By Shamus Posted Tuesday Mar 31, 2009

Filed under: Nerd Culture 132 comments

This post has been a long time in coming. I have a copy of Watchmen here, a gift from Davis V. S. I’ve been trying to set down my thoughts on the book for months now, which is made difficult by the fact that I’m still not sure what to make of it. I actually don’t know how I’m supposed to interpret the actions of the villain and so I’m not sure where to begin my analysis. The story was a strange and painful voyage, and at the end I felt like I was the only one who didn’t know why we’d made the trip.

Spoilers from here on.

In the book, Ozymandias staged a massive event that made people think that aliens were invading Earth. It killed “half of New York”, and tormented or crippled millions more.

His plan is based on the following chain of reasoning:

  1. A nuclear war between the United States and the Soviet Union is inevitable.
  2. Staging a massive event that kills millions is the only way to avert it, by getting people to lay aside their differences to face a common threat.
  3. This event will give him incredible power to re-shape the world and prevent the war in the future.

My own response to Ozy’s pitch meeting in Antarctica:

Was the USA / USSR war REALLY inevitable?

In our reality opinions differ on just how likely a nuclear exchange was. But the story takes place in the fictional reality authored by Moore, not ours. Moreover, it was a reality authored in 1986. When Ozymandias says that the war was going to happen, we have no way of knowing if he was really telling the truth. Was it going to happen, as he said? Or was it not going to happen, and he was mistaken? Or was he just outright lying?

Only Moore knows the answer. (Assuming he had a specific answer in mind.)

Was the mass-death really the BEST way to avert catastrophe?

Wars happen for reasons. If Ozymandias knew a war would happen, then he must also have known what the cause would be. Given his intelligence, wealth, and power, it seems like he could have found a less convoluted plan to avert the war. If he can stage an alien invasion using the cloned brain of a deceased psychic and then arrange for every single person involved with the plan to killed by killers who were in turn themselves killed, etc etc… then he ought to have no problem getting control of (say) the White House. He could either worm his way into office directly, or (more likely) gain control of an existing politician and steer him into power.

Even easier than that would be for Dr. Manhattan to simply poof the nukes out of existence. Dr. Manhattan is the most powerful hero in the world. Actually he’s one of the most powerful heroes to ever appear in a comic. He can fly, teleport, make copies of himself, destroy or re-shape objects at will, see the future, observe the world on a subatomic level, enlarge himself to massive proportions, and he’s completely indestructible. (He got his powers by being vaporized and re-constituting himself. What could you do to a guy who can just will himself back into shape after you blast him into particles?) His only weakness is that he’s neurotic and dysfunctional. He doesn’t seem to “get” people anymore, even though he still has all of his memories of what it was like to be a mortal human. He’s got powers to rival Zeus, and at least as many sexual hang-ups. (Okay, he has that weakness to Tachyons, but they aren’t even worth mentioning. Imagine if kryptonite didn’t kill Superman, it just slightly reduced his powers and muddled his thinking a little. And you needed huge emitters and satellites to power the brain-muddle field.)

Ozy proved he was more than capable of manipulating him, so convincing him to do something that was a natural extension of what he’d already been doing (“peacekeeping” operations of dubious value) should have been easy for the “smartest man in the world”. It certainly would have been easier and less risky than the plan he enacted.

How was his plan supposed to work, long-term?

We don’t know the causes behind the war that Ozy was averting, but I can’t imagine any solution lasting more than a generation. Ozy talks like he’s bringing an end to war, but that terror event can only go so far. Unless he’s going to keep staging these events, he’s just delaying the inevitable. The kids born after 1985 are going to have little meaningful memory of the event. It will just be history to them. If Ozy is trying to work against the grain of human nature then his efforts will only work as long as people are afraid of the aliens. That’s an exceptionally unstable form of power, and it doesn’t age well. (This is to say nothing of the fact that the USSR might simply see this as a chance to prevail over a weakened USA.)

But are these holes in Ozy’s plan a deliberate thing on the part of the author? It’s not a plot hole at all if we take the view that Ozy’s true goals differ from his stated ones. He mentions that he wanted to be the next Alexander the Great, which is a pretty big tip that he’s not a humanitarian at heart. If we view that as his goal, then the holes in the plan are only holes in his cover story. Certainly he seems to relish in his victory more than seems appropriate. Only a depraved man would celebrate the deaths of so many, even if he was saving more lives than he was wasting.

So at the end of the book I couldn’t decide if it was the story of a depraved megalomaniac, an arrogant and opportunistic man, or a misguided man who felt he was making sacrifices for the greater good.

And for all I know this ambiguity is deliberate. Maybe we’re not supposed to be able to know what Ozy was truly thinking. (Because that other characters also don’t know.) Maybe it goes back to the theme of the book, “Who watches the Watchmen?” Once you have superheroes running around “saving” the world, you’re going to have a mess.

Case in point: Just over a year ago I proposed a modest set of super powers and asked people how they would use them. Some pointed out that without the ability to sense / divine trouble, you’re just a really useful workhorse. But a few people proposed taking extreme actions, like murdering people they thought were “screwing up the world”. These people genuinely thought that if they just killed all the “problem people” they could make the world a better place. This is proof enough to me that having a handful of people with super powers would be extraordinarily bad for the rest of us.

In any case, the main question of what Ozy was really thinking really ate at me after I finished the book. I felt like I couldn’t really process the tale until I could sort Ozymandias, and the ambiguity around him made this impossible. This is not to say it’s a bad book. It really does deserve its reputation as one of the greatest comic works ever. I’ll take deep, thoughtful, symbolic, and ambiguous over “Captain Macho Posturing vs. Baron von Plot Exposition” any day. It’s an amazing book, and the fact that over 20 years have passed and we haven’t seen its like again is a little disappointing.


From The Archives:

132 thoughts on “Watchmen

  1. Cybron says:

    I would definitely say that war was inevitable. That’s what the entire tone of the piece suggests. If the world’s most intelligent man arrives at the same conclusion, I see no reason to question it.

    I think Ozzy’s plan regarding future generation was to ‘reshape the world’ so that the future generation would have no reason to fight. Probably not a permanent solution, but assuming he succeeds, he’d have it under control for a few generations. He certainly seems to assume he would succeed. Whether that’s just arrogance is a matter of the reader’s opinion of mankind, I suppose.

    As for best plan, your guess is as good as mine. He’d have to control TWO governments in order for your suggestion to work, and that makes his plan look like child’s play by comparison.

  2. According to what I’ve heard, the ambiguity was intentional, but as far as I’m concerned Oz was just stupid because *regardless of his motives*, nothing good could come of his plan, for him or anyone else. You cannot create by destroying.

    The movie was even worse, but I won’t spoil it if you haven’t seen it.

  3. Alex says:

    In Egypt’s sandy silence, all alone,
    Stands a gigantic Leg, which far off throws
    The only shadow that the Desert knows:
    “I am great OZYMANDIAS,” saith the stone,
    “The King of Kings; this mighty City shows
    “The wonders of my hand.” The City’s gone,
    Nought but the Leg remaining to disclose
    The site of this forgotten Babylon.
    We wonder, and some Hunter may express
    Wonder like ours, when thro’ the wilderness
    Where London stood, holding the Wolf in chace,
    He meets some fragments huge, and stops to guess
    What powerful but unrecorded race
    Once dwelt in that annihilated place.


    Also, one of the key points behind the US vs USSR conflict is Dr. Manhattan disrupts any possible balance. Ozy goes over this, but the idea is that Russia is overproducing nuclear weapons in an effort to overwhelm Dr. Manhattan. Unlike in our world, where MAD was a reasonable doctrine from a game theory perspective to prevent a nuclear war, that’s thrown out the window when one side has a weakly god-like being on their side.

  4. Groboclown says:

    We do know a bit about why the war was happening – the balance of power in the world was mostly due to the US having Dr. Manhattan (yes, USSR was posturing with this, to test the limits of the US mettle in using said Dr.). Once Dr. Manhattan left the earth, the other global powers started moving.

    Now, one can claim that Ozy was responsible for having Dr. Manhattan leave, and so was himself responsible for the build-up towards war. However, I think that Ozy knew that Dr. Manhattan wasn’t a reliable source of world power balance, and simply wanted to expedite his eventual departure. This seems to me like Ozy was playing his hand before all the cards were dealt.

  5. Gregory Weir says:

    Regarding killing all the bad people, the anime Death Note has the premise that a very smart and theoretically ethical high schooler gains the ability to kill anyone as long as he knows their name and face. He naturally decides to kill all the bad people (criminals, useless folks) and create a perfect world… with himself as its god.

    It doesn’t turn out well.

  6. SatansBestBuddy says:

    I predict a lot of people are gonna sit at their chairs for fifteen minutes typing a comment in response to this.

    Also, I’ve never read the book, only seen the movie, so I was mildly surprised at the aliens thing, though after a bit of thought it makes about as much sense as what the movie did.

  7. Jian says:

    On Premise 2: I thought the “massive event” of dropping the psychic monster in New York isn’t exactly to unite against a common threat but instead is a genetic-psychically engineered bioweapon that convinces everyone to be peaceful with each other. That way, both hegemonic poles see no threat in each other and will never use their nuclear weapons. Other nations are confined to conventional warfare. The reason why it had to kill several million people is technobabble — if it doesn’t kill enough people when it sets off it the psychic waves don’t propagate all the way to the USSR.

    In the sense, it represents a different ethical trade off: a few million lives now, for a permanent assurance against mutually assured destruction in which billions of lives are at stake.

  8. wererogue says:

    “We don't know the causes behind the war that Ozy was averting, but I can't imagine any solution lasting more than a generation.”

    It’s pretty strongly implied (and directly theorised) in the book that the Russians are arming because they feel threatened by Dr. Manhattan. Having him “poof” the missiles out of existence isn’t really going to help international relations much.

    “I actually don't know how I'm supposed to interpret the actions of the villain.”

    That’s why I love the book. You came back to it later – “Once you have superheroes running around “saving” the world, you're going to have a mess.” The way the book makes you think about the Ozymandias’ dilemma is a work of genius. It raises questions like whether an act can be inherently evil, or whether its morality is modified by the motivations.

    The book is one part political commentary on the time itself, 3 parts commentary on comic books of the time, and it shows throughout. A lot of the little details, and the big ones are all geared to put a different spin on superhero stories – to make you think “how would this work with *real* people?” when you go and read “Captain Macho Posturing vs. Baron von Plot Exposition”.

  9. radio_babylon says:

    watchmen was the dullest, most un-entertaining and pretentious comic ive ever read. i remember trying to read it when it came out and just not being able to finish it… and then i picked it up again last year when all my friends started berating me for not having read it back in the day. i had to FORCE my way through it, and at the end, i seriously wanted all that time back. i honestly cannot understand the hype and reverence for this book… it just boggles my mind.

  10. Michelle says:

    Do any of you remember that, once upon a time, everyone really believed a nuclear war between the U.S. and U.S.S.R was inevitable?

    Try thinking of it from that stand point.

  11. kjones says:

    Radio_Babylon: Could you be a little more specific about what you didn’t like? It’s like my English teacher always said about Shakespeare – you don’t have to like it, but you should at least recognize its significance.

    (To this, she would add, “And if you don’t like it, you should have a better reason than ‘It’s hard to read'”, but that’s less important here.)

  12. Pederson says:

    Honestly, I think Watchmen is probably most interesting as a cultural artifact, i.e. a product of its time, and as a study in the deconstruction of superhero comicbooks. I’m not sure how genuinely groundbreaking it is in either category. There are undoubtedly earlier and better studies of Cold War paranoia and mania, and the deconstruction of the masked hero, arguably, goes back to the sixties with the likes of Spiderman and the X-Men.

    Personally, I find it a rather hollow sort of story. The protagonists are a mostly unsympathetic, badly broken lot, and the underpinnings seem (at least to me) to be pessimistic, paranoid, left-wing and nihilist. Whether or not that’s an accurate depiction of Mr. Moore’s worldview, I know not.

    As far as it goes, I’m sure it seemed much more relevant in 1985, when it was published and the longevity of the Soviet Union seemed assured, especially from the viewpoint of a progressive writer in Thatcherite Britain.

  13. radio_babylon says:

    “its hard to read” is a big part of it, but even more, “its hard to enjoy”… im of the opinion that things like comic books, books, film, games, (insert medium here) are first and foremost an ENTERTAINMENT medium. sure, they can be deep or insightful or profound or moving… but theyve got to also be entertaining, or theyre a failure in the end. in no way and at no time was i entertained by watchmen. if i had been, i wouldnt have had to force my way through it… ive read many a ponderous book (eg, anything by umberto eco) that i finished *in spite* of the fact it was difficult to read, simply because it was entertaining enough that i *wanted* to read it. watchmen was the worst case scenario for a comic: hard to read AND not entertaining.

  14. skizelo says:

    For one, I think you’re thinking of politics while Ozymandias is thinking about culture. He cares about what the general public believes (as shown by the adverts of the day), rather than the belief of their leaders. So he could put himself in the Oval Office, but the electorate would still be mistrustful of their fellow man and so on. And culture doesn’t really fade into “just history”; we believe tons of things for reasons which are out of date. As for the “wars happen for a reason”, in Moore’s work,they tend to start for stupid, unpredictable reasons (In “The Killing Joke”, WWII is said to be caused over telegraph poles).
    I read Ozy as believing that this act would form an eternal utopia (hence his reaction when Manhattan puts the lie to that belief). But yeah, he’s not a good man.
    ALSO, Manhattan isn’t neurotic. He’s correct in that he doesn’t need humanity at all.
    ALSO, I always get wierded out when I find out people haven’t read Watchmen. So wierd. Wierdo.

