“Honor is like the Hawk”:

February 7, 2009

WARNING! Do not read this if: 

  • You haven’t read Watchmen
  • You don’t want the surprises in Watchmen ruined for you

I have to say that I’m astonished that there is so little published scholarship on Watchmen, arguably the greatest graphic novel ever written and one of Time magazine’s 100 greatest English-language novels from 1923-present day.  Personally speaking, I’ve never been more moved by a graphic novel besides The Sandman books, and yet Watchmen, being less episodic in nature, does not suffer from the weaknesses that keep The Sandman books from being something that I reread often, namely hackneyed subplot lines and inconsistent artwork. 


In Watchmen, the prevalent use of World War II imagery, be it a “fat man” crushing Janey Slater’s watch or Adrian Veidt as a latter day Truman to name a few, serves to deconstruct the nature of mutually assured destruction and the idiotic nature of attempts to prevent nuclear war by deliberately wiping out millions of people through an overwhelming first strike on New York City.  In addition, the superheroes’ failure to prevent Adrian Veidt’s attempt to save the world from the path that he set it on himself by removing Dr. Manhattan as well as their later collaborating in the cover up opens up the conversation about morality and vigilantism as well as war. 


The thing I’m wondering about right now is how they are planning on ending the film.  In the book, Adrian Veidt owns a secret island full of artists and writers, as well as the brain of a dead psychic, which he uses to create a hideous monster that sends out overwhelmingly violent and hideous images that drive people mad.  He then drops this on Manhattan and kills millions of people.  In writing this out, it sounds ridiculous, but the whole point of it is that in convincing world leaders that there is a very real threat from outer space, it will prevent nuclear war.  Ronald Reagan once stated:


“When you stop to think that we’re all God’s children, wherever we may live in the world, I couldn’t help but say to [Gorbachev], just think how easy his task and mine might be in these meetings that we held if suddenly there was a threat to this world from another planet outside in the universe.”


While I may not agree with Ronald Reagan on just about anything, in this case he is on the money regarding Adrian Veidt’s thought process.  He sought to unite the world and idolized Alexander the Great and the Egyptian Pharohs.  He justified his actions in saying that he forced himself to see the faces of the dead in his meditations.  



Toward the end of the book there is an exchange between Veidt and Dr. Manhattan that summarizes the inveitability of conflict when there will always new more powerful weapons being created to keep the peace:


Adrian Veidt: I did the right thing, didn’t I? It all worked out in the end.


Dr. Manhattan: ‘In the end’? Nothing ends, Adrian. Nothing ever ends. 


Watchmen has an ending that some believe is ridiculous but most recognize that it is the only way that book could have ended.  In recent trailers it seems like the strike on New York may be something else altogether and I just hope it’s something in the spirit of the work that will make sense.  A central focus of the novel is the deconstruction of the superhero trope and Zac Snyder seems to be deifying them.  Don’t get me wrong, I will be there opening day with everyone else, I just have my reservations and hope that the nuclear strike in the 2nd trailer is the one from Dan Dreiberg’s dream and not something else.





Works Cited:

Jeff Smith, “Reagan, Star Wars, and American Culture”, Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, Jan/Feb 1987, p 25.

Moore, Alan and Dave Gibbons. Watchmen.


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