Written by Alan Moore
Art by Dave Gibbons
In 1986 Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons made a comic called Watchmen – maybe you’ve heard of it? The good folks of the London Graphic Novel Network have a few thoughts about it. And a few questions including: Why does the Comedian get so freaked out by Veidt’s plan? If Alan Moore is an anarchist why is Watchmen so strictly ordered? And – most importantly of all – why does Doctor Manhattan have a girlfriend?
“I mean, if you’re the police, who will police the police?”
“I dunno. Coast Guard?”
Right then – let’s do this: Watchmen.
Or “The Watchmen” as some people have recently taken to calling it (which kinda makes my teeth ache – but maybe I’m just being a pedant) is – let’s just get this over with – one of (actually most probably the) most seminal, ground-breaking, trail-blazing blah blah etc graphic novel comic books of all time .
OF. ALL. TIME.
(First published September 1986 so – whoo! – happy 30th birthday Watchmen!)
I mean: I’m pretty certain that someone is gonna come along and say blah blah blah Watchmen is over-rated and actually there’s this other obscure comic book that’s actually a lot better (“Winter Men” anyone? = LOL) but at the risk of opening up a big old can of Freud – it’s like saying that there’s a man who’s better than your dad. I mean – yeah sure ok: that might be qualities that you prefer or whatever – but your dad is your dad: there’s no getting round that and no getting round that influence: it’s in your honey. it’s in your milk.
Mostly I’m not really a big fan of history (dead people doing boring stuff) but when it comes to artistic predecessors (or whatever) I mean – you can’t really avoid it. It’s like if I wanted to make a sci-fiction film about space travel and stuff: I’m going to have to come to terms with 2001: A Space Odyssey in some way you know? Like even if I wanted to try and ignore it – it’s still a landmark. Because well – it’s so big that it casts a shadow on everything that comes after. Or actually: maybe a better way to think of it – it warps the spacetime of other stuff. You know: it’s like gravity. It either pulls you in – or you need to expend lots of energy trying to escape it: but it’s a helluva FORCE you know?
In my lifetime I’ve been gifted a lot of ideas from Alan Moore’s brain – and one of my favourites is Idea Space. That there’s a sense that our ideas are laid out like a landscape and that what some people do (writers / artists / musicians / etc) is discover new field of ideas. Like: Orson Welles discovered all the things that cinema could do when he made CItizen Kane. J. R. R. Tolkien discovered the whole field of fantasy when he did The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings (I’ve got a friend who says different and that there’s apparently people before him who laid the way or whatever – but who cares I’m trying to make a point here). You know – The Beatles and pop music. The Office and cringe comedy. Miles Davis and jazz. Lots of examples. But whatever. Point is – people discover a new field. A new way of doing things – and then everyone else kinda comes in and then regurgitates the stuff they did first. When the field is new and undiscovered – you can go crazy and do whatever you want: and then after that – well: you’ve gonna being ploughing the same furrow that’s already been dug up.
This little theory delights me for a few different reasons. Firstly I think it does explain how things work. I mean – I’ve also been a bit of film fan and didn’t get around to seeing it til quite late (only a few years ago) but even so I was pretty much taken aback by all the cool things that Citizen Kane actually does. I mean – every scene has a cool new trick to it: in terms of lighting or framing or whatever. It’s non-stop: “ooooh look – I can do this! And I can do this! And now I can do this!” which is kinda the same thing that Watchmen does in terms of stunts or whatever.
And just to pre-empt the voices in my head: I mean ok – Watchmen or whatever might not do it for you. You might not be a fan of comic tricks (altho can I say that I am very much a fan of tricks with mediums: it’s like the coolest) like ok – you prefer characters and realistic stuff and boring things ok: good for you. 😛
But hey: what is interesting is that (and I’m saying this before I’ve actually started to read it again: so maybe this is wrong? Altho – I’ve read the copy I have at home so much that it held together with nothing but gaffer tape. You know – I don’t really need to read it again seeing how every panel of it is pretty much burned into my head forever: I mean reading it is basically like doing karaoke (altogether now): “Do it? Dan, I’m not a Republic serial villain. Do you seriously think I’d explain my master-stroke if there remained the slightest chance of you affecting its outcome? I did it thirty-five minutes ago.”) but what is interesting is what – well: is Watchmen really about anything other than itself? I mean: I guess you could say it’s about power. Or perceptions of reality (shame that everyone’s reality agrees with each other tho – no Rashomon tricks here) – how superheroes are really awful n stuff? I mean – for me at least: it’s not really about the characters (as well defined as they are): it’s about the story. The clockwork precision. Watching every piece slide into place. Seeing the mirroring of images from panel to panel.
(Fun game to play that I’ve played: reading it on all sorts of different orders: so you just follow one character (The Comedian, Doctor Manhattan, Silk Spectre, Daniel Dreiberg, Ozymandias, Rorschach and (obviously) Bernard and Bernie) – or you know: just read Tales of the Black Freighter: or read it in chronological order: yes – it’s very possible that I’ve read it too much).
I mean – it’s Watchmen. There’s a part of me that feels like maybe everything that could be said about it has already been said and there’s another part of me that feels like actually – maybe we could talk about it forever.
Altogether now: “Nothing ever ends.”
Nice opening panel, Joel 🙂
I probably owe my continued interest in reading and making comics to Watchmen. I was about 16-17 years old when it came out, picked it up issue by issue, and it was with the fourth issue that it really clicked as something different from the New Mutants, Teen Titans and other stuff me and my brother were reading. So I was at the right, impressionable age to have this embedded into my skull in a big way, and I can probably still remember entire sections of it.
Putting that aside to look at it more objectively, it was a game-changer in two ways, I think: “gritty realism” and formal experimentation.
The upping the ante in “realism” of the sex, violence n politics was great for my adolescent brain, but doesn’t feel like much of an innovation – and triggered an avalanche of derivative “what if superheroes did XXX in the real world?” stuff. Writers like Steve Gerber had already explored social realism & superheroes in the 1970’s, and the legacy of Watchmen in legitimising increased levels of ultra-violence isn’t really a positive thing, IMO. (Frank Miller’s stuff has a lot to answer for here too – and as far as I know, the two happened more or less independently.) It’s a very adolescent, very narrow, very male view of “realism”, and it seems a shame that large tranches of the industry are still stuck there.
The thing that really stuck with me, though, was the formal experiments:
– all the “punning” and double-meaning between words and pictures
– the use of repeated visual motifs like the rorschach ink blot and the tarnished smiley face
– the symmetry. Each issue is symmetrical back-to-front, and issue 11 is a mirror of issue 2, etc. up to the ‘broken symmetry’ of issue 12
– the punning and symmetry meant something, in terms of the synchronous, clockwork universe that Dr. Manhattan experienced
– the (rather heavy-handed) parallel with the pirate story-within-the-story
Issue 4 was the one to really make me sit up and pay attention – the way it played with time, laying bare the mechanics of the words and pictures I was assembling in my head into a coherent narrative, without breaking the illusion. (Richard McGuire’s “Here” – the 4pp b&w-er in Raw! and the recent book – do the same thing, but the narrative’s so stripped back that it becomes an intellectual exercise. Watchmen issue 4 does it while keeping you hooked in a fast-paced sci-fi adventure story.)
