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Sublime Case Study
Utopia / Dystopia
Wikis for Uni
is revolutionary in its recreation of the superhero motif. It brings the mythologized Technicolor post humans of popular literature into the grit and grime of the real world circa 1987.
is an icon of popular culture, when it was released it was a timely and piercing critique of our nations own black heart. Today it stands as a grim warning of the kind of dystopia we totter on the brink of each day.
The brilliance of
is that it is not the story of some far flung future, or some totalitarian state. Though the world is populated by brightly costumed “heroes” the cities are not the puddles of urban squalor that define
nor are they the hyper mechanized factory complexes of
Instead they are the cites of our own country, the skyscrapers of New York play host to the spectacularly rich (Adrian Vedit), the disenfranchised dregs (street gangs, comic book reading cigarette smoking children, and Taxi driving lesbians) and a thriving middle class (Psychologist and Magazine stand owners). It is this middle class that gives the world of
a depth that does not exist in most dystopias. Its world is not a black and white one; rather it is a reality with one foot very firmly planted in our own.
Watchmen is a Cold War narrative, very much a product of the rampant fear and paranoia of that era. What makes it stand out however is that the story itself transcends that paranoia, it is very much a human story that rings true even to people who never saw the Cold War. It opens as the classic murder mystery, the ancient stomping grounds of the hero. True to form Rorschach (super detective Batman analog) is upon the crime scene in an instant. The tale that unfolds from that point on is far from the predictable pursuit of a mad scientist or robot villain; rather it is a dark, real, shocking depiction of the curse of awe inspiring power.
The murder's victim is one of the nation's oldest defenders, a jaded and despicable Captain America. This leads Rorschach to the suspicion that the last of a dying breed of heroes is being killed off. Rorsacrh does his best to pass his paranoia on to his peers, warning his washed up ex-partner Nite-Owl (Batman stripped of all of his macho mystique) of impending doom. Though Nite-Owl denies the temptation to return to his life of crime fighting, the seeds are planted for his stumbling reunion with the world of costumed crime fighting.
Un-phased by Nite-Owl's reluctance to humor his quest Rorschach moves on to warn Adrian Vedit, Dr. Manhattan, and his companion Sally Jupiter, warning of the same "mask-killer" that he spoke with Nite-Owl about. Though Dr. Manhattan quickly dismisses this theory, Rorschach effectively puts the events in motion that will reunite these retired adventures. In a final effort to pass his fears of a mask-killer onto someone Rorschach approaches the Adrian Vedit
After mulling through the mess of tangled clues that surround the Comedians murder Rorschach realizes that much to everyone’s shock Adrian Vedit is responsible. His realization comes too late, and he has captured and arrested before he is able to pass along his information. His capture jump starts Nite-Owl and Sally Jupiter's aging hero-engines (and sex drives), and they rush to his rescue (or rather the rescue of all those locked up with Rorschach).
Sally then travels to Mars in an effort to bring Dr. Manhattan back to Earth, and out of his self imposed exile.
Without Sally, Dan and Rorschach journey to Adrian Vedit's North Pole fortress to confront him, and his apparent scheme for world domination. Vedit proves to be more than capable of defending himself in the brief fight scene which Moore indulges in. The aftermath of this conflict however is what is
The characters in
are beautifully crafted portraits of the effects of the superhuman on the ordinary human. They live in reaction to a being of incomprehensible power, cowering at the feet of the detached god that Dr. Manhattan has become. Understanding the complex mind of each character is vital to comprehending the whole story, and why the act the way they do in their pursuit of justice, both personal and global.
schach (Walter Kovacs):
Rorschach is seems warped and disturbed, even in the company of egomaniacs and psychopaths. With that said he is one of the books most lovable figures. His tragic inability to see past black and white in a world where good and evil have long since perished endears him to us. His understanding of every situation rests in a world miles away from the grey reality in which he resides, evil people deserve punishment, and he lives to punish them. This works as a lucid critique of the typical superhero persona. Rorschach is the 1960s Batman shown the full horror of Cold War era America. He fights tooth and nail to maintain the sanctity of good people, having whole hearted trust in the heroics of Nite-Owl and the Comedian, regardless of their questionable antics. When he is betrayed by his compatriots, faced with the choice between truth and justice, and "Utopia" he still refuses to see the shades of grey that separate good from evil. Even starring down death Rorschach cannot abandon his ideals.
