“You’re young, you don’t know. Things change. What happened, happened forty years ago. It’s history” (II.1.8).
Don’t believe Sally Jupiter for a second. Why would she kiss the Comedian’s portrait at the end, if it was all just ancient history?
“Every day the future looks a little bit darker. But the past, even the grimy parts of it, well, it just keeps on getting brighter all the time” (II.4.5-6).
This brings to mind the old line “time heals all wounds.” Take a look back at your own childhood, and see for yourself.
“Is that what happens to us? A life of conflict with no time for friends so that when it’s done, only our enemies leave roses” (II.26.2-3).
In Watchmen, so many characters are frenemies with each other. How do relationships change over time?
I am going to look at the stars. They are so far away, and their light takes so long to reach us, all we ever see of stars are their old photographs (IV.1.8-9).
It’s true that most stars are long gone by the time their light reaches Earth. So stars are like memories? Stop blowing our minds, Alan Moore.
“Professor Einstein says that time differs from place to place. Can you imagine? If time is not true, what purpose have watchmakers, hein?" (IV.3.6).
Is Einstein’s theory that time is relative really the same thing as “time [being] untrue”? What does this mean for us time-loving human beings?
We stop at the newsstand and buy a copy of Time Magazine, commemorating Hiroshima Week. On the cover there is a damaged pocket watch, stopped at the instant of the blast, face cracked, hands frozen (IV.24.6-7).
Back in the day, being on the cover of Time Magazine meant the person or event was extremely, extremely important. One of the things it did was make the temporary spotlight of fame seem very permanent.
“Why does my perception of time distress you? […] Everything is preordained. Even my responses” (IX.5.2).
Heavy stuff, all this Fate vs. Free Will talk. Do you really believe Dr. Manhattan when he says this? Discuss amongst yourselves.
“Time is simultaneous, an intricately structured jewel that humans insist on viewing one edge at a time, when the whole design is visible in every facet” (IX.7.6).
If time is the 4th dimension, then, um, uh, are there any astrophysicists in the house? This sure is a beautiful metaphor, we can tell you that much.
“The ensuing vision transformed me. Wading through powdered history, I heard dead kings walking underground; heard fanfares sound through human skulls” (XI.10.7).
As much as we sometimes hate to admit it, so much of what we learn comes directly from our parents, teachers, and others from previous generations. Even Veidt, the smartest person in the world, doesn’t claim to be self-made.
“In the end? Nothing ends, Adrian. Nothing ever ends” (XII.27.5).
Yes, how wise of you Dr. Manhattan. But Watchmen has an end, its back cover, and has been more or less the same since 1987. Only its readers have changed. Oh, now we get it. The story of the story never ends.
“Funny story. Sounds unbelievable. Probably true” (II.24.2).
Haha? Watchmen is the kind of book where nothing’s “funny” and everything’s “funny.” You see, we can invent paradoxes, too.
Could all be lies. Could all be part of revenge scheme, planned during his decade behind bars. But if true, then what? […] Never mind. Answers soon. Nothing is insoluble.” (II.25.5-6).
In the illustration for this panel, Rorschach is picking a lock. Interesting, no?
After that, things went bad. We had worms in the apple, eating it from inside (Chapter B.9).
Alan Moore is one slippery writer. What else might this image allude to?
“Jon, be one person again! […] Were you working in here at the same time as we were in bed? (III.4.5 - III.5.5).
In relationships, people can be two-faced. In Watchmen, they can even be three-faced and three-bodied, as long as we’re talking about Dr. Manhattan.
As I lie I hear her shouting at me in 1963; sobbing in 1966. My fingers open. The photograph is falling” (IV.11.9).
If Dr. Manhattan has almost unlimited power, why does he lie to Janey Slater?
“Down those stairs! I knew he had something hidden back there from his attitude” (VIII.24.5).
Perhaps Dan Dreiberg (Nite Owl 2.0) also keeps things hidden away in his subconscious.
Nelly called last night, upset over yet another tiff with H.J. Those two are getting worse. The more they row and act like an old married couple in public, the harder they are to cover for (Chapter I.3).
It’s hard even for superheroes to be honest with themselves and come out of the closet.
“To frighten governments into co-operation, I would convince them that Earth faced imminent attack by beings from another world” (XI.25.4).
Science fiction? Nope—science fact. If a sci-fi writer makes up events that turn out to be true fifty years later, is it still fiction?
“Hitler said people swallow lies easily, provided they’re big enough” (XI.26.3).
That is a scary thought, for sure. As is this one: in America we don’t call it propaganda, we call it public relations.
“People’s lives take them strange places. They do strange things, and well, sometimes they can’t talk about them” (XII.29.6).
There are the lies we tell, and the lies we keep inside.