  15. DavyRam says:

    The one thing the movie changed that annoyed me (before you roll your eyes and skip down, this is relevant to the question) was to cut that small scene at the end between Adrian and Manhattan. “I did the right thing didn’t I?” That suggests to me that nuclear armageddon wasn’t certain, or at least was far enough from certain that Adrian privately has doubts about what he has done. Very likely he did have a plan which didn’t involve murdering millions but regarded his plan as a safer bet.

    Shamus’ idea that Adrian acts out of a hidden desire to make himself more influential instead of out of pure benevolence is interesting. As a counterpoint, I would point again to that scene at the end and the ‘black freighter’ side-story, which I believe Gibbons has explicitly stated is about Adrian. If this is so, then it heavily implies Veidt goes mad with guilt over what he has done. And why else would Moore name him Ozymandias if not suggest a connection with the Shelley Poem,a work on the ultimate futility of power and control?

    Like Shamus, I’m inclined to say Ozymandias is a character that, despite being peripheral in terms of events, is in a way the lynchpin of the whole book. It’s a story where little concrete happens because its too busy asking questions about what it is that would actually make a real hero. Adrian in rthe clearest example, his actions can either be seen as the most heroic thing possible for all the death it causes, or the most evil, a supposedly benevolent act so horrific it breaks a pair of sociopaths. If I don’t shut up now I’ll probably never stop, but I might say something about Death note at a later time.

  16. foolsage says:

    Having Dr. Manhattan evaporate all the nuclear missiles in the world would be a really unfulfilling Deus Ex Machina, with no ambiguity. The natural response of humanity would thereafter be to recreate the nuclear arsenal in secret. So that not only doesn’t solve any long term problems, but it’s lacking in any depth or nuance; that’s a classic Superman ending. Whether Veidt was right or not in his estimations, it’s a fascinating plan that makes for good drama, and leaves the reader questioning the ethics and efficacy of the plan; I think that’s really the point here.

  17. Magnus says:

    Dr. Manhattan appears more distant from humanity as he ages, as he is not really human any more.

    The thinking behind Ozymandias’ actions are two-fold, one: would Dr. Manhattan actually be able to stop the thousands of nukes that could be fired at the US? two: Would he want to?

    It was no longer Dr. Manhattans fight, his choice of Mars shows this when he mentions how beautiful and amazing a lifeless planet can be.

    Also, despite Ozy being “the smartest man in the world”, he isn’t as smart as he thinks he is, nor can he see every eventuality.

    We had two world wars in quick succession despite the first being labelled “the war to end all wars”, noone wanted to repeat that and yet little over twenty years after WWI we were fighting again.

  18. Kameron says:

    My take on the Watchmen, which I just read for the first time last month, was that the Ozy-plot was just a vehicle for Moore to deconstruct the comic book superhero. The interwoven “pirate comic” really emphasized that to me. As such, I readily glossed over some of the “lazy logic”.

    Overall, Watchmen left me with a “meh” feeling. The art was unremarkable, and stories deconstructing superheroes aren’t so revolutionary a topic anymore.

  19. Sheer_FALACY says:

    Nuclear war was pretty clearly inevitable. I don’t recall if there was an equivalent scene in the book (there probably was, considering how closely it adhered to it in most cases), but the movie showed Nixon discussing a first strike scenario if Dr. Manhattan didn’t come back in two days. This wasn’t a just in case type thing, it was something he was going to do because he was that sure. Plus the doomsday clock was a constant motif.

    And sure, it wouldn’t have come up if Dr. Manhattan hadn’t been driven away by cancer accusations, but he was clearly losing his remaining grip on humanity anyway, as seen when he talks to Laurie. He’d probably have left at some point anyway and not cared too much about what happened afterwards.

  20. Jason says:

    I read an interesting take on Ozymandias and it tied it into how to roleplay as a super intelligent being.

  21. Chris says:

    I wanted to make note of the scene DavyRam mentions, where Ozy asks Manhattan if he did the right thing. I was very upset that it wasn’t in the film, because before Manhattan leaves he says something along the lines of “Yeah, everyone will have peace for now” and Ozy is like “Wait, what do you mean for NOW?”. It implied to me that the very nature of man goes against peace.

    Which, of course, is the very idea behind the book and the very philosophy that Ozymandias was trying to save them from. He wanted to bring about world peace, as doing the typical “knock a criminal about and then hand him to the police” thing was too small and too ineffective. However, at the very center is one simple point: humanity is not good. Technically it isn’t bad, either, as you do see good in plenty of people as well.

    I actually find Watchmen to be a timely contrast to The Dark Knight film, where Christopher Nolan ended with a more optimistic view of humanity. Here, Watchmen instead concludes with a more pessimistic perspective, though a very, very important (and often overlooked moment by fans, unfortunately) was removed from the film.

    Also, while there may have technically been “better ways”, I’m going to give Alan Moore a bit of freedom since he was working with a lot of different purposes with this comic, both in terms of humanity as well as with the comics industry.

  22. Julian says:

    I don’t think you’re supposed to find the plan convincing. It’s part of the larger deconstruction — a comic-book solution to a real-world problem.

  23. Adam Greenbrier says:

    You’re assuming that Adrian is acting rationally when he isn’t. The entire book is about the way that superheroes, beneath the surface, are mentally unstable and incapable of justly wielding the power that they have. Adrian’s problems are different from the others in that he’s a narcissist and an egomaniac, but he’s not any more stable than Rorschach or the Comedian.

    Remember that the Black Freighter story is analogous to Adrian’s situation: driven mad by the fear of disaster, he performs the very actions he had hoped to avoid happening. The threat of social decay and annihilation was enough to cause Adrian to react in a completely irrational, over-the-top sort of way that may, per Jon’s closing comment, have not done any good at all in the long run.

    Also, don’t forget the connection, as has been mentioned, between Ozymandias and Shelley’s “Ozymandias”:

    I met a traveler from an antique land
    Who said: Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
    Stand in the desert . . . Near them, on the sand,
    Half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown,
    And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command
    Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
    Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
    The hand that mocked them, and the heart that fed.

    And on the pedestal these words appear:
    “My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:
    Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!”

    Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
    Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare
    The lone and level sands stretch far away.

    That isn’t exactly a ringing endorsement of the idea that Adrian’s work will last in any significant way.

    1. Shamus says:

      Thanks so much for all of the different perspectives on the work.

      You folks are a smart bunch.

  24. Julian says:

    @ Sheer_FALACY

    That scene is a significant departure from the book: in the original, Nixon is presented with the option by his advisors, and is far from enthusiastic. It’s left ambiguous as to whether he’s even capable of ordering it, much less whether he will.

  25. Factoid says:

    “So at the end of the book I couldn't decide if it was the story of a depraved megalomaniac, an arrogant and opportunistic man, or a misguided man who felt he was making sacrifices for the greater good.”

    All three! The other “theme” of the book besides “Who Watches the Watchmen” is complexity. Nothing is straightforward, nothing has one right answer and nobody has one motivation.

    He was definitely a megalomaniac…I mean come on, he compares himself to Alexander the Great. He was arrogant and opportunistic because he thought he knew better than everyone how the world would best be “saved”, and he genuinely believed what he was doing was right.

    Evil men rarely believe themselves to be doing evil.

    I didn’t get the sense that he was “enjoying” his victory that much, though. He says that he’s made himself feel every death. He knows what he’s done is wrong, but he also believed it was necessary. That’s one of the things that makes him arrogant, is that he believes he is better than the ordinary man because nobody but him had the strength to do what was necessary.

    Where I disagree with Ozy is that he is so fond of “lateral thinking” yet he came up with an incredibly obtuse Occam’s Razor-defying solution to the problem of global annihilation. Lateral thinking puzzles invariably end up with a head-slap moment like “Oh, of COURSE that was the most obvious solution, why didn’t I SEE that?”

    Attacking New York city with a giant vagina-squid is more of a head-scratcher than a head-slapper.

  26. Lee Evans says:

    Oh, I had never noticed the Black Freighter parallels. That makes a ton of sense now: The hero thought that the destruction of his city was a foregone conclusion and was driven mad by the idea, when everything was OK until he showed up.

    Ozy, similarly, thought that he was making everything all better, but in reality had made the world a worse place than he found it.

    1. Shamus says:

      I also never noticed the Black Freighter parallels. (Duh.) I think that perfectly tells me what I wanted to know about how Moore viewed Ozy. That actually brings a lot of the work into focus.

      I really disliked, or perhaps rejected, the book on my first read because I thought Moore was making Ozy the ultimate hero of the book. I don’t have a good reason for why I thought this. The signs were there that he wasn’t a protagonist, but for some reason I felt like he was, and that I was supposed to sympathize with him and his goals.

      Also noteworthy is that I skipped the Black Freighter on my first read-through, and then went back and read JUST the Black Freighter stuff. I treated them like two different comic books that had their pages mixed together. (Which is true in the sense that the two stories don’t take place in the same reality.)

  27. Namfoodle says:

    I read the book when it came out, so it’s been a long time. I also haven’t had a chance to see the movie yet.

    But I think the “holes in the plan” might be explained by two things:

    1. The idea that Ozy might be the teeniest bit insane. Maybe he’s just too smart for his own good?

    2. He also might not be quite as smart as he thinks he is. When Dr. Manhatten quickly came back from being discombobulated and said “Dude, this was the first trick I learned,” I recall Ozy being surprised.

  28. Old_Geek says:

    I think thats the point of the book. There is no absolute right or wrong, no good guys or bad guys. Everyone is gray and flawed, but honestly trying to do what they think is best. Some people can think of Ozymandias as a hero for saving the world. Others a villian for killing that many people. Rorshack is a sociopathic killer who at times makes the Joker look like an accountant. Yet, he’s the only one who seems to have an absolute moral compass. For example, he’s the only one in the beginning who “acts like a hero” and tries to solve the comedians murder. The other “heores” came across more to me as adrenaline jockies, putting on the mask and cape for the same reason others go bungie cord jumping or sky diving.

    In other words, if you don’t now what to think, you’re probably thinking right.

  29. RichVR says:

    @ Namfoodle “…The idea that Ozy might be the teeniest bit insane. Maybe he's just too smart for his own good?”

    This was my take on it as well. Surprised that nobody else thinks this way. In a way Ozy and the Doc both have almost unlimited power. Dr. Manhattan hasn’t been corrupted by his power because he’s less than human now. He lacks the endocrine system and therefore emotion.

    Ozymandias is bat shit crazy with power. Even he doubts his own reasoning. A sliver of sanity?

    Edit: Attribution of quote.

  30. Trianglehead says:

    @radio_babylon: But at the same time you should be able to recognize it’s significance. Obviously with so many people enjoying it, it’s more of a personal dilemma than one with the work itself. It’s obviously been very successful both in terms of entertainment and social commentary. You’re welcome to your opinion of the work, just as we are. So if you didn’t enjoy it, why bother wasting MORE of your time which you already claim you wish you had back in a room full of people who are obviously going to disagree with you?

  31. I agree with Adam Greenbrier and some others about the nature of Ozymandias and his plan.
    I think another thing that is going on is a clash between two views of the nature of good–two basic philosophies. Ozymandias represents an uncompromising version of Utilitarianism: The greatest good for the greatest number is all, or so he tells himself, and so the ends completely justify the means. It’s crazy.
    Rorschach is the other side of that coin. He represents the ideal of justice (in a twisted kind of way) or at least retribution, and for him while you can do whatever to the “bad guys”, other than that there are no excuses for wrongdoing and nothing can stand in the way of punishing it. He stands very literally for “Let justice be done though the sky fall”. The ends do not justify the means; if Adrian Veidt wants to harm innocent people–or even if he killed the Comedian, who was about as far from innocent as you can get–then he has to go down, no matter his reasons or what the impact will be. This is also crazy, but seems more sympathetic somehow. I suppose the appeal of Ozymandias is to superficial reasoning, while the appeal of Rorschach is to fairly basic emotions; both mislead.

    Nite Owl, while he does put on the costume, in many ways seems to represent the normal human caught in the middle and unsure what version of “the good” to adhere to; he can see that both uncompromising visions are way scary. Neither extreme seems to value mercy a whole lot. I wonder if it’s significant that Nite Owl and Laurie are the only ones ever shown actually *helping* anyone.

  32. On the Black Freighter, when Ozymandias was talking to them at the South Pole, he didn’t quite say it, but I got the distinct impression that he had actually been reading the Black Freighter comics as part of the process of “visualizing every death”. He’d just started to say it and then said something like “never mind, it’s stupid”. He was going through this process of taking responsibility for what he was doing by internalizing the enormity of the act, and part of that seemed to me like it involved reading the Black Freighter.
    Which adds yet another layer of ambiguity to the whole thing. He was a megalomaniac, and I think his actions were wrong and ultimately futile. But he did realize that at some level, “ends justify the means” didn’t cut it, that it was still an enormously bad act for which he should feel grief and remorse.

  33. Jay says:

    After I finished, and thought about it a bit, I was pretty convinced of Adrian’s guilt. He is the smartest man in the world. It starts with *protecting* humanity, and the next logical step is to install yourself as leader. After all, you know what’s best, right?

    Look for it in Watchmen 2: The Watchening.


  34. Zwebbie says:

    Shamus – don’t you think that perhaps you’ve set your mind to game-analysing so much that instead of just taking things for granted, you try to find every flaw? The impending nuclear war is the premise of Watchmen and nobody in the story seemed to doubt it. The plan is perhaps much like that of a cartoon villain, but dressing up like superheroes and catching bad guys isn’t exactly what I’d call plausibly effective either.

    It’s not so much about the plan itself – that’s why it could be changed easily between the book and film – but the human elements. Ozymandias is a firm believer that the end justifies the means (considering the alternative is nuclear war, it’s a pretty good outcome), as opposed to Rorschach who will never set aside his principles, even if that makes everyone suffer.

