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The WATCHMEN Questions

Posted by on Mar 28th, 2009 and filed under Books, Film, Words. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can leave a response or trackback to this entry

I’ve just finished reading ‘Watchmen’ and, while I did find it a compelling story rivettingly told – apart from the pace-killing prose sections at the end of each chapter, which I dreaded – there was the odd narrative quirk that didn’t make any sense to me whatsoever. if anyone with a greater understanding of comic literature can help me resolve these queries then they may be able to dispel the fog of disappointment currently suspended over my appreciation of this landmark in graphic novelisation. The questions are as follows: 

Why does Jon return to Earth?
He flees to Mars having completely lost all faith in humanity and spends all his time observing the entire universe at the subatomic level across all temporal plains, constantly opening endless possibilities that paralyse him. Why do anything when you can see the countless consequences of everything?

And then his girlfriend comes visiting, finds out her father is her mother’s rapist and suddenly Jon’s all “I don’t think your life is meaningless. I’ve changed my mind. Let’s go home.” And his reason? Because of the ‘Thermo-dynamic miracle’ of f*cking.

What?? You can’t turn your back on all matter through all time & space because you’ve suddenly had a copulative epiphany. Alan Moore obviously thinks you can, but is he right? Question two:

Why does Rorschach attempt to escape the police by leaping from a third floor window?
His character is established as the bane of the underworld, an intractable nemesis who can squeeze information from granite; he’s fearless, pathologically driven, and probably the smartest cookie of the Watchmen outside Ozy, but how does he choose to escape a tenement trap crawling with cops inside & out having already artfully disabled two of them? He leaps out of a third floor window and almost breaks his ankle landing on some dustbins.

Wow, what an arse. I can picture Mr Moore punching the air when he came up with that one. “It’s because he’s delusional,” the frighthaired author might argue, “he thinks he’s a superhero impervious to pain.” Well I’m sorry, but it just makes him look like a bloody idiot. Question 3: 

Why can’t Jon see through the whole cancer scam?
If Dr. Manhattan can see everything everywhere in every time why he can’t see through Ozy’s attempt to smear him with a bullshit story about how he’s giving everyone cancer? Is this a Tachyon thing? But even if it was can’t Jon see molecules? Can’t he see cancer? Wouldn’t he think it a smidge co-incidental that everyone he’s ever been close to has the Big C? But then why hasn’t Laurie got it? She’s only been his lover for years, how did Ozy manage to overlook her? Or was she too hard a target because she was always so close to Jon? Doesn’t that make Ozy look a bit half-arsed? If Jon’s aware of any of this – and he should be -  why is he so surprised at the press conference? Is Jon not an adult? Badgered by the press, does an adult shout & bawl and run away to Mars like a big blue babbee with his balls hanging out?

God, his entire character is just so annoying, because he’s the ultimate deus ex machina. Once he resolves to return to earth you might as well throw the book out of the window, but it’s a testimony to Moore that the final twist is so succulently moral and so eminently readable. Can you kill three million to save billions and keep your soul? Ozy averts World War Three but has to murder half New York - the sanctity of individual life sacrificed for the creation of a new era of worldwide peace and ‘accord’ that could lead mankind to its next evolutionary stage. Aren’t the lives of millions worth an entire future? Moore’s answer would appear to be ‘yes’, and that is thrilling.

But all the same, I need believable answers to the three aforementioned questions to achieve total satisfaction. The lucky winner gets an exclusive ‘roomyverse’ bun.

+++UPDATE: 1.4.09. I went to the pictures last night to see the Watchmen movie, and I can now fully understand why non-book readers are having problems with my questions, because the film successfully answers all of them by tweaking the original text.

1. In the movie they add a couple of vital lines. As Laurie and Dan are leaving the restaurant she says that she feels Jon is just pretending to care for her, to which Dan replies: “If he’s pretending, he cares.” Then, at the climax of Jon & Laurie’s argument on Mars, Jon doesn’t just say “ok, i’ve changed my mind.” He now takes her chin in his palm, looks into her eyes, and tells her he’ll go back ”if it would make you smile.” They’re simple lines, but significant. They clearly show what remains of Jon’s humanity and his desire for it, and it justifies his return to Earth as a human being, if only as a remnant.

2. In the film Rorschach has to run from a volley of gunfire that drives him through the window. He doesn’t have any choice.

3. A lot more is made of the Tachyons in the movie, so this is the most probable explanation for Jon’s inability to see the cancer aspect of Ozy’s plot. At the press conference the film also throws in Jon’s old ex, Janey Slater, who actually turns up and berates him for giving her cancer, tearing off her wig and shouting ”I loved you Jon, and this is how you repay me!” Now none of that’s in the book but it really ups the ante in terms of increasing the stress on Jon and justifying his flight to Mars.

And that’s not all they’ve changed. Take the story of how Rorschach becomes Rorschach. Yes he still sees the dogs fighting over the kidnapped girl’s tibia and handcuffs their owner to his boiler, but he then doesn’t drench the room in kerosene and throw the perp a hacksaw so he’d have to cut his own arm off to escape (which he doesn’t.) Instead, in the movie Rorschach grabs the cleaver himself and hacks into the murderer’s skull again and again, trembling with rage as he does so. The Rorschach of the book would never tremble with rage, but in the film he shows a lot more twitchy emotion generally. Perhaps the studio hope it’ll make him less of a totally unsympathetic fascist nutball. 