The fact that the writer paid that much attention to detail, that much craft, just wowed me. Only Scott McCloud’s Understanding Comics, a few years later, has had as big an impact on me, I think. (Not saying there’s been nothing as good since, I’m just older and less impressionable, I guess.) I’d read a couple of Thomas Pynchon’s utterly dense books – I remember Alan Moore citing him as a big influence – he was interviewed in an early issue of Paul Gravett’s Escape mag, alongside Eddie Campbell, and Campbell drew a picture of them arm wrestling, yelling “Pynchon!” and “Kerouac!” at one another. I’d seen Escape,and Raw! magazine, and people doing really clever 4-page things with comics, but nothing on the scale or density of Watchmen.
Post-Watchmen, there were a lot of comics ape-ing the violence, and sexual violence, and some ape-ing the visual punning, rather badly. The first section of Zenith did, before Morrison found his own voice. The Question did, picking out a couple at random. None of them really achieved the same level of craft. (And speaking of craft, hats off to Dave Gibbons for creating such consistent, solid, functional and unglamorous art throughout, in real service to the story. A change of artist, or of style, would have diluted the experience hugely. The night after I’d bought and read issue 11 – with the most beautiful cover I’d ever seen in a comic, I actually had a nightmare that 12 had come out, drawn by someone else. Yes, I really was that impressionable!)
Vertigo probably wouldn’t have happened in the way it did without Watchmen.
So, yeah, hugely influential piece of work, and personally very meaningful to me. It “gave me permission” to play with the form of comics, in some way, to point to what was possible.
I don’t own a copy of it, and wouldn’t look to read it again right now, but I’m glad it happened.
“I had to take a closer look. I thought the pieces would explain the whole. But – it’s hard to love the pieces”– Doctor Manhattan
Watchmen sets its superheroes in a decidedly post-heroic age. These days it perhaps feels like it could be best described as a post-post-911 America – an America that we, of course, are all too familiar with, an America that has traded the naïve heroism of the early days following that great tragedy for the somber realism that all heroes are broken, that there is no clear line between good and evil, no clear line between black and white.
The main characters of Watchmen were based on an earlier cast of heroes originally published by Charlton Comics in the ‘60’s. Moore and Gibbons resurrect those original heroes for their story but give them all the worldly sophistication and angst: the Peacekeeper plays a key role in a high-profile and fairly inexplicable homicide; the government bans superheroing outside of the federal umbrella, a circumstance tolerated by all except the ever-anti-authoritarian Question; Captain Atom has disappeared; Nightshade’s mom is real old and kind of sad; The Blue Beatle is sort of a wimp.
All this transpires beneath the shadow of a morally ambiguous conspiracy with globe-altering ramifications, so of course, the story that Moore and Gibbons tell is a challenging one. The term “heavy” can be applied to nearly every aspect of this series, which is so dense that it really does feel like some sort of graphic novel – a real achievement. A first reading left me totally in the dark. Time does not unfold as expected, but moves backwards before it moves forwards again. The last pages of the book belong at the beginning. The beginning pages belong toward the back.
Watchmen is a marvel of comic-book structure, using a nine-panel grid to dictate the rhythm of the narrative with immense specificity while exploring the storytelling flexibility of that key layout. Think of the scene where Rorschach and Owlman talk about how the concept of the “American superhero” is now as dead as American stand-up thanks to the death of The Comedian (Bill Hicks RIP). Rorschach takes takes Dan on a walk through a stairwell that switches from a nine-panel grid to a 18-panel grid, allowing Gibbons to create a layout that twists through the page as the characters move down the stairs.
They’re literally moving from one level to another, but their conversation is also about moving America in a different direction, one that will rely less on superhero fantasies and more on political transparency. (This is coming from a character that gets to where he is by being eating cold beans, though, so it’s probably best not to believe what he says.) This new world will be different from what came before, and that change is immediately reflected in the layout, which doubles down on the pre-determined nine-panel grid.
It is worth remembering, though, that Moore is the type of storyteller that wants you to work to fully grasp his stories. He enjoys telling deep, and often labyrinthine, tales that take time to fully comprehend. Circles are a recurring visual motif throughout the series, reflecting Moore’s idea that America has found itself in a never-ending cycle of violence by serving as a global peacekeeper. This militaristic aggression has become a major part of real-world American culture, as evidenced by the dramatic rise of Marvel’s superhero characters on the big screen, characters with deep roots in the military-industrial complex. The United States claims to want peace but has a culture rooted in violence, and superheroes are a part of that.
Superhero stories almost always glorify violence, and Watchmen is guilty of that too. How can it not when it has one of comics’ best fight choreographers as an artist? Gibbons draws dynamic action with characters that have a real sense of weight, which accentuates the athleticism of these heroes in action. But superhero violence isn’t the kind of violence that runs rampant in the real world. This story begins and ends with gunshot deaths, the first emphasizing the grisly impact a bullet has on the body of the victim, and the second emphasizing the catastrophic effect it has on the mind of the shooter. After spending time in a heady, dense narrative, the final pages bring everything down to a very personal level, giving readers the last vital piece of information needed to understand the motivations of the story’s central character.
I have read Watchmen a dozen times from front to back, and at least twice from back to front. I find something new every time. I really want every loose end tied before the series ends. Meanwhile, the voice of reason in my head considers this expectation wildly impractical. Maybe even dangerous. A fantasy.
Watchmen is a bigger event than any of the crossovers produced by DC or Marvel this year.
Dave and David both make lots of good points. All the formal experiment stuff Watchmen does is very cool. All the attention to detail (which is above and beyond: I mean – is there any other comic that comes close to the ADD detail that Watchmen does? I mean you can literally spend hours and hours sifting through it and finding new little bits and easter eggs (Question: Are comics the most autistic medium?). And yes yes totally yes “The last pages of the book belong at the beginning. The beginning pages belong toward the back.” – it’s all circles and cycles. Reading it is like being inside a giant…. well… a giant watch as bits fall into place both in front of you and behind.
Altho – only thing I will say is that quote is from Captain Atom not Doctor Manhattan David. Come on – get it right 😛
(Or is it just a taster to lead us on to a talk about how good Multiversity… isn’t?).
But yeah anyway – that’s not what I wanted to talk about. What I wanted to talk about was the important stuff. The stuff that I still can’t get straight in my head after all this time. The unanswered question stuff. The big, major, heavy stuff.
Namely: why exactly does Doctor Manhattan have a girlfriend?
I mean: I’m not making any judgment. Doctor Manhattan can have a relationship with anyone he wants. It just seems massively incongruous in light of all the other parts of who he is. I mean: he’s a superhuman god that can literally see through time. His sartorial choices are… minimal (to say the least). And he has the same colour skin as Neytiri and Tsu’tey. I mean – he’s obviously a lot different to most other people: while we’re checking out what’s new on Netflix he’s spending his down time doing stuff taking apart big crazy machines with his mind and saying things like:
So erm like – come on: why would someone like this be dating?
