Saturday, December 1, 2012

Watchmen: Chapter XII - thematic overview


Thematic Overview: 

Noted creators such as Darwyn Cooke and John Byrne have criticized Watchmen for being too grim, too pessimistic.  They argue it casts superheroes in the “wrong” light, eschewing the inherent optimism of these four-color demigods for a dreary, hedonistic view of humanity and superhumanity.  They protest that Watchmen is bereft of hope, a cornerstone of the superhero genre.  With all due respect, Cooke and Byrne and other like-minded people have completely misread Moore’s & Gibbons’s narrative.

Fittingly, this final chapter encompasses the overall theme of Watchmen, hope.  Hope for a better, more loving world, a world in which governments hell-bent on each other’s destruction find common ground and work toward peace.  It is a hope that subtly permeates this final chapter, simmering beneath the surface of the horror committed by Adrian Veidt and exemplified by all of the main actors in this drama.  In my introduction to this project I allowed that people’s varied interpretations of art are all valid.  But in this case, I must argue that anyone unwilling to see the optimism of Watchmen is bringing his or her prejudices too much to bear upon this narrative and has misconstrued the intent of the authors.  Watchmen is a dark and, at times, horrific piece of fiction, but behind its dismal, gray tones the possibility of a bright future is revealed.

The most obvious indication of this hopefulness is the climax of the book, when news reports stream across Veidt’s television sets proclaiming Russia’s withdrawal from Afghanistan and subsequent offer of assistance to America, averting the imminent nuclear devastation that had been hanging over everyone for so long.  This newfound cooperation between Russia and the United States is further exhibited in the final pages, as we follow Seymour through the reconstructed New York intersection that was ground zero for the “alien attack.”  Business signs – the Burgers ‘n Borscht restaurant, an advertised double feature of noted Russian filmmaker Andrei Tarkovsky, at the New Utopia – and advertisements – Millennium fragrances and Sunburst candy – dot the NYC landscape, signifying this new forward-thinking atmosphere.   

Ultimately, the most significant symbols of hope are the heroes – each, in his or her own way, exemplifying the optimism inherent within the human spirit.  Veidt, unable to conceive of failure, risks his conscience and his life on a shocking plan, the outcome of which is never guaranteed.  Dr. Manhattan, so detached from humanity, brings hope to Laurie and the others when, convinced of the wonder of humanity, he returns to Earth.  Dan and Laurie, overwhelmed by the enormity of Veidt’s plan and the realization they must now become tacit accomplices, choose to take up their costumed mantles once more.  Each of them, despite the weight of their knowledge, chooses life. 

And finally, there is Rorschach.  Some might term it obstinacy, but his unwillingness to forego his moral code, even in the face of Veidt’s apparent triumph, is an unfettered and unflinching hopefulness that most of us cannot aspire to.  We are too practical, too logical, too insecure to adhere so resolutely to our convictions, especially when presented with such a damning argument against such a stance.  And yet, Rorschach refuses to give in, refuses to be swayed, refuses to give up.  And in that act he exemplifies the strongest positive outlook one can have – a hope against hope.

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