Watchmen-The graphic novel

Discussion in 'Science Fiction & Fantasy' started by amdmiami, Sep 1, 2008.

  1. Guy Gardener

    Guy Gardener Fleet Admiral Admiral

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    I picked Watchmen up to reread in 2005ish, and it's all about Afghanistan... Then the radio in front of me starts talking about Afghanistan... I am positive that in a 150 the world will still be arguing over Afghanistan. The cultural ethos we live in isn't that creative, each generation discovers the same bullshit concepts as the last couple and carries them as if they're their own.
     
  2. Harvey

    Harvey Admiral Admiral

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    Of this we agree. You seem to negate this argument later in your post by directly comparing Watchmen and War and Peace anyway, but I'll withdraw.

    I haven't even read either, anyway.

    And even if I did, I've read so few comic books that I wouldn't have much cultural context beyond what I've been able to glean from wikipedia on the subject anyway.
     
  3. Guy Gardener

    Guy Gardener Fleet Admiral Admiral

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    The difference being is that you can read Watchmen in a couple hours.

    It's harder not to read it than to apply yourself.

    War and Peace is however quite scary.
     
  4. The Old Building & Loan

    The Old Building & Loan Auld Lang Mod Moderator

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    Rushing through it that quickly isn't really absorbing all that it has to offer. People fear that something will be lost in translation to the big screen...I think that something has been already been lost in translation by putting it out as a trade paperback, though it certainly enjoys much wider exposure in that format.
     
  5. Saul

    Saul Rear Admiral Rear Admiral

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    No, you really can't. It's like trying to compare the punch of a 2 year old child with the punch of a heavy weight boxer.
     
  6. stj

    stj Rear Admiral Rear Admiral

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    I think "who wins" is a major part of the book's popularity, even though there are other things of interest. (The other things help compensate the weakness---in my eyes of course--- of the basic storyWhether there are more Rorschach fans (as I believe) or deconstructionist fans out there cannot be resolved here. But I must say
    that Watchmen is sophisticated enough that the hint alone is enough---Ozymandias' plan will be unraveled by Rorschach's diary. There is no need to show the slow workings of corrosive doubt. The book doesn't spell out the obvious.

    A number of real life men manage to desire (and occasionally have) sex with women, yet still resent them. I don't think that misogyny is asexual, but sexual---perversely sexual by my moral values (and yours too obviously.) I doubt that preadolescents are as asexual as popular ideals would have it. But the association of the sexual awakening of adolescents with the loss of innocence in itself explains
    why Rorschach's physical restraint is a marker of purity (a kind of innocence,) more like a monk's celibacy, than asexuality. Saying Rorschach is staunchly heterosexual is not one bit odder than claiming that a man who never has sex with another man is nonetheless homosexual. Also, yes, thinking of him as a member of the He-Man Woman-Haters Club does catch one aspect of his appeal for many.

    The original Nite Owl is also celibate, also affected by heterosexual trauma (the story of the boss's cheating wife was personally significant in more than one way for Hollis Mason in my opinion,) and he too suffers martyrdom. The purity of martyr's is an old tradition.

    On the other hand, Ozymanidas is equally pure, he is marked as gay. The man is a parfumier! His celibacy is impure, therefore despicable. His seeming triumph is doubly undermined by Dr. Manhattan's easy survival and the final panels. It still provides a nice bath of weltschmerz.

    Personally Rorschach is not appealing. Worse, he's very hard to believe, and comes across mostly as a psychological projection rather than a character. Generally there is a basic disagreement about why superheroes are fundamentally absurd---you seen to think that putting on a silly costume requires some driving compulsion. It's so not cool! I think that the silliness of the costume is merely a trivial matter of taste but men (or women) don't do the costumed vigilante routine because they couldn't get away with it!
     