I mean: I see what’s in it for Laurie. He’s buff. He’s smart. He’s emotional distant. He’s blue. I mean: I’d go out with him too if I ever got the chance. I just don’t understand what he gets out of it. I mean – he projects this whole “actually I’m just really big into thinking” kind of aura (I can imagine him at a house party not speaking to anyone just leaning up against the wall and tearing off beer bottle labels with his mind) – you know: life of the mind. so why is he hooked up?
There’s the “I mean, which do you prefer, red ants or black ants?” Ozymandias quote which just makes it even creepier. Because – what Doc Manhattan sees humans as ants – but also: there’s one ant that he really fancies?
Brrrrr. Come on – that’s kinda weird right?
Then there’s the whole “unexpected threesome” thing. I mean – if you consent to being with someone – does that mean that you consent to there being two versions of them? I’m gonna go ahead and guess not. And again – the unanswered question: what does he get out of it? Does he get off in the same way that we do? Does it make him happy? Does he ever unwind? Like: come on babe. Let’s just stay in tonight and get a pizza. My treat (clicks fingers and pizza guy appears) (pizza guy throws up).
(And please don’t say that the book doesn’t kinda invite this stuff when it goes into so much detail that you know what licking Doc Manhattan’s finger is like so yeah).
And then isn’t there the whole thing with sex (in our society anyway) about you know – disrobing? You know: you take your clothes off and you’re naked in front of someone. LOL. There’s actually a whole sequence in Watchmen about that very thing:
Like: seeing how Doctor Manhattan is walking around starkers all the time: can he even do that? And what happens when he opens up emotionally? Does he even have an emotional side?
(I should probably stop calling him Doctor Manhattan and call him “Jon” instead – but whatever)
I realise that I may be being a little crass (cut to someone reading this: “Yeah – come on: this is all a little crass”) but hey like Alan Moore once said: “Life isn’t divided into genres. It’s a horrifying, romantic, tragic, comical, science-fiction cowboy detective novel … with a bit of pornography if you’re lucky.” And if we’re going to be serious about Watchmen I think it’s interesting to maybe peel off some bits and come at it at a different angle (I think I’d probably be flattering myself too much if I say that I’m trying to deconstruct it – it would probably be more apt to just say I’ve gone a little bit blue.)
But I guess if I was trying to make a serious point it would be something like this: from what I remember the last time I read Watchmen (haven’t reread it yet): the only bit that really falls down for me is: well – this bit –
Laurie realises the twists, chucks the thing and smash smash smash and then – Doc Man changes his mind?
Hmmm. I don’t buy it.
From the guy who said “A live body and a dead body contain the same number of particles.” to – we’re all thermodynamic miracles or whatever. I mean: yeah sure they’re all puppets on strings – I guess I just don’t see the reasons why he’d dance like that.
Up above when I first started talking about Watchmen and it’s ADD detail I kinda wanted to describe it as being “autistic” but stopped myself because I was a little scared that maybe that might be a little bit offense or rude. But (and someone please correct me if I’m getting this wrong) but isn’t Doc Man kinda on the spectrum? I mean:
People with ASD tend to have problems with social interaction and communication.
Children with ASD may also lack awareness of and interest in other children.
They can find it hard to understand other people’s emotions and feelings, and have difficulty starting conversations or taking part in them properly.
They tend to play alone.
I mean – that’s pretty Doctor Manhattany – no?
(Ooops. That suddenly cold sweat on the back of the neck feeling that – oops – actually maybe I’m talking myself here? LOL)
But yeah – Doctor Manhattan also kinda works as a stand-in for Watchmen itself no? In that they kinda have the same sort of attributes – a little cold, a little distant and very much obsessed with the details. I mean – I know Rorschach is very much the break out poster child star: but he seems more like someone who’d prefer reading The Dark Knight Returns or something.
I made a bit of a snarky comment when we started about how if “you prefer characters and realistic stuff and boring things ok” but I know realise that was probably a little harsh: because yeah – if there’s a point where Watchmen falls down – it’s on the relationships maybe. I mean: each character is a world in and of itself. I mean – they even have their own separate chapters: all looked away and apart from each other: but they all struggle a bit when they come to relationships. I mean: Ozymandias’ solution to the problem of world conflict is to go widescreen and crazy with giant alien squid which (is this a stretch?) is again – kinda like Watchmen itself: this big crazy overwhelming monster seemingly from another dimension dropped like a bomb into the comics scene and warping it forever beyond all recognition (altho at the end don’t they ditch Nostalgia for Millennium? Altho from our vantage point the Millennium is Nostalgia LOL)
And nowadays: well yeah – I remember back when i first read it: Doc Man was such a weird strange alien being and now he seems – well: kinda normalized. Almost kinda typical. A guy too much in his own head having trouble relating to those around him. I mean – isn’t that kinda all of us? I mean yeah we don’t have Mars but we do have the internet (which is probably worse).
I feel like I’ve said too much. Or not enough. But will leave it there for now.
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Surely he has a girlfriend because he experiences time out of order. If you know you have a girlfriend in the future, then surely you flirt with Laurie, then have a relationship with her, then change your mind about the fate of humanity because that’s what you do. You know that it happens, but can’t change it: “We’re all puppets, I’m just a puppet that can see the strings” (or however that quote goes) right?
Why does he have a girlfriend? You might as well ask. not why does he show off his penis – but why does he have a penis? Why is he still humanoid when he could be anything? Why is he… he?
Manhattan is trying to recreate Jon’s previous life in vague approximations. He may not even be aware how much he is doing it. But since his old self had a girlfriend, so does his new self. It doesn;t so matter who she is, but that she fills a hole in his life. He has removed one hand of the watch and replaced it with another, that callously.
It may also be worth considering that Manhattan plays the role of the reader. Who watches the Watchmen? He does, and so do we. He can move his perspoective up and down the time axis and so can we, flipping back and forth through the pages. He could destroy everything, we could close the book.
It is worth realising that the most powerful godlike creature in Watchmen has the same abilities as the everyday humdrum reader of the comic book. And he has ASD – well, then probably so do we.
Watchmen was never meant to be about realistic superheroes. If it makes their earlier nine panel grid chapters more grounded in something closer to reality, it’s only so as to contrast with the insanity, unreality and splash pages of the squid and its aftermath.
Confession: I wrote a comic book called Watchmensch that examined the treatment of creators over time by DC Comics, the changing role of Jewish influence over the American superhero and some bad Simpsons jokes. Dave Gibbon ssaid it made him laugh and had a better ending the film. Faint praise but I’ll take it.
Einstein was famously said to be autistic within his lifetime (reading about the great man is where I first learnt about the term come to think of it) so a frustrated watchmaker nerd turned demigod would plausibly be on the spectrum too
And if Jon & Laurie’s relationship makes little internal sense, then that’s no different from many of the relationships in the story, surely? Sally Jupiter’s love/hate for the Comedian (and for herself) is supremely dysfunctional, and subtley done. Laurie & Dan’s is too. And the taxi driver and her younger top-knot lover. The ones who aren’t in relationships too – Veidt’s abstract love for humanity that leads hm to commit genocide, even Rorschach’s guiding morality and his violence are at odds. And they’re all the more realistic for it (compared to Frank Miller’s one-dimensional stereotypes of the same period, say)
That quote’s definitely from Watchmen, Joel – Doctor Manhattan says it to Owlman in issue… #5, I think?
