Watchmen at Thirty, Pt. 7: A Brother to Dragons

"Just a schoolkid's fantasy
that got out of hand. "

In the seventh chapter of the Watchmen story, the simmering sexual tension between Laurie and Dan finally boils over. Haltingly at first - 

but once they get their costumes on and go out and save some folks, it's all systems go.

That bit about putting on the costumes as a prerequisite for taking them off again is an important part of the superhero deconstruction playing out over all twelve issues of Watchmen. Revolutionary stuff in 1986, to be sure. These few panels of Laurie and Dan hooking up - with Dan's skyship emitting a torrent of flame at a "climactic" moment followed immediately by full frontal post-coital cigarettes (not shown; look it up yourselves, pervs) - were a liberating mash-up of Hitchcock, New Wave artsiness, and superhero comics. All at once and right on down to now, sexual dynamics in comics - the kind you'd find in a book or a film - were on the table. Moore and Gibbons, as brazenly and effectively as John McClane at the end of Die Hard 2, had lit the runway.

Unfortunately, most of the sex-planes that landed in the wake of Watchmen were of the Catwoman New 52 variety: Catwoman and Batman have a Wrestlemania rooftop bang. ("And most of the clothes stayed on." OMFG.) This is not so surprising. As a species, the ability and freedom to do something usually brings a lot more Paradise Hotel than Paradise Lost. Just makes the Paradise Losts of the bunch all the more special. But yeah, as with its other deconstructions and motifs, the sexual boldness of Watchmen was widely imitated but rarely wielded to such effective purpose.

After their first attempt to have sex - all while Ozymandias is flipping around (for charity, of course) on parallel bars on the TV screen in the background, as narrated by a fawning TV commentator. No wonder Dan's not feeling romantic! - Laurie and Jon fall asleep on the couch.

Whereupon Dan begins to dream, remembering this portrait given to him from a disturbed foe of yesteryear.

What's going on here? You can likely figure it out, but just in case I'm not providing enough context: in her guided tour of the Owl-Cave, Laurie discovers the framed memento from Twilight Lady, who had "a thing" for Nite Owl. After the unsuccessful sexual encounter, Dan summons the image of Twilight Lady to mind, then dreams he is embracing her. She unzips his skin-suit to expose his true self, and he does the same, revealing Laurie. Your standard sex fantasy. 

Thing is, it probably would be your standard kind of sex fantasy for a superhero. As we saw in the Spider-Man in the 80s series, this sort of thing was the subtext for a whole lot of Peter Parker's relationship angst. All Moore and Gibbons did was read between the panels and be more explicit about it.

Laurie and Dan decide to fire up the Owl-Ship (Archie, short for Archimedes), and don their costumes, for old time's sake/ blow away the cobwebs.

They save some people from an apartment fire, which gets the ol' juices flowing. Afterward, they park Archie and waste little time in finishing what they began before.

Visually, this issue  makes considerable use of reflections, notably in the post-coital scenes at issue's end -

but earlier as well:

As befits the issue's theme, we see lots more of traditional superheroics in this issue. We're a little closer to Nite Owl's equipment being standard military issue in 2016 than we we were in 1986, but otherwise we're in recognizable comic book territory.

"A Brother to Dragons" ends with Nite Owl's suggestion of springing Rorschach from prison. Rorschach himself doesn't appear in this issue except in flashback.

His landlady does, though.

The supplemental pages are excerpts from a flowery essay Daniel Dreiberg wrote for the American Ornithological Society, "Blood from the Shoulder of Pallas." I think this is a rare supplemental-material misfire from Moore - the voice is completely off for the Dreiberg we see in every other issue. Undoubtedly, this is intentional, i.e. Dreiberg, like most of us, assumes a more scholarly tone for his American Ornithological Society musings, but the effect is jarring and there's no real point to it. I'm not sure it accomplishes anything except hey, here's a fake article from Dan Dreiberg about birds. Perhaps I am missing some huge symbolic meaning. 

If so, please feel free to school me in the comments. Otherwise, see you next time.



  1. The Book of Job sounds metal as fuck.

  2. Ah, yes, this issue. Allow me to turn things over to "The Man" himself, as he can put it better than I can:

    "...rather than thinking Superman would become more plausible if only he wore a jacket, Moore and Gibbons turned the 'real world logic' on its head and asked who would pull on a cape and tights: 'It wouldn't always be a terribly healthy person. Some people would be doing it purely for the sexual excitement of dressing up, other for the excitement of beating somebody up. Some are doing it for political reasons, many are doing it for altruistic motives, but there would certainly be a percentage who would have rather odd psychological afflictions in their make-up...There's just something about anybody who would dress up in a mask and costume that's not quite normal (Lance Parkin, "Magic Words", 194)".

    With that said, it does seem that only Moore has had either the guts or insight to tackle this issue head on.

    I have to admit, I haven't really found this issue dealt with in any other comic book I've read, really. The closest I guess I can come to would be Brian Azzerello's run on the 52 Wonder Woman, and maybe the 52 reboot of the Starfire character:


    However, those are trying to play it all straight, and it's more incidental than integral to the stories the writers were trying to tell.

    Still, Moore's attempt to highlight the sexual aspect of Superheroes remains one one of the few times someone tried to confront it openly.


    1. I wonder why that is? I'm guessing it's got something to do with the fact -- it USED to be a fact, at least (although it might arguably not be these days) -- that superhero comics are still looked at as a children's genre. One thing is for sure, you don't want to mix up sex with kiddie stories. Maybe most writers also feel that as soon as you start getting "real" with the sex, you've turned a corner into a different type of storytelling.

      I think that's only as true as you make it, of course.