    Last edited: Sep 4, 2008
  7. Derishton

    Derishton Vice Admiral Admiral

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    Breaking new literary ground can be more subjective than it sounds, because most literary innovation does not happen at the level of the plot (arguably, new plots are impossible), but at the level of the detail (the characters, the dialogue, etc). Whenever a story skips from one genre to another, changes occur which can lead to something groundbreaking.

    War and Peace is important because of the level of detail given, and the sheer number of well-developed characters. Both are traits associated with the rise of the novel, but the story itself is an ancient one: a society at war against invading forces.

    Watchmen is innovative because it says things about the nature of power and the nature of history, things which had not been said before in the graphic novel (certainly), but perhaps very rarely in literature of any type. The implosion of the heroic concept in the face of the corruption of power has rarely been done better.
     
  8. The Old Building & Loan

    The Old Building & Loan Auld Lang Mod Moderator

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    I hope you're not saying that I'm not a Rorscach fan, just because I find him a fascinating character while embracing his major flaws. I think there's plenty of room for us both to call ourselves Rorschach fans. (Hello, my sig, my avatar....) :)

    I think we may just have different views of what "asexual" means...again, I'm not saying that he doesn't have heterosexual urges, but rather that he's asexual, at best, in his behavior...as in he don't have sex with nobody. Definitely monastic.

    Nor am I suggesting that all misogynists are asexual or homosexual--definitely not the case. But I do think that for this particular character, asexual behavior and misogyny go hand and hand, stemming as they do from a common source.

    I don't agree with the term "staunchly heterosexual" because it suggests to me the idea that he's somehow a good representative of classic heterosexual views...which he definitely isn't. He's very damaged goods, psychologically speaking.

    And I don't think that anybody in-story expresses a belief that Ozy is homosexual other than Rorschach...who is not a reliable narrator, especially concerning another person who practices his own form of asexuality. Pot, meet kettle.

    We seem to agree about Hollis Mason also being a practicing asexual. In his case, he strikes me as an overgrown 12-year-old...he just doesn't see the appeal of "the other". But you have an interesting point about how the garage owner's wife might have influenced that aspect of his personality. (See? That's what's great about Watchmen. 21 years and umpteen rereadings and discussions later, and somebody can still bring to light a juicy tidbit that I'd never considered.)

    I'm just going on what Moore and Gibbons put on the page...and I'm pretty sure one or both has said as much in interviews, though I couldn't cite a source for that. The basic premise of the book is, if we had super-heroes in real life, what kind of people would they really be?
     
  9. stj

    stj Rear Admiral Rear Admiral

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    The post got delayed---I wasn't sure whether it would be quarrelsome to continue. The Old Mixer and I do indeed disagree on what asexuality means, so there's no point in rehashing that.

    As to Hollis Mason seeming like an overgrown 12-year old, the excerpts from his memoirs in my opinion are entirely incompatible with such a view. The authorial voice is that of a mature and decent, although rather conservative, adult.

    As to Ozymandias' sexuality, I believe that the only other character in the book who doesn't have his or her sexuality explicitly depicted as part of the character development (or character exposition, for those who have odd theories about what character development it,) is Moloch!

    As for being a Rorschach fan, again, I can't be. I find it hard to believe such a freak wouldn't be a Jack the Ripper instead of a superhero. And I find it completely impossible to believe the psychiatrist and his response to Rorschach. It seems nothing but a scripted exaltation of the character, completely forced.

    Derishton's comment that Watchmen is about the nature of power (and implication that very little fiction dares to address such issues,) is true. It's one of the things that makes the book worth taking seriously.

    But, does it succeed? I think not. First, as an exploration of power, how Dr. Manhattan's existence somehow leads to US victory in Vietnam requires rather more explanation for a successful exploration of such issues. How this is compatible with the continued threat from the USSR is also relevant. And how the existence of superheroes somehow leads to the endless presidency of Richard Nixon is yet another pressing question to answer as an exploration of power.

