Reality and popular culture in Watchmen
The Watchmen movie was made in 2009, after the comic book novel from 1986, written by Alan Moore. Alan Moore is considered to be one of the most influential comic book writers, thanks to his propensity to add references, certain real-life details and serious social issues and problems into his work, thus segregating it from the so-called mainstream in the comic book world. Several of Moore’s famous works, among others, include “The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen”, “From Hell” and “V for Vendetta” but “Watchmen”, to this day, is his most appreciated and best known work of art.
The plot of “Watchmen” is set in the United States in the year 1985, in an alternate history of the world which is nearing nuclear war between the Soviet Union and America (the “Doomsday Clock” is set to 5 minutes to midnight – a symbol showing America at the brink of the abyss – a nuclear war). The story focuses on a group of superheroes, which exist in this alternate form of history as a natural phenomenon and they have been around since World War II. In this context, we have the former group of superheroes – Minutemen, who were active from 1939 to 1949, and the “current”, second generation, called The Crimebusters. It’s a common misconception that the mentioned group of heroes is actually called Watchmen, when in fact the term “Watchmen” itself refers to a completely different concept here, which I will deal with later.
What makes “Watchmen” a particularly interesting concept is the fact that it is a comic book (and a movie) about superheroes, but it is not a typical superhero comic book, and the movie is not a typical action-adventure adaptation of a comic book. It is in fact quite serious and even a somewhat depressing film. That is, at least, how I see it.
In the world of “Watchmen”, superheroes are depicted as real and ordinary people who often must confront their own ethical and personal issues. They are everyday people who struggle with the traumas and failures of life and who (with only one exception – Dr. Manhattan) actually do not possess any super powers at all. These are not characters that confront their ultimate evil opponents and honorably fight against them (at least not in the sense of comic book villains, with rare exceptions of criminals who were initially masked and are, only on the superficial level of the story, the reason why our heroes are masked). What happens, in fact, is that our heroes find themselves in this mess of a real world and often must choose the lesser of two evils.
It is because of these kind of themes that Alan Moore has become one of the most famous comic book authors, and his novel “Watchmen” so revolutionary in the world of superhero comics and comics in general. The novel’s unconventional superhero archetype, along with its use of powerful symbolism, multi-layered dialogue and metafiction makes sure it delves into the minds of readers worldwide.
Even the title “Watchmen” in itself is a concept worthy of praise, in the sense that it is so seamlessly applied when in fact it can be interpreted on several different levels, one of which is as follows.
As I mentioned earlier, it is a common misconception that our designated group of heroes is called Watchmen. There are lots of moments in the comic book (and several in the movie) where a term “Who watches the Watchmen?” is used. The term is based on the Latin phrase “Quis custodiet ipsos custodies?” which quite literally means “Who will guard the guards themselves?”. What Moore is trying to convey here is actually the fact and the idea that the society and its people are, normally, being watched, controlled and administered by the government and helped function by the law – our society’s watchmen. But what he puts to the question IS the question – what happens when the government goes awry and when the so called protector of the society is corrupted? Who, then, watches the Watchmen?
Really, a great implementation and a fruitful thought, Mr. Moore.