The Problem with Watchmen

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I stated before and probably will again that Watchmen the comic fascinates me. It is considered to be the best comic book ever written. A true novel onto itself that just so happens to have drawings. It’s one of the greatest stories ever told that somehow can’t be translated to another medium, and if it does is worse for it. None of this is important to the actual problem with Watchmen but it’s good setup to say that the problems sith Watchmen are not problems with the story inherently. It’s the problem with the people who read it, their takeaways, and how superheroes are perceived in culture moving forward.

The whole main cast of Watchmen are terrible people that you do not want to look up to, immulate, or even associate with really. They suck. They’re supposed to suck. They’re supposed to be in a form of arrested development. We also have to spend copious amounts of time with them. This makes the book a totally drag to get through and makes you feel utterly gross upon completion. Some would say that is the point. If you were a superhero in real life you would be like the police officer who kills unarmed black people for looking suspicious. The problem is that that is not a superhero and the fact people take that idea away from the book is a failing (not on them, possibly the book for not communicating that, but also kind of on them).

“If Batman were real he would just be a crazy person in a mask like Rorschach.” No, he wouldn’t. Mostly because of everyone who gives that sentiment they are unaware that the Watchmen are not based on DC heroes, strictly speaking. They are based on Charlton Comics characters. Those character did eventually fold into the DC universe, but in a different context than this one. The point then is that Rorschach is actually based on The Question, a private detective with no face. The only distinction this means is that Rorschach is just a crazy hobo with mental and anger problems who also happens to use those for good or in the name of truth. He’s a hateful man. That makes it all more prophetic when his mask is adapted as an Alt-Right symbol. That idea gets complicated since some futures have Batman and his protégés as fascist dictators, but those are often not considered the real futures of the DC universe.

The next character that’s often mischaracterized is Dr. Manhattan as a Superman analogy. Dr. Manhattan is based on Captain Atom and seems totally different from him. Dr. Manhattan is a man born of science and so above human perceptions of time and space that it makes him reluctant to do any sort of work. That is not Superman at all, and defiantly not Captain Atom from what I understand of him. The point of Superman being he could be a god above it all, but raised to be better. Captain Atom meanwhile is loyal to America to a fault. Either way neither of these are any kind of Superman, or Hulk for that matter.

The additional problem with Dr Manhattan is how his ability to live in all moments of his life at once is like reading a comic book doesn’t make sense. Dr Manhattan can literally see all of the points of his future at once. You cannot do that with a comic. You must flip to those pages to see them. The closest it would be is if they mean a comic page. You can be in a panel for as long as you’d like while also seeing the whole picture.

The final issues with Watchmen is how people give up trying to compar everyone once they move past the two obvious analogs. The Comedian, Silk Spectre, Night Owl, and Ozymandias all don’t really have analogs or people don’t try. The Comedian is kind of like a Deathstroke or Punisher figure, and the unrealistically cynical nature of the book would support him in that. Meanwhile Night Owl is literally Ted Kord Blue Beetle since that’s where he comes from, but Silk Specter isn’t really anyone. The closest DC analog would be Huntress or Black Canary. But when it comes to Black Canary she only had eyes for Green Arrow in anyway so that breaks it down.

I think the most interesting is Adrien Veidt’s Ozymandias because it feels like Lex Luthor being a good guy the whole time we know him only to reveal his scheme. That would seem like a very good beginning arc of a Superman story that just hasn’t been used. Lex is so much into that high Greek and Roman stuff that he would totally take a name like that and come up with a scheme that saves the world at a great cost. He’s really the only character that in comparing him to someone is interesting since he’s both the hero and villain of the piece.

The real issue is that Watchmen is a work of deconstruction. It wants to break down what a hero is to its core and see what it finds. Only, if you have nothing to compare it to then it feels like that is just what heroes are. That’s not true. Superheroes are super for a reason. They have certainly gotten more complex over the years for better and worse, but the best stories reflect that they do good for good reasons. The point of Superman (the person everything afterwards came from) is to be better. To save people because saving people is right, not just because it makes you feel good.

With that said I don’t blame the book or it’s readings. It’s hard to be the first. Just like Malcolm Gladwell’s Hug Heard Around the World episode of his podcast, being the first is hard. Watchmen, for all its unwarranted and unbearable cynicism it was necessary for the time. It’s dower, unheroic nonsense has made way for truly great, uplifting works of comic fiction to finally be taken seriously. That is important and necessary.

In the end Watchmen’s true problem is that it had to be the first.

I’m cleaning house and selling some media. If you would like to buy comics, manga, or cards I owned and used follow this link: say you’re a reader and I’ll be happy to discount any item for you!

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