    (Despite dating from about 1985, Watchmen has a very dated world view. It assumes many premises of virulent anti-Communism. In my opinion this is one reason why it has become desirable for being made into a movie.)

    One of the things that Watchmen tells us, at the end, is that Social Engineering is such a horrendous evil that a girl-friend murdering rapist like the Comedian would be so horrified that he must be murdered to silence him, that a homicidal freak like Rorschach would be ennobled by rejecting that flimsy excuses of the real monsters like the intellectual Ozymandias. To put it another way, the implosion of the heroic concept reveals that the main motive for Machiavellian ruthlessness that sacrifices New York City is---altruism.:guffaw:

    To be honest, such things strike me as adolescent at best. They are morally backwards. I doubt that Moore intended such consciously (but he is an anarchist I understand which is a virulently backward and ignorant ideology, so who knows?) which is why I don't think the book deserves lavish praise.
     
  10. Guy Gardener

    Guy Gardener Fleet Admiral Admiral

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    Well look what happened after 911, America became the underdog. The rest of the world would have given you a free pass on almost any atrocity your leaders set their mind to, because it's cheap to kick a even superpower when it's all fetal and thumbsucking from being victimized by bastards.

    There was a Voyager Novel where Kathy shot up these two warfleets which had been in extended conflict fro decades. Declared that she eas the federation and they should fear her power, and then she scarpered in the other direction at warp nine as these to once dread enemies prepared for the next dastard assault from the united federation of Planets.

    It wasn't altruism. The Doomsday clock had been holding at 11.59 for 20 years. this was a question of survival. The machinery of the cold war had to be redistributed somewhere harmless before all life on the plant went pop as the doomsday clock struck midnight.
     
    Last edited: Sep 7, 2008
  11. dkehler

    dkehler Fleet Captain Fleet Captain

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    My understanding of this is that even in real life, Nixon was exploring or talking about a way to serve another term. This, of course was scuttled by the Watergate scandal.

    In watchmen, since there was no Watergate scandal because it is implied that the Comedian assassinated the reporters and there you go.
     
  12. Yassim

    Yassim Fleet Captain Fleet Captain

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    I'm not sure what you mean... but I've heard Alan Moore agree with you, sort of. Moore meant Rorschach to be somewhat loathsome, and in an interview, he's mentioned how surprised he is by all the admiration there is for him.

    In the interview I saw, he talked about Rorschach as a take on Batman. That anyone who dressed up and fought crime all their life would not have time for a social life... or hygiene... or much tolerance for other world views. They would be all vigilante, all the time.

    Moore did admit that as he wrote the script, he found himself more and more affectionate towards Rorschach - he's got a kind of demented integrity. But I don't think he's the hero of the piece. Moore also comments that Rorschach's death became inevitable when Moore realized how much pain the character was in - that his only path to redemption was in dying.

    I quite liked the psychiatrist/Rorschach chapter - it worked dramatically. I admit, on re-reading, the psychiatrist doesn't seem to have much mental defense for a person who works with criminals... but I can still believe that he'd take the case home with him, mentally and emotionally.

    I think reading Watchmen with an eye to who is "right" and "wrong", or who "wins" is missing the point, somewhat.
     
  13. stj

    stj Rear Admiral Rear Admiral

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    Guy Gardener---well, since Ozymandias lived on the planet, it was enlightened self interest for him to prevent nuclear war. Besides, Ozymandias couldn't even figure that Dr. Manhattan would just walk out of the radiation chamber again suggests pretty powerfully that he's all wet. Yes, the story specifically tells us war is imminent. The conflict between the premise of imminent war and the stupidity of the supposed genius who was the only one to do anything about it (isn't that odd?) is a symptom in my opinion of Moore losing control of his story. Ozymandias had to be downgraded, so that Rorschach (and Dr. Manhattan too,) could be exalted, even at the expense of coherence.

    dkehler---I have no idea how the Comedian would make it any more possible for Nixon to murder Bernstein and Woodward. By the way, there is an old novel, The Last President, by Michael Kurland and S.W. Barton which imagine Nixon did murder them, using G. Gordon Liddy. (The names are changed to protect the guilty in the novel.)