“They had a choice, all of them. They could have followed in the footsteps of good men, like my father, or President Truman” (I.1.4).
Yes, parents influence their children’s politics. But how do children influence their parents’?
“He stood up for his country […] if that makes him a Nazi, you might as well call me a Nazi, too” (1.17.6-7).
Maybe there is a right way and wrong way to be a patriot.
“But the country’s disintegrating. What’s happened to America? What’s happened to the American dream?” (II.18.6).
You can take that line straight out of 1985 and bring it to the 21st Century. We’re still working on it.
“American love; like coke in green glass bottles, they don’t make it anymore” (II.25.3).
Being a good American and being a good consumer—sometimes it’s hard to tell them apart.
We all had to testify before the House Un-American Activities Committee, and were all forced to reveal our true identities (Chapter C.11).
The First Amendment? Freedom of Speech. Nothing more to say here.
“We repeat: the Superman exists, and he’s American” (IV.13.1).
Dr. Manhattan isn’t the messiah, but this all-American quote sounds more than a tad religious.
“Frankly, isn’t it time we reassessed Rorschach, as a patriot and American?” (VII.12.1).
The man has his principles, there’s no doubt about that. Still, a little tolerance never hurt anybody.
“You go out and grab lunch, and no Gunga Diner shit […] Get me a hamburger. An American hamburger!” (VIII.10.6).
How can we have patriotism without xenophobia (a fancy word for fear of foreigners)?
What about the Boston Tea Party? What about the spirit of the Lone Ranger? What about all those occasions when men have found it necessary to go masked in order to preserve justice above the letter of the law? (Chapter H.2).
This New Frontiersman article also includes the Ku Klux Klan on its list of masked American heroes. What are some of the reasons this is really problematic?
“Seymour, we do not dignify absurdities with coverage. This is still America, god damnit! Who wants a cowboy actor in the White House?” (XII.32.4).
Remember, in Watchmen, Nixon has been president for 16 years. That “cowboy actor” line might wink at Ronald Reagan, but it’s literally about Robert Redford, another R.R. actor, who unlike Reagan is at the left end of the political spectrum.
“That’s Juspeczyk. ‘Jupiter’ was just a name my mother assumed because she didn’t want anyone to know she was Polish” (1.20.3).
What’s in a name? Ask around. It’s safe to say that you or someone you know had an ancestor change the family name once upon a time.
I’ve heard all the psychologists’ theories […] but what it comes down to for me is that I dressed up like an owl and fought crime because it was fun and because it needed doing and because I goddam felt like it (Chapter A.5).
Fashion holds us back and it frees us up. Think about uniforms in sports or dresses and suits at prom.
“I spent the Seventies in jail. I’m not Moloch anymore. I just want to be left alone” (II.21.4).
Can a tiger change his stripes? Do you know where we could get a bowl of Frosted Flakes right about now?
“Sometimes I look at myself and think, ‘how did everything get so tangled up?’ “ (III.10.2).
It’s never a bad idea to pay attention when mirrors pop up, especially in a graphic novel.
Only Hooded Justice refused to testify, on the grounds that he was not prepared to reveal his true identity (Chapter C.11-12).
Rolf Müller or Hooded Justice, neither identity can exist without the other.
They explain that the name has been chosen for the ominous associations it will raise in America’s enemies. They’re shaping me into something gaudy and lethal (IV.12.8).
Even the zero-personality Dr. Manhattan has a logo, so his “brand” can be popularized.
“Rorschach’s an unhealthy fantasy personality. Y’know, he wouldn’t answer to anything else during his bail hearing?” (VI.8.3).
Hmm, a hero with a Rorschach test for a face, and he has identity issues? No surprise there.
“It must be great for you, having a secret identity, a secret place nobody knows about” (VII.10.8).
Nite Owl may have a “secret” workshop, but Rorschach has a “secret” journal. Which is more useful in the end?
Firstly, figurines based upon Rorschach and Nite Owl seem to be viable […] Our lawyers seem to think that since the costumed identities themselves are outlawed and illegal, there can be no legal claim to copyright […]” (Chapter J.1).
Toy licensing, that’s where the money is. How come Veidt can capitalize on Nite Owl and Rorschach’s identities? Who owns them?
“Y’know, this must be how ordinary people feel. This must be how ordinary people feel around us” (XI.14.7).
Last time we checked, there was no such thing as an ordinary person with an ordinary identity, not in Watchmen anyway.
“I dunno. I think you take this vigilante stuff too seriously. Since the Keene Act was passed in ‘77, only the Government-sponsored weirdos are active” (I.4.5).
Vigilantes are bad, but vigilance is good. Try and explain that one.
“What are you doing here, Rorschach? This is a Government base and I hear you’re wanted by the police?” (I.20.2).
