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Elizabeth Sandifer

Elizabeth Sandifer created Eruditorum Press. She’s not really sure why she did that, and she apologizes for the inconvenience. She currently writes Last War in Albion, a history of the magical war between Alan Moore and Grant Morrison. She used to write TARDIS Eruditorum, a history of Britain told through the lens of a ropey sci-fi series. She also wrote Neoreaction a Basilisk, writes comics these days, and has ADHD so will probably just randomly write some other shit sooner or later. Support Elizabeth on Patreon.


  1. Sean Dillon
    December 16, 2016 @ 1:52 pm

    Phil, one of the Watchmen Panels repeats twice within the chapter. (The ones that open the paragraphs beginning with “It is noticeable that….” and “What’s interesting, however…”). Otherwise, a fantastic issue.


    • Aylwin
      December 16, 2016 @ 3:12 pm

      Given that that’s an image of Rorschach, whose two appearances are between the references to the two cases of the Rorscach blot pattern being repeated, I’m guessing that’s far from accidental.


      • Elizabeth Sandifer
        December 16, 2016 @ 3:30 pm

        Nope, Sean’s right. Fixed.


        • Aylwin
          December 16, 2016 @ 4:42 pm

          Huh. Well, that was kind of odd.


  2. Ruby Spears
    December 16, 2016 @ 4:31 pm

    A… little less in-depth than I’d imagined, but then, I can’t imagine you were ever terribly eager to cover this unfairly-but-inevitably popular nadir of Moore’s work.

    As for the Watchmen connection, as of late I’ve come to think the deepest parallel isn’t with “The Abyss Gazes Also”, but the final issue. Batman, like Rorschach, is a man with certain inflexible morals (yes, yes, “Batman doesn’t kill” is something DC has waffled all over throughout the years, but Moore apparently takes it seriously, at least for the purposes of this book). And the narrative contrives to put both of them in a situation where they can’t follow one moral without breaking another: kill the Joker OR let Barbara go unavenged/start World War III OR let twelve million lives go unavenged.

    Poor Rorschach at least had Jon to mercy-kill him out of that situation. But Batman, far too popular for DC to even consider that, has no options aside from cradling the worst man he’s ever known and laughing his guts out.


    • mr_mond
      December 16, 2016 @ 4:39 pm

      “But Batman, far too popular for DC to even consider that, has no options aside from cradling the worst man he’s ever known and laughing his guts out.”

      No options unless you consider Morrison’s interpretation.


      • Elizabeth Sandifer
        December 16, 2016 @ 4:52 pm

        Which I tried and failed to figure out a way to work in, to my mild surprise. I probably should have given it a parenthetical somewhere though. Ah well.


        • mr_mond
          December 16, 2016 @ 8:51 pm

          I was a little surprised you didn’t include it, but it fits the overall shape of the Killing Joke part (or at least my perception of that shape), which mostly bypasses Batman/Joker and zeroes in on Barbara – thereby avoiding the mistake that Moore made in the comic. I really like that.


          • Daru
            December 18, 2016 @ 2:08 pm

            Yep I really appreciated the fact that a lot of the focus was on the treatment of Barbara.

    • Elizabeth Sandifer
      December 16, 2016 @ 4:55 pm

      Yeah, I poked at it a bit and finally concluded that there just wasn’t much to do with Killing Joke beyond diagnose the precise historical nature of its awfulness. The fact that it just gets worse the deeper you dig really makes it hard to escape the gravity of the multi-party fuckup involved.

      (Just wait til you see the ridiculously narrow angle I’ll be taking on the movie.)


      • Sean Dillon
        December 16, 2016 @ 5:05 pm

        Presuming it’s the one you brought up in the podcast with Sam, I don’t think it would work given… recent political developments. It’d still be funny as hell, but not as funny as it would be under a presidency that doesn’t believe him.

        Also I presume all the invocations of Morrison in the article were meant to build up to the “Morrison’s theory on the Killing Joke” bit that shockingly never appeared? Or is there something I missed in my last reading of Watchmen (which was, roughly, four years ago).


        • Elizabeth Sandifer
          December 16, 2016 @ 5:13 pm

          I think what it loses in absurd humor it gains in on-pointness.

          And no, they were just there because Morrison’s perspective was relevant in those bits. These are the two bits of Moore’s 80s work Morrison is most right about. I don’t think Morrison’s Killing Joke theory is that interesting, tbh. It’s clever, but nothing really follows from it.


        • Chong Li
          December 16, 2016 @ 6:13 pm

          Speaking of Morrison… I’ve found that one of the more entertaining subtexts to read The Killing Joke with is that it’s really about the Joker trying to get Batman to understand they’re both fictional characters, who have no hope of ever achieving peace so long as DC can squeeze another nickel out of their war. Surely it’s not coincidence that when Batman starts laughing on the finale page, he’s directly facing the fourth wall?

          I was rather surprised and mildly dismayed when told Morrison had already covered this territory with numerous superheroes…


          • Austin Loomis
            December 17, 2016 @ 3:43 pm

            it’s really about the Joker trying to get Batman to understand they’re both fictional characters, who have no hope of ever achieving peace so long as DC can squeeze another nickel out of their war.

            Whoever came up with that, I want to seahorse their babies. It fits with my belief (see link) that the Joker’s psychosis is fourth-wall awareness.