    Yassim---the thing is, why does Rorschach get redemption? Nobody else does. There is more going on in Watchmen than who wins. But that is always an important part of stories and shouldn't be ignored I think.
     
  14. Yassim

    Yassim Fleet Captain Fleet Captain

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    The fact that he tells us himself that he wasn't sure it would work (and it didn't) redeems this... not to mention that his overarching plan worked. If you're the first one to take a shot at Superman, can you be blamed if you don't succeed? and then later, he does bring Superman to his knees.

    I don't know what this means.

    Nite Owl returns to the adventuring he loves. Silk Spectre 2 makes peace with her parentage and the superhero life. I'd say that's redemption for those two (and a far more rewarding redemption that death). Manhattan finally lets go of humanity, which could be read as achieving a kind of peace. Only Ozymandias is really left on the hook at the end. Hell, even the Comedian's last image in the book is a kissed photo.
     
  15. The Old Building & Loan

    The Old Building & Loan Auld Lang Mod Moderator

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    What? I missed you! :lol:

    I primarily meant in sexual matters. He is, as I believe Sally Jupiter describes him, an overgrown boy scout. He's certainly a likeable fellow whom you'd want to have a beer with, but you have to wonder why his settling down didn't involve making a family, as even one of his old foes managed to do. I think that all of the characters represent some sort of extreme personality type, even those who seem perfectly decent on the surface. Mason represents the heroic ideal, but that ideal was created as a preadolescent fantasy, and the lack of romance and/or sexuality in his life reflects that.

    I may have to go back a reread your old posts--my arguments on this subject were all made under the assumption that you were saying that you were a Rorschach fan, but couldn't be if he was as screwed up as I was saying.

    Anyway, he basically is a sort of Jack the Ripper, but he preys on criminals. Though the story tells us more than once that he only actually killed on two specific occasions. (One has to wonder how badly injured Captain Carnage was by his fall down that elevator shaft, though....)

    The psychiatrist thing did resonate more for me when I first read it as a teen. At that age, I was a lot more susceptable to little epiphanies like the one that the shrink had. As a jaded adult, I can look at Rorschach's story about the kidnapper and just shake my head at the grim reality that such people do exist.

    Nixon was the first president who was willing to use Doc as more than a deterrent. The USSR was cowed by his existence, but the tensions were bubbling under the surface and exploded forth when Doc left. Similar to what would happen in the real world when the Soviet Union collapsed, and old ethnic tensions burst forth with a vengeance in the former satellite states. Nixon was riding a wave of massive popularity following victory in Vietnam. (Perhaps this is a little overstated, as winning the Vietnam War wouldn't have been nearly as central to our national character as losing it was.) In this environment, people were willing to look the other way when a couple of reporters turned up dead.

    When "social engineering" involves one man playing God and murdering millions of people--yes. The Comedian thought that he was the guy who was getting away with murder, but his lifetime of bad behavior had nothing on what Ozy was planning.

    Ozy was the smartest man in the world, but Doc was just playing on a completely different level than he could deal with. As Doc says, "this world's smartest man means no more to me than does its smartest termite." And yet, though Ozy doesn't succeed in his outright attempt to kill the good Doctor, he still comes out on top in that confrontation. I found it to be a very effective play on the expectations that you bring into a super-hero story, how Doc charged to the rescue--then was seemingly killed--then triumphantly escaped death to seemingly wreak vengeance--and then saw the success of Veidt's plan and backed down. I think you're way too quick to paint Ozy as a victim of bias, considering how on top he looks until the very end of the story. Someone who played God with human lives and seemingly got away with it may or may not be due for an eventual come-uppance. That seems dramatically appropriate to me. In a typical super-hero story of the type that this one was breaking away from the formula of, Doc would have come to the rescue and Veidt would have been made to pay for his deeds sooner rather than later. In this one, the "heroes" are confronted by something that's bigger than them, and they're willing to play Ozy's game for the Machiavellian end that he has accomplished. Ozy does win, in the short term...but as Doc and the last panel hint, in the real world, things are never nicely and neatly wrapped up with the words, "The End."