Does Rorschach have to break the law in order to uphold justice?
Because there is good and there is evil, and evil must be punished. Even in the face of Armageddon I shall not compromise in this (I.24.6).
Even his mask is black and white. Unfortunately, Rorschach lives in a gray world.
“Until then, we’re society’s only protection. We keep it up as long as we have to” (II.17.5).
What would happen if the police department in your town/city went on strike?
The newspapers call me a crimefighter, so the Pentagon says I must fight crime (IV.14.2).
Why does Dr. Manhattan ever take orders from anybody? Look, over there, a gaping plot hole… or is it? He used to be a regular old human, after all. Is his willingness to follow orders despite the fact that he most definitely could be bossing folks around a commentary on human nature and our desire for order and rules?
“Once a man has seen, he can never turn his back on it. Never pretend it doesn’t exist. No matter who orders him to look the other way" (VI.15.5).
When you find out what “it” is, please let us know. Maybe the illustrations hold a clue.
Yet what are laws made for, if not to serve mankind? And if those laws through unforeseen circumstances become no longer applicable, is it not more noble to follow the course of right and justice; to serve the spirit of the law rather than its every dot and comma? (Chapter H.2).
Martin Luther King Jr. once said something similar. Otherwise, he and Mr. Godfrey might not get along so well.
“Some of us have always lived on edge, Daniel. It is possible to survive there if you observe the rules. Just hang on by fingernails and never look down" (X.5.6).
Rorschach could spend more time learning the rules, the rules of grammar. Why does he speak in such a clipped way?
“Give me smallest finger on man’s hand. I’ll produce information. Computer unnecessary” (X.9.3).
Walter Kovacs would never TiVo CSI: New York, let’s put it that way. For him, scientific evidence is overrated.
“Merely suggesting that by finding mask killer, can have revenge for Mason’s death. Meant to comfort you” (X.16.7).
Rorschach clearly hasn’t studied up on Gandhi: an eye for an eye makes the whole world blind.
“I just feel cooped up sometimes. Maybe I could use a night out” (I.23.5).
Even though she’s 35, Laurie often acts like a teenager. Not that there’s anything wrong with acting like a teenager. ☺ Hey, is that the Watchmen logo?
“If I’m gonna be a kept woman for the Military’s secret weapon, then the Military can stand me a bowl of Spaghetti Africaine every once in a while” (1.25.2).
Since Laurie hates losing her freedom, why does she choose a life of confinement?
“Don’t worry. He’s at Sing-Sing awaiting trial. He’s under heavy guard. He’s no threat” (VI.8.8).
If only you knew, Dr. Long, that even experts have blind spots.
As they dragged him away, Rorschach spoke to the other inmates. He said, “None of you understand. I’m not locked up in here with you. You’re locked up in here with me” (VI.13.2).
One of Watchmen’s all-time great lines. Try uttering it during an in-class essay or when taking a math quiz. On second thought, don’t.
"At Rockefeller I got the bad side of isolation without the compensations, like privacy” (VII.10.7).
Let’s take a cue from Rorschach and switch things up. Maybe there can be freedom in confinement, as long as you’ve got a little “privacy.”
"We’re young lovers, the world could end tomorrow, and how are we spending Sunday evening? We’re planning to bust a homicidal maniac out of Sing-Sing!” (VIII.4.1).
Sometimes, to be free, heroes must live outside the law. See "Rules and Order" for more.
“You’re alone in the valley of the shadow, Rorschach, where your past has a long reach, and between you and it there’s one crummy lock” (VIII.7.6).
So here we have a Biblical reference linked to a not-so-veiled threat, and it’s delivered by a crime boss.
My mother left me a lot of money when she died, but I gave it to charity when I was seventeen. I wanted to prove that I could accomplish anything I wanted starting from absolutely nothing (Chapter K.9).
Looks like Biggie was right: mo money, mo problems. Can a little poverty ever be liberating?
“I’m leaving this galaxy for one less complicated” (XII.27.3).
That’s Dr. Manhattan for you: ultimate confinement (trapped in a time-lock test vault, a slave to the CIA) leads to ultimate freedom (the entire universe is up for grabs).
“Children? Forget it. Not yet. You were talking about adventuring, and I’m not staying home changing diapers” (XII.30.2).
Go ask your parents about this one. Sure, having a kid takes over your life, but is there a new kind of freedom that comes with it?
“Oh, I put him away a dozen times in the Forties, but he reformed and turned to Jesus since then. Married, got two kids, we traded addresses. Nice guy” (I.9.2).
If the Screaming Skull can become a born-again Christian, well, all bets are off. Why does Moore include this snippet in the very first chapter?
“I’m just scared because everything feels weird. It’s as if everything’s changed. Not just you: everything!” (IV.11.6).
