Watchmen #7: A Brother to Dragons
Written by Alan Moore
Drawn and lettered by Dave Gibbons
Coloured by John Higgins
I have studiously avoided writing about the Watchmen thus far in my critical career because it’s just so tiring, right? This monolithic thing that is hailed as this final word on Serious Comic Books. Everyone has a strong opinion, everyone’s got a piece to say, and I think, at a certain point, that conversation becomes circular. But, Steve wanted folks to write about single issues, so I said sure. It’s easier, and I don’t have to consider the scope of the whole story; just this one chapter.
So, here we are. Watchmen #7: The One Where They Fuck.
The scene itself is a climax (ha) of the entire issue’s building; Laurie, aka Silk Spectre, is in Dan’s, aka Nite-Owl’s, apartment, playing around with his old superhero gear, the way a teenager will play with their crush’s knick-knacks before a makeout session.
Actually, let’s talk about Dan. It’s no secret that he, like the entire rest of the cast, is based on the Charlton Comics characters that DC bought in 1983; Dan specifically is an ersatz Blue Beetle. That’s something interesting to think about; we all know who Ted Kord is, but when we think of him, we largely think of the JLI iteration of the character where he became comic relief alongside Booster Gold, yet that book didn’t actually debut until a year after Watchmen. This is fascinating to me, because it subtly alters the lens through which we view Dan; his characterization as a morose, depressed (and depressing) man isn’t a reaction to the humor of Kord, it’s something created whole cloth, on its own. That’s…worse, I think.
There is a cruelty present in Dan; not in his personality, but in his existence. If Watchmen is Moore’s final word on superheroes, then Dan is his final word on the inspiration they’re meant to represent; Dan is a legacy hero, the second Nite Owl, once a hopeful youth following in his idol’s footsteps. Here, he’s old, he’s made too many compromises for his dreams, he’s out of shape, impotent, with a house full of his old toys. He is mediocrity in every sense, a depressing, realized vision of failure. Dan Dreiberg is the spectre of death looming over the idealism that superhero comics had at that point spent four decades representing.
There’s a component to the way Laurie and Dan interact that… bothers me. I’ve been stewing over it a while, but —
This comic makes me feel gross. It makes me want a shower. There’s nothing in here that builds to the narrative of the story as a whole, it’s dead in the middle between two halves. It’s an intermission and they chose to fill that intermission with a story of two people fucking that manages to humiliate both of those people. Dan is in a shame spiral of impotence, he can’t fuck with the TV on, with images of Ozymandias in the background, this pinnacle of manhood next to which he can’t feel secure. Laurie comes across as dim and uncaring – she makes the assumption that a stealth aircraft built for crime-fighting would have a built in dash lighter for smoking? I get that lighters were standard in cars back then, and that the ports for them still are today, because of their utility as a power socket, but… come on. She was a crimefighter, there’s no reason she wouldn’t have the contextual information to understand the purpose of those buttons.
When it comes to the love-making itself, she reads like it could have been anyone across that couch from her; after her failed relationship with a literal god among men in Dr. Manhattan, it seems less like she’s into Dan and more like she’s into the normalcy he represents (pointedly, she murmurs her ex’s name in her sleep). I suppose that’s a big part of why I find this issue so uncomfortable; Moore is, like most successful people in comics, a man, with a man’s point of view. He writes about men and the way their actions affect other men. Dan exists in contrast to Ozymandias, and also to Laurie’s ex, Dr. Manhattan; both of them represent a pinnacle of manhood that he cannot hope to achieve. He exists in contrast to Rorschach, who has put all manner of vice aside in favor of his morals, and in contrast to Comedian, who has put all morals aside in favor of vice. These contrasts enable Dan to be a rich, textured (if deeply unlikeable) character, but now compare that to Laurie.
Laurie is The Girl. Laurie’s mother was The Girl. They exist only in comparison to one another; there are no other female love interests.The Watchmen are all single save her relationship with Dr. Manhattan, and then later Dan. Laurie too, is a commentary; her mother is a rape victim, whereas Laurie, in the sexually-liberated 80s, fucks two different men on-panel. The fact that she and her mother were both also heroes is incidental; they are only defined by who they’re fucking. It could have been anyone across that couch from her, because if the series had gone on long enough, it probably would have been. Laurie is a woman, designed by a man, to fuck the men that man has also designed.
If that is an uncharitable view of her, I won’t apologize. Nothing about Watchmen inspires charity from me, least of all this issue. There’s no love, no warmth, no lust, even. It feels like they’re going through the motions in a machine they can’t – no, a machine they don’t even care enough to understand. I cannot tolerate a lack of caring in my heroes.
Nola Pfau is the Managing Editor for WomenWriteAboutComics, as well as a frequent contributor to the site as a writer – for more of her writing, check out the work under her byline. You can also find her on Twitter here!
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