March 6, 2009

WE'LL HAVE A DANCE OF LIBERTY:

-ESSAY: Watching the Politics of the Watchmen (David Swindle, 3/05/09, FrontPageMagazine.com)

The story begins with the mysterious murder of the Comedian, a character Moore admits was inspired by G. Gordon Liddy. The Comedian is a cigar-chomping, muscled tough guy whose comic models can be seen in such characters as The Peacemaker and Nick Fury. When a 1977 law bans costumed adventurers the Comedian becomes one of two government-sponsored heroes. In the first issue of Watchmen, Dan Dreiberg, the now-retired Nite Owl says, “I heard he’d been working for the government since ’77, knocking over Marxist republics in South America.” At one point we see that the Comedian was responsible for rescuing the hostages in the Iran Hostage Crisis. The Comedian is representative of the Cold Warrior, aggressively supporting government force in confronting evil at home and abroad.

These clues about possible motives for the killing of the Comedian are mulled over by Rorschach, his former teammate and a costumed hero who continues his crime-fighting, regardless of the law. Rorschach is the protagonist of Watchmen and his investigation of who murdered the Comedian will drive the plot. Politically he’s inspired by such Steve Ditko comic creations as Mr. A. and The Question. Ditko is an Ayn Rand devotee who expressed his interpretation of her philosophy in his comics. Moore, who personally disagreed with the politics, still found the characters and ideas exciting.

Rorschach is without question the book’s coolest character. He appears in a dirty trench coat and wears a white fabric over his face with continually shifting black splotches. This black/white pattern is symbolic of the character’s world view. Rorschach abhors moral relativism and divides the world into clear definitions of right and wrong. He sees it as his role to oppose evil, pursue his vision of justice, and deliver his “retribution.” He sympathizes with the Comedian’s conservatism and patriotism but parts ways when it comes to government. He’s the book’s libertarian. Two other philosophical strains that pervade the character are an inability to compromise and a tendency toward conspiracy-thinking. These two traits will serve him well over the course of the book as sometimes conspiracies do exist and often one should not compromise with evil.

The superhero genre has a propensity for a world-saving mentality and Watchmen is no different. In the character of Ozymandias we see the leftist desire to unite, save, and redeem the world. (The character more than reveals himself when he slurs the Comedian as a “Nazi,” as leftists are known to label conservatives.) Ozymandias thinks of himself as the most intelligent man in the world and sees it as his duty to radically solve the problem of the Cold War. In doing so he’s willing to go so far in this pursuit that he’ll sacrifice innocent people and anyone strong enough to stand in his way.

Amidst these left-right conflicts another philosophy hovers in the background, seemingly transcending them. In the character of the super-powered Dr. Manhattan Moore gives us a man who lives Quantum Theory the way physicists talk of it. The book’s fourth chapter, “Watchmaker,” focuses on Dr. Manhattan’s origin and perspective. We see how Dr. Manhattan perceives time in a nonlinear fashion. The past, present, and future are all happening simultaneously for him, represented by comic panels telling the character’s story by continually jumping back and forth from year to year. The ideologies of Rorschach, the Comedian, and Ozymandias are all irrelevant to Dr. Manhattan. His power and perspective isolate him from humanity and it’s up to his former lover, the Silk Spectre, to try and persuade him to intervene. She contributes the emotional, feminine component to this already boiling ideological stew.

When Alan Moore wrote Watchmen he did intend for something of an anti-Reagan critique. How was he attacking a figure so beloved by the conservative movement? The profoundly amusing answer is in a way that those on the Right should embrace. Amidst the book’s complex themes and multiple world views there actually is a fairly coherent message that does emerge in the style Moore chose to fashion his characters: we should not trust people to save us. Moore was critiquing the very idea of superheroes. He thought we should not look to superheroes to protect us and fix our problems for the simple reason that such figures are just as human as we are. In his depiction of costumed adventurers with neuroses and problems Moore embraces one of the central philosophical truths of conservatism: people are flawed. And so we should be cautious in granting them the power to change, “improve,” or police the world.


MORE:
-PROFILE: Alan Moore's environmental monster: The genius behind "Watchmen" redefined both the audience and the narrative possibilities of comic books with his newly reissued "Saga of the Swamp Thing." (Andrew O'Hehir, 3/05/09, Salon)
Big pictures: All things are Watchmen (M. HOWELL, November 27, 1987, The Boston Phoenix )
WATCH IT!: DARK COMIC IS THRILLINGLY SOPHISTICATED (Kyle Smith, 3/04/09, NY Post)

n an ordinary superhero movie, you'd just be waiting for everyone to snap out of it, climb into the spandex, save the day and bankroll the sequel. But there's so much dread and disgust around "Watchmen" that it isn't clear where it's heading. It's even more serious and political than "The Dark Knight," with the same ambivalence about mythology versus truth, though it doesn't seem to affirm any stance. It drills still deeper than the Batman/Joker core that underlies many of its characters and into questions of God and man. The essential silliness of the comic-book medium (the most important character is called "Dr. Manhattan," and he looks like the love child of Mr. Clean and a Smurf) is held to a minimum.

There are so many competing ideas within "Watchmen" that it is built to be viewed repeatedly and debated religiously. Among comic-book movies, only the two most recent Batman entries compete with it for complexity. It's not clear who the hero is, if there even is one.

The street fights are inventive and exciting, but the real struggles are those in which glowing nostalgia puts the ever-disappointing present in a headlock, or one oversimplification kicks another in the teeth. Rioters take to the streets - in order to rout vigilantes, and to the tune of "I'm Your Boogie Man." Disco apocalypse.

Despite the burden of a story in which "it's too late, always has been, always will be," "Watchmen" levitates with a prophetic fury worthy of the Jimi Hendrix cover of "All Along the Watchtower" that blasts over a key scene. Other fantasy movies are playing checkers. This one plays chess, with grandmaster panache.


-ESSAY: Watchmen Failed: The revolution it was supposed to inspire—comics about ordinary people—never happened. (Grady Hendrix, March 5, 2009, Slate)
-Watchmen: Dark, unseemly and seen on all screens: In preparation for this Friday’s release of Watchmen, we’re spending this week helping readers become acquainted with the creators, characters and cultural relevance of what is one of 2009’s most highly anticipated movies. (Ben Kaplan, 3/03/09, National Post)
-INTERVIEW: Interview: Alan Moore, writer of Watchmen: From the Boston Phoenix archives: the watchmaker speaks. (M. HOWELL | March 4, 2009, Boston Phoenix)
-INTERVIEW:
The man who invented the future
: Alan Moore, who reinvented the comic book as the cutting-edge literary medium of our day, talks about beheading, the diabolical power of the media, the Bush dynasty and the fall of Tony Blair. (Scott Thill, 7/22/04, Salon)
-REVIEW: Let us now praise masked vigilantism (Chris Knight, National Post)
-ESSAY: "Watchmen": Could the most anticipated comic-book movie of the season turn out to be the most unsettling superhero spectacle ever made? (Andrew O'Hehir, Mar. 06, 2009, Salon)
-REVIEW:
Watchmen
(Peter Bradshaw, The Guardian)
-INTERVIEW: The wizard of "Watchmen" (Alan Moore talks about his career, his favorite characters and his bad influence on the comics world. (Andrew Firestone, 3/06/09, Salon)
-REVIEW: Watchmen (Russ Breimeier, Christianity Today)


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Posted by Orrin Judd at March 6, 2009 12:00 AM
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