Moore's, Watchmen advances more than the archetype superhero initiated by Joe Schuster and Jerry Siegel in 1938 with the creation of Superman in the Action Comics publication. Before it, comic books would be characterized as simplistic caricatures of popular archetypal norms (Schneider 85). Watchmen drastically departs from this highly criticized comic tradition by offering a revolutionary complex narrative with the superheroes having three-dimensional progressions through the hurdles of daily life. Set in a dystopian world, Watchmen extends fictional and non-fictional themes stepped in subtlety that had not been employed in comic books from earlier periods (Flynn 4). The comic offers an alternate series of events in world politics as a result of the superheroes' actions. In developing the plot around these events, the author fronts several parallel and integrated arguments. This paper explores various arguments with the Watchmen.
Arguably, authority is the most dominant subjects in the Watchmen. The opening scene features the murder of Edward Blake, who is later revealed to be the hero; The Comedian (Moore 11). Unraveling his murder reveals the conflicted relationship the heroes have with reality. In fact, the heroes' abusive relationship with their respective authority, puts into question whether they really deserve positions of authority. For instance, the excessive tactics used to control the crowd by the Comedian in the Keene Riots in 1977, contradicts his benevolent superhero status (Moore 54). This is also the case Rorschach's overriding belief and willingness to meet violence against criminals. The heroes also end up mixing up their authority with their own interests (Flynn 21). In fact, is any superhero figure capable of being trusted with assuming a guardian role over the world?
Moore (67) explores this question by using a comic within the main comic: "Tales of the lack Freighter." In this narrative, when a sailor is marooned by a pirate ship with demonic characters, he is adamant in his incessant urge to return back to his hometown to warn about an imminent attack from the ship. However, undying dedication to his noble cause leads him to corrupt his nature. Especially when he has to commit atrocities himself and join the ship in order to achieve his noble goals (Schneider 95). This is a classic case of having to become a monster in order to contend and fight a monster. This is also reminiscent of the main narrative whereby Ozymandias ends up committing several murders and other atrocities even against himself all in the interest of averting the impending doomsday. Through this, the author is clearly putting into doubt the geopolitical state of the world in the 1980s as the nuclear Cold War between the US and the USSR is at its zenith (Flynn 29). That is, would the world superpowers end up committing untold atrocities all in the excuse of trying to stop the other from harming innocents. Ozymandias's role in the comic also heralds the dilemmas the ultimate winner of this contest would have to contend with if they assumed a guardian over the world.
Violence is presented in the comic as a means of peace and control. In fact, the heroes are more than willing to behave like mere criminals to maintain law and order in society (Flynn 13). The comic cleverly reveals the interwoven motives behind the use of violence, the terrible methods of violence used in society and the justifications are given. This is especially evident when Rorschach alludes to the dropping of the atomic bomb in Japan as the ultimate method for achieving ultimate peace (Moore 383). However, any method or mode or violence fails to achieve peace and instead leads escalation into more violence. Nevertheless, the justification remains constant; peace (Flynn 14).
In fact, in the climax of the narrative, Dan and Laurie have dyed their hair blonde. They have done so change their appearance to acquire a look similar to the models on Ozymandias' billboards depicting a "bright new future." However, it is ironical that they are returning into being superheroes and even Laurie already knows that her new weapon of choice will be a gun (Schneider 91). The author uses this to show that despite Ozymandias' plan for ultimate peace in the world, nothing really changes in the end. Everything remains the same (Moore 390). Evidently, Laurie's choice of a weapon in a gun forebodes that violence in the society might, in fact, get worse.
As aforementioned, the comic book world was ruled by archetypal heroes from 1938 to the 1980's. In fact, The Watchmen is often seen as a revolutionary critique of Golden, Silver, and Bronze superhero comics (Flynn 11). In earlier comics, individual superheroes would cooperate against any perceived or existent external danger for the sake of humanity. For instance, such is the case when the Avengers against the Norse god of mischief; Loki (Flynn 11). The Watchmen the heroes have to contend with internal threats rather than external threats. The danger here is brought about by abstract concepts of morality. As such, there are no clear conflicts between good and evil (Schneider 87). Instead, there are overlapping conflicts between individuals with the group depending on each hero's interests or convictions at a particular time.
Before the Watchmen, superheroes had similar sets of standards. As such, in most narratives, they are able to shelve personal differences for the sake of humanity's greater good. This is contrary to the Watchmen's characters who are atypical with their wide arrayed personal values concerning the expected doomsday (Flynn 23). In fact, even when they come together, each varies in the level they are willing to collaborate for the purpose of impending disaster. As such, the superhero is denied a higher moral ground and making him easier to relate to. Their moral playing field is humanely three dimensional since there are no clearly demarcated boundaries between wrong and right situations (Schneider 100). As such, they are in constant conflict even with their own psyches as they deal with common daily problems. As such, the whole comic series can be viewed as a critique of the previous simplistic and mainly one-dimensional superheroes. Moore instead creates multifaceted characters who also have to contend with different interests as they engage their psyches with "grey" ethical areas that exist in the real world.
Three main arguments are presented through the Watchmen. Moore shows that authority is evidently corruptible even with the noblest aims and goals in mind. Additionally, despite its negativity, violence will always be ubiquitous in a society where individuals seek to fulfill their own interest. Finally, Moore presents a literary argument against the tradition of portraying superheroes as archetypal one-dimensional character encouraging a specific set of ethical standards. Instead, he shows that superheroes can be three-dimensional characters who also have to contend with moral struggles like every other human being.
Figure 1 (p. 9)
Rorschach stands over Edward Blake's hero suit pondering about the significance of his murder. It reveals that he is a superhero. This implies that he must have been murdered by a "mask killer". This launches Rorschach on a process to discover the force behind the murder who must be among his superhero counterparts. Essentially, the empty suit signifies the absence of the Comedian, which symbolizes the unending conflict between the remaining five superheroes.
Flynn, Tyler. Discovering the Literary Relevancy of Watchmen: A Review of the Graphic Novel's Philosophical Themes. Liberty University. 2012, https://digitalcommons.liberty.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1282&context=honors, Accessed 20 October, 2018.
Moore Allan. Watchmen. New York: DC Comics. 1986.
Schneider, Christian. Nothing Ever Ends': Facing the Apocalypse in Watchmen. Alan Moore and the Gothic Tradition. Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2013. 84-102.
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