Part 1 here
Part 3 here
Part 4 here
I’m afraid my reaction to Watchmen is much the same as it was nineteen years ago. It is on the surface erudite and skillful – but at the core is a pulp sf plot which is really pretty stupid, and wouldn’t be tolerated in a novel or a film. So why should it be acceptable in what is supposed to be the best comics have to offer?
Of course Watchmen is better than most of the dreck that comes out of comics publishers, but I don’t think that means we should be blind to its faults. And I’m not for a moment suggesting that books and films don’t have stupid plots – but that the body of criticism would identify those plots as stupid in a way that hasn’t happened for Watchmen. I suspect that part of the reason it’s been let off the hook is that some of the critics have such low expectations of the medium that they will praise anything that’s half-decent.
I agree that much of Watchmen is very nicely put together. A lot of my frustration with reading it comes from the fact that the bits that don’t make sense spoil my enjoyment of the bits that do. And if
I may be giving the impression that I think Watchmen is the suckiest thing ever. I certainly don’t. But it does have its flaws, and it is not the best comic ever, or even the best superhero comic ever, or even the best Alan Moore superhero comic ever, and it wasn’t any of these things when published.
I do still think that the core plot is dumb. A mad genius drops a giant squid on
Signalling that the plot comes from an old Outer Limits episode does indeed say to the readers that it’s a ridiculous plot device. But it also says. “Remember everything I said about this being superheroes in the real world? Well, I lied.”
Now, you can say “it’s just a superhero comic”, but I don’t think that’s a legitimate defence. For one thing,
Veidt gets away with his scheme, with nothing more than some odd nightmares. The heroes find out about it, but can then do nothing about it. it all leaves a nasty taste in the mouth. It’s interesting that the recent article in Foundation [see next piece for details] commented on the problematic depiction of rape, but has nothing on the problematic depiction of mass murder. And yes, I know
I am told that
My problem with Veidt’s plan is not answered by hints that it may not work in the long term. It really shouldn’t work at all, and certainly not in the short time scale that it is shown working in.
I don’t think “the villain might not get away with it if [Rorschach’s] journal gets picked for publication and they read it all and the editors believe what it says and they make the connection with the attack on
I agree that Watchmen is about what would happen if people really did dress up in capes to fight crime, and if there was someone on the planet with superpowers. But in those terms, I feel the squid is a cheat. It crosses the line into “oh well, we can have anything we want happen”, and then Watchmen becomes just another superhero comic. A good one, it must be said, but one which fails in what it is setting out to do.
It’s partly because comics can be so much more than superheroes that I have issues with the praise lavished upon Watchmen. But I think there are better superhero comics – Dark Knight for one, because Dark Knight knows its limitations. The problem with Watchmen is that it sets itself up as “what if superheroes were real”. If you’re going to do that, then you have to be rigorous in the plotting – but Watchmen fails that test rather too often.
There is an essential contradiction between writing a superhero story and a realistic story. It’s a contradiction Watchmen never successfully solves.
And in the end, I feel that Moore can either have his open, morally ambiguous ending (which he wants because he’s still in his deconstructionist phase which he has, fortunately, subsequently grown out of), or he can have his ridiculous plot device. What makes Watchmen a failure in my view is
The whole Nixon thing is another aspect I have a problem with. I can readily believe that the existence of Dr Manhattan and the way the
As Alan Jeffrey said, if you read Watchmen as a book, then the absurdity at the end isn’t too bad. One of the things that seemed a lot better on the reread was the pirate story. If, on the other hand, you have been reading chapters a month at a time, in the light of a flurry of interviews at the start talking about how realistic it was all going to be, the sudden appearance of a giant exploding telepathic mutant squid in issue #11 is a huge disappointment.
I think Watchmen is a bit like