Monday, April 28, 2008

Four pieces on Watchmen: #4

Part 1 here

Part 2 here

Part 3 here

And finally, here’s something new on the subject.

It’s been noticed that the first season of Heroes lifts a main feature of its plot from Watchmen, specifically the conspiracy that sees the destruction of New York as a means of promoting a better world. By killing millions in New York, they will be able to save billions throughout the world. The difference is, where Watchmen is ambiguous about whether Veidt is doing the right thing, Heroes is clear that Linderman and his associates are wrong, and must be opposed. They are nutters, and their plan won’t work; in fact, it will make things worse. The show establishes through another steal from comics history, the ‘Days of Future Past’ story from Chris Claremont and John Byrne’s X-Men. Hiro and Ando travel forward in time, and learn the consequences following from the successful implementation of Linderman’s plan.

And that’s helped me to see one of the problems I have with Watchmen. It’s that, by not having a similar moment, Watchmen is a morally compromised work. It leaves the reader with what I referred to in 1988 as The Big Moral Dilemma – six million New Yorkers or the world? But if you are thinking that’s your choice, then you’re already lost. The true moral choice is to reject the terms of the dilemma, to say that mass murder cannot be justified on such mathematical grounds, because what if you’re not right? Even Veidt is not infallible or omniscient. The moral choice is, like the Petrellis, Hiro and the rest, to find another way.


Unknown said...

Dear Tony

Thanks for posting these very interesting articles – I think you are right about Watchmen, which is a vital landmark in comics, but a deeply flawed landmark – I’m glad you put into words some doubts I’ve had about Watchmen for many years.

As a sixth former in the mid 80s I remember my journeys to the Birmingham comic shop ‘Nostalgia and Comics’ (is it still there?) to buy Watchmen and the Moore tenure on DC’s Swamp Thing. Without wishing to sound too Wordsworthian about it, it was a great time to be a casual reader of comics, riding on the thrill of being witness to dramatic change in a medium.

That said, I have to confess to not being a wide reader of the genre. I came to comics via 2000AD, and I watched Moore grow in stature there first. I have a sneaking feeling that like George Orwell, Moore’s genius lies in his lesser known works. Many of his short scripts for Marvel UK’s Dr Who Weekly / Monthly (which paired him up with David Lloyd and Steve Dillon) have never been reprinted and were sometimes uncredited, but remain gems. The ‘Future Shocks’ /’Time Twisters’ sequence in 2000AD similarly showed great control of a closely outlined form. I have a soft spot for ‘Halo Jones’ and ‘Skizz’ too, the latter out-doing ET in my opinion.

I also agree with you on the partial success of ‘V for Vendetta’. I loved it at the time, but it now seems politically rather Manichean for me. It appealed, but the world seems more complex.. I worry about how easily it was filleted and turned into Hollywood fare; likewise ‘League of Extraordinary Gentlemen’. This might be a problem with Moore’s world view he might actually have a Gnostic view of the world as a battleground between good and evil. Perhaps I’m being unfair and need to think about it. I think ‘From Hell’, for all its suspect reading of the Whitechapel case, seemed a major return to form for me – bleak, dark, evocative and truly horrific.

I wonder how much of the spell of Watchmen was really down to Dave Gibbons? I love his cinematic ability, and I really liked the focus on objects such as clocks and photographs which become recurrent visual themes. Still, AM remains a figure of singular importance – it’s hard to imagine Gaiman’s success in the early 90s without AM’s dominance of the 80s.

Thanks for these essays. I’m enjoying the blog as a whole hugely – very erudite and I love the synthesis of topics which reflects my own bookshelves!


Alex Wilcock said...

Apologies for coming a year late to the party – I found my way to you looking up something about The Time Monster, and followed a link, then stayed to read on – but I rather enjoyed being provoked by all four of your articles. If anything, the one above was a shock for being so short, though it’s the one I probably nodded at the most wholeheartedly.

I was just wondering what you made of the alternative ending used in the film, if you saw it? I didn’t get round to blogging about it, but remember discussing it with my other half on coming out of the cinema and concluding that it was (as you might anticipate) more American in tone. I took the original as a limp attempt to fake the point that The War of the Worlds made, or inverting SPECTRE / the Master’s old plots to set the world at each others’ throats, or simply mounting a grand-scale version of the traditional government in trouble saying ‘let’s all unite because we have a war to fight’, and you make some excellent points on why that wouldn’t work. The 2009 version seems to me to say instead, ‘You’d better behave, for no other reason than that god’s up there and he’ll smite you if you don’t’, which is much less today of a mindset on this side of the Atlantic (I live in London though, as it happens, had a very religious upbringing and am half-American).

Tony Keen said...

I thought that the new ending made a bit more sense than that of the original, but I still think that Veidt gets let off the hook.

Your comment about the religious nature of the new threat is interesting, though. I shall have to consider it ...

Mike Taylor said...

Coming two and a half years late ...

I've just read all four articles and enjoyed them a lot. But despite that, I still love Watchmen. Why?

I think I may have it. For someone like myself, who doesn't read a lot of comics, Watchmen is very approachable because it's so self-contained. There are no continuity references because there is no continuity to reference -- the single volume (yes, I bought the book) contains all there is so know about the characters, and that's much more appealing that trying to come into the middle of, say, an X-men arc and figure out who's who, what their relationships and backstory are, and how they all fit together.