Multiversity is less good than both Watchmen and itself, but that’s a story for another day.
I think a lot of what I’m trying to say, and what I might want to say about the coherence of the relationships in Watchmen, can be best conveyed by talking about Zach Snyder’s work on the “Watchmen” movie.
The biggest disappointment of the “Watchmen” movie by far is the complete gutting of the title. Despite all the super-villainy, raping, and territorial intrigue, Moore and Gibbons’ Watchmen is, at heart, about a lad whose life is dominated by the lack of a father’s love. After all, it is only when Doctor Manhattan turns his annihilating gaze on him that Walter Kovacs finally feels watched… like a man. This is the thread Hollywood movies usually love. How many Spielberg pictures entirely depend on being “Watched?” And of course, as part of Spielberg’s audience, you can’t not intervene…
…because to see is to intervene.
Yet, in the “Watchmen” film, this notion is merely glanced at as a passing spectacle so one cannot truly claim to have seen it.
“Watchmen” is, at best, a throw-back to earlier comic book adaptations that disregarded the purity of its source concepts to make a film for a “wider audience.” At worst, it is a film made in the cynical belief the filmmakers can change any aspect they want because the core audience will come and see it anyway. That same attitude that gave us video game films like“Super Mario Bros.” and “Street Fighter.”
I liked Super Mario Bros, but more as a sequel to Brazil.
The film wasn’t great, but I kind of agree with Moore that it’s not possible to make a good film out of the book. I think Terry Gilliam wanted to make a TV adaptation at one point, which would have been a safer bet (partly because IMO a lot of the book’s power comes from developing the background characters who all get randomly killed off at the end). But the film did have a gratuitous sex scene soundtracked to ‘Hallelujah’, which is one of the most hilarious pieces of cinema I have experienced.
This probs says something about me, but I think the most interesting character isn’t Jon but Veidt. One of the great things about the book is that Moore tries quite hard to make all his characters sympathetic. Even when they are horrible. And he pulls out all the stops for Veidt. All of that picturing-the-faces-of-the-dead stuff isn’t supposed to be second guessed, Imo. Veidt does it and you’re supposed to feel his anguish.
And it speaks to what the book is about. Watchmen deconstructs superheroes yes, but not just by putting them in the real world – it undermines the moral certainties of the genre by making the biggest hero the biggest villain at the same time. Veidt commits terrible crimes to do what is right – he perpetrates genocide in order to save the world. That’s an impossible moral situation, and the surviving characters (bar Rorscharch) can only remain ambivalent about it. Good doesn’t triumph over evil, we don’t even know what good is anymore.
I like this because in its own ridiculous way it gets at something quite important, which is that in the real world difficult moral and political decisions are often a choice between evils (John Gray uses Isaiah Berlin to build a whole theory around how agonising this is. I think it’s also what Max Weber wanted to teach prospective politicians in Politics as a Vocation). I do wonder whether Moore wanted to go the whole hog on the Veidt sympathy – I suspect Watchmen’s moral centre is located in the little people who aren’t superheroes and end up getting fried by him. Just before that happens the analyst character says something like “in a world like this, the only meaningful thing we can do is try to help each other”. In a book about how meaningless morality is that’s both pathetic and profound. It also probably gets at the anarchist’s suspicion of grand systems and forces, and his trust in the decency of the little guy.
Surely the point about Dr Manhattan is that he lies to both us and himself about his nature?
He claims to see all time simultaneously but is surprised when the reporter at his TV appearance tells him all his old friends are dying of cancer to the point of freaking out, he is surprised that Laurie doesn’t appreciate him creating multiples of himself to sleep with her and although he can presumably see the chronal disruption caused by Squidy mcSquidface exploding he doesn’t bother to either work on some way to avoid it’s effects or track it before it happens to Ozymandius, prefering to hang out on Mars instead. I know that a key point of Ozy’s plan is to try and strengthen Jon’s alienation from humanity so he doesn’t interfere but at the end of the story the point is that he’s failed, Jon is happy that Laurie and Night Owl are together and he cares enough about humanity to murder Rorschach to stop him ruining everything.
Another way of seeing the big picture, as relevant to the question of whether Doctor Manhattan is what he thinks is as it is to those who seek to manipulate him: Alan Moore is the master of comics noir. He haunts the shadowey underbelly of superhero life – crime that spills out through the alleyways and gutters, or hides behind the brightness of a social facade or an engaging smile. The psyche of his characters is darker, their motives more ambiguous. It is a technique that invigorated superhero franchises such as Captain Britain and Miracleman, but has also been the strength of his award-winningLeague of Extraordinary Gentleman series.
Trump is actually a supervillain in one of Marvel‘s comic universes, as reported by Comics Alliance.
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Loz – a couple of related points. 1) I guess if he can see all time at once, he also sees every reaction that he has. It’s the same point I was making earlier – he can’t not act surprised when he’s told about his friends getting cancer because he was always going to do that. I have no idea if that is ‘lying to himself’ or if he still *feels* the surprise, but that’s a philosophical question. 2) “Something something chronotons from Veidt’s machine.” If you’re feeling generous, we can probably handwave stuff that happens later on a bit.
I guess it depends on how you read that Mars chapter – whether it’s specific flashes he gets or it’s all of time, all the time. I can’t remember if we ever get him seeing things that happened when he wasn’t there or before he was born, for example. But, I mean, he’s basically omnipotent. I’m sure if he wants to he can make a rock too heavy for him to lift and then lift it (or whatever), and I’m sure he can see whatever he wants to too.
I posted up “Why does Doctor Manhattan have a girlfriend?” on the LGNN facebook group and my favourite reply was that “it’s for show — a way of coming across as more human and relatable to other people.” A beard – but not to conceal his sexual orientation but his god-like otherness: the fact that he’s no longer human.
I don’t know about you – but speculating on this sort of stuff I always find to be really fun: and I think it speaks to the quality of what Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons did that it’s possible to treat Watchmen as – I dunno – a shared mental playground? Where we can swing on the climbing frames and go around on the roundabout. Because well yeah: the characters are fully formed enough and have enough of shape that you can start to twist them into new ones.
In terms of the Watchmen movie (urg): I mean I’ve always thought that the main reason it doesn’t translate into movieness (apart from the fact that Zachary Edward “Zack” Snyder is a terrible director, that Watchmen was made to be a comic and not a movie: so it’s full of “comic-ness” and very little “movie-ness,” apart from the giant squid ending which would have been AWESOME up on a big screen so of course that’s the bit they got rid of it, etc and etc and etc): is that in terms of stuff actually happening – Watchmen is kinda boring. Like pretty much every character is a Hamlet-wannabe: just sitting around and thinking and not doing stuff. Adrian spends a whole issue just sorta walking around, Daniel can’t decide whether or not to be Owlman again and Jon spends half the book just sitting around on Mars. But then – that’s why I love it and that’s why I think it casts such a beguiling spell. Superhero comics are action, action, action – but everyone in Watchmen is too morose and impotent to be able to act. Which works really well as a comic because you get to do lots and lots of world building but in a film – well: let’s put it this way – if Watchmen didn’t exist as a comic and only existed as a film script: I very much doubt anyone would have ever wanted to make it.
