“How’s the end of the world comin’ along?”
“It’ll happen today. I’ve seen signs. National Examiner reported a two-headed cat born in queens.
“Today for certain.
You’ll keep my paper for me tomorrow?”
It’s times like these where it’s hard not to quote REM. It’s the start of the end of the world. Things don’t look good for the old US of A. And while Rorschach may seem paranoid, that doesn’t mean he isn’t right. Is there a conspiracy at work?
The third issue introduces us to some Watchmen elements that we’ll see for the rest of the series. The Tales of the Black Freighter comic book and the goings on of the newspaper stand. These two elements will be woven in and out of the story to add colour and commentary. The Black Freighter at first seems like it is unrelated to what’s going on. However, it sets a thematic tone for what’s happening. And the imagery of the black sails of the ship cast against the yellow sky compared with the black and yellow radiation symbol is chilling.
The news stand owner and the comic reading boy bring a person-on-the-street angle to the goings on. This story is not just about costumed crime fighters who set themselves above humanity. The actions of those crime fighters affect everyone. Not a single life has remained untouched by the existence of Dr Manhattan. And if he were to leave? Well that would certainly change things too…
Two main things happen in this issue. Laurie (Silk Spectre) leaves Dr Manhattan. He’s grown colder and more distant from humanity and Laurie’s had enough. So she tracks down Dan (Nite Owl). The two end up fighting a group of muggers, remembering why they once were crime fighters. There’s the suggestion here that there’s a connection between sex and superheroics that will be followed through in future issues. Remember, this aint a kids comic!
The second plot line follow Dr Manhattan. After a disastrous TV interview where it is revealed that many of his past associates now have cancer, possibly contracted from being in contact with him, Dr Manhattan leaves. Not just the studio, not just the country, but the planet. He’s had enough of Earth. What happens next is a reminder that this comic is firmly set in the Cold War era (let’s thank God that Zack Snyder didn’t listen to the studio heads when they wanted the movie set during the War on Terror…). With no Dr Manhattan, the USA has lost their most vital weapon of defense. Now everyone is preparing for the worst as the Russians invade Afghanistan and the Cold War starts to heat up.
The thing that strikes me most about this issue is the use of juxtaposition. Many scenes alternate panel to panel. Two things will be going on at the same time, yet the dialouge from one will highlight the events in the other. An example from a random page – Janey Slater is being interviewed by the newspaper. In the other scene, Laurie is approaching Dan’s appartment. A locksmith is fixing the broken lock on the door, while we hear Janey say “Some things, once they’re busted, they can’t ever be fixed.” It’s a technique that works really well, especially during the fight scene with the muggers, where it emphasises the sexual tension and exhiliaration being felt by Dan and Laurie. This is one of the many reasons why I appreciate Watchmen as literature and not just a superhero beat-em-up.
The man with the The-End-Is-Nigh sign is still hanging around. The quote at the top is between him and the news stand owner. He’s predicting the end of the world but he’s maintaining his subscription to his favourite magazine. There’s no irony lost there. As Christians, can we be the same? We know that Jesus can return at any minute. We are to live each minute like it will be our last in this world. We don’t know when that day will come, but we know it will come and that it will come like “a thief in the night” (1 Thes 5:2). But do we act like it?
Do we truly believe that our days are numbered? Or do we live like there’s not only going to be a tomorrow, but a lot of tomorrows. We lose a lot of our urgency for God in exchange for making sure we have a comfortable future. We let gospel opportunities escape us, rationalising that there will be another chance later. We long for God’s kingdom, but don’t honestly expect we’ll get there before we die. In many respects, we’re like the man predicting the end of the world today but placing our orders for tomorrow’s magazine. While it would be unwise to ignore tomorrow, we should stop using it as an excuse for not doing God’s work. Because he may not give us a tomorrow.
We should also praise God that we no longer live in a climate like the Cold War. Sure, we now have the War on Terror. At any moment you could be caught in an explosion. But that’s nothing compared to the constant threat we had hanging over us in the 80s. These days? A handful of buildings could be destroyed and thousands of lives lost. During the Cold War? A single missile could lead to a lose-lose situation where everyone dies. I’m grateful we’re no longer living in those times. And I continue to pray that Jesus will return. That he will bring with him a peace that can never be disrupted or destroyed. That we will no longer live in fear but live in his glory. I hope you will pray that prayer too.