The Comedian (Eddie Blake):
The Comedian is one the books most difficult to understand figures. His death opens the door for the entire story to take place, but he is much more complicated than that. As we are given ever deepening glimpses into the disgusting life that this "American Hero" led he becomes both more horrible, and more human. Before we are given a full picture of the man that the Comedian’s life of lust, violence, cynicism and warfare had made him, he comes across as another perverted quasi-fascist fantasy of justice. Comic Books and popular culture are rife with these figures, people to whom we can defer all judgment, for who the law does not apply because they are not only super-powered but super-morale. Captain America is one such figure, though he is painted as the embodiment of Democracy, no one elected him, rather he was created in the dingy back room of a top secret military base. No jury stands in the way of his brand of justice, no warrants impede his crusade for righteousness. If our police force were to act this way we would lash out in horror and fury, yet we are happy to dream of a moral authority that trumps our own.
The Comedian is a pointed critique of this dream. His vision of America is tainted by decades immersed in the festering guts of forgotten wars, he sees that beast that his nation has become, and rather than fight it he transforms into a monster himself. About the so called American Dream he says, "It came true, your lookin' at it (holding a rifle, wearing a leather bondage mask, firing on innocent civilians)"
Nite Owl (Daniel Dreiberg):
Nite-Owl is a complete portrait of the average given above average responsibility. He is a man completely unfit to deal with a world that is larger than himself, and yet his fantasies of Superheroes drive him to don a costume and act out a farcical stage play that he identifies with justice. He is impotent, out of shape, lazy, and passive. A malaise has over taken his commitment to heroics, the darkening tones of his once Technicolor world have washed the glimmer off of his heroics. Without the glory and companionship that heroism provided Nite-Owl is uninterested in heroics. He does not dive into his dated persona as a masked vigilante out of responsibility to mankind, but rather out of desire for some kind of sexual thrill.
Silk Specter (Lori
Lori is the most divorced of the characters from their dated personas as hero's, she no longer wants anything to do with the life of a Superhero. Forced into that world by her mother, she acts as little more than an under developed object of lust for much of the book. Her role becomes much deeper however as the world slides ever closer to Armageddon. She is victim to all the same vices as Dan, but her sense of social obligation is more intact. Though she no longer seeks to act the hero, she cannot resist the temptation to act in the interest of preserving the human race. It is her heart felt love of humanity that brings Dr. Manhattan home from his self imposed exile, and her passion for "Utopia" that brings the "heroes" into line with Ozymandias' scheme.
Ozymandias (Adrian Vedit):
Adrian Vedit is the only true Superhero among the characters. His goals are worldwide; his vision is not bound by any personal desire. He is the pinnacle of human accomplishment, the Ubber-mench. He is both fully aware of this and fully prepared to execute his perceived duty to improve society. Vedit understands the corruption that besets the planet, and he sees a clear solution. His plan is conceived not to install himself as some kind of benefactor but to rebuild the human race in the image of Utopia. Vedit is hyper-moral, he has transcended morality as Rorschach and Nite-Owl conceive it; he sees that to sacrifice life for peace is no sin. He has no qualms with killing millions, because he perceives those deaths as the only way to prevent the deaths of billions.