(And full disclosure: I can’t really pretend that I’m better than anyone else at this point because (stupid idiot) I went to go see it at the frigging IMAX because well yeah you know – it’s Watchmen! etc: because that’s how they get you).
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on the LGNN facebook group and my favourite reply was that “it’s for show — a way of coming across as more human and relatable to other people.”
That was me! Hello. I obviously like this idea too otherwise I wouldn’t’ve offered it, but I don’t know if I buy it. Because if Jon really cared about coming across as more human, couldn’t he have, y’know, not chosen blue skin when he uh, (re?)created himself? Or maybe he could put on some pants? And maybe he wouldn’t’ve gone around scaring all these people while he was putting himself together?
(I love these panels, esp that middle one)
I really want to stand by the idea of Laurie for show/as beard, but a lot of Jon’s mannerisms indicate that he just DGAF. Unless that itself is for show, and deep down Jon’s a disconnected person who wants to be part of humanity but knows he can’t, and holds onto a relationship as some last link to that world.
I say this having only (re)read up to issue 10, though; maybe it’ll change by the time I’m done. (I first read Watchmen about a decade ago and since forgot all of it, aside from vaguely recalling that Rorschach’s alter ego was supposed to be really ugly and that he had some altercation with a guy over a little girl. I saw the film but forgot all of it too, which I guess is for the best.)
Moore and Gibbons’ Watchmen is a damn good comic. If there’s only one thing this discussion conveys, it should be a burning desire to purchase and read Watchmen. Alan Moore is one of the greatest comic book creators ever and Watchmenis a great introduction to his work. Alan Moore is a graphic novelist, so most of his series take around twenty volumes to collect. That’s a lot of time and money to devote to a series (even if it is completely worth it). Watchmen comes in at a fairly reasonable one volume. Consider reading it. This isn’t one long sales pitch though, so it is time to address what is so excellent about Watchmen.
Watchmen takes its story from an arc of the Charlton Comics series. (A little bit of trivia: the original series was so impressive Stanley Kubrick wanted to have Mr Charlton design parts of 2001: A Space Odyssey. Scheduling difficulties prevented this.) Alan Moore, with full permission from Mr Charlton’s family, reworked the classic Charlton Comics plot, The Greatest Superhero on Earth. Moore altered the series to better suit his sensibilities. As we have already seen, Moore series tend to be mysteries, normally with elements of psychological suspense. He makes a few changes to the story in order to accommodate this. His main character is not Captain Atom but a detective called Rorschach (The Question in the original series). Moore’s retelling is more realistic, more focused on psychological motivations, and built around political catalysts. The plot, in its simplest form, is that someone is hunting and killing the seven greatest superheroes in the world. The superheroes are the peak of engineering, design, and intellect. Some are humanitarians, some butlers, and some are wrestlers. Early on in the story, it is revealed that the main character, the detective Rorschach, is one of these seven superheroes. The story revolves around his detective work. The story continually shifts and revolves with new discoveries and developments in the story. It’s never predictable, never boring, and always exciting. More than that though, the series is brilliant from an artistic standpoint, a storytelling standpoint, and a writing standpoint. The entire work is a technical marvel on all fronts.
David Gibbons’ art is breathtaking. It showcases an incredible level of technical skill. Compare his art to a lesser western artist, let’s say Tony S. Daniel’s art on Batman RIP (a comic I love dearly), and the differences are clear. First of all, many, many, mainstream comics fail to properly differentiate their characters. There are panels in Batman RIP where Tim Drake looks exactly like Bruce Wayne, and Wayne looks pretty different depending on the day Tony S. Daniel is working.
Watchmen’s characters are instantly recognizable, completely consistent, and fantastically realistic. Not only do people look the same, but their clothes do too. Intertwining futuristic buildings are drawn with enough real world textures to never seem too fantastic. That is the result of Gibbons’ art; it creates a sense of realism and grounds the readers. This is a fabulous (and even necessary) effect for a science fiction work. It helps the reader relate to ten settings, to the characters, and to the stories. If Watchmen had been drawn by someone like Moebius, or Prophet’s Simon Roy, then the reader would find it a challenge to empathize with the characters. (This is not always a desired, or necessary effect.) David Gibbons doesn’t wants to make sure his readers feel more than interested in his work. Much like Steven Spielberg Gibbons’ approach is entirely based around empathy. His stunning realism, which extends equally to facial expressions, action scenes, vehicles, props, and inhuman robots, allows him to submerge his readers in the story.
Many artists, when faced with the prospect of drawing, say, a kick, choose a wide panel to accommodate the drawing. One can hardly condemn this across the board, but a lot of artists seem to ignore the affect a wide panel has on pacing. David Gibbons never falls into this trap. Every panel belies careful planning and consideration, or at least an innate knowledge of the form. Story beats are carefully timed to work with the content. David Gibbons’ most interesting technique is his use of sound effects. He, like many artists, crafts excellent sound effects that help clarify two things: the way something sounds, and the path of certain objects. Where David Gibbons stands apart is the way he almost adds a sound track into the story. During important reveals and atmospheric moments, Gibbons will employ sound effects as emphasis. An important shot might be accompanied with a long sound effect. It’s not always clear where these effects come from. Often times they appear to be something fairly innocuous, possibly wind. The origin of these sound effects is not really important though. How many times has some dramatic shot in a movie or TV show been accompanied by an intense “whooshing” noise? Or some intense moment, like Rorchach’s dreams, featured the sound of breathing? Or the thudding sound of a heartbeat? David Gibbons uses sound effects in the same way and it works. It seems that years of conditioning makes these sounds seem more like a sound track than a sound-effect. I’ve never seen this elsewhere and I am continually surprised at how well it works. It’s a careful, clever, manipulation of the form, something both Moore and Gibbons excel at.
Watchmen is a stunning piece of writing, but Moore and Gibbons aren’t just concerned with telling a brilliant story.Watchmen is a science-fiction book, and so, like most good writers would, Alan Moore chose to address many interesting questions. Science fiction is often considered the vehicle of choice to address questions of the day and questions of the future. Moore manages to balance these questions and themes against the story. He never makes the mistake of drowning out a story with heady questions or concerns. The comic never feels preachy, or overly philosophical, instead Moore allows the story to take the lead and uses his many themes to add a depth that would otherwise be lacking. This is in the vein of some of the best science fiction ever. Works like Blade Runner, Alien, Primer, Dune (the book), the Illustrated Man,Childhood’s End, and most of 2001:A Space Odyssey, all work the same way. They focus on the story, and then let the rest influence and enhance the story. One of those titles may have stood out to you as being unlike the others. I’m going to assume you, hypothetical reader, are questioning the inclusion of 2001. Well, other then being the greatest science-fiction film ever, and my favourite movie, it allows for a perfect tangent. 2001 (along with Childhood’s End the book 2001 was unofficially based off, and Blade Runner for that matter) let theme overtake story at the end. Whether it is Blade Runner’s highly symbolic climatic fight, (followed by the “It’s too bad she won’t live” line and the unicorn) or 2001′s star-gate sequence, both allow theme to overtake story. Watchmen does the same. Some of Moore’s careful tuned threads and connection fall apart in order to reach a symbolic conflict, followed by an explicit statement of theme. It’s not subtle, but it is effective.
