Watchmen at 30, pt. 5: Fearful Symmetry

"See? Apathy! 
Everybody escapin' into comic books and TV! 
Makes me sick." 

As the title (a William - not Edward - Blake reference, from "The Tyger") suggests, the dominant theme in Watchmen #5 is symmetry. The story begins and ends with Rorschach visiting Moloch's apartment, as lit by the alternating blues and oranges of the neon lights outside.

And ending:

You get the idea. With the exception of the first pic with the three panels in one and Rorschach's foot coming down in the puddle, all of the above are from the Motion Picture Comic. As we looked at in pt. 3 of this series, the re-coloring techniques available today allowed John Higgins to touch up some of his original mixtures. It's a testament to his skill that these particular panels look virtually identical. Maybe a tad different blue/gray in that center panel vs. the retouched ones, but that's about it. 

It's a nice effect. Had anyone like this been done before? I can't say for absolutely sure, but almost certainly: yes. If not Miller on Daredevil than Wil Eisner or Jim Steranko or Alex Toth or Bernie Krigstein or Jim Aparo elsewhere; all of those are good contenders for having employed this technique. Nevertheless, it was uncommon enough to really stand out in 1986 in Watchmen, to be sure, as was the symmetry of design itself.

This is a move-the-plot-along sort of issue that culminates in Rorschach's capture by the police. Rorschach visits Moloch to ask him a few more questions about Blake, but he gets little from him. He does, however, say if Moloch remembers anything to make a drop at a garbage can that he monitors ("opposite Gunga Diner") in his The-End-Is-Nigh persona. When he checks the drop later, there's a message to meet at Moloch's later. 

Of course, as the screencaps above detail, he arrives to find Moloch murdered and the place surrounded. Who framed Rorschach? We don't know... yet. 

Other highlights of this issue: 1) The TotBF story continues -

as does the worldbuilding and tablesetting around the newspaper vendor.
And again I'll table discussion of it until later and cover it all at once. That "borne on the naked backs of murdered men" line has always stuck with me, though. You think you got troubles...

While we're here, the supplemental back pages, where previously we'd seen Under the Hood excerpts, etc., this time "(give) us the only non-Gibbons art in the entirety of Watchmen as we get an article about the real-life Joe Orlando and the fake history of pirate comics in this alternate reality. The essay mentions the disappearance of pirate comic writer Max Shea — an embedded clue relating to the global conspiracy — but it’s a winking piece by Moore (of the type he actually used to write for the U.K. fanzines) in which he gets to develop the history of comic book culture in the Watchmen world." (From Tim Callahan's Great Alan Moore Re-Read at Tor.)

2) Laurie moves into Dan's place, and the sexual tension mounts.

3) There's a bloody interlude where someone tries to kill Ozymandias at his HQ. 

The only person killed, though, is his personal assistant.
Well, and the would-be assassin.

This sort of over-the-top violence and gore was shocking, then, sure, but comics were increasingly drenched in blood throughout the 80s. It reached a fever pitch in the latter days of the decade, but as early as Miller's DD or Moench and Sienkiewicz's Moon Knight, torrents of blood (usually left in black ink rather than colored as furiously red as here) and grisly exit wounds were a staple of many an action scene. (Moon Knight was, like Watchmen, at least Direct Market - not that all that many comic shop owners were asking for IDs at the register.)

And mentioned in the comments section of the aforelinked Tor re-read is this: "It is worth noticing that Ozymandias killing a man is at the center of issue #5, just as him killing a man is at the center of the overall plot. A definite clue, in retrospect; and Ozymandias’ dialog at the time is just chock full of dramatic irony. ('tell them I don’t have any enemies.')"

Also symmetrical? The attack was staged (though the deaths were real). What appears to be the typical (if exaggeratedly violent) superhero action scene is further reflection on the larger arcs of the series.  

And 4) I love Moore's grizzled detective homages. I wish he would write some kind of police procedural. I guess that's what Neonomicon is, albeit one steeped in a very Alan-Moore-ian broth. So let me rephrase: I wish Alan Moore would write a relatively-straight police procedural, or perhaps adapt one of Ian Rankin's grittier Rebus novels for the screen. Not that he'd be interested in anything like that, I'm sure, but just the same. 

And now for the triumphant return of...


That title doesn't really "pop" in those pictures, does it? My apologies. On to the grizzled philosophizing interspersed with revealingly disturbing observations about self and society.  

I love that Gunga Diner pun. If there isn't an actual Gunga Diner, there should be.

I missed May's installment of Watchmen at Thirty so there will be two installments this month. Maybe even three. Egads! Until next time



  1. I'd love to see a comics adapation of Ian Rankin's work. There hasn't been one yet, but Rankin did bridge that divide a few years back and wrote an original John Constantine comic.


    Not Rankin's best, but I'm such a fanboy that I ate it up anyway.

    1. Cool - I had no idea that existed. One of these days I really have to line up all the Constantines and read them start-to-finish.

      Dawn is enjoying the Rankin book I got her, but I can't recall which one it is/was off the top of my head.