  35. Martin says:


    I agree with your commentary on the four main heroes, and will add that the other heroes are interesting morality studies as well. Superhero comics are all about simplistic confrontations between good and evil, so it is very easy to take familiar archetypes and have a DnD alignment debate using them. Watchmen is fun because it does this to a lot of archetypes, and while the results may not be profound or new, they are profound and new in the genre.

  36. Magnus says:

    @Shamus: Although I didn’t appreciate The Black Freighter at first, the way it weaved its way throughout the story added so much to the story for me, I can’t imagine skipping it! On a couple of occasions, the two stories mesh together, switching from one frame to the next.

  37. DavyRam says:

    @ Purple Library: I’d follow up on those before me who have suggested the simplest solution is “Adrian is nuts” by saying finding any kind of consistent logic in Rorschach is a losing bet. Yep, he’s a moral aboslutist, but absolutism is usually based in the idea morality can be factualised: action x is bad because God (or whatever) says so,and thus it IS. But R. is an out-and-out nihilist, he does not believe in any kind of objective morality at all. He believes that right and wrong are absolute, but the only justification he has (or needs) for making an action wrong is “because I think so”. He’s an absolutely, inherently contradictory character. Nothing to do with innocents, remember in his diary he says dropping the atomic bomb,a similar act to Adrian’s,was a good thing (albeit because of daddy issues).

    As for Dan, I’ve always thought he went with Adrians plan a little too easy. He’s closest to the “traditional” superhero,but it’s about being powerful for him, the only reason he didn’t do what Adrian did was becase he wasn’t smart enough or self-centred enough. Again, contradictory.

    To those who dislike the book, I can definitely sympathise, I have my own limits of “smart but dull”. It’s just I and a lot of other people DO find the book out and out entertaining. Those Rorschach fanboys don’t love him becase he’s right (at least I hope not) they love him because he is cool. It’s not a logical thing, like anything you enjoy it or you don’t. The “respect it’s importance” line is worth mentioning, but veering into justifying that which is difficult to justify I think.

  38. Rob Conley says:

    Some observations on having gotten the Watchmen on it’s initial run.

    It was a different experience having to get the comic monthly instead of one graphics novel. For one thing, by the time the next issue came out you have read EVERYTHING in the last issue. Sure I skipped over the Black Freighter and read the excerpts last but then I all I could was go back and read them again because I didn’t have the next issue.

    It was very different than other comics at the time. For one thing you knew it was going to end. This raised anticipation of the next issue to insane levels as anything could happen. Plus it had all this back story that took several readings to absorb. So it was a rich reading experience.

    Finally nobody back then saw the collapse of Soviet Union coming. The only way any of us thought that US-Soviet rivalry could end was in one of several spectacularly bad ways. (US goes communist, Nuclear War, less than nuclear WWIII, etc). A judgment born of WWI and WWII where the democracies had to beat down the authoritarian countries at a great cost.

    Between Vietnam and Reagan there was a sense that the US could become isolated and eventually fall to communism by being strangled to death economically. Reagan changed that by reinvigorating the will to fight back but at the expense of raising fear of a confrontation leading to Armageddon or at the least a lot of blood lost.

    Reagan pursuing the option of being able to take down the Soviet Union angered a substantial minority. Particularly in Europe which would take the brunt of any initial attack. This is reflected in the Watchman.

    Ozy’s insane plan to deal with the Soviet-US rivalry was a reflection of Reagan’s “insane” plan to deal with the Soviet-US rivalry.

  39. Shawn says:

    The thing about Watchmen is it’s meant to be uncomfortable and ambiguous and off puting, especially the ending. I’m pretty solidly of the opinion that the holes in Ozymandias’s plot are intentional and Alan Moore specifically didn’t want it to seem absolutely justified or unjustified.

    Your reaction here is I think exactly the sort of questioning and debate you’re supposed to walk away from the ending with.

    In a way, the end of Watchmen is it’s own Rorschach test, to see how you feel about right and wrong, the ends justifying the means, extremism, etc etc.

  40. Sesoron says:

    I have some thoughts regarding the long-term effectiveness of Ozy’s plan.

    I don’t know whether this is the actual truth or just Ozy’s viewpoint, or if I’m altogether wrong, but it seems that — in the Watchmen alternate universe, at least — the world was at an impasse. There are two simultaneous processes going on, both in real life and in the Watchmen-verse: the gradual development of human morality and the rapid development of high technology.

    The morality thing may be somewhat controversial, but I think it’s easy to see that, objectively, the state of morality and human rights has advanced since ancient times. Even the most shining examples of ancient civilization, like the Athenians or the Roman Republic, were rife with slavery, pederasty, and other pervasive human rights abuses. In more and more places today, such practices are finally fading out of our culture. We’re starting to see war in a different light. The problem is that the weapons of war are becoming deadlier faster than the rate at which we’re becoming averse to war in the first place.

    In the Watchmen-verse, the arms race was reaching critical mass faster than in real life. It may have been reasonable in the book, and it was inevitable in the movie, that the development of morality would not overpower our lingering propensity for war before we reached the point of self-destruction. In real life, we made it through, and it’s unlikely that we’ll face global destruction through nuclear arms unless powers like India, Pakistan, China, and North Korea become sufficiently advanced and aggressive to cause it in the next century or so. Odds are the development of space technology will render intercontinental ballistic missiles less effective with time, and with luck the chances of being nuked from halfway around the world will fade to near zero.

    If global nuclear war can be averted, it’s possible that the future development of human morality will obviate the threat of future weapons that are developed. Your personal views of the Singularity may inform whether you think we’ll have another game-changing leap in weapons technology. Ozy may have been counting on our morality getting there first or there being no next step to weapons development.

    As a Humanist, I do believe that even if humanity isn’t inherently good, the good among us will have the strength to push the rest of us in that direction. My interpretation of Ozymandias is that he agrees: he doesn’t see the Cold War as just the next war in an inevitable series, he sees it as an exception, perhaps a final boss of sorts. The future won’t be perfect utopia instantly, but by trouncing this final global threat, he’s given us the chance to reach it by natural means.

  41. Doc Kirzner says:

    In the supplementary material for chapter IV, Dr. Manhattan: Super-Powers and the Superpowers, “Professor Milton Glass” discusses the question of Manhattan’s role in a potential conflict. He concludes that Manhattan could not stop all warheads (maybe he’d get 60% of them). Manhattan poofing the nukes out of existence is off the table.

  42. theonlymegumegu says:

    “It's an amazing book, and the fact that over 20 years have passed and we haven't seen its like again is a little disappointing.”

    Really? I think you need to read “Kingdom Come” by Mark Waid and Alex Ross. But that’s just my opinion.

  43. LintMan says:

    One thing to keep in mind is that The Watchmen was written during the cold war Reagan years, before the fall of the Berlin Wall, less than 2 years after Reagan’s little joke: My fellow Americans, I’m pleased to tell you today that I’ve signed legislation that will outlaw Russia forever. We begin bombing in five minutes. When I read Watchmen at the time, it never crossed my mind that Ozy was anything but sincere (if misguided). I recall someone saying to me at the time that Ozymandias “had to destroy the world in order to save it”. Shades of the Vietnam era.

    I think that reading it now, without the threat of nuclear annihilation hanging over everyone and knowledge of how the cold war eventually fizzled out, the Watchmen loses a bit of its original power, but seen in this new light, it still has things to say.

    As for Dr. Manhattan, I think it was inevitable he would lose interest and leave eventually, so he couldn’t be counted on to prevent a war forever. For a super-hero that does directly intervene in cold war, check out the “Rising Stars” comic/graphic novel series by JMS (J. Michael Straczyski). Great stuff. Some background: (

  44. Kirzner: Mind you, Glass could have been wrong. The comic doesn’t really depict any limits to Dr. Manhattan’s power, and I don’t think anyone knew he could be in multiple places at once.

  45. wandering grapefruit says:

    Well, everyone else in the book is nuts. I’m pretty sure Ozy is, too. That’s why his plans don’t really make the most sense.

  46. SolkaTruesilver says:

    I think Ozy did the right thing. The existence of Dr. Manhattan caused a huge social imbalance, which gave a sense of invulnerability to the USA against its ennemy. In return, that caused a crash of society’s morality, which would eventually lead to society’s own downfall.

    Also, the over-reliance of Dr. Manhattan, a being that actually see us as little better than ants, is a mistake. It has been shown he didn’t seemed to care about humans (at first).

    So, Ozy provoked the endgame earlier, when it wasn’t too late. He was the one to create the crisis 10 years before his estimates (in the mid-90s), and saved both the human race and the fabric of society before it collapsed.

    Was is necessary? Who knows for sure? But had it worked? Yup. I think Adrian pulled the safe bet: sacrifice million to try to save society against itself.

    As for Ozymandia’s megalomania, I have to agree that he seems to have an inflated ego. But that ego seems to be expressed more trough “Carrying the weight of the world of his shoulders” than “Being the overlord of mankind”. All that we have seen about him seemed to be about caring for the society that he lived in.

    Anyway, I have to add that I think Rorchak’s sense of morality is arbitrary and absolutely wrong. Suspecting people of murder because he MIGHT be gay? Being an apologist of the COMEDIAN because he “served his country”? That’s a twisted sense of right and wrong, which I totally despise.

  47. The Cold War time really did have an impact. I can remember in my late teens thinking bitterly that the adults had set things up so the world would be ending in a few years at most. It wasn’t at the top of your mind most of the time, but there was an undercurrent of fear that it was really going to happen, sometimes a hopelessness at the apparent inevitability. You can see the Comedian’s snark about “smartest guy on the cinder” hitting home.

    DavyRam: Point taken. At the same time, one has to respect Rorschach in a weird way. He started from nihilism and at least created some kind of code and took some kind of action, and he was willing to die for the code he’d adopted, however contradictory. Veidt and Rorschach were both willing to kill for their beliefs–but would Veidt have been willing to die for his?

    Away from the serious side, I did find that I (and a lot of people I knew when Watchmen was getting popular) was really sucked in not just by the heavy substance but by some of the butt-kicking style. Rorschach really was cool; perhaps the most minimalist “superhero” I’ve ever seen, he fought crime without powers, without money, without gadgets, without martial arts training, without even size or strength, eventually without even his mask–and still terrified the underworld, based on sheer willpower, viciousness and brilliant tactical intelligence. And some of his lines were beyond utter cool.
    “You don’t understand. I’m not locked in here with you. You’re all locked in here with me.”
    “Your thumbs. My perspective.”
    And so on. Ultimately people may like Rorschach better than Veidt just because Veidt was a pompous jerk while Rorschach had wicked one-liners.

  48. SolkaTruesilver says:

    @ Purple Library Guy

    It has been shown that tachyon emission (which can be caused by nuclear warfare) mess with Manhattan’s view of time and reality. It could be a self-fullfilling prophecy, that the nukes Manhattan will miss will cause the tachyon that will make him miss them.

    That is why I agree with Ozy and Glass about not betting all our lives on Manhattan.

    Oh, and was I the only one revulsed at the president’s comments about “It isn’t so bad” when the prediction shown that only 3/4 of Europe would be nuked while America would be spared? (comment he did before noticing other nukes striking the east coast)

  49. Glazius says:

    “Nothing ends, Adrian. Nothing ever ends.”

    And from the way Ozymandias looks in the reaction shot (well, the comic page) it’s pretty clear that yes, he DID think this would actually do it, bring a permanent end to an inevitable war.

    Inside the comic, we never explicitly find out how he deals with being wrong.

  50. guy says:

    @Purple Library Guy

    They certainly did know. He does so rather openly towards the start.

    I’ve heard it suggested that Glass was actually a pseudonym for Ozymandious, which would make it more clear-cut.

  51. Ethan says:

    There are a lot of great comments here so far. I like particularly the parallels described between Adrian’s actions and those of the protagonist of the Black Freighter story. I’ll add a few of my own.

    Adrian was a believer in the perfectibility of man. He had perfected himself, and clearly thought that all of humanity could and would evolve into something better. That was the purpose of the “Charles Atlas”-type ad copy in Watchmen.

    Adrian was a futurist and a seer. He did a lot of tracking of trend-lines, and “read entrails” in the TV screens. He predicted inevitable war by the mid-90’s. Despite his efforts to perfect mankind, he could not untie this Gordian Knot.

    His whole plan was his Alexandrian sword-stroke. He averted this doom (US/Soviet nuclear annihilation) and gave humanity enough time to evolve and survive.

  52. ChrisL says:

    Lots of interesting comments to think about. :-)

    The last time I read Watchmen, I feel I was aware more of Dr Manhattan’s character more than I was before. Even as Jon Osterman he did not relate easily to others and he always seemed to be easily led by stronger personalities – e.g., his dad choses his career for him and Jeannie Slater makes the first move in their relationship. Later he is passively led by the US government into becoming a superhero and a walking nuclear deterrent.

    It seems possible that while Dr Manhattan’s powers increase his isolation from humanity and difficulty in understanding emotions and morality, that only happened because that was the direction his personality was going, anyway. Imagine what might have happened if it was someone with a different personality type (e.g., the Comedian’s, or Veidt’s) who had their intrinsic field removed…

  53. Ghantu says:

    For all kinds of interesting thoughts on Watchmen, including some (real life) background on the characters, from someone who considers Watchmen one of three works he’d consider “perfection:” Absolute Watchmen. He doesn’t have much to say about the ending, but I found his explanation of Rorschach’s origination illuminating.

    (Adam’s other two “perfect” works are “Smells Like Teen Spirit” and Star Control II)

    I suspect radio_babylon isn’t coming back, but I think Tom Shone kind of represents where he’s coming from.