One of the themes Alan Moore addresses is simple, if questioning the nature of humanity can be described as simple.Watchmen is a mature and thoughtful science fiction work featuring superheroes. Moore cannot help but address the pressing question about these superheroes: are they human? Moore never addresses this issue too heavily. His superheroes are unquestionably shown to have feelings, be capable of love, and act against their own programming. Moore is far more interested in humanity’s interactions with these superheroes. Scientists will announce that superheroes have a subconscious as casually as a police officer will call them soulless. There are laws in place carefully negotiating the ways humans and superheroes interact. A superhero must not be able to kill a human, but humans have to treat superheroes like they have rights; they can’t kill them or erase their memory (against their will).
The question is really about superheroes and free will. Can a superhero be on equal footing with a human if it can’t choose to make bad decisions?
Is the only thing separating a superhero from a human the fact that a human can kill a superhero, but a superhero can’t kill a human?
I’ve been fixating a little on Ilia’s ” It also probably gets at the anarchist’s suspicion of grand systems and forces, and his trust in the decency of the little guy.” comment.
Because yeah – for those of you who don’t know – Alan Moore is famously very much an anarchist. So much so that he won’t even vote for Jermey Corbyn: “As an anarchist I don’t vote, preferring direct political action and comment without an elected intermediary. If I did vote, however, I would try to vote with the way that viable human history appeared to be going rather than against it.”
But yeah – even tho I have the sneaking suspicion that there’s probably a Phd paper somewhere that probably goes into it – I wonder what the deal is with Alan Moore being big into freedom of the individual on the one hand and on the other (and let’s be honest here) constructing intricate prisons where each character exists as not much more as a cog in a heartless machine (““We’re all puppets, Laurie. I’m just a puppet who can see the strings.”) etc
Not that I’m complaining. I just wonder where the disconnect comes from (or is it even a disconnect? You tell me).
Nicely presented question there 🙂
My $0.02 on the matter, I don’t think there’s a contradiction in an anarchist focusing on the cages that we build for ourselves. Any pragmatic anarchist with an eye on the world would swiftly realise that a lot of people don’t want the responsibility that anarchy offers, and would prefer to be told what to do. Presenting characters who are constructing cages for themselves, and wrestling with those self-imposed limits, seems completely in line with Mr. Moore’s beliefs. It’s more or less spelled out in “V for Vendetta”, but very much present in Watchmen too.
(FWIW I’m not an anarchist, I’m left-wing and above all an environmentalist. So I’m extrapolating…)
But there’s also an article here: The Totalitarian Buddhist Who Beat Sim City.
Basically: there’s this guy who made Sim City into a totalitarian hellscape (called “Magnasanti”) with a population density of oh my god too many people: all pilled on top of each other in an intricate monstrous pattern: maximizing space and efficiency.
Which I guess comes close to how Watchmen works too no? Clockwork construction that does everything in a brutally effective fashion.
I still haven’t sat down to reread it (oops: might not get the time now) but I’d imagine that reading it as a wizened 30-something the teenageness of it is probably pretty strong (yuk – like the smell of a bedroom). Mostly – because – well: it’s a pretty dour book isn’t it? Everything is sour and brown. Nixon is still president and nuclear war is only a few ticks away.
Did I already say that Watchmen seems like the type of book that Doctor Manhattan would write? Oh – that’s not quite right is it? It’s actually a pretty strong mixture of the personalities of all of the main characters – Rorschach’s dog carcass bleakness, Ozymandias’ utilitarianism, Dan’s impotence, Laurie’s brittleness: all stirred together and served up in a cocktail that keeps reminding you how smart it is (and it is very very smart) but not offering all too much in the way of reassurance.
(Altho – having said that: LOL – is that what we want from comics or whatever? Reassurance that everything is cool and everyone is happy and everything is alright?).
But maybe that gets at something else: like I questioned before the idea that maybe there is a conflict between the rigidness of Watchmen’s world and Alan Moore’s beliefs in a world that’s less rigid. But is that right? Like: what would anarchist art even look like? Would it be abstract comics? *shudder* (spoiler alert: I’m not a fan). Or comics that are just about how much better all of our lives would be if we swapped our neoliberal capitalist dystopia for a socialist communist utopia? (Would superheroes even be needed in such a world? There’s a thought – maybe superheroes can only exist in a world that doesn’t work).
(There is a really cool book called The Dispossessed by Ursula K. Le Guin that’s about an anarcho-syndicalist world. But (as far as I know) there’s not a comic book version so maybe I shouldn’t mention it?)
And maybe there’s an argument to be made that actually the thing that’s going to save us is imagination: dreaming up new worlds and new ways of being. And that’s what Watchmen does best: it took superheroes and mashed and twisted them up into a strange new shape. Only (as always with everything) instead of it being treated as an excuse for other people to move forward in other ways and do other cool things – everyone thought that the innovation was “superheroes – but depressed!” – and so regurgitated that over and over and over again.
I mean – I could probably name a hundred sad superhero books – but are there any books out there that go further with Watchmen’s clockwork comic world? Although – LOL – now I think about it: maybe erm everything Chris Ware has ever done? I mean forget the Doctor Manhattan / Batman crossover – let’s have Jimmy Corrigan team up with Daniel Dreiberg!
Seriously: I think that’s really cool idea……..
And going further: I mean – maybe that’s the point for the rest of us too? Having a little bit more imagination?
Obviously we don’t live in a world that allows for too much freedom of thought (sad face): I mean I would very much hesitate to describe what we do on the LGNN as “comics criticism” but that’s probably a good thing? I mean: most of the things that people write about comics is so identikit that it becomes mind-numbing. You could probably cut and paste reviews and swap out one writer’s name for another, this artist for that artist and that name for the other and most people probably won’t even notice. Because well yeah – proper insights are hard won and most of the time it’s easier just to smoother on cliches and stock phrases (and I hope I’m not being too damning when I say this – I mean: back when I first started trying to write about comics on the internet everything I wrote was boilerplate drivel – it’s like how most people on dating profiles say that they’re “looking for a partner in crime”: the problem with words and thought is that unless you spend your life resisting and trying to swim against the current (because there’s something wrong with you LOL) it’s just loads easier to let the tide take you: and I’m not saying that to be judgement or to pour scorn – I mean in a choice between using an escalator or climbing a mountain – I’m getting on the moving stairs.
But maybe with Watchmen and other good books or whatever – we can free ourselves from being rigid in our thoughts and break free a little? Or maybe that’s hoping for too much?