    And how is Rorscach "exalted"? Having seemingly failed utterly to stop what he sees as the ultimate evil, he withdraws from a world that he can't live in and takes the reward of a cold and lonely death. If he'd really wanted to make Veidt pay, he could have played along with the others and gotten back to civilization with what he knew. Instead he made an open show of defiance, knowing that he'd be stopped and begging Doc to bring it on. He wanted to die. Doesn't seem like much of a victory to me.
     
  16. Derishton

    Derishton Vice Admiral Admiral

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    I took it to imply something much like Mark Millar's Wanted also eventually implied: a world with superheros would be a curious and probably unsustainable mixture of technological progress and cultural stagnation, and Nixon's eternal presidency was at least partially intended as a humorous symbol of that tension.

    I agree, although the Canterbury Tales also has a very dated world view, but it remains relevant because texts evolve as they are received by new generations. I think the Watchmen is one of the the few graphic novels capable of gaining meaning over time, and not simply ossifying as a historical relic.

    I suppose I could argue that even Watchmen carries with it an adolescence inherent to the genre (and a male adolescence, definately), one which we tend to find in conspiracy theories - not accidental or coincidental. On the other hand, it isn't enough to dismiss altruism as one of the major themes of the work: if anything, the persistent problem of where altruism comes from in a basically-selfish species seems like one of the texts' strengths, even if we find we disagree with Moore's conclusions. The question, and the path Moore takes to his answer, remain intriguing. I never ask more of my literature than that, and I tend to distrust books which try to force me to their answer anyways.
     
    Last edited: Sep 8, 2008
  17. Davros

    Davros Fleet Admiral Admiral

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    There are other majors in college. Where do you think English teachers and historians learn their trade?
     
  18. Lapis Exilis

    Lapis Exilis Rear Admiral Rear Admiral

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    Watchmen is also innovative (and I'm a little surprised this hasn't come up more in this discussion) due to the level of detail included - in the art. It is difficult to fully parse the book's meaning without a fairly involved look at the art, its ambiguity and embedded backstories and subtext (sub-visuals?).

    For instance, in the question being debated of "who wins", there are assumptions that the art does not support.
    There is only the possibility that Rorschach's journal will be published (we do not even see the man pick it up) and there is only a possiblity that if it were published it would be believed by very many people. Even the New Frontiersman staff refer to it being in the "crank file" - plainly they've read it and do not believe it. So, in what way could Rorschach "win"? By the truth being out and about as an off-the-wall conspiracy theory? There is no implication that the history or society Ozymandias has constructed would in any way be changed.

    It seems to me that this sort of material is inextricably tied to Watchmen's implosion of the heroic concept, and it's not necessarily as straight-forward as being in the face of the corruption of power. That is Ozymandias' story, yes - but his is not the only one being told. Dr. Manhattan is the one with ultimate power and yet he represents the philosophy of determinism. His killing of Rorschach merely implies that from his (nonlinear) point of view this had all already happened. Power in his case removes him from human concerns and he seems to dislike the moral complexity being human requires - so he abandons it (though the book is a little inconsistent and not entirely original in this characterization). Dan and Laurie play at power to satisfy their decidedly human-sized neuroses - they go along because what could they possibly do at this point to change anything. Their tales seems to be about being swept up by getting involved in power without understanding it. Rorschach is plainly a psychopath from the beginning, and he never changes - he reacts to Ozymandias exactly as he reacts to a mugger. Criminal = deserves punishment, end of thought .
    Moore does seem to comment on the seductiveness of a worldview constructed completely from absolutes, since Dr. Long gets drawn into Rorschach's way of thinking - perhaps no one should be surprised that many readers still enmeshed in the heroic tropes of superheroes reacted to Rorschach as "whoa - he's kewl and scary. Badass!". Because no matter what innovations are brought to comics, changing the fanbase is harder than changing what's on the page and there are reasons why the particular way superheroes are written has outlasted most other forms and still dominates the medium. It's interesting to note how deeply the "rules" of such stories are embedded in our minds so that simply introducing the idea that the villain has already perpetrated his plan and, as The Dark Knight similarly does, ending with the heroes having to lie to protect the heroic concept lest society somehow be harmed, feels shocking.

