This was my final paper for a Political Literature class I took, and thoroughly enjoyed, my junior year in high school. It is about the graphic novel/comic book The Watchmen by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons, which is still one of the best comics I have ever read. The paper is dated May 12, 1992. Thanks to Mr. Duffy for letting me review a comic book.
Dennette likes the Watchmen too.
What is humanity? What binds it? Does it judge itself, mould itself, and dictate its own path? In the graphic novel The Watchmen, author Alan Moore uses humanity's heroes, literally their superheroes, to debate these questions.
A dichotomy exists in the four central characters, those two that are amoral, the Comedian and Dr. Manhattan, and those that disregard conventional morality in their personal struggles to right the world, these two being Rorschach (like the famous psychological test) and Ozymandias (another name for Rameses II). Each of these characters is part of what humanity has become, in Mr. Moore's eyes, and they warrant thorough study in order to understand his view of the world.
The graphic novel opens with the voice of one of the ever present narrators, Rorschach, as he relates his investigation of the death of the Comedian. He was, like all the main characters in this novel, a crime fighting superhero at one time or another. Due to the efforts of the government, all superheroes were forced to end their activities, and they all did, except Rorschach, who goes underground, and Dr. Manhattan, who is hired on by the U.S. government. Through Rorschach, we meet each of the players as he investigates the murder of the Comedian.
Rorschach first approaches Ozymandias, the president of a powerful company, and informs him of the murder. Rorschach leaves him after a brief discussion of motives to find Dr. Manhattan at home in a government base, living with his girlfriend, Miss Juspeczyk (a heroine called the new Silk Spectre). Due to a laboratory accident, Dr. Manhattan has been infused with the power to manipulate atoms and thereby the basic structure of all matter.
As the story unfolds, we come to understand Dr. Manhattan's role as America's main deterrent to Russian attack. As he himself comments, "They can hardly outlaw me when their country's defence rests in my hands."0 However, as a result of rumours circulated by the media that Dr. Manhattan's presence causes cancer, and also as a result of a disagreement with his girlfriend Miss Juspeczyk, Dr. Manhattan leaves earth for Mars, and thus begins the escalation of hostilities between the Russians and the Americans (with Nixon at the helm, after repealing the 22nd amendment). The entire planet becomes anxious over the imminent war, and Ozymandias implements his carefully formulated plan to create peace and unity amongst all nations.
He kidnaps the world's leading artists and writers and has them come up with a vision of an alien lifeform. He then makes this lifeform, infuses it with life and finally teleports it into the middle of New York city, killing three million people and generating utter chaos. Out of this chaos, as he predicts, a new world order is formed. Each of the other characters becomes involved in this plot in some way; Nite Owl and Rorschach try to prevent him from carrying out his plans.
The murder of the Comedian sets the grisly tone of the book and Rorschach's conspiracy theories set the scene for the intricate plots and subplots involved in Ozymandias's plan. As Rorschach investigates the murder, we come to see that the Comedian had many enemies, most of them political. The Comedian spent much of his life working for the U.S. government as a mercenary soldier in foreign skirmishes. Though he is in many ways a hero, he doesn't attack evil with the same vigour that many of his compatriots do. In fact, in many ways he seems to be rather evil, for instance, in his attempted rape of the original Silk Spectre or his ruthless shooting of a Vietnamese woman pregnant with his child.
But as Dr. Manhattan remarks upon meeting the Comedian (real name Edward Blake), "Blake is interesting. I have never met anyone so deliberately amoral. He suits the climate here: the madness, the pointless butchery... As I come to understand Vietnam and what it implies about the human condition, I also realize that few humans will permit themselves such an understanding. Blake's different. He understands perfectly... and he doesn't care."1 Rorschach describes him in similar terms, "Blake understood. Treated it like a joke, but he understood. He saw the cracks in society, saw the little men in masks trying to hold it together... He saw the true face of the twentieth century and chose the become a reflection, a parody of it."2 As we find out at the end, Blake is killed by Ozymandias after uncovering his schemes. As his killer Ozymandias says, "The brutal world he'd relished would simply cease to be, its fierce and brawling denizens rushing to join the mastodon in obsolescence... in extinction."3 The Comedian has pushed himself into ruthless amorality and so he would be unable to adjust to a peaceful world. But even moreso, to a man like the Comedian, who dealt in the simple and raw aspects of life, discovering that a single man was ready to so drastically alter the course of human destiny was too much of a blow, as Ozymandias says, "Upon learning the ... intended purpose, Blake's practiced cynicism cracked."4
Dr. Manhattan is Moore's device for showing us how mankind has, to a degree, become God. As his abilities give him the power to manipulate any object, he has power over all those he so chooses and is immortal. But Alan Moore's God does not take any sort of active role in human affairs. Professor Milton Glass says in the novel, "God exists and he's American"5 and although Dr. Manhattan works for the United States, he is detached from all human life and its struggles. But by the end of the novel he has reconsidered, and in response to Ozymandias asking if he had regained an interest in human life, "Yes I have. I think perhaps I'll create some."6 So if there is indeed a God, then according to Alan Moore, he is no more than an interested dabbler. As Dr. Manhattan was a watchmaker before he was a scientist, he can be seen as a divine watchmaker, making pieces and fitting them, but ultimately letting them run on their own. This leaves the burden of guiding mankind to its leaders, and those others who would do so. Alan Moore presents the character of Ozymandias as an example of such a person.
