Watching for War

Issue Five of the Watchmen comic is a well-executed practice of planned symmetry.  The chapter’s climax is in the middle, where Videt fights the man sent to assassinate him.  From there, every page after and before lines up with the corresponding page before and after.  Not every aspect of every panel is repeated, but the locations, characters, and even color schemes seem to be consistent.  It sets and repeats the mood, and makes the fight with the would be assassin stand out that much more.  In a way, it makes this scene, relatively short and seemingly unrelated to the issue overall, stand out, with the other events happening in the background.  This is especially apparent on a second read.

Issue 3 is about cause and effect, and the domino effect.  What starts out as a simple argument between lovers becomes an international crisis. This is the first time we really get to see the place that Dr. Manhattan holds in the world of Watchmen.  He is gone for less than a day, and already, the government plans for nuclear armageddon.  This says a lot about the time period in which Watchmen was written, when cold war tensions led to the fear that the smallest event could lead to war.  This is reflected in the relationship between Laurie and Jon, between whom tension had been growing, until a subtle event provoked Laurie to leave.

In issue 9, Jon ponders the purpose of life, wondering what use humanity is in a universe of greater wonders.  He decides to talk to Laurie about it.  He points out different natural phenomena on Mars, explaining their wonder and how they continue to exist whether life does or not.  Laurie counters with points about her life, how people’s experiences create something worth living for.  For some reason, the line of reasoning she uses causes her to come to a conclusion; she realizes who her real father was, and it is a man she had been taught to hate.  It is then that she throws the perfume bottle that has been seen, spinning thru the air periodically since the first panel of the issue.  It is also then that Jon realizes the true beauty of life.  He realizes that every human could have been very different from the way they are, due to only a few tweaks at conception.  Thus, every human life is a miracle just as beautiful as those he has shown Laurie on Mars.  This becomes his reason for returning and helping earth.  Another conclusion, however, can be easily drawn, and is supported by the quote at the end of the issue; if there were no life, who would be there to admire those wonders?

The theme of issue 11 centers on the question of what the true solution is to the violence that threatens our world.  Ozymandias became a superhero in order to “fix” the world, to rid it of the problems it faced.  He started off by taking down the heads of large criminal organizations, but eventually decided it wasn’t working.  He looked for the answer, and realized that they were only fighting the symptoms of evil.  Videt wanted to root out the cause.  He got his answer to this from the hero he had disliked since he met him: the Comedian.  The Comedian had decided that most of what they did was useless, since, he believed, the world would end due to nuclear warfare, anyway.  This was the evil that Adrian decided to fight.  His solution, however, was less than desirable, though it was an idea worthy of the Comedian himself: he would have the world unite against an alien force.  This “alien force” would essentially kill enough people to scare the world into behaving, and ward off nuclear war.  Calling back to issue 9, Ozymandias’s justification is that if the earth is destroyed, what meaning would our existence have in the first place?  What’s interesting is how, as he explains his intricate plan to save the world, panels woven in show the true solution to the problem of violence: people stepping in to help others.  And then, Videt’s weapon goes off, and this charity is made obsolete.

As much as, and perhaps more than it is a story about imperfect superheroes, Watchmen is a story of the nature of evil itself.  It raises questions of existence and morality, and what that means in the shadow of the nuclear age.  What is life when it can be blown away by nuclear warheads?  What would such an event really change in the universe as a whole?  How far should we be willing go to prevent it?  One thing I must point out; this story goes as though a nuclear war was the only possible solution to the cold war.  I have to wonder how perception of this story changed when Russia renounced communism and the cold war ended, and it became apparent that such an extravagant solution was not necessary after all.

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