Without change, it’s hard to create conflict. And without that, you end up with this. (Yup, we wave our nerd flags high around here.)
“It would have been like joining the Knights of the Round Table; being part of a fellowship of legendary beings” (VII.8.4).
Enter Sigmund Freud, stage left. “Dreams are all about transformation and wish fulfillment,” he says, before lighting up a cigar.
“I’d hoped tonight might wake something inside you, but it sounds like it’s awoken with an appetite” (VII.28.6).
Each character in Watchmen undergoes a transformation, maybe even Rorschach.
“My mother, she eroded my adolescence, chipping me into the shape she’d have been if she hadn’t had me” (IX.14.3).
Tell us about it. Name a more relatable character than Laurie Jupiter… or Laurie Juspeczyk, as she’d prefer to be called, thankyouverymuch.
“In each human coupling, a thousand million sperm vie for a single egg. Multiply those odds by countless generations, against the odds […] until your mother loves a man she has every reason to hate, and of that union [...] it was you, only you, that emerged” (IX.26.5).
Evolution becomes even more beautiful and complicated when you add human nature to the mix.
"We gaze continually at the world and it grows dull in our perceptions. Yet seen from another’s vantage point, as if new, it may still take our breath away” (IX.27.3).
Maybe that’s why the bearded one offers up so many first-person narrators: Rorschach’s journal, Dr. Long’s notes, and all the mini-chapters.
So, in conclusion, welcome to the Veidt Method for physical fitness and self-improvement […] I hope you’ll be intrigued by what you find within, and I know that if you persevere you’ll walk away from this book a different person (Chapter J.4).
The best advertising goes right for the jugular, like you’re not good enough, so here’s X to turn you into Y.
Gradually, I understood what innocent intent had brought me to, and, understanding, waded out beyond my depth […] The world I’d tried to save was lost beyond recall. I was a horror: amongst horrors must I dwell (XI.13.4, XI.23.1).
Not all transformation is good. Just ask the marooned sailor in Tales from the Black Freighter.
“Nobody’s allowed to say bad things about our good ol’ buddies the Russians anymore” (XII.32.3).
Moore imagines the end of the Cold War four years before the fall of the Berlin Wall. Can there be transformation (in people at least) without imagination?
“This atomic science. This is what the world will need! Not pocketwatches!” (IV.3.5).
Einstein disagrees. Moore’s in on the joke, too. Flip to the end of Chapter IV for the punch line (IV.28). Warning: it’s not funny ha-ha.
“How this almost unbelievable development will affect the race in weaponry and space technology has yet to be assimilated” (IV.13.4).
This scene is brought to you by a televised news anchor. The question is why?
“The streets smell of ozone rather than gasoline. Flat, intangible blots of gray slide across the summer sidewalks, the shadows of overhead airships (IV.24.4).
Thanks to Doc Manhattan, oil is obsolete. Moore celebrates this environment-friendly triumph with some of Watchmen’s most poetic language.
Children starve while boots costing many thousands of dollars leave their mark upon the surface of the moon (Chapter D.I).
Pretty harsh indictment of NASA, if you ask us. What about astronaut ice cream? Yeah, it’s pretty good, for like half a bite.
The technology that Dr. Manhattan has made possible has changed the way we think about our clothes, our food, our travel. We drive in electric cars and travel […] in clean, economical airships (Chapter D.III).
Sounds like Utopia, although Watchmen’s alt-1985 is anything but. This seems like a good time to consider the possibility that Dr. Manhattan’s name might not just reference the heart of NYC, but also serve as a shout-out to the Manhattan Project.
“No matter how black it got, when I looked through these goggles everything was clear as day” (VII.9.9).
Technology that connects, we can stand behind that. Hey, are those Google Glasses you’re wearing?
“See: there’s the south pole [of Mars] beneath us now. […] Would it be greatly improved by an oil pipeline?” (IX.13.2).
Dr. Manhattan is definitely a member of the Sierra Club. Is modern life always bad for the environment?
This new line is to be called the “Millennium” line. The imagery associated with it will be controversial and modern, projecting a vision of a technological Utopia, a whole new universe of sensations and pleasures that is just within reach (Chapter J.3).
On one hand, the new millennium = optimism for the future; on the other, there turned out to be a whole lot of Y2K anxiety.
“Computer animations imbue even breakfast cereals with an hallucinogenic futurity; music channels process information-blips, avoiding linear presentation, implying limitless personal choice” (XI.1.2).
Try explaining the Internet to someone who’s never used it before. Now imagine Alan Moore explaining the Internet before it even existed.
“War aside, atomic deadlock guided us downhill toward environmental ruin” (XI.22.1).
This is a bleaker than bleak look at technology. How do we break the deadlock?