Who watches the Watchmen?

Because someone really should, I don’t think they’re doing too well.

Watchmen is the superhero film to end all superhero films. The graphic novel it was based on came after decades of heroics by the likes of the Justice League and The Avengers, always saving the day in bright colours and flashy costumes. Watchmen’s own team bears similarities to these teams, as is fully intended. And then, in very Alan Moore fashion, breaks them down into something else, something a little more than what came before.

Watchmen explores the mind by breaking down superhero troupes and templates into damaged, grounded and hurt representations of the superhero.

I’ll start with comparing the vigilantes. Rorschach and Batman. Both are without powers, both are protagonists and both have very strict codes that they adhere to. While modern Batman (Batman from the 1980’s onward) is no poster boy for solid mental health, Rorschach is miles behind. In any other comic, Rorschach is the villain. He’s a killer, he’s sick and he’s utterly unpleasant, to say the least. In his mind, not everyone is worth saving, in stark contrast to Batman’s tolerance to let the law decide the fate of his rogues. Rorschach is homophobic, ultra-right wing and has no patience for rehabilitation, for himself or anyone else (though of course he is so lost that he thinks he doesn’t need it). Emotionally speaking, he is nearly gone. The changing inkblots on his mask are a constant reminder to us that he is beyond damaged, he is a psychological wreck.  As a murderer and asexual with sense of the world beyond his literal and skewed black and white, right and wrong view of it, Rorschach is a perfect example of the sort of person would be drawn to fighting crime, and the last one anyone would want.

At least until we come to another superhero trope, the soldier. Personified in Watchmen by The Comedian, and in mainstream superhero films by Captain America. Captain America is the noble hero, an unwavering symbol of what’s good and just. Before he was a superhero, he was a soldier. The character was first created as propaganda, his existence is in every way a military creation, on page, on screen and off. The Comedian is a parody of this, the opposite end of the spectrum. He’s a war criminal, a killer, a rapist, a mercenary and is utterly insane. He demonstrates symptoms of PTSD, and alcoholism, and is saddeningly a potentially more realistic example of a returned soldier than the almost entirely unfazed Captain America. War cannot be outrun, and its effects of soldiers are long lasting. The Comedian is violent man. This was true before his service, and is true during, and it true after. Fighting crime and fighting wars are no different to him, as all he wants to do it fight. A worrying trait for any would be hero.

Finally, we come to the super end of the superhero, with the literal supermen. Dr. Manhattan, and the uber-mensch himself, Superman. Both are Gods among us.  Superman is probably the best known superhero of all time. His big-budget films were the beginning of the trend that has grown into the unstoppable genre that it is today. He’s absurdly powerful, and could rule us all with kryptonian fist if he chose to, but he doesn’t. His humanity is his defining trait, not his power. Manhattan is like superman, but with more of the super and none of the man. Becoming a godlike figure had the opposite effect on Jon Osterman. Instead of protecting humanity, he’d rather abandon it. As he himself says; “The existence of human life is a highly overrated phenomenon”. When he becomes more than the rest of us, he’s perfectly content to leave us behind under the shroud of nuclear destruction. Odd for a superhero to not care about people, but Manhattan would be the first to say he’s no hero.

For a person to take to a life of crime fighting, there has to be something inherently off about them. Rorschach is psychotic, The Comedian savage and Manhattan is detached. These traits are not what a person should want in their protecters, but according to the film and graphic novel that’s all we get. The sick “helping” the defenseless, and the blind leading the blind.

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