>“Cur Custodes Legatis” or “You Should Read Watchmen”

Posted: 16/10/2008 in book review, comics, watchmen

>I have a strange relationship with comics. On one hand, I am sometimes annoyed with people who think it is really important to argue whether Superman is faster than The Flash or whether Iron Man could win in a fight with the Rust-Monster Queen or some other nonsense. Yet, I authored a comic for about three years and I never deny that comic books can be good genre to tell a story. Back on the other hand, I still think many comics are cheesy and adolescent.

So maybe my problem with comics is their fans, or maybe that so few comics have great stories. Or perhaps I am a judgmental hypocrite.

Anyway, on to my recent reading of Watchmen

Watchmen is good. Watchmen is very good. I by no means claim to be a comic book expert, but I really enjoyed what I read. This is rare for comic books and me. This book was not only a “page-turner,” but a “page-put-downer,” in the sense that it was so dark that I had to leave it be for a few days.

Let’s start with the overall plot. The story starts in an alternate history in the mid-80s. It is during the cold war –an era the few today appreciate. Super heroes where once part of everyday life, but since 1977, they have been outlawed as “vigilantes.” Most of the super heroes have since retired to a quiet, humdrum, existence. One retired hero is murdered, and the plot takes off from there.

I won’t ruin the story for you. Instead, I will concentrate on its existential themes. These are only two among many. The first is the negative existential theme. In the chapter “The Abyss Also Gazes,” a psychologist interviews the particularly violent and uncompromising super hero, Rorschach. At the end of the chapter, Rorschach explains that existence is random, there is no moral rudder, and we devise reasons for it later. This hero, at some point in his past, found himself “free to scrawl [his] own design on this morally blank world.” The visual symbolism, an ink blotch, could not be more artfully placed than if it was done by that ugly, google-eyed, Frenchman himself.

There is also a happier existential theme. In another chapter Dr. Manhattan (the glowing blue guy you’ve seen in the trailers), realizes that he is losing his emotional link to the human world. He takes his former girlfriend (Silk Spectre), via teleportation, to Mars. As he gives her the grand tour, he asks a serious question: why is earth better than Mars? What is so important about human life? Why should I, Dr. Manhattan, bother with it anymore? After a series of flashbacks into the life of the Silk Spectre, Dr. Manhattan gets his answer. The chapter closes with a famous quote from Jung: “As far as we can discern, the sole purpose of human existence is to kindle a light of meaning in the darkness of mere being.”

My favorite part of the comic was the aforementioned Rorschach. This is the character who is quoted in the movie trailers: “All the whores and politicians will look up and shout ‘Save us!’ … and I’ll look down and whisper ‘no.’” This is a character who does not call his disguise a “mask” but rather his “face.” This is a character so damaged on the inside that he makes Batman look well adjusted. This is the one character who kept going out into the urban filth to fight crime even after super heroes were banned.

Rorschach is a complicated and believable character. He uses brutality to get information when he needs it. He had no problem burning someone alive, which is harsh even when they deserve it. His other actions that make you wonder how much of a hero he really is. But at other times, he demonstrates gentler things, such as his friendship and commitment his fellow masked crusader.

So there are my thoughts on Watchmen. I’m sure we can’t wait for the movie. Of course, it is in the mires of legal trouble. Even Watchmen author, Alan Moore, hates it. This could turn into another Starcraft: Ghost. It might be better for people simply buy the book instead.

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