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Superhero Concept And Stereotypes In Watchmen By Alan Moore

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Watchmen is a graphic novel series written by Alan Moore that features original superheroes and historical fiction created by the author himself. The storytelling of the superhero ‘species’ is well-known for dealing with issues of social injustice and role-model characters, but Alan Moore’s Watchmen challenges the ‘trained’ interpretation of the traditional superhero as well as fixated stereotypes through its literary narrative, morally conflicted characters, and reoccurring symbols.

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The Watchmen series is designed to reflect coexistent cultural themes and to critique the the idea of the ‘commendable’ superhero concept. The story is set in 1985 New York City and follows a set of superheroes consisting of Dr. Manhatten, The Comedian, Nite Owl, Ozymandias, Rorschach, and the Silk Spectre. This team of characters have recently come together to fight crime, investigate a series of ‘masked murders’ of superheroes, including the sudden murder of The Comedian. Moore’s graphic novel works to deconstruct the ideal characteristics and subsided truths of typical superheroes. His portrayals of the characters in the novel fulfill a different function to society that is different than that of other superheroes. Through an in-depth character analysis of Dr. Manhatten, Rorschach, Ozymandias and The Comedian, Moore uses literary criticism such as deconstruction, historical context and psychoanalysis to prove how these characters counter those of traditional superheroes in other narratives.

Superheroes are generally defined as invincible characters that typically possess extraordinary or superhuman powers that are used to the advantage of protecting the public. Clocks and watches are recurring images throughout the novel, imposing time as a major theme. The heroes are likewise, time-lost individuals that are hung up on the glory of their past. Ozymandias is determined on dragging mankind to his future benefit, even if it means he has to commit heinous crimes to do so. A clear mistranslation deliberately applied in Moore’s Watchmen to counter these masked crime fighters typically using their powers for the greater good.

The character Dr. Manhatten greatly applies to the deconstruction theory, revealing a character that defies the popular superhero stereotypes with his “God-like” abilities and his improper demeanor of existence. Dr. Manhattan’s possession of such capabilities would typically be considered a privilege with his power over mankind, but one can see that the character’s superhuman abilities are rather destructive. Dr. Manhattan’s abilities represent him as an outcast from society while developing an emotional and physical detachment from the city that praises him. His withdrawal from humanity, leads him to flee Earth, as well as ruin many relationships made, and is evidently shown during a conversation with Rorschach about The Comedian’s death, in which Dr. Manhattan states with great disengagement “A live body and a dead body contain the same number of particles. Structurally, there’s no discernible difference. Life and death are unquantifiable abstracts. Why should I be concerned?”.

Due to his objective view of a world in which the past, present, and future are experienced in one unified reality, Dr. Manhattan’s struggle with humanity is construed. He is a prisoner to time just as he is a master over it. The god/humankind theory reveals that Dr. Manhattan’s distort perception of reality proves to be something opposite of beneficial and good, making his abilities undeserved due to a shifted mindset. He bares the ability to see the future and experience it yet he doesn’t stop the mayhem of varied power-bound beings, he is unable to save New York City and the numbers of innocent lives, while also being unable to maintain the relationships he was privileged, making these aspects of his super-human abilities defy previously held worldviews about superheros, or “God-like beings,” versus the ordinary human race. This is seen in a conversation with Laurie when Dr. Manhattan leaves Earth for a life in Mars in which he states, “I return to Earth at some point in my future. There are streets full of corpses. The details are vague”. This deliberate choice of design made by Moore to deconstruct insecure, morally flawed, sexually gratified, and sociopathic, the Watchmen are menacing “heroes” moved to fight crime less by benevolence than by their own questionable selfish motives. Dr. Manhattan, the novel’s only ‘truly’ super-powered character, showed the destructive capabilities a superhuman would pose for the human race, provoking a puzzling fear of such noble characters. Moore emphasizes the fixated perceptions in which humankind has on the ideal ‘all-powerful and all-good’ superhero, that in his truth, are deceiving and are to be exploited through satire.

09 March 2021

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