Thursday, August 28, 2008

Watchmen Book Club: Chapter VI

So it's All About Rorschach in this chapter, with a series of illuminating, disturbing, depressing, graphic, and horrifying sessions with the prison-appointed psychiatrist. They talk about Rorchach's childhood -- little Walter Kovacs, slow-ish bully magnet with a whore for a mother -- and his more-incremental-than-we-thought evolution into Rorschach. The shrink serves as a surrogate for anyone who has to spend any significant time with Rorschach: Drieberg, the rest of the Crimebusters, and especially us readers. Prolonged exposure to Rorschach and his poisoned worldview is, I think it's safe to say, not good for one's emotional health.

I was totally in love with the artwork from this chapter. Kovacs's mom looks so trashily pock-marked, it's incredible. And the crowding of the talk bubbles when Walter's being bullied in flashback and in prison. And the ink blots and the dog's head and Walter's ruined, dead facial expressions. Just incredible.

I like how we're given such a typical "origin" for Rorschach -- the prostitute mom, the child abuse, the bullying -- but that ends up being more or less a fakeout. His origin ends up being more an accumulation of every shitty thing about the world, piled one on top of the other.

LOVED the origin of the mask -- the viscous, heat-sensitive dye trapped between two layers of latex, both metaphor AND practical explanation -- particularly because I had totally missed this the first time I read the book, and the whole "shape-shifting mask" thing always bugged me from a logistical standpoint. My geekery is now assuaged.

I'd also like to note that, say what you will about Rorschach, the way he writes and the way he speaks is downright elegant. His words, while disturbing, are gorgeously constructed. Yes, he's repellant to be around, yes he will fuck up your mind and suck you into his abyss of misanthropy, but the guy can tell a story, can he not?


Nicole said...

I loved this chapter - it was so disturbing. That the guy has issues with women is obvious, but I thought it was interesting that all the events in his life contributing to his Rorschach evolution centered around women as well: his mother's whoring, getting teased for said whoring, working in the women's clothing factory (which he found humiliating), attempting to rescue the 6 year old girl.

I also liked the interaction with Rorschach and the psychiatrist. It's funny, I Rorschach was right on when he said that the guy was only helping him to make himself famous. But I think the guy did really want to make him better and help him too. Any chance he gets, Rorschach will focus on the negative in people.

sb said...

Totally loved this chapter. It was nice to finally have an explanation for Rorschach, especially his misogyny. But it made me wish we'd had a similar chapter on the Comedian. If this is the stuff that made Rorschach the way he is, can you imagine what happened in THAT guy's past?

jessica said...

VERY disturbing. I love how, by the end, the psychiatrist was narrating very similarly to Rorschach's style: unemotional, monotone, fragmented.

I, too, liked the explanation of the mask. I noticed early on how his "facial expressions" seemed to change and I wondered how that was possible.

I'm getting the feeling that this book is not going to end well.

Omar said...

Like I mentioned in the last issue comments, it's been years and years since I'd last read "Watchmen," so it feels very fresh to me.

One thing that stood out to me in this chapter was the Kitty Genovese connection -- I'd first heard of that incident when I read Harlan Ellison's short story, "The Whimper of Whipped Dogs" and the introduction he wrote to it in one of his story collections.

Loved the bits from the early costuming days where it seemed like Kovaks had finally found a way to fit in and his subsequent fascination with Comedian.

dan mac said...

I swear another commenter brought this up in discussion of an earlier chapter, but my quick re-perusal didn't reveal it. I'd meant to stick a pin in it for when we got to this chapter, but I don't want to take credit for the find; whoever made the comment should speak up.

Anyway, way back in Chapter II, during a flashback to the meeting of the Crimebusters, we get one word bubble from Rorshach on page 10, where the text and lines aren't all jagged. In fact, his statement ("Obviously, I agree--but a group this size seems more like a publicity exercise somehow. It's too big and unwieldy...") is remarkably coherent, and totally unrecognizable as the Rorshach we come to know. Near as I can tell, this is the only time his word bubbles don't appear jagged while he's wearing the Rorshach mask.

This detail further emphasizes what a profound break it was in Rorshach's psyche, when he discovers the fate of the kidnapped girl and butchers the dog. It's explicitly commented on by the psychiatrist, that his childhood prepared him for the moment, but it's the moment that sent him over the edge.

I don't know what to make of it yet, but it's significant that in both of the hero origins we've seen so far, Dr. Manhattan and Rorshach, the man is destroyed to create the hero.

I'm getting the feeling that this book is not going to end well.

As opposed to how it began? haha

Joe Reid said...

You know, I figured it was based on a real incident, but I didn't realize the Kitty Genovese attack was an actual thing, name and all. Chalk another one up to the awesome mirror-universe thing.

The Wikipedia entry on that is pretty interesting, particularly some of the debunking (the idea that the neighbors watched while the woman was killed appears to be inaccurate). Which makes me think it's an even better touchstone for Rorschach: of course he'd readily believe the worst in people. Of course he'd believe they'd watch.