Behind the Mask: Deconstructing the Watchmen

Watchmen is coming to an end, and I am somewhat down in the dumps about it. There is so much to analyze and our class brought out some interesting discussion about the topic. After my first-time reading the story, I first noticed how pessimistic and self-aware the characters and story was about the classic superhero tropes; I believe that one of the things Alan Moore wanted to accomplish with this project was to showcase and subvert the Superman and Batman comics of the time, showing how the “superhero ideology” would not work in real life; this comic would eventually usher in the Dark Age of Comics and change how people write superheroes. I would like to reflect upon how the story itself could be Moore’s way of deconstructing certain superhero archetypes.

This subversion of classic tropes is shown in the characters of Dan Dreiburg/Nite Owl, Rorschach and the Eddie Blake/Comedian. Dreiburg can be seen as a parody of Bruce Wayne or Tony Stark minus the tragedies: a wealthy man with childlike fascinations to be something more than hero. He tries to live up to the stereotypical hero and he ultimately fails in his goal to stop Adrian’s plot. The Comedian is the exact opposite of Dreiburg: he is considered a hero for the deeds he performs for his country but he is completely amoral and embraces his nihilism, only breaking down when he learns Adrian’s plot. Rorschach is what happens when you put a masked vigilante with black-and-white morals (similar to Batman at his worst) in a real-world setting: the majority of the population, including his own colleagues, think he is insane and he definitely isn’t the most likable person (he is misogynistic, paranoid and radically conservative). If a person like Rorschach were to exist in our world, most of us would not be thinking how cool he was; we would probably be afraid of him.

The most “comic” like characters would have to be Adrian Veidt/Ozymandias and Doc Manhattan. Veidt is less of a hero and more of a Lex Luthor-villain by the time I reached the end: he is well-meaning, confident in himself (to the point of being arrogant) and vastly intelligent, though his means are brutal. He represents what happens when power blinds one and believes himself to be a god. On the other hand, Manhattan is a literal god who is meant to deconstruct the “Superman” character. He has the power to do anything and yet he is so detached from humanity that he has no desire to help humanity. Both of these characters deconstruct the heroes with the power to help people, as both Veidt uses brutal methods while Manhattan cannot connect with the feelings of others.

Last but not least, we have Laurie Juspeczyk/Silk Spectre. We have had lengthy discussions about the role of women in Watchmen, so I will not continue it here. However, I think Laurie is one of the most important characters despite her lack of presence: she represents the reader. She is a normal person who is horrified by what she sees in New York and only wants to live a normal life after being forced into a professions he found stressful and ridiculous (I would probably hate “going out at 3 AM and doing something stupid” as she puts it). I had always liked Laurie’s character because she seemed so real to me and I cold relate to her; she was able to survive in the end with a promise of a normal life despite being surrounded by such dysfunctional people her entire life. She is the one with her feet firmly on the ground and the only one who isn’t a direct subversion or deconstruction of an archetype.

With that, I conclude my thoughts on a ground-breaking novel; one that will continue to influence comic writers and artists in the future.

  2 comments for “Behind the Mask: Deconstructing the Watchmen

  1. mkarrs
    September 28, 2014 at 7:35 pm

    While I agree that Moore is looking to subvert stereotypes of classic comic book characters, I feel that by doing this he also is looking to deconstruct comic books as the type of entertainment that they were initially meant to be. Comics are like TV, movies, and other forms of literature: an escape. The reason that classic comic book characters are written as idealistic versions of humans, i.e. Batman’s usual refusal to kill, Superman’s wish to always help mankind, is because the form of escapism that comics originally provided was to give the reader hope. Comics were meant to impress upon the reader a sense that maybe there could be someone who could fix everything, and that with all tragedies and frightening events, there was hope for a good ending. With Watchmen, Moore not only attacks the classic idea of superheroes, he attacks a major reason why comics and superheroes were characterized without flaws. There is a reason why the Dark Age of comics seems to have burnt out. People read comics largely to feel hopeful, not to have their sources of hope taken away from them. The new Avengers movies, X-Men movies, and even the Dark Knight trilogy have had somewhat happy or at least hopeful endings. One of the things that disconcerted me while reading Watchmen was how it was too close to reality. No one wants to hear about the Comedian sexually assaulting one of his partners, or Rorshach’s incapability to see the otehr side of a situation when they’re looking for a mostly uncomplicated hero. While I agree that Moore highlights some of the issues with superhero comics as a form of literature, Watchmen also works to take away the value of comics as a form of escapism.

  2. gkearns
    September 28, 2014 at 11:17 pm

    I agree for the most part with your analysis of Watchmen and how the different characters represent different inversions of classic comic book archetypes. There are a couple points in your post that I don’t necessarily agree with. You say that Rorschach is unlikeable, misogynistic, conservative, etc. This may be true, but he is also the most relateable and most developed character of the novel. Rorschach does terrible things to terrible people because of his sense of morality. All the other characters in Watchmen are either immoral, morally grey, or just don’t care about morality at all. Rorschach is the only character who sees the world as it really is. I think that Rorschach is the reader’s window into the novel not Lori. Lori is purely a plot device for male character development. Dr. Manhattan and Dan’s storylines both rely on Lori to move them along. Rorschach is observing every other character’s behavior during the events of Watchmen. So that’s why I would say he is the reader’s jumping off point into the world, and also how the reader sees the rest of the characters.

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