    For my part, as a latecomer to Watchmen and, really, to comics as a medium, I enjoy and appreciate the plot and characterization in the book, but what really keeps me coming back to it is the feeling of craft. It’s incessantly pointed out that “comics is a visual medium,” but sometimes it feels like that’s just for the sake of drawing muscular people in skintight clothes. Watchmen, though, uses the medium in ways I find fascinating, from the Black Freighter to the sneaky insertion of unmasked Rorschach early in the book before you know it’s him, to the symmetric chapter… I find new awesome stuff every time I pick it up.

  54. July says:

    Well, he might have solved the problem, but he killed a bunch of people whose only crime was living in New York, the location that he arbitrarily decided on.

    The smartest man in the world should surely be able to come up with a second way to save the world. Shamus has a few as well.

  55. RudeMorgue says:

    When considering Ozzy’s obsession, I kind of pegged the origin at the moment when the Comedian pissed all over his ideas for an organized league of heroes (when he burned the map and walked out of the meeting). It’s pretty clear that that is a very hard moment for him, both in the book and the film, seeing an iconic hero dismiss his grand plan.

    So there’s a very definite, “I’ll show him. I’ll show them all!” motive to Ozzy’s madness as well. He may play at the altruistic martyr, and he may act like a cold logician, but he’s just as human as everybody else.

  56. It’s not just “I’ll show him”. It’s more “My god, he’s right. This is pointless–I really *will* just end up the ‘smartest guy on the cinder’ if I ignore the larger issues.”

    Of course, the Comedian assumes it’s hopeless and the best you can do is have some laughs before you exit.

  57. Magnus says:

    For those of you suggesting that his plan worked… well, that is perhaps intentionally not shown (in the book or film).

    There was no definate risk of disaster before Veidt made his move, just as there is no way of telling if his plan really did mean long term peace.

    We have had so many generation defining moments, moments that have changed the way we view the world as a species, and yet we still have fighting and war, on both small scale and large.

    Are we really further from apocalypse? have we rid ourselves of such things as Mutually Assured Destruction?

    Perhaps such things are just postponed, until one day, one government decides that they can play their hand when noone else expects, and “win”.

  58. B.J. says:

    One thing about Dr. Manhattan is that he isn’t omniscient. He can only see *his own* future. He can’t see what is happening everywhere on the world all the time. He couldn’t just wave his hands and vaporize all the nukes, because he would have to know where all of them are.

    I think the purpose of Watchmen is to show how Superheroes would actually affect the world they live it. Most comic books exist in a state of perpetual status quo, where Jean Grey is resurrected every other week but they still can’t cure cancer. Ozymandias accomplished more than Dr. Doom or Lex Luthor ever did, without the use of Ancient Latverian magic powers.

  59. C-Money says:

    When I read this book, I was underwhelmed. It was obvious (to me, anyway) early on in the book that Ozy/Adrian was behind several things. I can’t put my finger on the reason right now (I don’t have my book with me), but there was something early on that made sense.

    Now, this is not to say that I understood WHY he was doing this. And then finding out at the end why he was doing everything…well, it left me pretty annoyed. Like many here, I was frustrated that the “smartest man in the world” couldn’t find a better way to help reshape culture than through starting a war with imaginary beings.

    And that’s exactly what he does! He doesn’t just end the threat of a global war, he basically convinces everyone that we have to be ready for the interdimensional war. This is actually where I part ways with Moore on the probable outcome. It wouldn’t be all “peace and happiness” with ponies and candy for all. There would be an UNPRECEDENTED buildup of forces…juuuuuust in case those aliens came back. And sooner or later, one group of people (let’s call them Eurasians) would notice that they’re not getting a fair shake from another group of people (let’s call them North Americans), or vice versa. But now, we have even better weapons with which to destroy the world…as they’re intended to be used on uber-powerful aliens!

    Yeah, great job.

  60. C-Money says:

    @ theonlymegumegu:
    I DID read Kingdom Come, and whereas I enjoyed the overall story and, of course, art style, I detested the way it was written. I understand it’s “art”, but the actual execution of much of writing was disjointed and poor. I couldn’t understand what was happening from one page to the next, oft-times. There were moments of brilliance, concealed amongst the dross, however.

  61. Shawn says:


    Moore covers that point pretty well in the last few pages. Between Manhattan’s comment and the final scene it leaves the door open very wide for “this is not going to work out at all in the long run.”

  62. Coffee says:


    Remember that, in the book, The Crimebusters was an aging Captain Metropolis’ plan for dealing with “Promiscuity,” “Drugs,” “Anti-War Demos,” and “Black Unrest.”

    We could also argue that Ozymandias’ essential reaction is based more on The Comedian’s outright rejection of him as the potential leader, as well as the obvious lines – “…Inside thirty years the nukes are gonna be flyin’ like maybugs…” and “somebody has to save the world!” – than internalised megalomania.

    This meeting is explicitly referred to by Ozy as being vital in his decision to create and ultimately fulfil his plan.

    As far as Kingdom Come is concerned, or Dark Knight Returns… They’re somewhat diminished by the sequels, The Kingdom and Dark Knight Strikes Again. Even if I enjoy DKSA, myself.

  63. RichVR says:

    I can safely say that in all of the forum discussions about the Watchmen (book and/or movie) that I have read, this thread is THE most interesting and level-headed I’ve yet to experience.

    Bravo to all. And thank you Shamus for providing a truly perfect venue for it to happen.

  64. Yar Kramer says:

    Ah, someone beat me to mentioning Death Note. I will say that, without stupidly-brilliant detectives on the scene like Near or L, a prospective Kira in our world would have an easier time at it than Light Yagami …

    Er … regardless, I’m gonna need to reread Watchmen. There’s just so much there you can miss.

  65. Sesoron says:

    I concur with RichVR. Which once again proves my theory that humanity truly is capable of miracles, including but not limited to providing a counterexample of John Gabriel’s GIFT.

  66. Watchmen is a story about the Cold War, written at its absolute height. The characters–all of them–struggle to find meaning in a world threatened with instant nuclear annihilation; it’s hard to escape the idea that Moore himself was wrestling with that in his “real” world. The fact that (almost all, but not all) of the main characters of the story are also costumed crime-fighters doesn’t change that.

    Adrian had his own approach: he wants to cheat annihilation by ending the threat. It’s one approach; it’s not an approach endorsed by the narrative, any more than The Comedian’s ability to laugh while throwing flame on other people is endorsed by the narrative, or Rorschach’s ability to find purpose (if not meaning) in the smoke of a burning kidnapper. Or, for that matter, in Dan’s ability to find meaning in saving people from an apartment fire. They’re approaches, not final solutions.

    I will underscore the importance of the final conversation between Adrian and Dr. Manhattan in understanding the plot of the book. Every criticism of Adrian’s plan that I’ve ever seen raised is raised right there:

    A) it’s morally abominable–Adrian is haunted by the image of the Black Freighter, which he would have read when he was young and made him a fan of Max Shea;

    B) it’s improbable; and

    C) it’s precarious and impermanent–nothing ever ends.

    Note also the very final scene, in which Moore has characters complaining about government censorship in the wake of the “peace treaty”; points us to the loose end of the knot that is Rorschach’s diary; and finally, gives the work to us, the readers, to determine what happens next.

    Watchmen is very formally complex, and the pieces fit together like clockwork. If you don’t understand why a scene is present, look at it again in the context of the work as a whole. You might not agree that it works, but everything in it points at other things.

  67. Veylon says:

    The thing that really caught my attention (in the movie) was the ending. The entire “evil saves the world” bit happens, Dr. Manhattan gives his seal of approval before vanishing, and everyone reluctantly accepts a downer ending, to live modestly ever after.

    Or do they!?

    Rorschach’s diary appears to blow the lid off of the perfect plan, putting everything right back into play again. That was the one moment that turned good into great.

  68. RudeMorgue @ 56:

    When considering Ozzy's obsession, I kind of pegged the origin at the moment when the Comedian pissed all over his ideas for an organized league of heroes ….

    The Crimebusters wasn’t Ozy’s idea, in the book.

    There’s a chronologically earlier scene, revealed in issue #11 (Ozymandias’s focus issue), where the Comedian beats up Ozymandias because he “mistook” him for a costumed villain. The animosity created by that fight stayed with Adrian, and fueled the anger visible in his murder of Blake.

    That said, yes, the Crimebusters meeting was very important for all of the characters–note that the story returns to it again and again.

  69. Bruce says:

    I never read the book, but watched the movie and really enjoyed it, if that’s the right word. I think it showed that they were super-humans as opposed to super heroes. The Comedian is obviously the worst, but the others do nothing to stop him. Ozy shows that being smart doesn’t mean being right as intelligence without heart can do awful deeds. I’m reminded of the logical conclusion to the 3 laws from I, Robot. As Stalin said, one death is a tragedy, a million is a statistic. Where is the line. Would you kill 1 to save 10, 10 to save a hundred. Where do you draw the line or can you draw a line. Really makes you think.

  70. Irandrura says:

    I’m surprised Rorschach’s diary wasn’t mentioned for so long. It’s the fly in the ointment. It’s also, I suspect, a big part of why people like Rorschach. He was a psychopath, of course, but when push came to shove, Rorschach was the only one to take a moral stand and say ‘no, you can’t do that. This act isn’t justified’.

    His view is simple: Caelum ruat, fiat iustitia. Though the Heavens fall, let justice be done. To a degree that’s admirable, distorted and confused though Rorschach’s moral compass clearly was.

    Ozymandias’ plan was flawed, I think. That much should be obvious. As the original post and plenty of comments here have shown, it simply wasn’t going to work. Ozymandias (again, as has been noted: prophetic name!) was deluding himself: because, it seems to me, he was acting from fear. Paranoia, megalomania… whether or not Ozymandias actually was the most intelligent person in the world, which frankly seems doubtful, he doesn’t seem to have been thinking clearly.

    *shrug* Personally, this is one of the reasons I don’t like Watchmen very much. None of the characters can really be sympathised with. Flawed characters are one thing, but they might be too flawed, if you follow me.

  71. RichVR says:

    Does anyone remember a story called “The Cold Equation”? I think it was Heinlein. A kid stows away on a ship that’s bringing something important (food, drugs?) to a planet and only has enough fuel for the cargo and the pilot to land? So the pilot essentially pops the kid out of the airlock to save a planet? I guess the post by Bruce made me think of it.

    Edit: Perhaps the description was a bit cold. I recall that the dialog left me thinking about the story for quite a while afterwards. I read it when I was maybe 10 or so. The disbelief of the unintended passenger, the angst of the pilot. But it all was leading to what I guess was the writer’s intended conclusion and message.

  72. Jirin says:

    @ Veylon, 68:
    In the book (I don’t remember it being in the movie), there is an earlier scene where the newspaper people first receive the diary, open it, and find they can’t read it. Also, Ozymandias is the respected head of a massive company while Rorschach is a wanted nutcase, and that newspaper was implied to be a not-so-respected political-type paper. To me, it seems like there’s very little chance of anyone outside a few conspiracy theorists accepting Rorschach’s view of events.

    As far as the whole book goes, I personally found Nite Owl to be the most heroic character. Sure, at the start he’s quite willing to sit around in retirement, but I got the feeling that this was because of the riots the heroes had caused. He could see people wanted them gone, and their continued presence was causing more problems than it was solving (“How did it come to this?”, I think the line was. Don’t quite remember). When he did finally start doing things again, the first thing he did was actively saving people – something I’d say had more concrete good than most of what Rorschach does. In the end, he gives up against Ozymandias because, like Ozy says, killing him at this point wouldn’t accomplish anything but might undo the good he was trying to accomplish.

  73. Coffee says:


    One of the problems with the movie is that it did make everyone super-human. They’re meant to be Costumed Adventurers, Masked Vigilantes… Superheroes they ain’t.

    Also, the mini-guns on Archy…

  74. Xavin says:


    That would be “The Cold Equations” by Tom Godwin.

    I’ve definitely read it, but can’t remember where – it may have been in one of the anthologies available from the Baen Free Library.

  75. Mad Flavius says:

    I’m rather intimately acquainted with “The Cold Equations,” as I last year directed a 45 min film version of it, from a screenplay that I wrote. It is by Tom Godwin, and it is in one of those anthologies, Xavin–I got it myself from one. I find it to be brilliant, though obviously contrived, stories–much like Watchmen. Godwin, like Moore, sets his plot so that while the actions of the characters and the story itself seem full of fridge logic, the continuity of the plot isn’t necessarily the purpose. The purpose of “The Cold Equations” is to illustrate the inhumanity of the harsh mathematics that govern the universe, and to drive the point home, Godwin uses the worst possible punishment (death) against the worst possible offender (a naive, innocent, poor, sweet teenage girl, who committed the crime merely out of her excitement to see her brother and work to support her parents). The more cynical might laugh and complain about the outrageous chance governing that particular set of circumstances, while some of us (me included) might scoff at the ridiculousness of a giant alienesque brainthing exploding in the streets of New York City (Really, Moore? Really?). But we’re missing the point for our concern with details. Everything else is just a vehicle to discuss human nature and, in the case of Watchmen, produce a brilliant and incisive social commentary, regardless of your feelings on the beliefs that Moore attempts to convey.

  76. RichVR says:

    @Mad Flavius +10 interweb points for directing a film. +5 interpipe points for it being the story I was talking about.

    -50 general points for linking to TV Tropes due to destruction of useful hours for anyone that follows the link. ;)

    You have reached the end of the intarweb, please click back. ;-0

  77. T-Boy says:

    It took me five years to realize what was wrong, exactly, with Ozymandias’ actions. That, for me, has increased my regard to Moore infinitely.

    When I initially read the book, I bought the characters’ logical thought processes and arguments on Ozy’s actions outright, and thought that that was essentially the message of the book.

    Five years later, when I re-read the book in preparation for watching the movie (which abandons the subtlety and ambiguity for big explosions, martial arts and huge moral messages in case you Missed the Point), I realized what was wrong with Ozymandias.

    He has no empathy.

