Superhero Comic Books Are Good Literature! Part 5: I Really Can't Talk about Watchmen Enough

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If you’ve been keeping up, you know that Watchmen gives readers characters that are well rounded and real.  These characters (and the situations they find themselves in) create an end result that can be considered nothing more than Good Literature.

But before we get to the end result, let’s go back to the beginning, to the last heroes Rorschach visits after The Comedian’s death.  It is at the Rockefeller Military Research Center where readers are introduced to Dr. Manhattan and Silk Spectre II (Laurie Juspeczyk).  Dr. Manhattan gained actual superpowers in a lab accident in August of 1959, where he apparently disintegrates; however, three months later he returns—or is resurrected— a changed man with the ability to manipulate the very molecules of the universe.  In a sense he becomes a god.

Exactly!  That does sound a lot like Jesus!

Silk Spectre is a different story altogether.  She was forced into the life of a superhero by her mother, the first Silk Spectre—an intriguing character in her own right—and has only been given government support based on her agreement to stay with Dr. Manhattan (whose powers frighten the world) as a calming device.  She is no longer a superhero and doesn’t mind that, but being cooped up with a man who isn’t really a man anymore is draining on her physically, mentally, and emotionally.

Naturally no one believes Rorschach’s suspicions and the first chapter ends with Silk Spectre and Nite-Owl having dinner together and beginning a journey of their own.

Though I have focused primarily on the first chapter and characters of this brilliant story, there are other elements that make it Good Literature.  Not only does the character of Dr. Manhattan contain echoes of the Christ story, but every chapter’s title is a line or phrase from a famous pop song, including lyrics by Bob Dylan and Elvis Costello, or literary quotes from the likes of Albert Einstein, the Bible, Percy Bysshe Shelley, and many others.  

These quotes serve to tell readers something about the theme of that particular chapter.  For instance, chapter six, titled “The Abyss Gazes Also” is taken from Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche.  The full quote, which comes at the end of the chapter, as do all the other quotes, is, “Battle not with monsters, lest ye become a monster, and if you gaze into the abyss, the abyss gazes also into you”.  This chapter’s main thrust is a psychologist’s treatment, interpretation, and evaluation of Rorschach.  After many days meeting with him, the roles haven’t been reversed.  That would be cliché; however, the doctor is succumbing to Rorschach’s mindset.  In one of the last times readers are privy to the psychiatrist’s inner thoughts, he reveals the new vision of life he’s learned from his patient:

I sat on the bed.  I looked at the Rorschach blot [that Rorschach wears on his face].  I tried to pretend it looked like a spreading tree, shadows pooled beneath it, but it didn’t.  It looked more like a dead cat I once found, the fat glistening grubs writhing blindly, squirming over each other, frantically tunneling away from the light.  But even that is avoiding the real horror.  The horror is this: in the end, it is simply a picture of empty meaningless blackness.  We are alone.  There is nothing else.

So the Nietzsche quote, in and of itself, serves a two-fold purpose here.  Not only does it serve as an indicator for what the chapter will be like, but it also tells readers something of the characters who are the main focus of the chapter it bookends.

But there I go harping on character again.  I am beginning to sound the way Egri does with premise.  Hey!  I know!  Next time, we will talk about premise.


AE Stueve is a former regular contributor to Broken Frontier.  His first novel, The ABCs of DInkology is due out this fall from WSC Press and The Wave, a line of comic books he is editing, is also due out this fall.

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