Watchmen at Thirty, pt. 6: The Abyss Gazes Also

"I took the remains of her unwanted dress 
and made a face I could bear to look at in the mirror."

The midpoint of the Watchmen saga is probably the darkest issue of the series. (And considering some of the things we've seen... yikes.) How could it not be, being Rorschach's origin story? As was the case with Doctor Manhattan in issue #4 or Ozymandias in issue #11, the whole story flips between Rorschach in the present -

and the experiences in his past that brought him to this point. 

It's difficult to gauge how influential this issue truly was. The idea of a serial killer/ vigilante having sexual hang-ups sublimated into reactionary violence was not startlingly original in 1986, though not nearly as ubiquitous as it would become by the 90s, nor the idea of a doctor's world slowly coming apart the more he peers into his patient's diseased mind. Both were new as-applied-to-comics, of course. Suffice it to say, no (or very very few) heroes or villains (or doctors examining them) ever got the working over Moore and the gang give Rorschach in Watchmen #6.

It's told from the viewpoint of Dr. Malcolm Long, the prison psychologist who sees Rorschach as his ticket to criminal psychology fame. But as the title warns, peeling away the layers of a mind like Rorschach's comes at a terrible price. 

The story begins with Dr. Long showing Rorschach - now just "Walter Kovacs" - a series of ink-blots and asking him what he sees in them. Rorschach is less than forthcoming.

When the taunts of his fellow prisoners overwhelm Rorschach as he's led back to his cell, they change into the taunts of children who bullied him as a boy.

Dr. Long fleshes out the subsequent events of Rorschach's life: after blinding one of the bullies and putting the other one in the hospital, the subsequent home investigation results in his becoming a ward of the state. (The name of his boarding school? "The Charlton House." Wink wink, nudge nudge.)

Relics of his time in juvy comprise the back-pages material of this issue.

But it isn't until Rorschach begins telling him what he really sees in the ink blots that the doctor - and we-the-reader - get a true idea of what made Rorschach into the vengeance-meting sociopath he is. 

Years ago (we're told) there was a kidnap case...

When he discovers a tattered pair of undies in the furnace and evidence of a body being butchered, he puts together the sickening truth...

- and lays in wait for the butcher to return home. (Fantastic colors, Mr. Higgins)

After handcuffing him to the furnace, Rorschach spills kerosene everywhere - 

and hangs around outside for an hour to watch it burn. ("No one got out.")

This was changed in the movie to Rorschach murdering him with a meat cleaver. ("Men get arrested; dogs get put down.") It's still an intense scene, but the sequence of events and how it changes him in the comic is much better. This is, as the character says, the moment when Walter Kovacs closed his eyes, and Rorschach opened them. 

Overall, I'm net-positive about the film and the changes it made. Most of them worked, I felt. The film wasn't perfect, and I know some folks absolutely loathed it. Not me, though. And as far as adaptations that honor - and grok - the source material, you have to tip your cap to Zack Snyder and the gang.

Rorschach's lapse into murderous vengeance has at least one comic book precedent: Michael Fleischer's and Jim Aparo's Wrath of the Spectre. That was seen as a real aberration when it appeared, though as with most things shocking-for-its-era, it's probably a little quaint now. 

Besides learning what makes Rorschach so much fun at parties, the story documents Dr. Long's discovery that he can't just close the file on Rorschach when he leaves the office. He becomes increasingly estranged from his wife in an unconscious imitation of Rorschach's withdrawal from all women and rejection of sex, as symbolized by the butterfly-blot that is the story's main motif - 

as well as the Hiroshima lovers that he keeps seeing.

And even though the entire issue is basically one long "Hangin' with Mr. Rorschach," nevertheless, let's end by showcasing some of our disturbing friend's more meme-worthy moments:

(slow nod)

Rorschach sounds a little like Cohle from True Detective Season 1, doesn't he? I wouldn't be surprised if he - or Thomas Ligotti, whose work is typically cited as the TD character's inspiration - are big Watchmen fans.

Until next time!



Fantastic Four: 1966, pt. 2 of 2

in the 1960s, Pt. 6
Pt. 2 of 2

(As continued from last time.)

At some point in 1965 or 1966, Martin Goodman heard that Joe Simon had been hired by Harvey Comics to create a new superhero line for the company. He decided the best way to deal with this was to have Stan introduce a slew of new superheroes who would then receive their own books. Stan relayed this to Jack, and they were off to the races. Goodman changed his mind, though, so the new characters that Stan and Jack created ended up premiering one after the other in Fantastic Four.

Part of the reason Goodman decided to change his mind was that Marvel's distribution deal with Independent News restricted Marvel's output to only twelve or thirteen regular books a month. This deal expired in 1968, something which in a roundabout way also allowed Carmine Infantino to make an offer to Jack Kirby to come work for National (DC). We'll get there in due time, but I enjoy seeing these pieces move inexorably into place.


It's nice to see the Black Panther enjoying a bit of a renaissance (in both the movies and the comics) in 2016, the character's 50th anniversary.  

He first appeared back in FF 52-55. The FF receive a gift of a wacky-looking airship from the head of state of the African kingdom of Wakanda. It's theirs to keep if they accept the chieftan's offer to visit Wakanda, where a great hunt will be organized in their honor. Reed accepts and is duly impressed by Wakandan scientific prowess.

