seen print!"
"I have had to live with all the mistakes, color conundrums and printing limitations on one of the most seminal graphic stories of the 20th century (...) What you see in the 2005 edition is what I had always intended the Watchmen color to be, but due to the printing limitations of the period you never saw it before. Believe me, (...) to finally get rid of the grey tone, to consolidate the color conundrums, to tie all the color threads into one united whole, was a joy."
(I changed all of his "colours" to "colors" for the benefit of my mostly-US audience. You're welcome, turkeys.)
Maybe the quote I chose isn't the best to illustrate how Watchmen's color design deconstructs the history of the medium. I'm of the opinion it does, though; I just lack the ability to describe it properly. Some host, I know! Feel free to raid the liquor cabinet.
I normally despise digital recoloring of any comics published before 1990. Probably because it almost always looks like this:
Consider the I-can't-even garishness of the above (from Fantastic Four Annual #1) to the digital recoloring in Absolute Watchmen (2005). Perhaps the trick is getting the original colorist to be in charge of the upgrade.
Granted the ones on the right are from the Motion Picture Comic, but the MPC used the digitally-recolored AW as its template. (I think Higgins might even have been a consultant on the MPC, but I'm not sure. See bad-host apologies above.)
No Hangin' with Mister Rorschach feature this time around, on account of his not being in the issue much.
|Perhaps next time.|
~See you in one month's time for Chapter Four - make sure to bring your anti-radiation meds.