    None. Not a bit. He bases his arguments on abstract, large-scale ideas that only involve humanity, or actual people, in the most tangential ways. Note his soliloquy towards his servants in Karnak and to Nite Owl and Rorschach. Not a single minute did he address the actual problem of… ‘disposing’ people the way he did.

    He reduced the immense death and suffering of millions, millions to a numbers game, reasoning that it’s better to kill 3 million here rather than killing 6 billion everywhere. Which may be intellectually correct, but still a massive, horrible crime — one that had to be punished, should be punished, as Rorschach said. One should not kill three million and then have the world in one’s hands.

    If he had to have an enemy, and if he cared so much about the survival of the human race, why didn’t he make himself the villain? Expose himself to the world, make everyone hate him and hunt for him, getting everyone to unite against him and eventually killing him, in the end making humanity much stronger? Why did he have lead?

    Ozymandias sees himself above the teeming masses, and treats them as such — as things to use and destroy at his whim. His words to Manhattan about “training to see the suffering that others”? Bullshit. Bullshit from a high-functioning psychopath. And Manhattan probably noticed that, but by that time was so far gone to care to tell him.

    Moore had said that Ozymandias was supposed to represent commercialism, and I think he got it spot on. Ozymandias was commercialism — slick, subtle, clever, a beautiful intellectual construct that could manipulate your feelings to get what it wanted — but it was, ultimately, empty and soul-less.

  78. Taellosse says:

    It's an amazing book, and the fact that over 20 years have passed and we haven't seen its like again is a little disappointing.

    Well, my response to this is two-fold: firstly, we don’t need to see it’s like again, because it’s been done now. Comics, despite its growth into a more or less mainstream medium in the last 30 years, is still a comparatively niche market beside one like movies or even novels. It isn’t a deep enough medium for there to really be room for someone else to do almost the same thing but from a slightly different angle, and get the depth of attention it would otherwise deserve.

    Secondly, in a broader sense, there very much are other comics out there that are equally thought-provoking and complex–some even more so. the perennial example, of course, is Gaiman’s Sandman, which is much longer than Watchmen, and wastes almost none of its page count. If you haven’t read it already, it’s worth getting your hands on. Of course, it’s a lot more of an investment, both in terms of time and money, than Watchmen, since its 10 volumes long, rather than just one–granted each one is about half the size of Watchmen, but still, that’s 5 times the comic by any measure. Of course, it’s a very different kind of story from anything Moore would write–but in terms of raw quality, it is, if anything, better.

    And that is by no means the only other comic with depth and subtlety. Your typical super-hero comics are only the shiny surface layer of the genre these days–there’s a lot more underneath now, if you start exploring. And some of it is frankly a lot cooler than Watchmen–as cool as that one is.

  79. Kell says:


    I cannot possibly write everything I’d like to say about Watchmen – even restricting myself only to addressing your post – in one comment. I hope I’ll be able to consolidate it all and post it somewhere for your perusal at a later date.

    For now, let me speak as concisely as I can.

    As has already been pointed out by previous comments, Moore spends much of the book establishing the mounting threat of nuclear war. This really isn’t in any doubt. Even if it might not have happened, everyone in the story – everyone in the Watchmen world – certainly believes it will.

    The use of an external, alien threat was perhaps first inspired by an actual speech Reagan gave to the UN in which he considers the effect of alien invasion:

    As to using Dr. Manhattan to “poof” the nukes away, this quote is from supplemental material in the comic, following chapter IV, “Super-Powers And The Superpowers by Professor Milton Glass”:

    ‘Stated simply, Dr. Manhattan cannot stop all the Soviet warheads from reaching American soil, even a greatly reduced percentage would still be more than enough to effectively end the organic life in the northern hemisphere.’

    But more than that; Dr. Manhattan’s withdrawal/transcendence from humanity continues over the course of the story. So by the time we reach the climax: “this world’s smartest man means no more to me than does its smartest termite.” Dr. Manhattan is beyond being manipulated by Ozymandias.

    Also, one important observation which I haven’t seen anyone make anywhere. Although many see Ozymandias contrasted against Rhorsach, I think it’s clear that the character he is most explicitly intended to contrast against is The Comedian.
    This pair act as fulfilments of the American Dream via the two sides of American politics; The Comedian is a right-wing thug, a hired henchmen for the conservative government. IIRC I read that Moore based him mostly on G. Gordon Liddy. Ozymandias on the other hand is the ultimate liberal arts graduate, a self-obsessed, self-mythologising intellectual immersed in literature and ancient history yet believeing himself to have his finger on the world’s pulse, and Knows What’s Best For All. As Terry Pratchett once put it: there is no-one more dangerous than someone out to do the world a favour.

    This political, and ultimately moral contrast is encapsulated in their first meeting, upon which both take an instant dislike to each other.

    The moral disparity that I believe Moore invites us to consider is that while The Comedian is unapologetically, even gleefully amoral in his violence and brutality, his actions are without duplicity and his bodycount comparatively low.
    Ozymandias on the other hand is so aloof as to see himself above the entire human race, and plots to save it by murdering millions at the press of a single button.
    Whose morality is superior?

    And while you ponder that, let me remind you that the sort of brutal carnage wrought by The Comedian in Vietnam and his removing of political ‘loose ends’ are based entirely on real events in our world, while Ozymandias’ moral justification for murdering millions to save billions is exactly the justification made by many to defend the dropping of the bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

    Moore used theatrical pop-culture tropes to draw our attention to very real history and (a)morality.
    Not bad for a comic book.

  80. @3:

    I think Shelley’s poem is a bit more timeless.

    I met a traveller from an antique land
    Who said: Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
    Stand in the desert. Near them on the sand,
    Half sunk, a shatter’d visage lies, whose frown
    And wrinkled lip and sneer of cold command
    Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
    Which yet survive, stamp’d on these lifeless things,
    The hand that mock’d them and the heart that fed.
    And on the pedestal these words appear:
    “My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:
    Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!”
    Nothing beside remains: round the decay
    Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare,
    The lone and level sands stretch far away.


    But yes, there’s a lot of significance with the ambiguous downer ending situation being the product of a character whose alter-ego was named after a historical and poetic figure defined by the impermanence of his legacy. Of the products of Ozymandias’ regime and his great deeds none remain.

  81. Inwards says:

    It's an amazing book, and the fact that over 20 years have passed and we haven't seen its like again is a little disappointing.

    You’re kidding, right? The post-modern superhero ennui thing has been aped endlessly since then. People have already mentioned Kingdom Come, but they’re forgetting The New Statesmen, The Authority, The Boys, Black Summer, Top 10, The Dark Knight Returns…

    Now if you meant you just want other great graphic novels, there’s piles and piles of those, too. Sandman, Fables, Preacher, Y The Last Man…

  82. Nalano says:

    Dr. Manhattan was the only superhero in the book. Everybody else was a walking parable in normal people acting out their id. Especially Ozymandius. He expressed doubt at the end – the only thing he was sure of (in part due to his massive narcissism) was that he was the smartest person on earth; a presumption that’s evidenced more in the how of what he managed to accomplish rather than the why.

    I don’t for a second doubt that this is quite intentional on Moore’s part. Ozymandius hurt people in just as cavalier a fashion as The Comedian; he was just smart enough to get away with doing so on a much grander scale. And Rorschach, practically autistic in his monomaniacal misanthropy, still got the last laugh.

    Nuclear war wasn’t inevitable. Nothing is foretold in human history. We’ve somehow managed to avert it in real life, and conduct endless conventional wars in the meantime. That’s the tragedy the book was trying to point out, in my opinion, and that’s what makes the book a little more timeless than the more base conclusion it gives about the Cold War and ’80s disaffection.

    It makes me wonder how people would dissect A Clockwork Orange if it were first a graphic novel rather than a novel outright. I’d bet dollars to donuts that they wouldn’t be able to dissociate it from postwar UK, not unlike V for Vendetta.

  83. squishydish says:

    The most interesting and often most effective villains are often those who believe that everything they are doing is for the best.
    When Ozymandias mentioned that he wanted to be the next Alexander, that wasn’t necessarily a tip that he thought of himself as a power-hungry conqueror. Alexander (forcibly) united longtime warring states Greece and Persia under one rule and encouraged assimilation and intermarriage between the former enemies (“policy of fusion”), so in a way, he was working toward peace through war, just like Ozy wanted to do. Sure, it all fell apart when Alexander died at 32, but if he had lived another 20 years, or managed to successfully continue his dynasty, who knows how different the world would have been?

    Well, it probably still would have had wars, and lots of them. Same goes for Ozy’s plan — even if it worked temporarily, the anti-squid arms race would probably turn back against frictions closer to home eventually, as C-money said above.

    I was thinking about war and aggression on Sunday, when I listened to a reading of Saki’s “The Toys of Peace” on NPR’s Selected Shorts. A man decides to stop giving his nephews toy soldiers and gives them “peace toys” instead (model municipal buildings, an “action figure” of philosopher John Stuart Mills, etc.). The boys, 9 and 11, just end up playing war with these unsatisfactory items instead. “We caught them too late,” the uncle tells their mother.

    That made me think of Larry Niven’s books. After the Belt is colonized, humanity tries to completely educate itself away from violence — teaching history with the wars edited out, mandating extensive therapy for anyone who gets in a bar brawl, etc. But as soon as humans encounter the Kzinti menace, they get back on a war footing PDQ.

    Obviously, those are fictional references. But I think it’s pretty clear that aggression is inherent, to a lesser or greater extent, throughout the species. Neither alien squids nor blue demigods would be likely to change that for long.

  84. Dev Null says:

    We don't know the causes behind the war that Ozy was averting

    Well theoretically we do… but I don’t blame you if you don’t buy it.

    Supposedly, according to the book, the deep underlying reason for the US / Soviet tension is actually Dr. Manhattan himself. The fact that one side has an unstoppable superman unbalances the whole MAD sliding scale of doom, so the USSR has to build massive amounts of weapons to compensate, which destabilises their economy and drives them further into NutjobLand. Whats a little wacky about this explanation is that they then use the removal of this very same original cause of the problem – Dr Manhattan – as the key to what sets off the actual armageddon. I think its actually pretty well played out in the book; the war is looking to be started by the US, because they suddenly find themselves missing the overwhelming advantage that they thought they had, in a somewhat overdone jab at Reagan’s Star Wars fantasy. The bit I never quite got (but instantly forgave for the purposes of a story that I otherwise quite enjoyed) was the fact that the war is then inevitable only _because_ Ozymandias scared Dr Manhattan away. Handwave inevitable anyways for reasons unstated handwave just making sure Manhattan’s eventual leaving is under controlled circumstances blah blah blah willing suspension of disbelief. Yeah. I don’t really buy it either, but I choose not to look too hard at the rough edges.

    I do love that one of the biggest changes in the movie – wiping out half of NYC becomes complete destruction of several cities around the world – because… well, post 9/11 who was going to believe in a film that claimed to unite the world by destroying half of Manhattan?

  85. Avilan the Grey says:

    I have to agree with those saying that this book is overrated and overhyped.

    I got it back in the day and I never found it all that interesting.
    To me, Moore’s… “Intentions” gets in the way of his creation. All characters are highly annoying at best and despicable at worst, making what happens to them utterly irrelevant to this reader. Everything exists to push the unlikely plot forward.

    I also argue that it wasn’t all that groundbreaking. It might have been one of the first Dark comics, but not really. The tone of the other dark ones that came after has been fairly different and would probably have evolved without it.

    I am sure part of it has to do with me being quite young at the time (I am 36 now) and therefore never had any experience with the actual paranoia from the escalating cold war. Especially since I have read and seen enough of what the leaders of the USSR really thought and felt (most Soviet politicians in the 60ies and 70ies, including it’s highest leaders, were scared to death of the US even in the real world, convinced that the US would be the aggressor and start a nuclear war at any minute. In fact, most evidence suggests they were far more scared of the US, than the other way around).

    All this said, my take on the situation is that Oz is completely and utterly bonkers, just like all other characters in the book. He is wrong, his assumptions are wrong but we never get to see the smug bastard actually realize he is wrong.

  86. Morzas says:

    It bothers me that I kept reading posts that said “You’re not supposed to identify with any of the characters” when I really felt that Rorschach was someone I could identify with. I don’t agree with HOW he stopped criminals, but WHY he did it was something that really stuck with me after seeing the movie and reading the book.

  87. vukodlak says:

    I agree with Morzas. Whereas Dan and Laurie are the most obvious characters to relate to, I and many people I know relate most strongly to Rorschach (perhaps worryingly?).

    I think a major theme of the watchmen is the influence one individual can have on the course of history. Dr Manhattan aside (whose existance is the main departing point from the real world – and fuels most of the plot), this is most obvious with Ozymandias (“Somebody has to do it. Somebeody has to save the world.”). But other characters have their own attitudes towards this too. The Comedian realises that whatever he does is pointless and makes a big joke of it. Dan and Laurie give up crime-fighting, knowing it was futile and what brings them back is not really a desire to help others but the fact that they get off on it. And finally, Rorschach – “Never compromise. Not even in face of Armageddon” – fights with no particular hope of making a big difference, but with a maniacal devotion and single-mindedness. Ironically, his actions may have the biggest effect in the end, as the possibility remains that his diary will demolish (or at least make a first crack appear in) Adrian’s plan.

    By the way, I agree that it’s by no means certain that anyone will believe the diary (or that Seymour will even pick it up). That’s why it’s left open to the reader. However, Moore goes to some pains to set up the fact that this is Rorschach’s _second_ diary where he tried to write more legibly. In addition, the symbolic image of the smiley face with the red stain strongly suggests that we are somehow going back to the beginning… ;)

  88. Zaghadka says:

    I think the general point is every single one of these “saviors” is screwed up. Anyone who sits around waiting for a “savior,” you’re going to wind up like the silhouettes of the lovers.

