(Spoiler Alert: This post reveals plot details about Alan Moore and Dave Gibbon’s wholly wonderful Graphic novel, “The Watchmen.” The post below discusses the graphic novel and tomorrow we will post our thoughts on the recent film.)
There are no traditional comic book heroes in The Watchmen.
Dr. Manhattan, the one man with super powers, observes the world from a detached, scientific perspective; he lets innocents die. He is more God than man, and his actions are as incomprehensible. He lacks the easily understood compassion of the stereotypical superhero.
Ozymandias, arguably the only other character with super powers, actively kills innocents. At the end of the book, he asks Dr. Manhattan if he has done the just, honorable thing. If he were a hero, he would know whether what he did was right or wrong. He lacks the moral assuredness and confidence of the stereotypical hero.
The Nite Owl is so paralyzed by fear he can’t act or even make love. When he finally does don his costume to do the right thing, he surrenders to his enemy. He lacks the bravery of a hero.
The Comedian. His only agenda is nihilism and laughter at the world. He is the hero we fear, the man we hope never receives super powers.
Then we have Rorsharch, along with the Comedian, the most violent character in the book. Whereas the Comedian’s violence is shrouded in a devil may care pathos, Rorsharch’s violence is driven by his own sense of morality and that is truly frightening.
Being a moralist and believing in right and wrong is not itself a bad thing. But when morality becomes moral superiority, as when Rorsharch places his values above the laws, the rules, and the mores of society, it becomes fascism. If there is one picture of evil in this book it is the changing black and white face of Rorsharch.
By his own words: “They [society] could have followed in the footsteps of good men like my father, or Truman . . . Instead they followed the droppings of Lechers and Communists . . . all those liberals and intellectuals and smooth talkers.”
The Watchmen was the first to ask: what if comic book heroes attacked not just “criminals” but all people they thought were evil? It is not just Rorsharch’s methods which are disgusting -- he tortures and kills his enemies -- it is also his vanity in choosing his enemies. Ask yourself: do you feel communists deserved to be tortured? Intellectuals? Liberals? Homosexuals?
Perhaps Alan Moore (who I think disapproves of Rorschach) answers the question by taking Rorscharch, and vigilantism, to the most logical extremes. Rorsharch is clearly insane. (Many people ask if Batman is insane. Moore uses Rorsharch to answer that question in a clear yes.) Rorschach is a fascist. He rails against communists, intellectuals and perhaps most tellingly, homosexuals. About Adrian Veidt, Rorschach narrates “Possible homosexual? Must remember to investigate further.” What if he were? Society’s values means nothing to Rorsharch. He is above society and the its values. His vigilantism is inherently self-serving and self-centered.
Ultimately, it is all a question of “watchmen.” Society can never trust one person or one group for our mutual protection and no one person or group exist above the others. No one owns morality. Not Rorsharch, Barack Obama, the republicans, politicians, District Attorneys, Police Officers, the media, the governement nor you. Even if Rorsharch were fighting the right people, his ends -- breaking the social contract -- would never justify his means.
There are no heroes to watch this world for us; we wouldn’t want them to.