They also give Nite Owl quite a bit more to do, particularly at the end. In the book, when Ozy reveals his evil plot, Dan just gapes and strokes his chin in disbelief like the fat useless sod he’s become. In the movie, once Jon’s gone, the writers obviously felt they had to give Dan something heroic to do – being as he’s the closest they’ve got to a classic romantic hero – so they have him lay into Ozy in a tearful rage. Such a rampant display of metrosexual courage usefully makes us all the happier when he walks off into the sunset with Laurie.

Oh, and the film dispenses with the giant exploding alien squid crammed with the macabre imaginings of a thousand tortured artists. Huzzah!

Apart from all that, as an adaptation I think it’s the most faithful anyone could wish for. The script repeats vast reams of Moore’s text verbatim and all the basic bricks of the story are there, in pristine condition, some even replicating Dave Gibbons’ framing. Unfortunately what’s missing is the mortar between them.

The inner voices of the street – the news vendor, his reading buddy, Rorschach’s psychotherapist – are what really illuminate the stark fear and stupidity that’s forcing mankind to its knees. Voices more easily incorporated into a book than a movie. Voices whose absence undermines the story’s driving force. Why risk anything to save any denizen of this gimcracked world? The question is cheapened by our being denied the full breadth of man’s mental thrashing, and so Watchmen the movie risks becoming what many critics have already declared it to be: all surface and no substance.

Personally I think that’s harsh. It’s too faithful a work to be too insubstantial. But maybe Moore was right for once when, on being asked how he would adapt Watchmen for the screen, he famously replied “I wouldn’t.”+++++   

4 Responses for “The WATCHMEN Questions”

  1. roundcat says:

    My main bone of contention is that I do not know who is superhuman and who isn’t. I loved that the original Watchmen grew to be slobs and old bitter buzzards but was never sure if they were just ordinary folk in costumes or actual real superheros. I think it has to be the latter. The following is my attempts to answer your quezzies and get that bun.

    1. Why does Jon return to Earth?
    Jon or Jonnyboy Blue as I call him, returns (I thought) because he still has an iota of human in him. He had still tried to pleasure his girlfriend because he cared for her but at the same time he was becoming detached from his emotions and becoming a lonely blue boy. That’s why he returned to Earth. Although able to transend time he is still imperfect. Notice how he hesitates before killing Rorschach?

    2. Rorschach tries to escape because he IS superhuman. Notice how he scaled the walls of buildings and at the beginning of the film he jumped several stories onto the window. He aint just a bloke. However I do not know whey his facemask keeps changing as cloth is not biological.

    3. Why did Jonnyboy not see the cancer scare? He was confused. He had just started experiencing all time, all the time. A lot to take in. Why dios he return? I found this bunch of pretentious garbage on the net – maybe its an answer:

    “Dr. Manhattan is amazed by the improbable variables that occurred to resulted in the birth of Laurel which he sees as a stunning thermodynamic miracle. By extension, this miracle can apply to any living thing on Earth and so Dr. Manhattan decided to return to Earth protect this wonder called life.”


  2. roundcat says:

    As a side note. Manhattan is the character nobody should create. He is impossible and will be pummelled for his inconsistances.

    For example – the picture above of him sitting on a rock.

    Why sit?

    Whys does a aman who can manipulate matter and unfathomable mass have to rest? He would feel utter comfort at all times. Why stand? Why be human shaped? Why exist?

  3. roomybonce says:

    Sorry roundcat, but I’m afraid the ‘roomyverse’ bun must remain in its airtight locker.

    1. Dr. Manhattan is intrigued & fascinated by life on earth, but that isn’t necessarily the same as caring. He’s gone beyond that. He might try to pleasure Laurie, but it’s only an attempt to make her happy because he perceives that she wants to be happy. It doesn’t mean he’s any longer capable of happiness himself within a ‘traditional’ relationship. If his interactions often appear staged and forced it’s because there is no human left in him, only a confused nostalgia for how human he used to be.

    And if he cares so much about humanity why does he eventually sod off to another galaxy to create his own? Yes, his very presence would again create a power imbalance that might interfear with the peaceful evolution Ozy has stimulated, but it still doesn’t show much of an interest in mankind to put a million light years between yourself and the nearest human being.

    What that shows is an overdue acceptance of who he is. A god, capable of creating his own life. He no longer needs to be human. But perhaps you’re right in that he is imperfect before that final moment of clarity, so first point conceded sir. Shame then that

    2. Rorschach is not superhuman in any physical sense. He has a grappling hook (designed especially for him by Nite Owl) which allows him to scale walls. He’s just a son-of-a-whore called Kovacs who was ragged on by his slutmom and discovered a unique talent for violence. He is superhuman in his sense of patriotism (hence his devotion to ‘New Frontiers’) and his uncompromisingly stark morality, but he is just a man.

    He made the mask, incidentally, from material he came across while working in the rag trade. A dress was commissioned from a unique material developed by Dr Manhattan that incorporated a flowing liquid within a transparent mesh. Unfortunately the lady who ordered it didn’t take a fancy to the end result, which was consequently left for Rorschach’s scissors to redesign.

    3. It’s too much for him to take in? His transformation was over a decade ago, so he could be used to it by now.

    Well, there you go. One out of three. Close, but no cigar Mr R.

    • X-Y-Z-Cosmonaut says:

      Doctor Manhattan is a lot like “The Beyonder” (from Marvel’s “Secret Wars”) – basically a god-like/type being who can do anything. In the brilliant “Secret Wars II”, The Beyonder (I think “The” is his first name) came to Earth and deliberately made himself look like David Hasselhoff… If the Beyonder can do that, then there is good reason why Doctor Manhattan would want to sit if he feels like it. If you follow that logic, then you know where I’m coming from and I don’t need to explain any further. If you don’t follow, I don’t want to explain anyway.


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