Thursday, September 18, 2008

Watchmen Book Club: Chapter IX

[Again, my life has been absolute chaos for the last couple weeks -- and, if I'm being honest, it will continue to be for at least one week more -- so again I have to apologize for the delay in these Watchmen posts. I will no longer insult your intelligence by pledging not to do so again, but I do hope you keep reading them. Almost to the finish line!]

Chapter IX: The Darkness of Mere Being

We spend the whole chapter up on Mars, this time around, as Dr. Manhattan tells Laurie all about how she's going to try to convince him to come back and save Earth from the impending nuclear war and other such calamities that await it (uh...what's Dr. Manhattan doing these days?), and how he's going to decline to do so, because he's just that bored with humanity and their primitive little lives.

You have to feel for Laurie in this chapter, at least a little bit. Jon's detachment from humanity is understandable and his unique experience of time and space is explainable, but god damn must that be a bitch to deal with, day-in and day-out.

My personal favorite thing about the chapter was that while it takes place on Jon's home turf, Laurie's the one who becomes unstuck in time. She doesn't appear to be able control the onset of memories, one after another, that start to fit together like pieces in one terrifically fucked-up jigsaw puzzle. In the process, she re-experiences these events and learns what she realizes she knew all along (specifically that Edward Blake is her father, BLECH). Jon would totally understand.

Jon's obsession with nature, desolation, and molecular structure is what draws him to Mars and keeps his eye turned away from Earth. But it's the same kind of obsession that kept Dan Dreiberg studying owls for a decade instead of fighting crime. And it's exactly the kind of obsession Rorschach has with the awfulness of mankind. He can't live without it, he insists you can never eradicate it, and he can't for one moment imagining a life without it. All three of these men find some way of distracting themselves from the wretched human condition (even if Rorschach does it by immersing himself in humanity's bowels until he can't see the forest for the trees). I'm just glad to have found one thread connecting Jon to the rest of the superheroes.

Jon's change of heart ultimately seems flimsy -- Laurie's horrific revelation of her paternity reminds him that human lives are random and thus beautiful? Hey, whatever gets him to stop the bomb, right? But I did like seeing how similarly fragile Jon's Martian castle turned out to be. One bottle of Adrian Veidt's "Nostalgia" cologne (a fine recurring panel for this flashback-heavy chapter) and it comes crashing down. The whole thing turned out to be as delicate as spun sugar. (Or, if you'll allow me a dorkus-y reference, something the Doozers might've built on Fraggle Rock.)

Random notes:

-- I don't think I noticed the first time I read this that Hooded Justice and Captain Metropolis were apparently gay lovers. Huh.

-- Blake's paternity revelation was laid out wonderfully. Total Keyser Soze moment.

-- Jon forgetting, at first, to provide Laurie with means to breathe on Mars is kind of...hilarious, actually.

-- Also funny? Jon being able to conjure up any beverage Laurie wants inside his little decanter thing. Not the most subtle of Christ references, but I enjoyed it.

-- Jon's line, "Human life is brief and mundane," made me think of Neil Gaiman's Sandman books, specifically "Brief Lives." I really should go back and read those again some day.

Get to discussing, you guys! Home stretch!


Aaron said...

That's a great call on Brief Lives. Dr. Manhattan and Destruction share a similar viewpoint on humanity and reaction to that viewpoint. Never picked up on that before.

As for other comics echoed in this chapter, the one that has always stuck out big time for me is Alan Moore's other masterwork, From Hell. There is a chapter early on in that book where Dr. Gull goes on a whirlwind tour of various places of power within London, and he gives a history lecture to his driver while doing so. The driver gets violently ill as a result. Very similar to Dr. Manhattan taking Laurie on a tour of various geographical highlights of Mars while giving something close to a lecture.

My favorite images in this chapter are the reflections of Laurie's face in the snowglobe and the Nostalgia bottle. Also the way certain images from the past are repeated in the scenes on Mars. I'm thinking of the way she holds her glass and the shape of the glass on Mars cutting to her lifting a barbell and also the scene in the car where her Mom is crying while Laurie looks on with a concerned expressionin the background juxtaposed against Jon staring straight ahead with an impassive look on his face with Laurie looking pissed in the bakground.

sb said...

Y'know, Jon's change of heart didn't really strike me as flimsy at all. As you mention, he has something of an obsessive nature, and his obsessions are of a mostly inanimate, scientific quality (molecules and subatomic structures and the like). It seems totally natural to me that he would just completely forget that humanity is built from the same building blocks as everything else, especially when he holds it in such contempt.

Joe Reid said...

You know, you're right. "Flimsy" is definitely the wrong word. It's abrupt, but it's not like Jon doesn't think it through. He's just able to work these things out much quicker than most people. I still like the symbolism of the fragile Martian castle, though. "Fragile" I think is a much better word for Jon's convictions. They're intricate and thought-out but not necessarily difficult to shatter.

jessica said...

Finally I get a chapter where I can relate and sympathize with Laurie. I like her a lot better here, and I found Jon's sudden change of heart rather affectionate and touching.

I loved the structure of this chapter, the seemless weaving of flashback to present and the juxtapositions of the Nostalgia bottle with breaking glass and splashing water (or tears) in the past. It was a perfect illustration of that simultaneous time Jon lives in.

How desperate and insecure is Sally to actually seek out and sleep with her attempted rapist? It's just gross.

dan mac said...

Jon's abrupt decision to save Earth is difficult to accept at first, as it feels like deus ex machina, which possibly isn't a problem for Moore, given the nature of Dr. Manhattan.

That said, it still works for me on two significant levels. First, that he can come to such a profound conclusion so quickly seems erratic, and thus highlights the difference between Jon as living god and the rest of us. At the same time, that he can be so fickle, and make a decision based basically on sentimentality shows that there is humanity left in him. The nature of the decision, and how he makes it, at once reinforces his character as both godlike and alien, and emotional, fragile, and human. It's a paradox I enjoyed, and for me was Manhattan's defining moment.