I am not about to present a plot summary or formal review in any sense. If you are looking for such, then I would advise you read the elaborate review from my fellow writer, Jake Cole. However, if you are looking for an analysis of the graphic novel, then I encourage you to read further – the meaning behind Watchmen runs deep, so missing little odds and ends is to be expected. I will occasionally include commentary during the analysis.
This analysis only begins to deal with the complexities of certain issues and layout. If I wanted to explain everything that was on my mind, I’d be writing a book. Here’s hoping this will be enough to fill your appetite.
The Use of Symmetry
The use of symmetry makes Alan Moore’s graphic novel an increasingly interesting specimen after multiple reads through. Symmetry is repeated again and again, layered on top of itself, and made to suggest pattern and meaning.
Not only is symmetry used in Chapter V – Fearful Symmetry, but within the entire novel. However, Chapter V has, without a doubt, the most references. Doug Atkinson’s Annotated Watchmen argues that “The entire issue’s [Chapter V] story pages are a mirror image. Page 1 reflects page 28, page 2 reflects page 27, and so forth; the two-page spread on pages 14-15 is where the mirror lies. Each page is a reflection both of layout and content” (V; par. 4). The use of the symmetrical Rumrunner sign – depicted in the title page to the Chapter – is repeated throughout the issue and forms only one of a multitude of reflections throughout.
Initially, one may not even think of wondering why Adrian Veidt, the hero Ozymandias, formed the central panel – pages 14-15. However, after multiple reads through Watchmen, different interpretations of his appearance can be made. Perhaps even the end of the graphic novel will come to mind. Why is this? My theory is that because Adrian Veidt was the one man who could unify the world – even if only temporarily – his ‘unification’ of the central panel was appropriate for a man capable of such. This is merely a speculation, but the theory does have merit.
I believe that if Chapter V can invoke such high speculations, so should the entire graphic novel. I will not go into complete detail over any other Chapter because, honestly, I don’t think I have enough room to. Instead I will focus on adjacent ideas, symbolism and the like.
One such idea that I would like to talk about is the involvement of symmetry and how it effects Watchmen as a whole.
Symmetry is, itself, violent as it can only be achieved by deconstructing the diegetic world of the comic. Its people and places become the layout, leaving readers in a constant search for a formal symmetrical structure. The motivation for the search lies in the need to produce a single unified meaning that the various characters and images signify – a reconstruction of what was already deconstructed.
The yin to the yang, so to speak.
Reconstruction and deconstruction are terms that could very well be used when referring to the unification at the end of Watchmen. Though the World began to prosper, questions rose as to whether this unification would last. How could it when the only way to unify was/is to create fear? Innevitably, deconstruction would once again occur and a dystopia would form. Another unification (most likely another catastrophe) would have to occur for reconstruction – known as a vicious circle.
Circles are symmetrical round plane figures – symmetry has few boundaries in this graphic novel.
As previously mentioned, the use of symmetry is used throughout all of Watchmen, even if in lesser tones. Whether depicted in Rorschach’s inkblot facemask or Chapter I’s symmetrical shots at the beginning and end of the Chapter, patterns thrive.
However, what can be said about an otherwise symmetrical image, such as the smiley pin, when a blood stain is interfering in its balance? Does it lose it’s meaning when it obviously has great meaning throughout the story? Does this asymmetry really have to prove as an imbalance, or can it create more meaning?
Some may say – “If not for the blood stain on the smiley pin, it too would be considered a symmetrical object, continuously appearing throughout Watchmen, creating constant meaning wherever it treads”. But do you really think Alan Moore intended for the smiley pin to be dismissed so easily? Not likely. Let us not dismiss the use of this asymmetrical, iconic pin as a metaphorical statement – the tragic flaw, of sorts. The tragic flaw – a flaw leading to the downfall of a tragic hero – may portend to the deconstruction of our main heroes/anti-heroes as well as the Minutemen.
So how is it that tragic flaw and symmetry can both create a deconstruction and end up with the same meaning? How are these two related? Well, the term, downward spiral should come into mind when thinking about a tragic flaw. The spiral is similar to a circle, a symmetrical figure.
Farfetched, perhaps, but I feel that this connection is similar to the deconstruction/reconstruction theory
Although all of our heroes had experienced a deconstruction, Adrian Veidt/Ozymandias faces those closest to the tragic flaw. This probably has to do with his picturesque do-gooder attitude, similar to Alexander the Great’s – a man who had also wished to unite the world, yet failed to because of his untimely death. Adrian Veidt may have created unity in the world, but for how long, no one is completely sure. And here brings Adrian’s tragic flaw, short-sightedness. He and Alexander alike, both seemed to be short sighted men of power. Men who never considered who would take their place after death.
Dr. Manhattan’s speech during Chapter XII, page 27 makes profound statements towards Veidt’s shortsightedness:
Veidt: “Jon, wait, before you leave…I did the right thing, didn’t I? It all worked out in the end.
Dr. Manhattan: “In the end? Nothing ends, Adrian. Nothing ever ends.”
Adrian Veidt’s uncertainty truly represents a man who has grown to fear himself and fear what is imminent.
Watchmen is incredibly intelligent and has always been a pleasure to read. I hope I have offered some insightful ideas concerning this graphic novel, both an as artform and as a novel. The ideas are boundless and incredibly brave, but how these ideas will be executed in film is beyond me – an upcoming post will focus on filming the unfilmable.