Watchmen’s Fearful Symmetry: (almost) frame by frame

Pedro V. Ribeiro
Oct 21, 2016 · 4 min read

Everybody knows that Watchmen is one of the most (if not the most) acclaimed graphic novels of history. But, what may be unknown to some people and even to few comic book fans is that “Fearful symmetry”, the fifth chapter in Alan Moore’s story, doesn’t get that name only because of Blake’s poem. Actually, the whole chapter’s design is made in a way that each page has a correspondent mirrored page. Page one is symmetric to page twenty-eight (the last one), page two is symmetric to page twenty-seven, and there it goes… until we reach the middle pages (fourteen and fifteen) where we get an astonishing sequence by Dave Gibbons working like a perfect central mirror for the whole story.

When we talk about page design, the symmetry is perfect and very easy to be observed, but it does not occur only in that way. Some pages have a frame by frame symmetry, while others has only some images in common, but in different panels. Also, the correspondence can be found in multiple forms: sometimes frames have the same colors, other times they have people in similar situations… but, besides the design, the mirrored pages always have the same characters.

I won’t elongate any more because there’s no telling here that can’t be better done by showing. Without further ado, here we go:

First panel from page one and last panel from page twenty-eight. The correspondence is quite clear, I believe.
Second panel from page one and eighth panel from page twenty-eight. “Everything balances” is a perfect phrase to finish a story about symmetry, don’t you think?
Third panel from page one and seventh panel from page twenty-eight. Besides the color, I see that both images show some agressiveness.
Fourth panel from page one and sixth panel from page twenty-eight. Here the images don’t have much in common, but they’re both bluish in contrast with the red ones in the same pages.
Fifth panel from page one and fifth panel from page twenty-eight. Both red.
Sixth panel from page one and fourth panel from page twenty-eight. Trash can in both panels.
Seventh panel from page one and third panel from page twenty-eight. Red color.
Eighth panel from page one and second panel from page twenty-eight. Similar colors.
Last panel from page one and first panel from page twenty-eight. A window and the red color.
First panel from page two and last panel from page twenty-seven. Same window.
Second panel from page two and eighth panel from page twenty-seven. Same window and color.
Third panel from page two and seventh panel from page twenty-seven. Same window and color.
Here I couldn’t see an exact frame by frame symmetry, so I chose to show the whole strips. Fourth to sixth panels from page two (up) and fourth to sixth panels from page twenty-seven (bottom). We can see some correspondence in colors and items like guns. Also, the little statue is exactly in the same position in both sixth panels.
Seventh to last panels from page two (up) and first to third panels from page twenty-seven (bottom). Both strips occur in the same place.
First to third panels from page three (up) and seventh to last panels from page twenty-six (bottom). I couldn’t see too much correspondence besides the stairs.
Fourth to last panels from page three (left) and first to sixth panels from page twenty-six (right). Some doors and ahidden Rorschach, maybe?
Full-page four (left) and full-page twenty-five (right). Here I didn’t find symmetric frames, but we can see better how the symmetry between pages work: they both have the same structure and show the same characters.
First strip from page five (left) and first strip from page twenty-four (right). Here we can see how the mirroring occurs. Sometimes the correspondence happens between crossed frames (the first and the last one), but the structure is always mirrored only horizontally.
Central panels from page five (up) and central panels from page twenty-four (bottom).
Central frame from page five (left) and central panel from page twenty-four (right). Yeah, I had to show this twice because I think it’s quite brilliant.
Last panels from page five (up) and last panels from page twenty-four (bottom).
Full-page six (left) and full-page twenty-three (right). Here we can see better how symmetry can happen in different ways: both pages have a lot of elements in common and they complete each other, page six shows Rorschach leaving Jacob’s house and page twenty-three shows him returning to find Jacob’s body.
Full-page seven (left) and full-page twenty-two (right). Here we can see some interesting things too. There’s not only the crossed symmetry between the pages, but some correspondence within them. For exemple, page seven ends and begins with the same frame, like the Fearful Symmetry chapter, and like the whole Watchmen story, actually. The last panel in the graphic novel shows a smile with some ketchup on it while someone looks at Rorschach’s diary while the first panel of issue #01 shows a smile with some blood on it while we read some words from Rorschach’s diary. It’s circular narrative, something very frequent in Watchmen and in Alan Moore’s work.
Full-page eight (left) and full-page twenty-one (right). I believe that at this point you’ll be able to identify the correspondent elements by yourselves, but take a look at some things, like the predominance of triangles (also on the previous pair of pages) and how the dead shark in page twenty-one turns into a feminist poster.
Full-page nine (left) and full-page twenty (right).
First panel from page ten and last panel from page nineteen.
Second panel from page ten and sixth panel from page nineteen.
Third panel from page ten and fifth panel from page nineteen.
Central panel from page ten and central panel from page nineteen. I know you’re seeing it.
Fifth panel from page ten and third panel from page nineteen.
Sixth panel from page ten and second panel from page nineteen. This is one of my favorites.
Last panel from page ten and first panel from page nineteen. Beautiful.
Full-page eleven (left) and full-page eighteen (right). I’ll talk about some elements in detail next, but we can see the predominance of things that can correlate in both pages, like food stain, rorschach patterns and stencil images. Also, there an assault scene that reminds the graffiti couple. Besides that, everything is seen from Rorschach point of view.
Third panel from page eleven and seventh panel from page eighteen. I have seen Rorschach’s true face and it’s a bingo!
Last panel from page eleven and first panel from page eighteen. If Rorschach likes rorschach patterns (which are symmetric) he probably wouldn’t like that graffiti with different images on each side.
Full-page twelve (left) and full-page seventeen (right). Again, it ends as it begins. Besides that, what I think it’s really interesting here is they intercalate frames from the newsstand scenario with frames from Tales of the Black Freighter, but starting with one in page twelve and with the other in page seventeen.
Full-page thirteen (left) and full-page sixteen (right). And guess who’s at the center of the whole story? Right, Ozzymandias! Alan Moore told you he was responsible for everything several issues before the end, but I bet you didn’t get it. Don’t worry, neither did I.

I hope you liked it!

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