    It’s very Ultima VII, if you remember the “Guardian.”

    To such “saviors,” what matters to us doesn’t matter. Love, human life, and regard for others beyond narcissistic self-actualization.

    It’s a psychology paper, not a treatise on what is reasonable. They’re all psychologically damaged in some way. That damage is what drives them, the damage is the source of their power. In the end, they all decide to cover up a murder. Hell, one of them is the product of a sado-masochistic, consensual rape.

    As for Ozy, he is alone. He has all the reason in the world, but none of the human connections to keep it in check. Dr. Manhattan is his foil. He has all the power in the world, and it severs his connection to humanity.

    The lesson (if any)? Cover-ups suck. State secrets suck. Who watches the people we allow to keep such secrets? Thus the obsession with Nixon. The story takes place in a world where he got away with it, and we accept state secrets. This was more immediately obvious at the time it was originally published, of course.

    Rorschach is the real “hero” of the book. He’s our man. He will not compromise, but this quality disconnects him from us as well, and his confession of the secret winds up on the crank pile of a nutter magazine.

    The “enemy” of the novel is secrets, and anyone who would allow others to keep matters of national and global importance a secret, in the name of “saving” the world.

    The Watchmen are a conspiracy. It is up to the reader to judge them.

    (Oh, and as a side note, I think the author bit off more than he could chew, and came up with a crappy ending because he wasn’t as clever as Ozy, and didn’t think to ask someone who was as a consult. Limitless power or sadism is easy to write. Limitless intellect, not so much.)

  89. I see it like this: Ozy is either depraved, deluded or just plain evil. I feel it doesn’t really matter in the context of the story, because whichever it is, he’s clearly broken in his thinking apparatus (like every other mask in the book), and that’s kind of the point. In which specific way he’s broken is a detail that for my money doesn’t really add much to the salient points in the book.

  90. T-Boy says:

    @Avilan: I dunno. I liked Jetlad (Top 10), who, despite the fact that his home life is… shall we say, “less than traditional”, was remarkably calm and level-headed and not really messed up.

    Same goes for quite a number of the Top 10 characters. Irmageddon, Synaesthesia, Hyperdog… they weren’t too badly messed up. I mean, they had their problems, but they were the kind of problems normal people can have (when you’ve got superpowers and may or may not be human), not major traumas or serious personality issues.

    Now, what Alan Moore can’t do is write women in love. I would have said “romantic subplots”, but Jetlad/Wulf was so sweet, poignant and awkward that I’ve since reconsidered.

    Mind you, Alan can be accused to putting plot or form in front of characters first. Promethea was an example of that, and so was The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. And yeah, if you enjoy character-driven stuff, this can be a pretty big issue.

    But Top 10, I guess, never really had that problem.

  91. T-Boy says:

    @Zaghadka: Nah. There are no “heroes” in this story.

    Dan Dreiberg is the closest we have to a ‘protagonist’, and that’s all.

    Laurie serves mostly as a foil for the other characters, Dr. Manhattan’s too distant, Ozymandias is… well, I’ve given my opinions on that nutjob, and it’s pretty clear from the get-go that Alan made a spirited attempt to not make Rorschach a character that is generally liked or understood.

    Among the lot, only Dan’s reaction and lack of clearly-defined motives make him the protagonist, the “everyman”, if you must call it that.

  92. Avilan the Grey says:

    I agree that Rorschach is the one character I even remotely identified with. I actually cheered when he stood up to Oz / Manhattan at the end.

  93. Hotsauce says:

    I think two events in the intervening twenty years have done a lot to undercut the book: the collapse of the Soviet Union a mere five years after the book was published, and the response of the United States and the world to September 11th.
    In 1985, the idea that the world would end in nuclear fire was more a matter of “when” than “if”. Nuclear war between the US and USSR seems a lot less inevitable now that we now how fragile the USSR really was.
    The events of 9/11 rallied much of the world in the way that the staged attack did in the comic, e.g. the headline of the French newspaper Le Monde proclaiming “We are all Americans now”. But within two years much of that goodwill had vanished somewhere along the Euphrates.
    These cast shades of gray into the ethical debate of “is it okay to kill a million people to save a billion”, because it’s now clear that we had more than those two choices.

  94. C-Money says:

    @ Shawn:
    I realize that Moore tried to slip in that there was a good chance it wouldn’t last, but that isn’t my point. I understand that he’s saying that, but what I’m saying is that it’s going to make it WORSE. It won’t make the divisions between people any worse (in fact, it may lessen them somewhat), but when it DOES eventually blow up, there’s a good chance that the weaponry with which that war will be fought will all the more powerful because of its originally intended target: Super-powerful aliens from another dimension.

    Think about that for just a moment. In the (very roughly) 20 years since Watchmen was published, military technology hasn’t moved forward all that much. For example, with the exception of the F-22 (and the forthcoming -35)…all of the military planes currently in use were developed in the 70’s or earlier (How old is the BUFF now?)! Why? Because they still work against terrestrial foes in an acceptable manner. No reason to radically rethink how we do things.

    Alien invaders, though? Hold your horses, we’ve got to go back to the drawing board! We’ve got to up the amperage on this, increase the bore size on that, and notch up the yield on this over here. Those bastards might come back!


    As to Rohrschach, it’s true that he’s possibly the most “heroic” of all the characters. He continues the fight for right (though he tends to exaggerate the “wrong” a bit in that fight), even when it isn’t convenient or even legal.

    Dan was basically a bored guy with plenty of money who decided that he needed a hobby. Instead of yachts or horses, he decided on “crime fighting”. It’s just a servant of his ego, just like horses, cars, or nice houses. Granted, he still had to work very hard to get where he was, but would he have chosen that life if he had to work a 9-5, like the original Nite Owl? His motivation at the beginning is more a “What the hell? Why not?” rather than Rohrshach’s drive. It makes him less interesting. He IS the everyman, but the everyman who considers crime fighting like he does bowling: Something to do in your spare time. That he stopped when the government outlawed it just sort of reinforces that point. “Oh, I can’t go bowling anymore? Well, I suppose I need to find a new hobby, then.” It makes him less sympathetic, not more.

    It seemed like most of the older costumed heroes (notice, they never say “superhero” unless they’re referring to the Doc) did it because they wanted to make a difference (maybe not Miss Jupiter…she may have done it for publicity’s sake), but the later generation seemed to do it mainly because someone else already had, and it looked kinda fun.

    @ Kell:
    You bring up the decision to bomb Hiroshima and Nagasaki as a comparable action. I disagree. I disagree strongly. There WAS a war going on at the time. We bombed the OTHER guy…not ourselves. If the US gov’t had bombed Detroit and Dallas while making it look like, say, South Africa did it to stop the war with Japan, THAT would be more akin to the decision that Ozy made: Sacrificing your OWN people while blaming it on someone else.

    Introducing a third party to a binary system (like international politics was, and is (if you consider the US and EVERYONE ELSE), is a dangerous game. As any poli-sci student will tell you, a three-legged system is the most unstable. Especially when two of the legs agree…for now.

  95. Bauglir says:

    Near as I can tell, Ozy’s plan wasn’t actually to coerce humanity into avoiding World War 3. The idea was to focus humanity’s xenophobia (the Us vs Them thing that basically makes wars possible) onto the alien. I mean, sure, maybe the Russians aren’t the same as you, but heck, compared to an alien whose very presence wiped out one of the largest cities on the planet? Yeah, maybe the Russians aren’t that bad.

    That’s also the main problem I saw with the movie, because having Dr. Manhattan be the apparent threat doesn’t work anymore. It becomes simple coercion (which makes it temporary at best) rather than a fundamental change in human outlook, and it no longer makes sense for everyone else to support Veidt. I mean, honestly, is anyone going to be LESS afraid of Veidt than Dr. Manhattan if they can both detonate cities at will?

  96. Martin says:

    Random comments:

    Rorschach himself is a Rorschach test – how you react to him reveals a lot about your character. Less intuitively, all the other characters are as well. Which watchmen you identify with tells a lot about how you view morality and the world.

    One advantage of Vagsquid is that an “alien invasion” pushes space technology/settlement, which has been proposed as a “get our eggs out of one basket” mitigator for nukewar for some time now.

    “Who watches the watchmen” didn’t originally apply to superheroes, it is an ancient comment on unsupervised authority. There are political and sociological commentaries in the WM characters, if you look for them.

  97. Lordy this is an amazing discussion. I agree with almost everybody. Even the ones who disagree with each other . . . the distinctions are subtle enough that I can see the story one way if I’m in one mood, and another way if I’m in another mood. The book can support almost everything everybody has said.

    Oh, one thing though. Someone traced back the “unite in the face of an alien invasion” concept to Reagan. As a science fiction reader, I always assumed it came from Ursula K. Le Guin’s “The Lathe of Heaven”.
    The main character in that, George Orr, has these dreams that change the world, on a huge scale. Most people never realize things were ever different, but there’s this one psychiatrist who keeps trying to shape what he dreams–except it usually makes things worse. At one point, he gets George to dream of world peace and unification. George dreams of alien invasion. Wham! World unified, which would be great if there weren’t an alien invasion going on. As I say, I always figured if Moore didn’t just think the idea up himself it had to come from there.

  98. radio_babylon says:

    @trianglehead (#32):

    because im a glutton for punishment that way. and because i truly cannot *understand* the position the majority seem to have on this book. i find it pretentious at best, and id categorize most of the ardent fan “analysis” the same way. in fact, id go so far as to say that the majority of fan “analysis” you see in discussions of watchmen is people aping each other’s “insights” into how awesome and profound and significan the book is, because nobody wants to be the guy that pokes his head up and says “uhh im sorry but… i didnt like it. its dull and overblown and utterly unentertaining. am i wrong for wanting a book to be entertaining?”

    the drive for conformity and acceptance is strong in people, and even moreso in “clique-ish” kinds of groups like comic fans. and comic fans are doubly motivated to find some grander significance in watchmen than actually exists (moreso when it was released than now, but still existant) out of what i think is an uncomfortable (and unwarranted) embarrasment at BEING “comics fans”… i think theres a huge desire to be able to point at watchmen and say “see? see?? comics ARENT just goofy adolecent fantasies! they can be like… profound! and and significant! and uh deconstructionist literature! and stuff like that!”

  99. Mike Ralls says:

    >But yes, there's a lot of significance with the ambiguous downer ending situation being the product of a character whose alter-ego was named after a historical and poetic figure defined by the impermanence of his legacy.<

    One problem with this is that Ozymandias is Ramesses II, who while not exactly a household name, that dude is still pretty famous in historical circles. You can go on and get half a dozen books on the guy;

    Not bad for someone who was born three-thousand, three-hundred, and six years ago.

  100. Mike Ralls says:

    >Supposedly, according to the book, the deep underlying reason for the US / Soviet tension is actually Dr. Manhattan himself. The fact that one side has an unstoppable superman unbalances the whole MAD sliding scale of doom, so the USSR has to build massive amounts of weapons to compensate,<

    From a historical perspective, this doesn’t actually make any sense. Dr. Manhattan came around in the late 50’s, early 60’s right? Well, at that time frame MAD did not exist. The US had such an overwhelming nuclear arsenal and favorable geography that it could have nuked the Soviet Union out of existence and would likely not have received a single attack on one of it’s cities up until the mid-1960’s at the earliest (Europe would have gotten trashed though).

    In the Watchmen Universe, Dr. Manhattan just makes the state of affairs that existed from 1945 – 1965 exist another 20 years; the US could attack the Soviet Union and pretty much get away with it. I don’t see why a continuation of previous trends would make nuclear war more likely. The Soviets would be used to being in a vastly inferior position in 1985, because that was the position they had been in for 40 years.

  101. LintMan says:

    @C-Money: I think you’re being unfair to Dan about his lack of commitment. It isn’t bowling we’re talking about, but costumed *crime*-fighting. To keep doing it in spite of its illegality would be pretty hypocritical, wouldn’t it? Rorschach is a monomaniacal nut and doesn’t care, but Dan is a fairly sane guy.

    @Purple Library Guy: With all the criticism of Ozy’s plan, my thpugh I was thinking that his plan (“Unite the foes by creating a common enemy”) was actually cliche or a least an established trope, where you’re expected to not question it too closely, just like you wouldn’t really question how Adrian catches the bullet or what an “intrinsic field” is. But I couldn’t think of any good examples where’s its been done before. The Lathe of Heaven is an perfect example.

  102. radio_babylon, it’s all very fine to say “Oh, everyone who liked it is just being conformist and/or overcompensating for the poor status of comics”.
    But beyond being insulting, it isn’t really an argument. Similarly, I could say you’re probably just a habitual iconoclast who gets off raining on parades, or alternatively that you didn’t like it because you have no patience or eye for nuance. But I don’t really know anything about you, any more than you know anything about me. Such claims are basically futile, and don’t say anything about the actual book. Would it kill you to entertain the notion that not everyone’s taste is identical? Would it be so terrible if other people genuinely like something that you didn’t, rather than just pretending for the sake of conformity?
    But if you think it’s crap and you want to talk about it, fine–talk about *it*. Make an argument about *Watchmen*. Don’t talk about *me*, if you don’t mind.

    Incidentally, I don’t read many comics, wouldn’t consider myself an aficionado or defender of the genre, generally take pride in not being a conformist (although I try not to just knee-jerk in the opposite direction), and have no fear of speaking out against the general current of a discussion.
    As to the criticism, I find the level here generally pretty good. Why would my opinion matter? Well, I do have a degree in english literature; lit-crit is what I took in University, and I saw plenty of pretentious crud, I can tell you. This discussion is not that, it’s quite good criticism.

  103. FhnuZoag says:

    I’m going to deviate from consensus here, and defend the poor guy.

    My reading of Ozy’s excessive celebration is this: Ozy himself doubts the plan, and so he postures massive confidence to hide his own uncertainty.