            And, on the subject of wrong-headed reviews from the right or alt-right, Debbie Schlussel spewed out an amazingly blinkered review of the movie, in which (among other things) she demonstrated that she doesn’t understand alternate history even when it’s explained to her slowly, carefully, and with great attention to the considerable detail involved.

    • Daibhid C
      December 17, 2016 @ 12:08 am

      The most devastating critique I’ve seen of The Killing Joke was a scene in a 2000-and-something anthology book that did an Origin of Oracle. In the opening scene, Bruce is visiting Babs in hospital (in costume) and she says “They tell me that when you caught him you were both laughing at some private joke. Was it me?”


  3. arcbeatle
    December 17, 2016 @ 1:12 am

    I always thought Grant Morrison’s interpretation of the Killing Joke was obvious, and that everyone interpreted it that way and after the Joker died there was some comic I hadn’t read where he got resurrected or cloned or his cousin Alouicious took over or something. When I first read the comic, that’s what I thought, and I thought that for years.

    Little did I know that not only wan’t the case. In fact, I only learned that when I read an article about how it was “Grant Morrison’s Opinion.” So it still sort of… baffles me that it isn’t it? Cause I try to see it not that way and it I just… Don’t.

    Of course, my seclusion from comics culture certainly helped with this, as did reading only the comics my library had since I couldn’t afford them, and having no one to discuss them with before the internet came into my home.


  4. Daru
    December 18, 2016 @ 3:04 pm

    Great to see the War back Phil and I have just spent a grey Sunday afternoon pouring over and enjoying the chapter. So thanks, it’s been worth the wait!

    I hadn’t really made a sympathetic connection with Rorschach as a character when I first read it, in fact I had felt him to be fundamentally wrong. So yes, great point at the end of his section where you say he is “the only person in the comic not to look down and whisper no”. It’s been so long since I read it and I had plain forgot his sympathetic stance at the end.


  5. Chris Andersen
    December 18, 2016 @ 4:59 pm

    What do you think is the significance of Rorschach tearing off his mask right before Doctor Manhatten kills him? Given how much the previous story said that Rorschach considered the mask to be his true face, the fact that he faces his final moment without it suggest to me that Kovacs re-asserted himself in the end.


  6. Jesse M.
    December 20, 2016 @ 8:46 pm

    Great analysis, but I’d quibble a little with this point:

    “When the truth is simpler, at once beautiful and in its own way more terrifying: he is not a figure of Severity, but of Mercy.”

    I don’t think it’s clear that much mercy is at play in those last scenes. Rorschach is not actually trying to do something that will help prevent any future suffering (he can’t save the people that have already died, and Ozymandias has no further plan to kill anyone else), he mainly just seems to want to enforce his ideal of justice against Ozymandias (‘Evil must be punished. People must be told’). And my interpretation would be that he does so fully recognizing that if he succeeds in exposing Ozymandias, he may well doom the rest of the world to death in nuclear war (when Dan says ‘This is too big to be hard-assed about! We have to compromise…’ Rorschach responds ‘No. Not even in the face of armageddon.’) It may be true that he is not motivated purely by his principles but also out of compassion for all the people that have died (he does occasionally show moments of compassion, as in the scene with his landlady that you mentioned), but I don’t think there’s any strong indication that this is the case, and if anyone were to have asked him I’d imagine him saying it was purely a matter of his principles, not his feelings.

    Another point about Rorschach’s inconsistency, especially with regards to his final scenes: in the files on Walter Kovacs that appear at the end of “The Abyss Gazes Also”, there’s a childhood essay he wrote about his parents which shows his fantasy that his father was “some sort of aide to President Truman”, and it includes a significant passage at the end: “I like President Truman, the way Dad would of wanted me to. He dropped the atom bomb on Japan and saved millions of lives because if he hadn’t of, then there would of been a lot more war than there was and more people would have been killed. I think it was a good thing to drop the atomic bomb on Japan.” Presumably Moore intended this to be a close parallel with what Ozymandias did, killing millions of innocents to save billions. And this can’t just be too easily dismissed as Rorschach’s childhood moral views differing from his adult ones, since we see that line “they could have followed in the footsteps of good men like my father or President Truman” in the adult Rorschach’s opening monologue, suggesting he still considers Truman to be a personal hero and presumably doesn’t mind Truman giving an order that he knew would kill huge numbers of Japanese civilians for the sake of ending the war.


  7. mr_mond
    December 21, 2016 @ 9:27 am

    Somehwat on topic, Catherynne M. Valente just announced The Refrigerator Monologues – a book about the treatment of superheroines. Is anyone else excited?



  8. Doug M.
    December 21, 2016 @ 1:50 pm

    Wouldn’t this be the place to bring in at least a brief discussion of Frank Miller? I mean, for good or bad, “Watchmen” will always be paired with “The Dark Knight Returns” as the big-name breakout comics of the 1980s. And, of course, Moore was very familiar with Miller’s work, and is to some extend responding to it — he makes an oblique reference to DKR early on (“You’ll kill me… or I’ll kill you”) and then of course there’s the final fight in a funhouse.

    Doug M.


  9. Spoilers Below
    December 22, 2016 @ 4:29 pm

    “Rorschach sighed as he drew his katana…”

    There’s almost certainly an entire essay or book to be written about performative calmness, casualness, and perceived authority…


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