Gotsto Gotsto say:
Only LGNN would spend all their time talking about Dr Manhattan and Nite-Owl over Roarsharch and The Comedian, which I love. Pretty sure every convo I’ve had on this book has involved someone pretending they need 50 lozenges and talking about not helping people. It’s really bloody enjoyable.
Manhattan has always rattled around my brain a bit. I mean, I love the paradox of a man who is simultaneously living life as a fully emotional human being and as a god. I mean that’s the thing about him, utopian god shell, squidgy irrational human innards.
I think Loz actively came into my house at night and took the words out my mouth on Manhattan. Basically Loz, I think you should be a tooth fairy for the literati, if only for the fun of having you skulk the London nice in a pretty pink dress. He’s perceived as a god, he likes to view himself as detached and above the petty quibbles and y-fronts of humanity, but he still goes after teenagers he meets at parties. He still sits on a planet and looks back at a woman he used to love. I think the most apt some up is Mr Freeze in that old animated episode “Heart of Ice”. He goes around decrying his complete lack of emotions and selling it with his “ice cream man gone rogue” look, but he’s still a bereaved man whose gone mad with pain and love.
It is pretty interesting thinking about the structural obsession with symettry Moore has put in, especially since he’s been so happy to play himself up as the mad anarchist wizard of the North. I mean, it’s interesting and laudable as an achievement but as something I care about? I don’t. Watchmen holds stature because of how
Goddamnit I wrote half an unedited rant and it sent…and I don’t have time to finish it yet…to be continued? Sorry guys!
Don’t forget that your mad anarchist Uncle Alan also wrote ‘Big Numbers’ (or started to anyway), the spoken word piece about the Demon Asmodeus that’s a palindrome so structure in his work isn’t that strange.
So how many days/weeks/months do you think Veidt’s Brave New World lasted before it crashed and burned and everyone died?
I realise that it’s probably not the best look to out oneself as a Veidt apologist. But what the heck: Loz that’s a pretty good question so what the hey – let’s do this.
First up: I think it’s important to note that from what we’re shown in the book – Adrian saves the world. I mean: Nixon is in the White House (third term!) and has his finger on the button. The Russian’s have their tanks on the march and the doomsday clock is literally ticking away. We don’t see it happen (because of what happens) but it seems incredibly fucking likely that bombs will be dropped and the world will explode.
Like anytime you’re having a conversation like this:
you’ve gotta know: THINGS ARE NOT GOOD.
And then Adrian comes along: drops squid monster on New York. And then well – this:
And yeah – I mean: at the risk of turning into a social outcast / not sounding woke or whatever: I’ve gotta admit – I very very much like the idea of a world where we’re all united by our common humanity. No one more racial / sexual / gender / etc divisions. You know: if we have to have us and them – let’s have us be “humans” and them be “evil alien that doesn’t even exist.” That sounds good. That sounds like a future I’d like to live in. A utopia of sorts.
But how long do I think it lasted for? LOL.
I mean – I’d like to go the comics section of the Library of Babel and check out Watchmen +100. Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons patch up their differences and tell the story of the superhero decadents slowly starting to realise that the foundation myth of their society is a lie. They find the sunken ship with all the artists on it or whatever. Start putting two and two together. Starring Rorschach’s granddaughter (she’s called “Spotty”).
YES. THAT SOUNDS COOL.
I can think of little if at all that I disagree with Loz on, please stop saying things I want to say before I’ve thought of them. It’s copyright infringement, or it will be once Mickey Mouse gets some more orphan juice.
Also props on the coast guard joke.
I mean this is the first comic page that ever hit me. All I had happily ever gotten from them was kicks and giggles. But this, and I’d wager for a lot of other people, was the first time I remember a comic actually making me feel genuine, empathetic sadness and remorse. For one page, I felt the end. That embrace, that embrace will haunt me. Weirdly enough Joel, that’s the page that always makes me think about our common humanity – two people who didn’t like being stuck together, embracing each other when god turned the house lights on at the end of the night.
Following this chat I’ve been thinking about Ozymandias and Dr. Manhattan a bunch and how they funnily enough have a weird mirror relation to each other. Both see themselves as gods who have transcended humanity in one way or another, both beliefs are eventually shown up by Moore. Ozymandias thinks he’s out thought humanity, Manhattan thinks he’s emotionally transcended it.
Ozymandias hasn’t accounted for absolutely everything, the diary is at the crank publishers. He couldn’t out think a crazy person – logic can’t beat the chaos of reality. Of course my favourite anarchist high wizard of the north would write that in.
There is no period of time Dr. Manhattan isn’t defined by his emotional reactions: He’ll never stop loving the girl in the photograph, he’ll never not hook up with a teenaged girl at a party, he’ll always be aghast at The Comedian in Vietnam, he’ll always come back to earth to try to stop the ultimate, perfect, extreme horror of the utilitarian master plan –even though he knows it doesn’t work and the plan makes terrible sense. He’s blue, he doesn’t grin and acts like he’s transcended his tethers to the common human experience – the story of Dr Manhattan is one of a “god” forcibly accepting that he is obviously still human. Immortality and powers aside – he can still go to Tescos and stick cheaper clearance labels on clearance steak to get an extra 20p off.
While the mirror nature is fun, it doesn’t really mean anything to me. It’s not why I care about Watchmen. It’s like movies you don’t connect with – yeah, it’s obvious There Will Be Blood is brilliantly made and the actors and the directors all probably cured cholera doing it sure, but just because it is logically, objectively good – doesn’t mean the individual will enjoy it. It doesn’t make it subjectively good, it doesn’t make it fun and enjoyable to experience. The incredible swiss watch structure, is a toweringly impressive achievement, the symmetry and reflections and detail are all beyond laudable – but it wouldn’t mean a damned thing without that embrace. Watchmen should not be remembered for this, that would be like remembering The Dark Knight because it started the IMAX trend. I think the sole purpose they serve to further the story is in pages like the embrace, where the shock from the lack of a standard Watchmen 9×9 structure gives it a sense of time that is at once infinite and horrifically imminent.
Watchmen should be remembered for the human moments, the characters, the dialogue. I’m still haunted by the death of the first Nite-Owl, I can still see the confluence of identity and sexual questions that plagued his successor. I can see a world of supposed heroes living human lives defined by irrationality, chaos and pain. Superheroes are oft defined by tragedy, Batman, Superman, Spiderman, Wolverine – tragedy fuelled. But the scars in Watchmen, the supposed “end” of the genre, are relatively minute but they run so much deeper in their readers bones than the classic heroes ever could.
Also, to Ilia. Hit the nail on the head about that conflict between good and “good”, to me it goes to the heart of how Moore spent the 80s deconstructing superheroes. He was all about forcing them into logic traps – wherein logically the only way to be heroic and save the day, the only way to do “good” was to sacrifice your moral code and identity as a superhero (thus rendering it an unsustainable idea). Superman is forced to trick Mr. Mxyspltx into killing himself, Batman realises he does have to kill The Joker and Rorschach finally realises that his black and white perspectives inherent incompatibility with reality spells his necessary (and “good”) death.
