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Watchmen | Chapter 8 : Old Ghosts | Summary

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Summary

Hollis Mason calls Sally Jupiter on the morning of Halloween to tell her about the tenement rescue. They reminisce about the old days. Across town Dan Dreiberg is slowly piecing together the puzzling events of the previous two weeks. He suspects the cancer that killed Wally Weaver and is now killing Janey Slater and Moloch wasn't caused by Dr. Manhattan, but by their employment at Dimensional Developments. Dan is struggling to understand the company's corporate structure, and he's eager to get the information Rorschach has already collected. A visit from Detective Steven Fine makes Dan even more anxious than before. Dan and Laurie Juspeczyk need to rescue Rorschach before they get arrested for vigilantism themselves.

As Dan and Laurie prepare Archie for takeoff, the narrative jumps between tertiary characters:

  • Seymour and Mr. Godfrey are working on the latest edition of the New Frontiersman. The front-page article is in support of Rorschach. There's also a story about Max Shea, the missing writer.
  • Max Shea and Hira Manish, an artist, look forward to leaving the unnamed island where they're working.
  • Hollis overhears a news brief about a New Frontiersman article supporting masked vigilantes, followed by news that an inmate Rorschach attacked with hot grease died.
  • The top-knots at Bernard's newsstand blame Dr. Manhattan for the global unrest.

Things aren't going well for Rorschach at Sing Sing Correctional Facility. His fellow prisoners—many of whom were incarcerated thanks to Rorschach's efforts—want him dead, particularly a mob boss named Big Figure. A riot breaks out after the death of the grease-splattered inmate, which Big Figure and his two cronies use as an opportunity to kill Rorschach, who is in solitary confinement. Rorschach has other plans. He breaks the fingers of one of the goons, whom Big Figure then orders to be killed, and then electrocutes the other. When Laurie and Dan arrive, Rorschach is hunting a terrified Big Figure, who ducks into the restroom. Rorschach follows, kills him, and then leaves with Dan and Laurie.

The trio goes back to Dan's house to grab a few things. Laurie, worried about the jailbreak and the impending global war, turns around to find Dr. Manhattan sitting in Dan's living room. He says they will be having a conversation on Mars in an hour, and he has come to get her. Dan is gob-smacked by Dr. Manhattan's appearance, but Laurie assures him she'll be fine, and she and Dr. Manhattan teleport out of the house. With the police hot on their heels, Dan and Rorschach use an old subway tunnel to make a quick getaway in Archie.

Meanwhile, the top-knots at the newsstand listen to a radio report about Rorschach's escape. They've heard "some owl character did it," and one of the guys says his dad knows Nite Owl, who "lives over some garage near here." They go to Hollis Mason's house, intending just to "kick his ass," but accidentally kill him. He's found moments later by three trick-or-treaters. The chapter ends with a line from Eleanor Farjeon's poem "Hallowe'en," which includes the line "On Hallowe'en the old ghosts come about us."

Analysis

Chapter 8 is all about liberation, or freedom from oppression. Rorschach is, of course, physically liberated when Dan and Laurie break him out of Sing Sing, but Dan and Laurie also undergo a liberation of their own. Prior to their engagement with the tenement fire, neither were willing to break the law prohibiting vigilantism. Dan, in particular, felt an acute loss when he was forced to hang up his night-vision goggles. Now that he's back in costume, a dormant part of his personality has sparked back to life. He's more confidant and sure of himself and easily assumes the role of leader, even in his relationship with Laurie. Although Laurie protests she doesn't like her skimpy costume, she does admit she missed the thrill of having a secret. Both she and Dan appear to have a newfound sense of purpose and energy now that they're back in the vigilante game.

Vigilantism was outlawed in 1977 in part because of the public backlash to it. Unlike police officers, vigilantes weren't held to any standards of decorum or law. It wasn't unusual for some of them, most notably the Comedian and Rorschach, to step beyond the bounds of what was considered fair and acceptable treatment of alleged criminals. The "top knots," named for the hairstyle of a bun on top of the head, haven't forgotten that. High on a drug known as "Katie" and notoriously bigoted—Derf complains about "superfags." His girlfriend has a swastika tattoo on her arm. The pair are eager to get justice for all the ills they think vigilantes have caused in the past. The dramatic irony of this is that they are doing the exact same things they hate about vigilantes and essentially become the thing they despise the most.

Derf's girlfriend's tattoo isn't the only important graphic element in Chapter 8. The alternating panels depicting Sally and Hollis's conversation are also of note. The frames focusing on Sally are light and sunny with yellow as the dominant color. The frames showing Hollis's home are darker with lots of purple shadows. Although it isn't explicitly said, the mood of the frames indicates Sally's life is perhaps a happier one than Hollis's. It is definitely more comfortable. Sally is getting a pedicure and has fresh flowers in her room; Hollis's desk holds an old tin can labeled "phone money," and he mentions how expensive it is to call California. Hollis hasn't yet retired from his auto shop, but he doesn't have a lot of disposable income. Sally doesn't work anymore, yet she has enough disposable income to treat herself to spa services and a bottle of nice perfume.

The perfume on the first page of the chapter surfaces throughout Watchmen both in bottle form and in advertisements. Called "Nostalgia," it's one of Adrian Veidt's many commercial products. Careful readers will notice it appears every time a character or group of characters reflects on the past. A close-up of the bottle is shown as Hollis and Sally discuss the good old days, and a billboard for the perfume is in the background as the top-knots race to Hollis's house. Their actions are reminiscent of the old days of costumed vigilantism. The billboard's message, "Oh how the ghost of you clings" ties in to the chapter title, "Old Ghosts." The ghosts of Hollis's past—his stint as the first Nite Owl and his subsequent unmasking of himself in his autobiography—are catching up with him.

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