Doctor Manhattan (Dr. Jon Osterman
): Jon is quite simply no longer human. He no longer looks, acts, feels, or understands like a human. He has been forced to transcend humanity by transcending the limited way in which we experience the universe. Jon is more than superhuman, because human has no bearing on how he perceives the world. Jon has achieved an omniscience that has shown him the fleeting nature of human life. He is a constant in an ever changing world, and because of this the problems of humanity hold no interest for him. When Vedit's plan completes Jon's utter divorce from reality he becomes more of a natural force than an accessible being.
Alan Moore is one of the greatest writers in Comic Book history. His work is of such a caliber that it transends the boundraies usualy set by the medium, becoming truly classic literature. Watchmen is a vision of dystopia that comes from a mind uniquely gifted with lietary genuis.
His early career was marked by the publication of hundreds of one off works for tiny publications across Britian. Much of his work was relased under various psuedo-nyoms and it was not until 1980 that he stpeed into the spotlight, doing a brife stint as the writer of
for Marvel comics. His work was so appuladed that he was quickly contracted by DC to produce a series for them. He proeeded to work on
, which reinvented an aging DC character (known as the Swamp Thing, he was part plant). He not only reimagined the character in an entertaining fashion, he turned a story about a man/plant into a long series of compelling physcological thrillers that raised all manner of questions about the world we live in.
With his critical success on
Moore produced several other projects for DC, including several
stories, which helped to re-vitalize the aging DC flagship hero. all of this amounted to little more than side work for what is largely considered his masterpiece,
, published in 1985. When Moore released
it was almost instantly hailed as the best comic of its day, critics scrambled for another word to describe it, unsatisfied with referring to such a masterful literary work as a comic book.
For most of Moore's life he is what most people would consider at the very least eccentric, and more accurately crazy. In 1970 he was kicked out of school for dealing LSD, which he admits an utter ineptitude for. Shortly thereafter he entered a relationship with his future wife and their mutual bi-sexual lover, the pair of which he collaborated with on a series of stories to combat anti-homosexual legislation. During this relationship he became something of a recluse, rarely appearing in the media spotlight, even after the fame from his writing career reached a fever pitch.
His wife and lover left him, leaving together to raise his two children and he disapeared from the media scene almost all together. Interviews with him are rare jewels, peaks into the brilliant mind of a genuis. He speaks in long brilliantly consructed chapters. He talks of things that seem utterly insane in the most eqloquent and long winded of ways. He iterates his worship of fictional Roman deities in such a way as to make them sound completely logical. His practice of the occult sounds convincing and reasonable, his strict vegitatrian deit and even stricter adherance to Anrarchism enrapture the mind.
Watchmen is a new kind of superhero narrative. It transcends the perceived boundaries of Comic Books, bringing them into the realm of literature, rather than pulp. Moore creates a world so real that to call it a Dystopia is almost too frightening. The problems that plague the world of Watchmen are the problems that plagued our world in 1983, and largely the problems that haunt us to this day. The Dystopia lies in the culture of fear that is uncovered so brilliantly by Moore in his novel. The streets are filled with homeless veterans, drugs are peddled out of back alleys, prostitutes roam the New York strip. The specter of monolithic communism is pounded into the skulls of all Americans by Richard Nixon (the book's sole political flight of fancy is Nixon's continuous reelection, but that is enough to transform our 1985 into a horrific dystopia).
Dr. Manhattan has effectively transformed the way we think of ourselves y his very existence. Humans can no longer aspire to greatness, because all the greatness we might one day hope to achieve is simply handed to us on a glowing blue platter, courtesy of America's very own nuclear god. This has effectively flash frozen ambition, and the world is stuck on a tight rope tied between sheer terror of annihilation, and utter ambivalence towards social change. Dystopia arises from this ambivalence, human nature swells up to oppress us as we tend towards fear and laziness.
The only difference between his world and ours is that the people of Watchmen's America can look to their flawed heroes for a solution, there exists people who can solve the problems that plague them, but in our flawed and terrifying world no such angles exist. Though the Watchmen are far from responsible protectors, at least the society can pass the blame onto them rather than wallow in the bleak existence of reality.
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