    I wonder if anyone will ever write the story that looks at the assumption that civilization requires the heroic concept as some sort of glue to begin with.
     
  19. Derishton

    Derishton Vice Admiral Admiral

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    Without wanting to reveal anything in your spoiler'd paragraph, I'll just say I agree, and when I argued that Watchmen was about the heroic imploding before the corruption of power, it was corruption at every level (including in the heros themselves, as revealed through their motivations). Both Nite Owls are arguably the least "corrupt" because they're doing it more or less for fun, or out of some unexamined theory of the heroic; Laurie plays hero because her mother did, which carries a corruption of an ideal; Dr. Manhattan is so pure, in a sense, that the consequence is that he makes terrible decisions; Rorschach is, as stj argues, is what he is, but what he is could have just as easily been far worse.

    That leaves Ozymandias, whose altruism leads him to something heinous.
    Dr. Long, on the other hand, does come back from his encounter with Rorschach - but his wife clearly remains skeptical about his desire to help. Long seems far more crucial to the meaning here than has always been acknowledged.

    Good point about both the art - those wonderfully horrible splash pages in the final issue - and in the nod towards traditional story structure. I think you're right.
     
  20. stj

    stj Rear Admiral Rear Admiral

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    Yassim---Since I believe the clear implication of the final panels is that Ozymandias' plan fails, Ozymandias is a loser. And, despite what he says, Dr. Manhattan doesn't do anything he doesn't want to do. The implication that he doesn't actually care about the New York atrocity fits the theme of moral corruption very well I think.

    The complicity of Silk Spectre and Nite Owl in the murder of Rorschach is not redemption in my eyes. Nor is the final disavowal of humanity by Dr. Manhattan. Obviously you think differently. You have a point about the Comedian---but then he is only second to Rorschach in bad boy coolness.

    The Old Mixer---The Comedian's whole bag was that everything was a joke, morality, heroism, everything. He took his name from it. So I didn't believe it when he didn't get Veidt's punch line. (Unless he was just jealous?)

    Martyrdom is exaltation, and Rorschach was martyred. Ergo, Rorschach was exalted. If you don't accept the premise, the conclusion doesn't follow. As to why he didn't play along, why didn't Nite Owl and Silk Spectre play along? And why didn't Ozymandias worry about whether any of them were conning him? The end of the book required a dramatic resolution where they decided whether to go along or not. Plausibility was jettisoned. The scene was about what they were going to do since they failed.

    Derishton---The parallel pirate story says, for one thing, that the very effort to do good leads to evil. In the end, I'm not sure that the main plot of Watchmen (ignoring the fantastic premises of course) isn't still just as forced. Plus, I still think that unenlightened self interest and bigotry and superstition play a greater role in "evil" than altruism. I'm not sure that a desire to play with deconstructing superhero comics didn't lead Moore to retain that adolescence that keeps Watchmen (in my opinion) from being a genuinely deep work. It comes close enough to be reading and taking seriously (which means re-reading.)

    By the way, I suspect that Moore personally rejects the anti-Communist fantasies in Watchmen. But he still propagates them.