Week five didn't happen (thanks for nothing, El Nino), so to fill in here's a little bonus material that never quite worked its way from the lecture notes to the actual lectures. Not that it should have; this is stuff I find fascinating as a reader of Watchmen but I'm not sure how much it would matter to a new student of comics.
When I reread Watchmen last spring, one of the features that most jumped out at me was the use of different formal and thematic structures for each individual issue. Some of them have always been obvious and some of them surprised me, but it's the kind of feat that only becomes apparent when you read the collection as a whole--a brilliant fusion of the periodical format of the individual comic books with the unified narrative of the graphic novel. Some of these styles would never be apparent until the whole series was completed, collected, and reread.
As I prepared to teach Watchmen I tried to identify each issue's distinctive structure and style. I was most interested in the "neutral" issues, the ones told in what we've all come to think of as the Watchmen style of ironic word/image juxtapositions and comics-within-the-comic, to see whether they actually diverged from one another. I came out of it with an even greater appreciation of Moore and Gibbons' skill in designing twelve issues that are as unique as they are unified. Here, as best as I can determine, are the twelve styles of Watchmen:
Chapter I is built around Rorschach's preliminary investigations, which provide a tour of the rest of the cast--one half of the Citizen Kane formula.
Chapter II supplies the other half with Kane-style postmortem flashbacks of Blake's life through the people who (barely) knew him.
Chapter III is the first issue to assemble all the elements of the Watchmen style, including Tales of the Black Freighter panels used as commentary on the main plot. Beyond that, the issue is marked by a dramatic increase in the use of parallelism and irony between text and image and between different strands of the plot (such as Janey Slater's all-too-timely commentary matching Laurie's departure, or the Black Freighter panels and captions). This isn't the first chapter to use irony but it may be the most overtly, relentlessly ironic.
Chapter IV is organized around Jon's memories and flashforwards, of course, representing Jon's perception of time and the deterministic structure he assigns to the universe (even if the flashbacks suggest that Jon simply allows himself to be directed, before and after the accident).
Chapter V is the symmetrical issue, filled with in-panel reflections as well as the mirrored layouts, a fitting representation of Rorschach's dualism.
Chapter VI shows Rorschach’s therapy sessions, filtered through the notes of Dr. Malcolm Long and the random, meaningless inkblots.
Chapter VII gives us a breather at the midpoint. The issue is free of narrative games and especially the nonlinear timelines of other issues. It's built around unities of time (everything happens in a single night) and action (getting Dan back into costume and rebuilding his confidence) and it almost holds to a unity of place. No flashbacks, no Black Freighter, and precious little ironic contrast outside of the television broadcast. The closest thing to a recurring formal device is the fairly tame symbolism of the lenses and screens that keep framing, reflecting, and watching Dan. Chapter VII's style is an apparent stylelessness that only reads like a deliberate choice against the more overt formal games of the other chapters. Young Marc was bored by this one but now I find it's no less virtuosic for its restraint, and a welcome change of pace.
Chapter VIII goes back to the default Watchmen style of parallelism and ironic juxtaposition, and while the timeline is linear it skips forward pretty dramatically to cover all the time that's passed in the other plotlines since Chapter V. As with Chapter III, though, it doesn't just use the default style evenly: this one emphasizes the assembly of pieces to discern the whole, with lots of characters connecting bits of information to form a larger narrative. Sometimes they do it accurately (Hollis Mason working out who saved the people from the fire, Dan working his way up the corporate structure of Pyramid Deliveries from his computer, Detective Fine working out Dan's secret), sometimes they're disastrously wrong (the knot-tops deciding a retired auto mechanic sprang Rorschach from prison), sometimes they're both (the New Frontiersman, pasted up before our eyes). On a probably unrelated note, this is also the issue with the most conventional, unironic use of superhero action and conventions. A Young Marc favorite, and still a reinvigorating jolt of energy and purpose after seven chapters of moping.
(This has nothing to do with the chapter structures, but I have to add: there is something awfully heroic about fat, out-of-shape Dan Dreiberg manning up and fighting to save his friend and the world, even as his girlfriend spends the whole chapter talking about her godlike ex. He's so determined, in Jon's absence, to find human solutions to human problems. Too bad that resolution withers in the face of Veidt's horrific solution.)
Chapter IX is a symmetrical counterpoint to Chapter IV, taking us back to Mars and focusing on Laurie’s memories. Continuing the Chapter VIII's themes, this issue shows Jon and Laurie assembling random events to discover a larger pattern, but on a more cosmic scale.
Chapter X is back to the default, but this time it distinguishes itself by creating a unique theme rather than emphasizing one element of the common style. It's built around descents into various underworlds--NORAD, Karnak, Archie under the river, Happy Harry's underworld bar, Adrian's funereal office, Antarctica, the death of Max and Hira.
Chapter XI is one of the strangest. This issue has a few pages set in the intersection, the location that receives the most typically Watchmen-like treatment of ironic parallelism and metacommentary, but the focus lies elsewhere: Adrian's autobiography, the simultaneous inputs of his channel-surfing, and the simultaneous convergence and explanation of different strands of the plot. It's another issue of parts assembling to form the whole, as we might expect of the chapter where the murderer explains how and why he done it, but something else is going on. The issue is built like Adrian's "jigsaw-fragment model of tomorrow," giving us a fair approximation of how the world's smartest man thinks, putting us inside Veidt's mind. (Note that Veidt's story is broken up between two different audiences; only he and we get to put them together.)
With the climax happening at the end of Chapter XI (or, technically, the beginning of Chapter XI), Chapter XII covers the aftermath, the denouement, and the continuing story. Another linear issue, with Jon's extratemporal perceptions viewed solely from the outside (those tachyons are still muddling things up) and lots of reminders that the story doesn't end when the pages run out. Although we also get a few circular images that take us right back to the beginning.
I'm not thoroughly convinced of all these descriptions; I am convinced that Moore and Gibbons have given each chapter an identity all its own, emphasizing different elements of their collaborative style to give us twelve comics that are as accomplished individually as they are collectively.