Thursday, August 07, 2008
Watchmen Book Club: Chapter I
Chapter I: "At Midnight All The Agents..."
So we open, in 1985, on that iconic image of the bloodied Smiley Face button which is being flushed down into the sewers. The blood's from the unfortunate corpse of one Edward Blake, who came down to ground level from his high-rise apartment building the hard way. The detectives investigating the scene figure it must have taken someone awfully strong to pick up the beefy Blake and toss him through his window. The cops don't want to pursue it, but lucky for us we have Rorschach, the masked vigilante and resolute misanthrope. After discovering that Blake's secret -- that he had been the man behind the masked avenger The Comedian -- Rorschach fairly quickly comes to the conclusion that there might be someone out there rubbing out "masks." Superheroing has been outlawed, we learn, ever since the Keene Act in 1977, with only a handful (the Comedian being one of them) who continue to operate in service to the government. Rorschach operates outside the law, as both vigilante and phantom.
Working off of his hypothesis, Rorschach pays visits to Dan Drieberg, the former Nite Owl, who hung up his costume back in '77 and has retreated into a life of quiet pointlessness (Dan occasionally has drinks with Hollis Mason, the original Nite Owl, and reminisces about the old days); millionaire self-promoter Adrian Veidt, who cashed in on his fame as the "world's smartest man" and built a corporate empire around himself; and the superhuman, super-blue, super-naked Dr. Manhattan, who is also in the employ of the government, tinkering with the very fabric of the universe and keeping the Soviets at bay. Dr. Manhattan's live-in lady friend is Laurie Juspeczyk, the former Silk Spectre who inherited that mantle from her mother
and rejected it (and her) a long time ago. Rorschach's message to them all is simple: "Watch your backs." Oh, and also, "You're all total sellouts for giving up on fighting crime."
So let's discuss...
-- Rorschach's utter inability to give even the slightest break to anyone in the entire universe strikes me as so darkly funny. But it also strikes a sharp contrast to the whole genre, doesn't it? He's not in it to save people -- he even fantasizes about the city calling for his help and telling them no -- and he's certainly not in it for the idea that mankind is redeemable. So what's he in it for? I don't even think he knows.
-- Can we talk about the quotable Rorschach for a minute? "This awful city, it screams like an abattoir full of retarded children." "The dusk reeks of fornication and bad consciences." I feel like there should be t-shirts. Any other faves I missed?
-- I also love how absolutely mundane the adventuring vocation can seem through the eyes of people like Dreiberg and Mason. Mason talking about running into the Screaming Skull, who ended up finding Jesus and settling down with a wife and kids, for example.
-- The excerpt from Mason's book, "Behind the Mask," is similarly mystique-bursting. Mason seemed like more of an idealist, but it's interesting to place his motivations -- indeed his politics -- up against people like Rorschach, Veidt, Manhattan, the Comedian. It's something to consider going forward.
-- We get our knowledge of time and place in bits and pieces as we go along: Ford is (still) vice-president; Dr. Manhattan has given the U.S. nuclear superiority over the Russians since '65; the Comedian was putting down Marxist rebellions in South America; the Keene Act outlawed superheroes in 1977. Pieces in a puzzle.
That's enough from me, though. Get to talking!
Next book club entry: Monday, August 11