Saturday, 5 October 2013

Watchmen Review

Whilst studying political narratives within the graphic novel genre, I read Alan Moore's highly acclaimed 'Watchmen'. The story is set in the 1980s, in an alternative reality where Nixon is still president. Two superhero groups are followed in the series, the 1950s minute men, and the Watchmen. Moore's work interestingly discusses how masked vigilantes would exist within society. Through fictional autobiographical snippets and magazine articles, Moore discusses the whole mentally of becoming a 'masked adventurer'. Hollis Mason (Nite Owl) was already working in law enforcement, while 'Dollar Bill' was a college athlete who was actually commissioned by a bank chain as an 'in-house' superhero, reassuring the public that there money was safe. Some of the minutemen's legacy was carried on through the next generation of heroes, with Dan Drieberg (a fan) adopting the Nite Owl persona, with the 'Silk Spectre' alias being passed from mother to daughter.

Moore offers some very well crafted characters in his graphic novel, particularly among the most recent generation of masked vigilantes. 'Rorschach' is an unhinged Travis Bickle-esque character. His narratives are depicted with a film noir style, narrated by entries from his own journal. After the passing of the Keen act (which banned costumed adventuring apart from those who operate for the government) Rorschach is the only vigilante to refuse to hang up his costume. Because of his conservative views, Rorschach sees the world in black and white, and when Eddie Blake (The Comedian) is murdered, Rorschach becomes obsessed with tracking down the killer. 'The Comedian' is one of two adventurers to continue his work under the rulings of the government. He becomes of kind of cultural icon, his costume incorporating the stars and stripes of the American flag. Despite being marketed as a 'Hero', Blake is a very violent individual guilty of rape. The second Hero to operate under government ruling after the Keene act is 'Dr. Manhattan'. His arrival among the other adventurers was significant, as he was the first to posses superpowers. After a lab accident, Jon Osterman became a living embodiment America's defenses during the Nuclear arms race. He becomes a government weapon, his existence causing a leap in scientific development, notably, genetic engineering. Another Key character is Adrien Veidt (Ozymandias). Hailed as the smartest man on the planet, Veidt seems to be the most liberal of the former group. Despite inheriting his family’s wealth, he chose to give the money to charity. Veidt realized that his intervention in the world of organized crime was futile with a massive nuclear threat looming, so decided he would devote himself to ending the much larger threat at hand.


This leads us to the challenging ending of the story. We learn that Veidt was responsible for the death of Eddie Blake and the earlier exhile of Dr. Manhattan. This was to ensure nothing stood in the way of his plan. Veidt decides that the only way to end the imminent nuclear threat is to unite the planet against a larger more incomprehensible threat. Utilizing the advances in genetic engineering and teleportation technology, Veidt creates a colossal squid-like atrocity. Knowing that the teleportation process has not been perfected, and that the monster will explode on arrival, Vedit sends the squid to Manhattan, where thousands are killed. When the other Heroes witness Veidt’s actions, they are understandably shocked. Veidt then explains that the media will interpret this attack as a potential alien threat, causing the Russians to pull out of Afghanistan and aid America until the alien threat is dealt with. Veidt conceives that by sacrificing one city, he is ultimately saving the planet. The other adventurers present begin come to terms with this. Unfortunately Rorschach, who operates on strict principles, understands only that Veidt has commitment an act of terrorism, and is determined to inform the masses. Dr. Manhatten, knowing that the news of an American orchestrating an attack will abolish the peace, decides he must kill Rorschach.

What is brilliant about the conclusion of this story is that we have to ask ourselves, who given the situation was right? Veidt killed thousands, yet he claimed it was in the interest of world peace. Rorschach’s conservative moral code meant that he couldn’t accept Veidt’s sacrifice, and was willing to risk reigniting the nuclear arms race in order to maintain his values.

In conclusion, Moore takes an insightful and sometimes satirical look at the Superhero concept. I am reminded of a sequence where Dan Drieberg (Nite Owl) can only perform sexually after he and Laurie Juspeczyk (Silke Specter) suit up and head out on a nostalgia trip (one which involves rescuing reidents from a burning building). Moore also amusingly satires right wing tabloids with the fictional ‘ New Frontier man’, where one article tries to justify the actions of the Klu Klux Klan clan as acting out of fear. Also, the finely crafted characters (my favorite perhaps being Rorschach for the stylized film noir narratives and an ever-changing mask that resembles the Rorschach ink blot test) really add depth and help the reader become invested in the events within the narrative.

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