[26 January 2015]
PopMatters Comics Editor
Maybe the best part of Watchmen, and reading it for the first time there were too many good parts to keep a hold of in a single thought, was how the quotes at the end of most of the chapters shaped your experience and understanding of reading those chapters. Could Bob Dylan have written “All Along the Watchtower” specifically for that near-to-last Ozymandias chapter? “Outside in the distance a wild cat did growl, two riders were approaching, the wind began to howl” reads the Dylan quote at the end of “Two Riders were Approaching…”. And exactly that happens within the story. Bubastis the GM lynx growls at the sight of Rorschach and Nite Owl drawing closer to Ozymandias’s Antarctic fortress on their tiny hovercraft Segways.
But the best of those quotes? Just two. And between these two, they can unfold the entirety of the drama of the graphic novel. The first, appearing at the close of Chapter IV, something Albert Einstein said. “The release of atom power has changed everything except our way of thinking… The solution to this problem lies in the heart of mankind. If only I had known, I should have become a watchmaker.” And the second, Ozymandias himself, while he pontificates at those around him. Something said by President Kennedy, “We in this country, in this generation are, by destiny, rather than choice, watchmen on the walls of freedom.”
Naturally, these two quotes would explain the thematic scope of Watchmen. The self-recrimination and the personal culpability, the guilt-ridden angst of the Einstein quote speaks to the responsibilities shouldered by singular, powerful individuals (a Comedian, Doctor Manhattan, an Albert Einstein). While the JFK quote speaks to a world of powerbrokers smoking Cohibas in smoke-filled back rooms while deciding the fates of millions. The JFK quote speaks to the situationist, consequentialist world both inherited from and shaped by networked economic and political power.
But could Alan Moore have meant these two quotes as much to apply to the history of comics? There are the pure, singular, powerful comics that arrive from the Underground tradition. R. Crumb, Peter Bagge, Kim Deutsch, singular creators who offer an almost libidinal bursting-through of the power of comics. And on the other hand, a history of an industry littered with such power-players as Julie Schwarz, Will Eisner, Marv Wolfman, Neal Adams, Charles Schulz—creators who worked tirelessly to produce the hundreds of thousands of panels and pages of everyday, mainstream comics. For the former, Einstein, while for the latter, JFK?
The two traditions really collide in the Jimmy Palmiotti and Justin Gray-written and Scott Hampton-drawn Star Spangled War Stories, featuring G. I. Zombie #6. You’d think from the zany idea of the title, a zombie soldier, that you’d be confronted with an Einstein-style story that harks back to the pure expressive energy of Underground Comix. But turn the page, and you’re invited into a phone conversation and a personal confrontation that wouldn’t be out of place in the best of political thrillers.
Please enjoy our exclusive preview of Star Spangled War Stories, featuring G. I. Zombie #6.