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This essay is a very belated response to a " part 1 " published in February 2015. The gist of that essay was a response to a corre...

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

MYTHCOMICS: WATCHMEN #1-12 (1986-87)

I said here that I planned to comment upon Alan Moore's tendency to let his didactic tendencies overwhelm his symbolic discourse. However, when I did the same with Dave Sim and Steve Ditko, I first gave examples of works in which they managed to keep their didacticism under control. So I'll do the same with respect to Alan Moore.

I fleetingly mentioned WATCHMEN in THE ARCHETYPAL LIBRARY, and I've mentioned various aspects of the graphic novel in other essays. Obviously I'm not going to try to analyze the entire novel in a single blogpost. What I will address is a theme in Moore's work that I might call (with a tip of the hat to Anthony Burgess) "the clockwork rape."

Of course, everyone knows that Alan Moore writes rapey comics. Few if any critics have commented on what part the trope of rape might play within the greater patterns of Moore's work, because most critics today are only concerned with a smug political correctness. But I'll advance the notion that in WATCHMEN at least, rape is one of many ways in which Moore-- in concert with his collaborator Dave Gibbons, naturally-- depicts the clockwork patterning of human lives.

One can hardly read WATCHMEN without having the image of the clock, in one form or another, shoved in one's face.

The workings of clocks become a primary metaphor in the life of one of the story's ensemble characters: Doctor Manhattan, who's given a watch to study as a young boy and as a superhero even builds a clockwork city on Mars. 

The image of the two hands coming into conjunction, however, is far more pervasive than its use only in clocks or clock-like objects. For instance, two human bodies can be brought into such a conjunction, in a manner that mingles Eros and Thanatos.

For the purposes of this essay I'll term all such conjunctions as "syzygies." The syzygy is defined by the Oxford Dictionary as a "pair of connected or corresponding things." To my knowledge the term's never been applied to the hour hand and minute hand of a clock, but it's a fair statement to say that the two items are connected: that the clock would be close to useless without the interaction of both pieces of the clock.

Now, the above scene from issue #7 focuses on the syzygy of two humans making love. Yet nothing in this image of "love-death" contradicts the possibility of a syzygy in which one being seeks to dominate the other.  Here's the "rapey scenario" that everyone who's read the comic remembers:

Of course, the attempted rape doesn't transpire, which may a reason that the sequence doesn't merit its own syzygy-image. But such a syzygy-image does appear when Walter Kovacs, a.k.a. "Rorschach," views an ink-blot during a psychologist's "Rorschach test." 

Walter has projected his own memory of this unpleasant incident onto the ink-blot, whose corresponding shapes remind him of being abused by his mother. Moore and Gibbons are clearly being ambiguous about what the woman does to her male offspring. But if one chooses to hew to the logic used by many feminists in the comics-world-- i.e., that any use of violence by a male upon a female must constitute a displaced form of rape-- then the reverse must be true, as I demonstrated here, even if Mrs. Kovacs doesn't dispense anything but pure violence.

Even more significantly, the text of WATCHMEN makes clear that Walter Kovacs never forgives his mother for whatever she did to him. By contrast, the Comedian approaches Silk Spectre for unambiguous sexual favors, hinting that she's been sending him signals. When she doesn't give in, he beats her down, and she's saved from rape only by the intrusion of a third party. Yet at some later date she does apparently have consensual sex with the Comedian, resulting in the birth of their daughter Laurie-- though apparently the ex-superheroine forbids the Comedian from divulging the fact of his parenthood to his grown offspring. It's entirely possible that Silk Spectre's implied forgiveness irks some ultraliberals far more than the sight of the attempted rape itself.

Throughout WATCHMEN the ticking clock is conspicuously used to emphasize how time is running out-- possibly for humanity as a whole, not just the fictional characters in their character-arcs. For the characters as for the readers, the syzygies depict moments frozen in time, different from other comics-panels only in the degree of their abstraction. 

Moore, as a modernist author, wants to use his art as a bully pulpit, to warn others of the limitations of their real lives. That's why it's so ironic that he should be assailed for "rapey comics," since he's clearly calling attention to rape's moral consequences. Neither I nor anyone else can be sure that this is his only reason for employing the situation. But in my personal estimation, if there's any author who seems gets less joy, displaced or otherwise, from the rape-spectacle than Alan Moore, I don't know who it would be.

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