Also quick thoughts –
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Doctor_Manhattan – the picture in the wiki article for the character is by Neal Adams, not Gibbons – which is pretty telling in light of how the world is being treated as an IP asset by DC now.
Most people here seem to refer to the characters by their actual names, me by their superhero names, which is a pretty interesting difference. “Wheres my face” indeed.
Me and my friend thought this scene in the film was absolutely hilarious. Could not stop laughing:
Totally digging everyone’s responses so far. While I agree that Rorschach’s journal appears to be an acknowledgement of the chaos of reality > superlogic, looking at it another way there’s no such thing as chaos in the Watchmen universe*. “I leave it entirely in your hands” is a possible undoing of Veidt’s objectives but it also closes the loop of the comic and reminds the reader (in whose hands the book literally rests) that this is a constructed object.
Moore, for all his anarchist wizardry, loooooooooooves his formal structures, and Watchmen is a masterwork in how these operate within the medium: eg the grid of nine rectangular panels – a square that isn’t a square – the resonance created by the repetition of visual motifs, and of course that one issue where half of it is the mirror of the other half.
This also lends weight to the reading of Moore’s authorial avatar as Dr. Manhattan, the creator of worlds who can see people and places at different points in time simultaneously. In that sense, we’re also Dr. Manhattan to a degree, since by looking at a comics page (or rather two pages at once, since this was originally created for a print format) we see different points in time all at once.
*see Grant Morrison’s critique of Watchmen for more on this.
The big problem I have with this is the Comedian having a breakdown when he finds out Ozymandius’ plan. I wonder if Moore had the idea for that a long while before he conceived the rest of the Comedian’s back story, to go from someone casually shooting pregnant women and napalming villages to being unable to accept the ultimate ‘for the greater good’ plan ever? I think there might have been a missing chapter in there explaining why the Comedian found it hard to deal with.
Or maybe I’ve read too many comics with universes dying at dawn and am jaded?
I read that as the Comedian’s superficial, “don’t give a damn” veneer being relatively superficial. He could cope with all the meaningless atrocity he saw and perpetrated, but fell apart over Veidt’s plan because it was premeditated as being for the greater good.
But yeah, there certainly is something cypher-like about that explanation I just gave – it’s more like a clash of two ideologies than actual character development. But there’s a lot of that in Watchmen, and arguably it says something about the disconnect between the masks/characters and the people running around behind them – all superheroes are one-trick-pony cyphers to some extent, aren’t they? – rather than just a weakness in the balance between ideas and characterisation in Moore’s writing.
But then, I am secretly overthinking-it-man (TM), so I would say that, wouldn’t I ?
Yup to David on the comedian – the impulsive cruelty looking in horror at calculated genocide is a pretty cool way to look at it. And with the opening scene it lends an interesting comment on their relationship – the generals deserve the trial, not the soldiers.
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You have all asked some great questions and provided some interesting answers. I wish I’d been able to read this thread earlier as most of what I want to say has been said. I’m just going to try and sum up my feelings and thoughts in the shortest possible sentence: “Rorschach rocks!”
I almost stopped right there (and I’m sure many may argue I should have) 🙂
I find myself relating to Joel when he says he is a Veidt apologist. When I read Watchmen, the fact that the “bad guy” got away with his dastardly plot was something that stood out to me. Of course, by then I no longer considered him a complete villain. I think he was cruel in some of his actions, but when I take a step back and look at what he did and why he did it, I have some sympathy for him. It might be a stretch to say that Veidt was generally a good person but hear me out. With his intellect, and physical abilities he could have gone down the trite path of world domination. In fact, if he considered himself superior and deserving (a common trap for intelligent beings in the comic world) he definitely would have gone that way. Instead, he decides to do things that individually are abhorrent, to strive for a goal that can only be considered noble when considered as a whole (possibly a bit of a stretch but bear with me). Now whether or not his plan works in the long term is another questions, but he is after all only human no matter how smart he is. That said, there is a literal “God” in this story that can traverse time and comprehend things that are beyond the scope of mere mortals (including maybe Veidt as well). He decides to let the plan go ahead (kind of loose on what choices he had at that point in time) but he must have seen it as something that was worth allowing to play out.
What I get from the ending and the overall plot is that some times you have to make the hard choices (listen up batman!) and do something that you may not want to in order to have a real lasting effect. I think Veidt was the bravest superhero in the entire story. Now before I start being misunderstood let me say that I doubt I would have been able to do what he did. I tend to drift towards apathy and saving the whole human race like that seems a bit too much…I can understand why he did what he did though.
If I was asked who my favourite character in the story is I would definitely say Rorschach. I started out thinking he was the person who would do whatever it took to get the job done…and to some extent he is. Unfortunately/fortunately he focuses on the micro view and maybe that is one of the themes that readers need to consider. Is it better to try and make a difference to your small sphere of influence and let things play out, or is change on the macro level better if you have the means to implement it? I don’t know if it’s just me, but these two characters and their approach to being a hero kind of sum up the choices of a hero (if you were to oversimplify and make it a binary option). Whenever I think deeply about Watchmen, as opposed to just remembering a cool scene, it usually boils down to which character I feel had the right idea. Moore could have added shades of grey by allowing Rorschach to be convinced by the final argument (which would have made the ending a little less thought provoking and dare I say poignant). Instead, he made sure there was no ambiguity and no “reasoning” with Rorschach. Even Dr Manhattan got off the fence and was convinced enough to take a break from whatever important stuff he spends his free time on, to summon up enough interest to to kill him. The story ends with a real possibility that Rorschach will undo all the hard work that Veidt carried out. If he does, then he succeeds in transforming Veidt from someone who made some hard choices in order to achieve something beneficial to the entire human race, into just another megalomaniac with good intentions. Like all good philosophical arguments, who ultimately did the right thing is as difficult to answer as “Why does Dr Manhattan have a penis?” I’ve heard some great attempts to answer that, but who really knows…
(Quick note, not really related to the story, I’m sure you know by now that in our world the Kitty Genovese story just didn’t run like that. It happened at 3:15 at night, so probably not 38 spectators. Two people did phone the police (before they had 911, so they had to know/lookup the number of the police station) and reported a fight between a man and a woman, the man ran off and the women staggered off. They didn’t see that she was stabbed. The police thought it was a domestic incident that was over. Afterwards [the crime was really awful, far worse than a single stabbing], “Genovese, still alive, lay in the arms of a neighbor named Sophia Farrar, who had courageously left her apartment to go to the crime scene, even though she had no way of knowing that [Moseley] had fled.” [17, another New York times article. I suppose the 2nd article is better than the first?])
Also you talk about rallying round as one group, humanity, as a good thing, but what if you rally around a crazy person (Nixon?). When you are in ‘rallying round’ mode, you can’t question things so you could well get worse decisions. You will certainly get worse decisions. Was us rallying round Thatcher due to the Falklands war a good thing?
This is my theory of why the Queen is a good thing. We can get all our respect and kowtowing out of the way on someone who is not running the country, then we can question and dispute the PM as much as we like. When I was in the States in ~2006 people were criticising Bush in such an oddly fearful way. While no one in the UK would think twice about dissing Tony Blair.