    His true feelings are revealed in a number of subtle details. His conversation with Manhattan, for instance. Now it’s easy to dismiss that as a lie, that he doesn’t feel his crimes. Except that if it is a lie, the lie is weird – why does he make reference to dreaming of the Black Freighter? I think the suggestion is this – he secretly fears that he was wrong all along, that he’s the protagonist of that story.

    The second point is him letting the others get to Karnak, and live to tell the tale. He’s already killed lots of people to hide the truth, and yet he lets even Rorschach, who’s going to do all he can to reveal the truth, leave alive. The answer is that he wants justification. It’s the last thing he begs of Dr Manhattan.

    The third point is that I’d suggest that Ozy is in fact the really the only person that *isn’t* a monster. Because looming all in the background is the nuclear threat, and from the beginning, Ozy is the only one who considers global nuclear war a bad thing. Ozy was the one who argued that humankind could prevent nuclear war. The opposition of other characters in the book was not that his intervention was unneccessary, but that nuclear war was a good thing. There are no peace protestors in Watchmen.

    So who’s more moral? Ozy, who kills 2 million, at least *trying* to save the world. Nixon, who was looking at charts showing the entire annihilation of the USSR and Europe and the East Coast and preparing to go ahead with the plan, to defeat communism? The newspaper seller, who pronounced loudly that ‘morally, we ought to strike first. It’s morally right to kill them to protect our women and kids.’ The millions who voted in Nixon, knowing that this would be the end result? Manhattan, who saw the destruction coming, and maybe could stop it but retires to Mars, or another Galaxy? Rorschach, who dreams of cleansing society of the homosexuals and the liberals and the communists, who welcomes the apocalypse to come (Imagine what he would have done with Ozy’s abilities. Now he’s randomly killing and torturing people in the underworld. How far would he scale it up, if he could? How innocent do you need to be?)? The Comedian, who refused to do anything to prevent Ozy’s plan, and certainly had no problem with the US government’s pre-emptive strike on USSR agenda?

    So who’s more moral?

  104. Roy says:

    i truly cannot *understand* the position the majority seem to have on this book. i find it pretentious at best, and id categorize most of the ardent fan “analysis” the same way. in fact, id go so far as to say that the majority of fan “analysis” you see in discussions of watchmen is people aping each other's “insights” into how awesome and profound and significan the book is, because nobody wants to be the guy that pokes his head up and says “uhh im sorry but… i didnt like it. its dull and overblown and utterly unentertaining. am i wrong for wanting a book to be entertaining?”

    It seems like a certain part of the problem here is that you’re approaching the analysis and critiques of the book from an assumption of bad faith on the part of the people who disagree with you. That is, you didn’t like, don’t see how other people could have, and so assume dishonesty on our parts. I don’t understand why that seems more likely to you than the much simpler explanation that, well… some people do like it, and “get it” in a way that you either don’t, or that you disagree with. If some people are saying “Hey, I really enjoyed this…” why isn’t that good enough for you?

    If you didn’t like it, weren’t entertained by it, or whatever, that’s totally cool. I don’t like the Bronte sisters, either. Nor did I find myself entertained by “Crime and Punishment”, but that doesn’t mean that there can’t be value in it. It just means that I didn’t like it. I may not necessarily see the value, because I didn’t like it, but why should that bother me? I think it’s really unfair to take the attitude “I didn’t find value in it, and if you claim you did, you’re just being pretentious and a sheep”.

    the drive for conformity and acceptance is strong in people, and even moreso in “clique-ish” kinds of groups like comic fans. and comic fans are doubly motivated to find some grander significance in watchmen than actually exists (moreso when it was released than now, but still existant) out of what i think is an uncomfortable (and unwarranted) embarrasment at BEING “comics fans”… i think theres a huge desire to be able to point at watchmen and say “see? see?? comics ARENT just goofy adolecent fantasies! they can be like… profound! and and significant! and uh deconstructionist literature! and stuff like that!”

    I think that’s really patronizing and condescending.

    I think that what you’re doing there is every bit as insulting and unfair as if someone where to imply or suggest that the reason you don’t like it is because you just “didn’t get it” or weren’t smart enough to understand it.

    You say you don’t like it and didn’t find it entertaining or interesting? I’m cool with that, and can respect that opinion.

    But don’t come around calling me a sheep or accusing me of intellectual dishonesty just because I do like it and find value in it.

  105. radio_babylon says:

    @Purple Library Guy:

    edit: you know what? i give up. there is no standing against the irresistable (and evidently, thin-skinned) tide of watchmen love. im the stupid one, the book is super-awesome, and way more entertaining than anything else i can think of. the end.

  106. RichVR says:

    @ 99: I don’t read comics. I got The Watchmen as a gift. I loved it. I do not intend to start reading comics now. Sorry if I don’t fit into your “theory”.

  107. Zaghadka says:

    On the graphic novel, I explain to anyone that it is seminal, and not a masterpiece by any stretch of the imagination.

    Compared to its contemporary Frank Miller’s “The Dark Knight Returns,” which I think is a masterpiece, “Watchmen” is a blunt instrument, that takes the novel approach of deconstructing its “heroes,” and deconstruction itself was a 20 year old concept at the time.

    It’s one of those things, where if you were there, in the 80’s when it happened, you’re going to have rose colored vision regarding it. On a recent reread, I thought the ending was a train-wreck deus ex machina affair.

    The rest of the novel reeks of attempted anti-establishment subversion. It sees hypocrisy and corruption where there is none, and fabricates it where necessary. The kind of thing Rorscharch would love.

    The reason I name Rorscharch the “hero” is because he is the comic book personified, right down to the blotchy ink, and the cookie cutter morality. We are asked to identify with him, and his story holds the narrative together.

    Now, in 50 words or less, let’s have a discussion about Christ imagery regarding the character of Rorscharch. You will not be graded. ;)

  108. Martin says:

    FhnuZoag: @ 104:
    “Ozy is in fact the really the only person that *isn't* a monster. Because looming all in the background is the nuclear threat, and from the beginning, Ozy is the only one who considers global nuclear war a bad thing.”

    Dude … whut? Most of the characters consider nuclear war an Extremely Bad Thing.

    Most of the characters are just not capable or willing to kill multiple megapeeps in order to prevent it – that is a different issue entirely.

    On the capable side, the plan is insanely complicated and very vulnerable to information leak (word almost got out several times, and in fact did at the end) and fundamental research (no matter how advanced vagisquid was, the advance of science is likely to reveal it as an Earth based forgery fairly quickly – by my tech advancement recollection, DNA analysis would give it away in the 90s.) In any case, even if we assume Oz is smart and powerful enough to pull this off, none of the other protags is, with the possible exception of DrM. Perhaps DrM is a monster, but at least he is not a Megamurdering Monster.

    On the willing side, being willing to kill a few Megapeeps to save Gigapeeps looks good as dispassionate logic, but is hard for many of us to endorse, for varied reasons.

    One is simple future uncertainty. Arguably, only Oz is smart enough to understand the inevitability of the war or the fact that his plan is the only viable option, so how can we know he is telling the truth? Many historical peeps have made the same arguments for their purges only to be shown by history to be both wrong and evil.

    Another is lot of people don’t like murderers right in the gut, for very good reasons.

    It also seems he personally profited immensely from the entire thing. Suspicious as all hell.

    So it seems likely to me that Oz is a monster. Either a human one (my suspicions above are true) or an inhuman one (able to murder millions dispassionately, and profit immensely from it, because he cares.)

    Side note: If you buy Oz’s conclusion that sterilizing war is inevitable, you can make a straight pragmatic argument for killing almost everyone. Case A: Do nothing, everyone dies. Case B: Kill everyone by Fred personally – Fred lives. Yay, progress!

  109. Roy says:

    Nobody is bashing your dislike of the book. All that anyone seems to be asking is for you to give us the respect we’re giving you. I’m not going to call you names or insult you because you didn’t like the book. You’re free to dislike it for whatever reasons you want. But, don’t call me a sheep or tell me that I only like the book because I’m intellectually lazy and expect me to thank you for it.

  110. Avilan the Grey says:

    @108: I definitely agree. I really REALLY loved Dark Knight (and Year One for that matter). I felt Watchmen being Dull Yet Annoyingly Disgusting.

  111. DaveMc says:

    @ radio_bablyon (#106): “edit: you know what? i give up. there is no standing against the irresistable (and evidently, thin-skinned) tide of watchmen love.”

    That is rich. The others in this discussion are thin-skinned? Dude, you just left in a huff because they asked you, remarkably politely, to refrain from calling them sheep and conformists because of their perfectly legitimate like for a book that you don’t like (also perfectly legitimately, as many people were at pains to point out).

    I’ll miss you, though: your peppering of comments added a hint of fiery spice to what was already a very tasty conversation. This may be the first time I’ve actually read all the way through 100+ comments in a thread. As always, Shamus attracts a very high calibre of reader/commenter. (Wait, that sounded accidentally self-aggrandizing. Well, let me say that I’m talking about *everyone else* rather than myself. There, that’s better.)

  112. Zaghadka: Well, “The Dark Knight Returns” is a masterpiece of its genre, to be sure. And it is certainly entertaining. But thinking about it after I’m no longer being swept away by the experience, to my mind there isn’t really as much behind the visuals as there seems to be. It’s vulnerable to something of the same criticism there as “Watchmen”–it burst on the scene during a period of considerable demoralization in the comic industry and seemed to practically singlehandedly save it. So few look at it dispassionately. But if you want to figure what it’s actually about, you could arguably retitle it “Batman has a mid-life crisis”. The political thesis if one wanted to take it seriously could be described as “democracy and the rule of law have failed and should be replaced with vigilante justice led by charismatic dictators”. I probably prefer “The Killing Joke”. Still, that’s a close call, and I really like “The Killing Joke” a lot. I’m not going to hold “Dark Knight”s ridiculous politics against it because that’s hardly the point. It remains an amazing work.

    Watchmen may have storytelling shortcomings. The characters seem to have a lot to them, but again when you think about it they’re mostly rather flat. Nite Owl is the “everyman” character, but do we really want “everyman” defined as “the guy with no strong feelings or beliefs”? And so on.

    But there’s a lot there. Some of it is very obvious, but I don’t have a problem with that. And the conversation above kinda suggests that there’s plenty that’s not quite so obvious. In many ways I probably like it for exactly the same political reasons that drive you away from it: It “reeks of attempted anti-establishmen subversion. It sees hypocrisy and corruption . . . ” where you believe there is none. I think quite the opposite–if anything, the hypocrisy and corruption among our political and economic authorities go far deeper than Watchmen ever explores, and we could use more such subversion. I think the current financial crisis and above all the political response to it are particularly blatant exhibits.

    But I appreciate your critique; you are criticizing the work itself (unlike radio_babylon) and your points are cogent even if I don’t totally agree with them.

  113. Dannerman says:

    Also, don’t forget that Ozymandias psycho-analyses Rorscach and yet doesn’t consider that he may keep a diary?

  114. Kell says:


    You bring up the decision to bomb Hiroshima and Nagasaki as a comparable action. I disagree. I disagree strongly. There WAS a war going on at the time. We bombed the OTHER guy…not ourselves. If the US gov't had bombed Detroit and Dallas while making it look like, say, South Africa did it to stop the war with Japan, THAT would be more akin to the decision that Ozy made: Sacrificing your OWN people while blaming it on someone else.

    That’s a fair point. I wasn’t thinking of it as a strategic act, only a moral one. The issue being ‘kill many to save many more’ rather than ‘kill many of THEIRS to save many more of OURS’

    Perhaps I didn’t factor in the affiliation of those killed because the vast majority of those killed in Hiroshima and Nagasaki were civilians. I’m not suggesting that means they shouldn’t have been bombed, just that it’s why I compared them to the victims of Ozymandias’ plot. I think the moral question of the use of the A-bomb I had in mind was not so much of bombing Japan, which was indeed unequivocally America’s enemy, but of using the A-bomb instead of other means. Is it moral to kill so many civilians so suddenly to end the war, if there are other options to pursue? Conventional military means? Diplomacy?

    The gut moral outrage to Ozymandias’ plot is: “Are you nuts? I don’t care if it worked and averted the annihilation of the human race, certain actions are just off limits.” This is the cause taken up through the cold war by CND – war may never be a thing of the past, but let’s agree to put the use of nuclear weapons beyond the moral pale.

    The short version being: does the end justify the means?

    However, the military situation does add a complexity to the issue I had not fully considered before. I concede the point: because America and Japan were already at war, the moral dilemma of the A-bomb attacks is not a neat comparison to the moral dilemma presented by Ozymandias’ plot.

    Just as a further consideration though: you’re also describing those killed by Ozymandias as HIS people, but I don’t think that’s how he saw them. Despite his mythology being based on the ancient world, he chose to build his secret mega-base not in the desert, but in Antarctica. The reason being I think because it remains politically neutral territory. Ozymandias may have retained official American citizenship, but only superficially: he strives to save the entire human race, but clearly considers himself APART from the human race. At least in the strategic terms you describe. This doesn’t change the point above, it’s just to clarify the character of Ozymandias.

    Introducing a third party to a binary system (like international politics was, and is (if you consider the US and EVERYONE ELSE), is a dangerous game. As any poli-sci student will tell you, a three-legged system is the most unstable. Especially when two of the legs agree…for now.

    Yes, I first came across this in the novel Dune, where the Reverend Mother discusses the politics of the human empire with Paul Atreides. The three legs being the Emperor and his unstoppable Sardaukar, the Lansrad of united houses, and the indispensable Spacing Guild. The Bene-Gesserit sisterhood take it upon themselves to maintain stability from behind the scenes. Or so she claims.