Of course, this being Marvel:

Turns out it's all a test to see if the FF are worthy allies. T'Challa needs their help, but before he tells them why, he launches into his origin story.

Wakanda is therefore positioned alongside Ethiopia and Liberia as the only places in Africa never to have been a colonial possession. The '60s were of course an era of mass upheaval in Africa as country after country announced its independence, some peacefully, some with much bloodshed. Smack dab in the middle of this Jack and Stan place Wakanda - a powerful, ancient kingdom with magical unobtanium, ruled over by an Aga Khan-like super-billionaire scientist ninja.

The lifeblood of the kingdom, besides its sacred traditions, is Vibranium, a precious metal so-named for its unique quality of absorbing vibrations. It has other uses, as well, and whosoever harvests it can command great power. Enter: Ulysses Klaw.

It is Klaw who was responsible for T'Challa's father's death.

Klaw has set up a device to convert Vibranium into sound which he can manipulate into solid matter, allowing him to create otherworldly beasts to attack at his command

Something Jim Shooter and Mike Zeck paid homage to in Secret Wars v1 #12.

With the FF's help, he is defeated, though not before falling into his own converter. He returns a few issues later with a new visual and sound manipulation powers of his own. Klaw attacks the FF at the Baxter Building. 

He almost wins, but Reed is able to contact T'Challa via the Wakandan global-radio-message gizmo we saw above. T'Challa dispatches Vibranium insulators to his new BFF at once. And voila:

Like I say, it's cool to see the Black Panther getting a bit more exposure these days. There was a 90s series written by Christopher Priest (which I haven't read), but outside of a mini-series and sporadic guest appearances, no one did much with him in the 80s. He had a few great runs in the 70s, though.

I first came across the character in the pages of Marvel Premiere.

I didn't realize it at the time, but these Marvel Premiere issues were the end of an epic Panther vs. the Klan storyline that began in the pages of Jungle Action. I finally got to read the whole storyline later, and holy crap, folks - Jungle Action is awesome. Highly, highly recommended - the Klan storyline is preceded by an equally epic one "Panther's Rage" (both written by Don McGregor, though the Marvel Premiere issues that tied up the story were written by Ed Hannigan).

Some of the most bad-ass comics of the 70s.

They gave the title to Kirby when he returned to Marvel in the 1970s. Seemed like a natural fit - Kirby created (or at least co-created) the guy, right? But it was an abrupt tonal switch from the Jungle Action / Marvel Premiere stories, and despite some typically imaginative (if wtf-y) stories from Kirby, the series was eventually cancelled. 

Anyway, that all came later. As far as '66 was concerned, the Marvel Universe gained a new kingdom and the FF a new ally. Let's end this section with this original-rendering of the character when Jack and Stan were calling him "Coal Tiger." (Coal Tiger was apparently a name used by journalists of the era to refer to those African nations emerging from British and French colonialism.)

Glad they rethought this.




One of the most fondly-remembered Thing stories of all time is this filler issue in-between the Galactus and Black Panther arcs. Conceptually it's of a piece with the T.O. Morrow or Professor Ivo stories being published by DC (as exhaustively detailed in these annotations to JLA #5:) super-villain scientific genius sends a perfect duplicate of a captured hero back to infiltrate the group, only to discover the true meaning of heroism and sacrifice his or her self to save the day. 

The story has some shades of Frankenstein, but mainly the whole thing is an excuse for Kirby to do his cosmic thing.
Every page is 'cap-worthy in this issue, so I'll stop here.



In many ways, Johnny is the most interesting FF member in 1966. Not only does he gain a tragic love interest, he returns to college, and then, after the events in Wakanda, decides to ditch both college and the FF for a wandering road trip with his buddy Wyatt Wingfoot, ostensibly to find a way to free Crystal and the Inhumans, but in practice just bopping about the multiverse.

First in this Wakanda sky-ship gifted to them. Then via Lockjaw (r) whose dimension-hopping powers are random and difficult to utilize with any precision.
Earlier I mentioned Wyatt Wingfoot - Johnny's friend from college and comicdom's first Native American hero - as one of the characters created by Stan and Jack who was meant to get his own series. 
While he has no superpowers, he's a better-than-average fighter, singlehandedly saving the FF's bacon in the mock-trial-by-combat with the Black Panther, and athlete.
Reed must resort to using his stretching powers to get him out in baseball.
Which leads us to:


Not really. It just continues to amuse me to read their marriage as a nest of Freudian vipers and intrigue. The FF, as we've seen all along, was innovative for bringing intra-team conflict and domestic drudgery into the super-team book, but neither of its creators tried to exactly re-define the marital drama in comics.

Welcome to my break-down...
Roy Lichtenstein basically took that panel on the right and made a reputation on reproducing it in a museum.

Well, I hope you've enjoyed this screencap-tastic jaunt through a pivotal year in the FF's first and arguably most fabulous decade. See you next time for more fun with Surfer Doom and the gang, as well as the premiere of the Hanna-Barbara cartoon and first appearance of future Marvel-crossover-kings the Kree and the High Evolutionary. And more!