Posted by: Garret | February 28, 2010

Watchmen (discussion)

Alongside Miller’s Dark Knight Returns, Alan Moore’s Watchmen (1986) represents a seismic shift for superhero comics that would usher in the ‘Grim and Gritty’ Age of vigilante ‘realism.’ It’s a comics milestone that deconstructs the idea of the superhero with a story that continues to rile fans (Wait til you hear MoreFun Tim tell you his take on the 2009 Watchmen movie). In some ways the movie was a success, and in others it failed. The graphic novel, however, continues to influence interpretations of superheroes in comics and film (Didja like The Incredibles?). Questions below:

Watchmen Critical Reflection Questions

1.) We have been discussing the theoretical implications of superhero violence for several weeks. In previous discussions, Jewett and Lawrence warned against the idealization of redemptive violence as a central trope of the American Monomyth. How does Watchmen approach the concept of vigilante violence? (Consider the history that has come before, the Comics Code Authority, etc., versus Miller’s deployment of righteous violence in Dark Knight Returns.) Specifically, how do Rorschach’s tactics speak to this theme versus Ozymandius? Who is right? What is right? How do these characters represent clashing ideologies and ethical perspectives?

2.) Ozymandius is first introduced as a retired superhero cum corporate tycoon that has cashed in on his own pseudo-celebrity superhero persona. The character is seen conversing over his latest line of superhero toys, and perhaps represents a meta-critique on the commoditization of superheroes as something other than just comic book stories for kids. What is going on here? How do you compare Veidt’s level of monetary success or “selling out to corporate America” to the later revelations about his character motivations? Are these superheroes as celebrity vigilantes also ideological commodities?

3.) What do you make of Silk Spectre’s sexualization and fetishization then victimization? How does she stand in for comic book superheroines generally, as does her daughter legacy Silk Spectre 2, for better and worse? What is Alan Moore getting at by positioning superheroes as media commodities and why is this pivotal to his metacritique of endlessly profit-driven superhero storytelling? And what is the importance of “Tales of the Black Freighter” comic-within-a-comic?

4.) In chapter 11 of Myth of the American Superhero, Jewett and Lawrence posed this of the TV Series Star Trek: “The stories of [the original series] thus fit the genre of the isolated zealous hero or nation, answerable only to a higher law and fighting for right whenever called to do so, a theme America has tried to act out repeatedly” (p. 231). Where does Watchmen meet this standard of self-purported righteous intervention, and where does Moore’s narrative problematize this idea of American jingoism with The Comedian and his bickering superteam? (Consider the flashbacks versus the way Moore’s plot is resolved in the final chapters.)

5.) Moore’s titular thematic “Quis custodiet ipsos custodes? is intended as a meditation on power, the powerful, human governance, guardians of ‘The Laws’ and the corrupting potentials of unchecked power.  Are the protagonists in Watchmen superheroes? SuperAntiheroes? Or something else altogether?



  1. there is no right or wrong answer really there cant be…both ozy and rorschach believe in fighting the bad guys in order to protect the good…i think that simply because the times are always constantly changing there can never be a violence that is appropriate for the times thats probably why there is always problems with authority and even those who are trying to “watch” out for them…the people dont really know how to react to a hero whose trying to do good in a world that can never really ever be good or completely saved for that matter. So thats why Rarschach sticks with the themese of redemptive violence as a hope to always do the right thing even if by use of equally disturbing violence…which he is so good at and inevitably hated for…there is no right and they know it too…

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