Previously in The Last War in Albion: In 1979, two men got their starts in the British comics industry. One, a young Scotsman named Grant Morrison, largely sunk without a trace, writing only a few short stories for a failed magazine called Near Myths, a local newspaper strip, and a couple of sci-fi adventurers for DC Thomson’s Starblazer, a magazine renowned for only ever giving the editorial note “more space combat.”
The other, a decade older man from Northampton named Alan Moore, steadily worked his way from some low rent gigs writing and drawing his own strips to a career in the mainstream British industry, pulling together a living writing disposable short stories for 2000 AD, superheroes for Marvel UK, and low-selling but critically acclaimed work like V for Vendetta for Dez Skinn’s Warrior, before making the jump to American comics to try to salvage the failing title Swamp Thing, which he did in spades, taking it from a book on the brink of cancellation to one of DC Comics’s crown jewels.
Meanwhile Morrison, having largely failed in his goal of being a rock star, and inspired by Moore’s work, particularly his postmodernist superhero tale Marvelman in Warrior, got back into comics, following the trajectory of Moore’s early career by securing a strip in Warrior (unfortunately for Morrison, his first appearance was Warrior’s last issue) and beginning to write short stories for 2000 AD.
In 1986, DC Comics published the first issue of Watchmen, a new superhero series from Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons.
The result was the outbreak of the last great magical war in Albion.
Yellow smile in bloodpool as panel one, single stain on right eye. An image and synecdoche, it is Watchmen
’s true face. Marketing and trade dress have made it a precisely defined sigil of Watchmen
, just as the Guy Fawkes mask is the sigil of V for Vendetta
and the serpent of Alan Moore. It is a Harvey Ball style smiley, a type first drawn in 1963, linked with a host of 1970s culture both kitsch and psychedelic. The bloodstain is four-pronged splash in the upper left, three droplets petering out before the eye, a fourth traversing the eye at a sharp angle like a pair of clock hands converging on midnight. In some renditions there are six precisely placed patches of white, as on the cover, but in the first panel the badge is already in the midground, framed by a monotone slate of red upon purple-grey bricks. There is a gutter in the lower left which the blood flows into. It is an iconic opening panel of comics as an artform, setting up the book’s aesthetic approach from the beginning. The War begins thusly, in the middle of a cataclysmic battle the history of which will serve as its own battleground.
The close-up, a cover-to-panel transition, defines a mystery even before the comic’s six-panel pan up from the street to a man staring out a broken window many stories up.