Dr. Manhattan is more interested than anything else at the work of Ozymandias, and certainly does not express any moral outrage at the deaths of the three million people. As he says, "A live body and a dead body contain the same number of particles. Structurally, there's no discernible difference. Life and death are unquantifiable abstracts. Why should I be concerned?"7 Even though he is God, when Ozymandias asks him "I did the right thing, didn't I? It all worked out in the end." Dr. Manhattan replies, "'In the end'? Nothing ends, Adrian. Nothing ever ends."8 refusing to pass judgement on a race to which he no longer belongs. And finally, he declares, "I understand, without condoning or condemning. Human affairs cannot be my concern. I'm leaving this galaxy for one less complicated."9 Dr. Manhattan ultimately represents an all powerful, scientific God who is unsympathetic to the causes of humanity.
With his arrest, Rorschach takes center stage from Dr. Manhattan. As Rorschach is probed by the prison psychologist, we see the forces that shaped the life of this character. As the son of a whore, he was tortured as a young man and ended up fighting back ferociously against those who attacked him. The psychologist says of him, "It's as if continual contact with society's grim elements has shaped him into something grimmer, something even worse."10 He is the narrator for much of the novel, and through this we come to understand his view of humanity, "This city is dying of rabies. Is the best I can do to wipe random flecks of foam from its lips?"11 His reasons for his attack on the prurient elements of society can be summed up by his statement to close the first chapter, "Nobody cares. Nobody cares but me. Are they right? Is it futile? Soon there will be war. Millions will burn. Millions will perish in sickness and misery. Why does one death matter against so many? Because there is good and there is evil, and evil must be punished. Even in the face of armageddon I shall not compromise this. But there are so many deserving of retribution... and there is so little time."12 Of Rorschach it can be said that he rebuffs conventional morality because he operates outside the law in his pursuit of the criminal. His morality applies to higher goals, his desire to purge society of its bad elements and his refusal to sacrifice those principals. In this respect he is much like Ozymandias, but Rorschach is much more of an absolutist about his own morality. He is finally killed by Dr. Manhattan when he threatens tell the world of Ozymandias's scheme. Unlike the other heroes, Rorschach cannot accept the death of three million innocent civilians in exchange for Ozymandias's world peace.
At the climax of the novel, we are finally introduced to the life and mind of Ozymandias. He is a brilliant man who models himself after Rameses II and Alexander the Great, and has grand designs for the eventual fate of the world. Even moreso, he is Alan Moore's example of a person who controls human destiny. Ozymandias is not more a God in the same way as Dr. Manhattan, yet he still has a dramatic effect on people's lives the world over.
We come to see that all the happenings of the novel have been part of Ozymandias's scheme to replace geo-politics as they stand with his new, unified peaceful world. As he works towards his goal, we watch him abandon a traditional moral stance as he kills and kidnaps to secure what he needs. He justifies this by comparing the death of a few with the ultimate salvation of many.
This is similar to the logic behind the use of the atomic bombs to kill citizens of Japan during World War II in order to avert more deaths from continued ground war. The heroes of this novel pursue varying degrees of amorality in order to achieve their goals. But in the end, Ozymandias is the ultimate superhero, who set out on a "conquest not of men, but of the evils that beset them"13 and in this he is successful. News flashes immediately following the arrival of the alien being in New York signify an immediate end to all world hostilities. His killing of the millions presents a dilemma to the heroes present however, as Ozymandias says, "Will you expose me, undoing the peace millions died for?"14 and the new Silk Spectre says, "Jesus. He was right. All we did was fail to stop him from saving earth."15 So these heroes, living in a "rudderless world", see themselves as having to use whatever means necessary to save the world from itself.
Finally, it is Rorschach who speaks for Alan Moore most directly in this scene where he talks to the prison psychologist. In this statement, he is relating an incident where he burned alive a man who had kidnapped a young girl and fed her to his dogs. "Stood in firelight, sweltering bloodstain on chest like map of violent new continent. Felt cleansed. Felt dark planet turn under my feet and knew what cats know that makes them scream like babies in night. Looked at sky through smoke heavy with human fat and God was not there. The cold, suffocating dark goes on forever, and we are alone... Live our lives, lacking anything better to do. Devise reason later. Born from oblivion; bear children, hellbound as ourselves; go into oblivion. There is nothing else. Existence is random. Has no pattern save what we imagine after staring at it for too long. No meaning save what we choose to impose. This rudderless world is not shaped by vague metaphysical forces. It is not God who kills the children. Not fate that butchers them or destiny that feeds them to the dogs. It's us. Only us. ... Was reborn then, free to scrawl own design on this morally blank world."16
This is Alan Moore's vision for the heroes of this novel. The world we live in is morally bankrupt, and we are responsible, and it is up to the individual to shape his world as he so chooses. Although Ozymandias is forced to kill millions of people in order to implement his vision of world stability, he is rebuffed by none except Rorschach, who is eradicated by Dr. Manhattan at the end of the novel in order to prevent any effort to ruin Ozymandias's utopia.
Moore's idea that we have a profound influence on the world around us is also demonstrated by a comic book being read by a young man throughout the novel. This book within a book details the story of a man marooned on an island. While trying to escape, he is forced to resort to horrifying means to return home. Due in part to this, he forms a terrifying vision of what has happened while he was gone. When he finally finds himself at home, the realization that all his violent fears were groundless drives him insane. Alan Moore is showing us here that we live in the world we create for ourselves, and that can effect our daily lives in extreme ways.
In this age of the nuclear bomb, where science is God, we must all be humanity's judges and its ameliorators. In the last century, humankind has developed terribly powerful technology, as Ozymandias says, "Our scientists are limited only by their imaginations." Dr. Manhattan asks, "And by their consciences, surely?" Ozymandias speaks for us all when he replies, "Let's hope so."17