Watchmen #9: The Darkness of Mere Being
Written by Alan Moore
Drawn and lettered by Dave Gibbons
Coloured by John Higgins
“Grooming the Juspeczyk Women: The Heinous Revelations of Watchmen Chapter IX”
Laurie Juspeczyk has been groomed her entire life by people she trusts to do right by her. In Watchmen chapter nine, “The Darkness of Mere Being,” her realization of that comes crashing down — literally — when she is transported to Mars to convince her ex-boyfriend to save the world from imminent destruction. Simultaneously, she infers that the man who once tried to rape her mother is, in fact, her father.
“The Darkness of Mere Being” is perhaps the most heinous issue in the entire run of Watchmen. It’s this issue that deals with how Laurie was groomed by Jon when she was just 16 – not just to be his lover but to become his kept woman, unfairly burdened with maintaining his ties to humanity so he would continue to serve the government.
When she leaves him, he is shortly thereafter accused of giving multiple people cancer; however, when he exiles himself, he tells her it’s because she left him. It’s manipulation 101: “you did something I didn’t like, so I did something dramatic and blamed you to make you feel guilty.”
Now, he wants her to convince him to save the human race from itself, though he claims to no longer care because she isn’t with him anymore. The amount of pressure he puts on her to change his mind — while simultaneously insisting that the future is decided and that she literally can’t — is disgusting. What’s worse is that he shows such blatant disrespect for her safety, transporting her to an oxygen-less planet and then questioning why she’s sick from the trip — though she always gets sick from these trips, as she reminds him, exasperated.
Once Laurie has access to oxygen (again, thanks to Jon, once again reiterating how much power and control he has over her in any situation), their conversation begins. All the while, individual panels trace the trajectory of a bottle that Laurie threw/is throwing/will throw, in accordance with how time functions through Jon’s view of the world. As he tells her, everything is preordained; he can see the past, present and future all at once and can do nothing to stop it or change it.
This bottle is what Laurie throws when she puts together the pieces of her paternity. It’s in that moment that her mother’s own grooming comes to light, radically altering everything about Laurie’s relationship with Sally. It’s not just that Sally groomed Laurie to take her place in the realm of superheroes; it’s that Sally herself was also groomed, especially when it came time to create an appropriate image of Silk Spectre for the public to consume.
The argument can also be made that Sally was groomed by Eddie Blake, once again drawing parallels between mother and daughter.
Laurie recalls Eddie telling her that he tried to rape Sally “only once,” which she initially interprets as him confessing to only one attempt. However, after she puts together other memories, she infers that he meant he only attempted to force himself once, and that Sally slept with him “consensually” after that.
It’s not uncommon for sexual abusers to wear down their victims over time; this is also a form of grooming, though the term is more often associated with adults grooming children for sexual activities. Although Laurie doesn’t seem to realize it, it’s likely that Sally was too ashamed to tell the truth of her daughter’s paternity. She probably blamed herself for “giving in”, for not saying no, for not fighting. This is a phenomenon that has been discussed over and over again since Tarana Burke’s Me Too movement became a viral hashtag in 2017. Rape culture forces victims to see themselves as responsible for their assaults, rather than the actual perpetrators.
In the case of Eddie and Sally, it’s more than apparent that the violent encounter Laurie knows about was perhaps the only instance where Sally was able to successfully get away from Eddie, and that was with the intervention of someone else. Laurie has long blamed her mother for training her to become a masked vigilante when it was never Laurie’s desire to do so. In light of her realization that Eddie is likely her father, Sally pushing her daughter to learn how to fight could have been a response to her own trauma. It could have been her way of protecting Laurie, in the only way she knew how.
Unfortunately, Laurie doesn’t come to these conclusions in “The Mere Darkness of Being.” She instead gets angry at her mother for concealing the truth. Then, in what is truly the most out-of-touch response possible, Jon concludes that procreation is a miracle, especially when sexual violence can result in the birth of someone like Laurie. He decides to save humanity. He tells Laurie they’re going back to Earth.
To liken birth by way of rape to a miracle is the kind of argument anti-abortion lobbyists make. To do so after effectively slut-shaming a woman who was repeatedly victimized by a man who seemingly couldn’t get over his obsession with her is especially disturbing, especially in a comic that is so widely heralded as a triumph of the genre.
Laurie and Sally were groomed by men who yielded their power over these women in order to satisfy themselves. In Watchmen chapter nine, the extent to which their lives have been driven almost entirely by the behavior of these men comes to light. The truth is ugly. And yet Watchmen never properly addresses the consequences of these realizations, nor do Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons provide any useful commentary on how rape culture functions to keep sexual abuse victims separated, even within their own families, for fear of judgment and shame.
Even after Laurie assumes a new identity and forgives her mother as she pursues a different kind of superheroism, blame is still placed on Sally for “giving in” to Eddie’s assault. Breaking away from Jon’s influence allows Laurie to reclaim her autonomy, but she still can’t seem to parse exactly how much damage he did, or what kind of suffering her mother went through. This is normal for survivors; it often takes years for us to determine the full extent of what’s happened to us and how it’s changed the way we move through the world.
Still, the lack of real understanding and closure suggests that Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons either didn’t understand the story they were telling, or didn’t care to dig their heels into it and make a point.
On one hand, it isn’t surprising that this comic just barely scratches the surface of these issues, and then, only when the fate of the world is in danger because Laurie chooses to leave her groomer for treating her like trash. On the other, it’s concerning that we don’t talk about these issues more, especially as they pertain to treatment of non-men not just in comics, but across popular media — and in real life, as well.
Samantha Puc is a writer and critic hailing from Montana. She’s the Managing Editor for The Beat (I used to do that job!!) with bylines at Rogues Portal and Bustle, amongst many others. She can be found on Twitter here, and you can visit her website here!
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