January 29, 2010

Who Watches the Watchmen?

Watchmen by Alan Moore
Reviewed by Grady

Watchmen transforms the image of the superhero and sets a new standard graphic novel writing. Moore's characters follow the archetypes of superheroes but as the story unfolds, they are shown in a more human and amoral light and the nature of these archetypes is revealed. Watchmen is about a mentally disturbed super hero named Rorschach who tries to solve the mystery behind the murder of The Comedian, a superhero-for-hire of the U.S. Government. The reader is introduced to the remaining superheroes who are faced with a world without super villains and are instead dealing with society's problems and the threat of nuclear war with Russia. Moore's exploration of character is at its best with Doctor Manhattan, Moore's Superman, capable of seeing the future, teleporting anywhere he wants to, blowing up tanks by pointing at them, and destroying nuclear warheads while they're still in the air. Doctor Manhattan is used by the U.S. To prevent war with Russia as well as to win the Vietnam war and the man with unlimited power becomes totally controlled by the government. Because of his expanded perception and mental capacity, he is alienated from other human beings and loses his girlfriend due to his inability to understand her problems which seem irrelevant to him. He goes into exile on Mars and in his absence the threat of nuclear war is heightened as Russia ceases to fear an America without Doctor Manhattan. The Comedian, a superhero similar to Captain America, works for the government and without any moral restraint. After throwing riot gas on protesters he claims that the superheroes are society's only protection from itself and that the American dream has come true through him. He is the perpetrator of some of the most brutal acts in the book and stands as a symbol of unchecked government power. His personality is dark and cynical, devoid of any meaning behind his actions. I think that Moore is dead on in creating this character as if Captain America were real, he'd likely be very similar to The Comedian and would symbolize something much darker than the hero of today's comic books. The character who best criticizes the modern superhero most effectively to me is Rorschach. The dark vigilante wears a mask that he calls his face, signifying that his true self is his superhero self. Rorschach does not compromise and if something is evil to him, he persecutes it or exposes it. He destroyed his original personality some time before the story started and replaced it with his superhero persona. Rorschach stands out to me because his superhero role is not an idealized trait but is instead a characteristic of his psychosis. The superhero is a problem rather than a solution. This is an important theme of Watchmen. Watchmen tells a story that needed to be told about superheroes and brought them to a depth that hadn't been reached before.

Posted by at January 29, 2010 01:48 PM
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