    The difference in Ozymandias’ plot is that one of the three legs would be the implied threat of a non-human force, which would not be subject to the politics inherent in human nature. Especially given that it doesn’t even actually exist. Though it must be considered that, regardless of the reality of the aliens, the perception of them might incline the other two legs to react in conflicting ways.
    I am mildly in agreement with Moore’s intent in the book – it’s really a reference to the old political, especially totalitarian, propaganda technique of creating a fictional enemy to unite an existing population, 1984 containing a fine example of this. The idea with Ozymandias is that rather than invent a fictional human enemy to unite a human country or empire, the same trick works on the whole human race. To use the barbaric tribalism of human nature to save it from itself.
    I am of the opinion that – given the way human nature is – his plan would work, but only if its alienness was convincing enough, and only in the short term.

    I’m sure both our perspectives on this are valid skepticism of Ozy’s plot, of the sort intended by Moore.

  115. Zaghadka says:

    @113 Agreed, and I would go on to say that despite its flaws, Watchmen is a “must read” for any budding graphic novelist or fan of the genre.

    At the very least, for its self-conscious critique of the costumed “superhero,” and what fantasies about such heroes say about us.

  116. Viktor says:

    I find it interesting that so many consider Ozy morally wrong. He may be morally bankrupt or psychologically damaged, but I don’t really see his actions as wrong. I’m going to start with the assumption that he is the smartest man in the world and is honest when talking to the other heroes in the end, and work up from there, so this may turn out odd.

    Ozy is certain that nuclear war is inevitable. He sees one safe means of avoiding this war. That method requires killing millions, who would die anyways during the war. Can he legitimately not take it? We’re not talking about trading lives, we’re talking about saving as much of the population as possible. It could easily be argued that one has to attempt to prevent nuclear war no matter what.

    Now, Ozy may have been wrong somewhere in his reasoning, but I doubt it. Remember, we don’t know the world they live in that well, whereas he has gone from ‘broke teen’ to ‘CEO of a multi-billion dollar multinational corporation’ over the course of about 20 years bsed on his ability to understand and predict their world. He’s not going to make mistakes about culture.

    @Dannerman:Rorscharch’s diary was captured by the police, and was not only illegible, but at that point had little relevent information in it. Ozymandias never considered that he would keep a backup.

  117. Avilan the Grey says:

    @116 Zadhadgka:

    Problem is, which genre? It might be a must read for people who enjoy a certain kind story, but that has nothing to do with it being a “graphic novel”.
    Besides, to call “Graphic Novel” a genre is like saying “Oh Clockwork orange is a must see for anyone that likes movies”. Never mind that I like comedies (which is the genre. Movies are the MEDIUM).
    In this case, the genre is “Dystrophian urban fantasy” (for lack of a better word). Comic books is the medium.

  118. Vladius says:

    Yeah, I read Watchmen. It was alright.

    Alan Moore was a gigantic anti-Reaganite, and this is essentially a self-admitted liberal power trip. Kill Rorschach, the extreme right wing zealot because he wouldn’t “compromise his values, even in the face of apocolypse.” A lot of the characters have rampant, fetishistic sex and this is treated as a good thing. The Comedian is presented as the end-all Vietnam War vet: Kill, rape, kill, don’t give a care, oh, and also AMERICA. Also, fifth term Nixon because he was just so popular(????) and it took “honest journalists” to take him down in our world.

    Ozymandias offers a way out of inevitable nuclear war as measured by… a blatantly obvious recurring clock… by killing lots of Americans with an alien that isn’t even an alien. Makes perfect sense.
    It’s almost as bad as the vampires and werewolves in “Twilight.” You’re assumed to know everything about vampires before watching or reading and how that would mess up a teen romance, but these vampires are DIFFERENT!!1one and turn out to have tons of powers and a lack of restrictions that you were supposed to already “know about.” Then the werewolves show up as a naturally stereotypical enemy to vampires, and they’re not even real werewolves. They’re “shapeshifters.” As if you’re supposed to also really know what most werewolves are like without description.
    That was how I felt with Watchmen. They’re not real superheroes, because they don’t do anything heroic. This isn’t real “realism,” because a main plot point is a genetically altered fake alien killing New York. Seriously, that’s a Saturday Morning Cartoon philosophy. “We were ready to kill you, but now that we see we’ll be killed too, we’ll team up to fight it!”

  119. radio_babylon says:


    “That is rich. The others in this discussion are thin-skinned? Dude, you just left in a huff…”

    i didnt leave in a huff, i left in disgust. i recognized i was in one of “those” kinds of arguements, the no-win kind. no point in bothering to continue, its just going to go round and round in circles with me saying the same damn thing over in different ways, to no effect.

    “your peppering of comments added a hint of fiery spice to what was already a very tasty conversation.”

    whats tasty about 100 comments of mutual handjobbing over the profundity of watchmen? i wasnt spice… i was the nail sticking up.

    sigh and now im here, again, posting. i truly AM a glutton for punishment i guess.


    “But I appreciate your critique; you are criticizing the work itself (unlike radio_babylon) and your points are cogent even if I don't totally agree with them.”

    how the F directly is “i find the book to be boring, over-wordy, plodding, poorly-paced, and GODDAMN UNENTERTAINING” not criticising the work? im sorry im not a degreed lit-critic and cant come up with a bunch of high-minded exposition with my little finger in the air examining what it is EXACTLY that makes me feel that way. no doubt about it, id fit right in on this thread if i could. but i cant. all i can tell you is how the book felt to me. and just how sick i am of all the years of watchmen blowjobbery that i find even more tiresome than the book itself.

    1. Shamus says:

      radio_babylon: you’re responding with needless hostility. You’ve insulted everyone else in the thread, and they gave you a more temperate response than I think you deserved. In return you became even MORE hostile.

      I don’t care what you think of Watchmen. But I do care that you be civil about it.

  120. radio_babylon says:

    youre right. i apologize. specifically, to you, for being an ass on your blog. the love-in surrounding watchmen is something that has become increasingly irritating to me over the years.

    i make no apology for my opinions. i call them like i see them. if id had the foresight to dig out the thesaurus to find fancier words for “dull” and “boring” maybe id have faired better. either way, im out.

  121. LemmingLord says:

    I apologize if this has been covered, but I have neither the time nor the wherewithal to sort through 100+ comments. In any case, am I the only nerd who simply doesn’t ‘get’ Watchmen? So much of the book seemed to be needlessly obscure and obnoxious, and all of the ‘hidden meaning’ just seems to come down to I Spy games in the background of the panels. Say what you will about the literary importance or suchlike, it just wasn’t a very well-written or well-plotted book. Interesting characters and universe, but in serious need of someone who knew what they were doing with said characters, beyond the five-year old level of mashing action figures together in the hopes of achieving ‘significance’.

  122. Michelle says:

    “The thing about Watchmen is it's meant to be uncomfortable and ambiguous and off puting, especially the ending. I'm pretty solidly of the opinion that the holes in Ozymandias's plot are intentional and Alan Moore specifically didn't want it to seem absolutely justified or unjustified.” Shawn – aways up.

    Juxtapose this with the following from the ranting room:

    “I used to be amused by Utopians. With life experience, I have grown to fear them. The great failing of Utopians is that they can never accept that someone else might not want to be a part of their utopian vision. Like ill-mannered tourists, they assume that if you don’t agree with them, it must be because they’re not explaining it simply enough, or often enough, or loudly enough, or ultimately, because you’re stupid. Utopians always think achieving Utopia is simply a matter of education””and then re-education””and then coercion, legislation, litigation medication conditioning threats book-burnings eugenics surgical modifications hunting down the counter-revolutionaries killing the reactionaries genetic engineering””and ultimately all Utopians, no matter how nobly they begin, always end up at the same conclusion: that the only thing that keeps Man from building a secular heaven here on Earth is the nature of Man, therefore we must build a New and Better Man.”

    Guys and Gals…it scares me that some of you came away from reading or watching the Watchmen and though Ozy was the good guy.

  123. FhnuZoag says:


    “Dude … whut? Most of the characters consider nuclear war an Extremely Bad Thing.”

    When, exactly?

    Which part of
    “And when the drains finally scab over, all the vermin will drown. The accumulated filth of all their sex and murder will foam up about their waists and all the whores and politicians will look up and shout “Save us!”… and I’ll look down and whisper “No.””

    suggests that Rorschach thinks apocalypse is a bad thing?

    Really, the gamut of opinions run from undisguised glee to total resignation. If there was even a glimmer of hope, one could say that nuclear wasn’t inevitable. But there wasn’t that glimmer. There’s only Ozymandius.


    Everyone else is an utopian in the watchman universe as well. Their utopia just happens to involve the communists dying instead of the Americans.

    ‘At least’ Ozymandius never killed anyone for disagreeing with him.

  124. Zaghadka says:

    @118 I appreciate your point, but “Graphic Novel” is a genre, just as the “novel” is a genre. Perhaps it’s not the sort of genre you’re used to dealing with.

    From wiki:

    A novel… is today a long narrative in literary prose. The genre has historical roots both in the fields of the medieval and early modern romance and in the tradition of the novella. The latter supplied the present generic term in the late 18th century. emph. added

    The medium is print. The genre is graphic novel. The subgenres are the superhero story and dystopian future.

    That’s my take on it at least. YMMV. I’m a card carrying English major, so I’m used to calling novels a genre.

  125. Avilan the Grey says:

    @126: Well I apologize then; I am far from an English major, it only being my second language (I am Swedish).

  126. Kevin says:

    Well… your response to Adrian would have been a half-hour too late, but we’ll go with it. :)

    Moore said he wrote the book with the intention that it be read three or four times in order for the reader to pull the characters out of their roles. For instance, the first time through you’re naturally trying to plug these guys into heroic roles, as Shamus said he was attempting to do with Adrian. But, starting over from the beginning, you see Adrian’s actions, which might have seemed heroic the first time through, in an entirely different light, which gives you a very different perspective on his character.

    I personally like the idea that Adrian’s thinking was just as flawed as Alexander’s, and that he was simply crazy in a more controlled way than the rest, and the holes in his plan showed the holes in his mind.

    However, the most important aspect of the comic is that Adrian’s scheme is supposed to be kind of beside the point. The real thrust of the book is to tell about all these people’s lives, and how their abilities and their situations had screwed them up. Rorschach was based exclusively on Batman, (according to Moore) and intended to show the reality of an uncompromising vigilante as he might actually exist.

    The nefarious scheme that serves as the mystery all our detectives are winding their way through is a McGuffin, an excuse to tell the stories of the Watchmen. It’s certainly worth looking at, but not at the expense of all the other amazing material contained in the book.

  127. Aurini says:

    To FhnuZoag:

    Rorschach has values and dignity. He doesn’t view armageddon as a good thing – he just thinks it’s better than the alternative.

    Let me put it this way: would you rather see the human species destroyed by it’s own, inevitable characteristics; or would you prefer to see a future society where everybody has an opiate IV plugged in to restrain their violence, universal castration of males, and lobotomies for all but the ruling classes?

    I’d argue that the point of the movie (even if Moore – he’s a bit of a hippy – didn’t realize it) was that when it comes to a choice between survival or freedom, choose freedom. Never compromise.

  128. Anonymoose says:

    I don’t think Ozy had ulterior motives. It’s just that none of the important characters in Watchmen are in their right minds, from my interpretation. I don’t know what Moore intended but I took away the impression that we weren’t supposed to like any of the Watchmen.

    Dr. Manhattan shows that vast power disconnects people, dehumanizes them. He has graduated from the “who cares about a few dead people here and there” thinking of men with more limited power, straight to absolute apathy about any life. He could also show the danger of apathy. He kills people for the US government, even though he is unconcerned with politics. He is, despite being the most powerful and intelligent being in the known universe, easily manipulated and totally lacking in initiative.

    Silk Spectre II and Nite Owl II don’t seem nearly as crazy but their sexual hangups, family problems, and masked adventure almost suggest that crime-fighting either causes their problems or they fight crime to cope with them. Dressing up in tights and beating up thugs for amusement. That’s crazy.

    The Comedian speaks for himself.

    Rorschach is the character I empathize most with, despite being probably the most obviously deranged of the “good guy” (heh) camp. He is supposed to represent taking a “never surrender, never compromise attitude” too far. He would watch the world burn if fixing it meant breaking his code. The only reason he comes off so well is because there’s something respectable about his fortitude in never giving up. Moore failed to really cast Rorschach in the negative light you can tell he wanted to(from interviews any such). I think it’s because Rorschach is the one person who dishes out the beatings only to “bad” people AND doesn’t buy into Ozy’s crackpot scheme.

    Ozy is the crowning jewel of the entire set though. His arrogance leads him into thinking that he can solve all the world’s problems. By killing millions of people. It’s not that he doesn’t regret these deaths, you see. They were necessary. Dr. Manhattan kills without caring, because he is totally disconnected. Rorschach kills evil people because evil deserves punishment. The Comedian kills anyone at all, because it is fun/because he is a nihilist. Nite Owl II/Silk Spectre II kill bad people… probably for fun. Ozy kills people because it is necessary. He doesn’t enjoy it, he’s very sorry don’t you know, but we have to. This is the part that suckers people into seeing him as somehow heroic. Despite his noble pedigree, intelligence, plans, and remorse, he kills more people than any other characters. By several orders. It’s no coincidence that his name is taken from a poem about the arrogance of a Pharoah who thought his works would live forever. Despite Moore’s obvious dislike for “right wing” Objectivists like Ditko, he’s an anarchist. Ozy seems to be his caricature of those people foolish enough to believe they can lead humanity.

  129. guy says:

    You know, point of irony: Ozymandias was in fact a phonetic transcription of the name of Ramses II, or Ramses the Great, who lived absurdly long for the time period(90 years) and is responsible for some of the most giant statues in Egypt that still stand.

    Of course, people don’t generally know that, and it was probably intended as a reference to the poem.

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