  2. That line about apathy as a source for people reading comic books is a bit foreshadowing in light of Moore's comments about "retiring" from the medium.

    One thing I do wonder about is this. In many ways it could be argued that Moore has set the standard for the kind of dark approach DC has been trying for in the last few years, and always failing at.

    If they're trying to copy Moore's ethos, than what (among many things) do you think they're missing?


    1. It's a difficult question to answer. I agree that Moore's influence was tough to avoid in the mid-80s, even all the way to now, though I think his influence was so profound it sort of seeped into the ground and trace elements of Moore are in much of what sprang subsequently from such ground, but indirectly.

      I will say that I think Moore is simply a once-in-a-lifetime kind of talent, and that sort of thing can never be replicated faithfully. Copied, followed, sure, but it's like trying to replace a Miles Davis or something: one has to allow for us mere mortals to not glimpse the same aeries.

    2. "I will say that I think Moore is simply a once-in-a-lifetime kind of talent, and that sort of thing can never be replicated faithfully. Copied, followed, sure, but it's like trying to replace a Miles Davis or something: one has to allow for us mere mortals to not glimpse the same aeries."


      Try telling that to the makers of Hollywood blockbusters.

    3. Moore is a fascinating man; a fascinating writer, too, but I find his whole ethos to be compelling. In considering how DC -- and, arguably, the entire industry -- have been chasing him (and Frank Miller) since the mid-eighties, I come back to his feelings about being a magician.

      In the documentary "The Mindscape of Alan Moore" he talks about how he sees art and magic as being more or less the same thing. He believes that if a writer does an effective enough job, the end result and the impact of that writing upon the world can be powerful enough that it changes minds, hearts, entire cultures. I find that hard to argue with, to be honest. Who can honestly say that the impact of something like "To Kill a Mockingbird" or "Fahrenheit 451" isn't a bit magical?

      Anyways, that can also be a negative thing, and I think -- based on his repudiation of "Watchmen" over the last decade or so -- that he feels the impact of comics like it and "The Dark Knight Returns" has been, overall, negative.

      Personally, I think "Watchmen" is too phenomenally good to write off in that way. I can imagine how and why Moore would feel that on a personal level, though.

      I was watching an episode of the second season of "Daredevil" recently. I don't want to say which characters are involved, but there is a scene in which one character is fighting his way up a hallway and having to dispatch one assailant after another in increasingly bloody fashion. If you took this episode back in time and showed in to 10-year-old Bryant in 1984 or so, that version of Bryant would have had nightmares for weeks thanks to all the blood. That can't happen, but 10-year-olds by the thousands are probably seeing it in 2016. I'm not sure that's a good thing, and I'm not sure we'd be in that position if not for "Watchmen" and "The Dark Knight Returns." Maybe we would; but I'm dubious.

      In any case, I can see where Moore is coming from.

      Personally, though, I blame all of his imitators. What Moore did has the inescapable ring of truth to it, and it's hard to find much fault with that.

    4. I really like that Mindscape of Alan Moore, though I wish the producers had opted for less attempts at visual poetry in between Moore's always-fascinating remarks.

      Anytime Moore and/or violence-in-comics comes up, I am compelled to always say something like "Man, 'In Pictopia'" - Moore's brief lament for the violence taking over comics in his wake that he did for "Anything Goes," a one-off to raise money for (if memory serves) Fleisher's lawsuit against DC, for those readers who are unfamiliar - "says it all!"

      That story should not only be more widely known, it should be taken to heart as pivotal to comics history, or as depicting a crucial (and perhaps to-be-meditated-upon) moment in comics history.

    5. You know, I don't think I was aware of "In Pictopia" having that sort of what-have-I-done element to it. I only read it once, and loved it, but the broader scope of its meaning almost certainly eluded me. Time for a re-read!

  3. I second that call for a straight-up detective series written by Moore. He's had elements of it, of course, not just in "Neonmicon" but also in "From Hell."

    I'm down for literally whatever Moore does, though. I'll be one of the weirdos who actually reads "Jerusalem" all the way through!

    I love how differently the Ozymandias scene plays once you read it a second time. The entire series is full of moments like that. For example, I can remember noticing the way the pirate comic bounced of the main story -- but I noticed it only on a second read, not the first. When I did notice it, I was just blown away.

    Man, what a miniseries.

    1. Speaking of "Mindscape," I always see the legacy of his early days at the tannery/ slaughterhouse where he developed a "gallows humor" in these grizzled detective characters.

    2. I seem to recall him specifically mention finding solace in his lot in life by joining in a game of flinging sheep testicles about. I mean, shit, why not? I think I'd almost rather be dead than have a job like that.

    3. Yeah that's got to be... unimaginable. There was a Third Coast International (Chicago Public Radio program) segment on this guy who worked in a slaughterhouse and how they piped in the song "Bright Eyes" over the speakers, and so the program had that song weaving in and out of his narrated story. It was so bizarre and now whenever I think of slaughterhouses/ tanneries, I think of Alan Moore and the song "Bright Eyes." And likely always will.