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Literary Analysis Applied to A Comic Book ( Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons’ Watchmen). Deconstruction.

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deconstruction
Deconstruction
  • When we take something established (a belief, an ideology, a story concept, a character, genre or myth) and take it apart to see how it works, what it means and so on, instead of just unthinkingly staring at it, we call this “deconstructing” the thing.
  • People my age did this with religion, with music, with holidays, and with every story from our childhood. Your movies and TV are made by people my age deconstructing and remaking stuff from our childhood.

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concept
Concept
  • In 1953, brand new periodical Mad Magazine took the established Superman character…
  • And lampooned it, (calling the character “Superduperman”)

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concept1
Concept
  • Alan Moore (no relation, all appearances to the contrary) decided it was time someone took the superhero genre and pushed it, not in a comedic direction, but a dramatic, realistic one.

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motivation
Motivation
  • Moore decided to write a story filled with elements and themes he felt were “too real” for superhero comics to normally cover.

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real world elements not found in 80s comics
Real World Elements Not Found in 80s Comics
  • Homosexual characters
  • Blood
  • “Heroes” killing people
  • Sex and nudity
  • Bad Language
  • Smoking
  • Politics
  • Philosophy
  • Psychology

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setting
Setting
  • Moore set Watchmen in an alternate version of 1980s America, one in which Richard Nixon kept getting re-elected, instead of having to resign for dishonesty.
  • The Cold War is out of control, and superheroes are real, helped America win the Vietnam War, but are now outlawed.
  • Cars are electric, people have little glass devices to prevent second-hand smoke, and because superheroes are real, children read pirate comics instead

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creation
Creation
  • Moore wanted the freedom to have characters like Batman, Superman and so on die, kill people, be gay, do wrong things, have psychological problems and so on, to make his story more complex. He wanted to start the comic with the shocking image of a famous superhero’s body being found floating in the river, permanently dead.
  • Being clearly told he was not allowed to mess with anyone’s established, popular, money-making superhero characters, he got Dave Gibbons to design some stereotypical superheroes for him to use.

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character origins
Character Origins
  • Moore decided that, if superheroes were real, and lived in our world, they would be rather silly and quite sad.
  • He decided dressing up in costumes and running around was kind of kinky and weird, so he decided in his book, society would view superheroism as a nerdyfad, and also as an embarrassing fetish.

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inspiration nite owl ii
Inspiration: Nite Owl II
  • Nite Owl II is a typical “normal guy with gadgets and vehicles” superhero, like Batman or Blue Beetle.
  • Dan Drieberg (Nite Owl II) is based on Superman’s alter-ego Clark Kent, only chubby.

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characterization nite owl ii
Characterization: Nite Owl II
  • As Clark Kent, Superman only pretends to be nerdy
  • Dan Dreiberg really is nerdy. He’s interested in birds. This is how he invents all the Batman and Blue Beetle style gizmos.
  • He has Clark Kent’s timidity, and Superman’s idealism.
  • His arc involves him dealing with and pursuing the fact that, despite superheroes being outlawed, he really needs the costume to “come out of his shell” and be who he really is deep down.

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inspiration rorschach
Inspiration: Rorschach
  • Spider-Man designer Steve Ditko created black-and-white thinking, justice-obsessed Mr. A and mysterious The Question.
  • The Rorschach psychiatric test, with its symmetrical blots, inspired the character’s mask, and reflects his psychiatric problems

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characterization rorschach
Characterization: Rorschach
  • Most superheroes are handsome under their masks.
  • Rorschach is short, ugly, and smelly.
  • His mother was abusive and promiscuous, and he has emotional problems. This makes the character more flawed and interesting.
  • He wants to punish criminals.
  • His arc involves whether his inability to compromise (or stop) will get him in the end, or if he can use this weakness to achieve good. (His inability to stop makes him unstoppable).

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inspiration the comedian
Inspiration:The Comedian
  • The Comedian is Moore and Gibbons’ take on “patriotic/war” superheroes like Captain America and Nick Fury.

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the comedian
The Comedian
  • The Comedian character represents every bad thingAmerica ever did. (Moore is British.)
  • The Comedian is cynical and gleefully violent.
  • He is unheroic, macho, scary and amoral, and not funny, but he laughs continually, whenever it is inappropriate to do so.

What would Freud say Moore and Gibbons are suggesting that America was doing to Vietnam during the war there?

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characterization the comedian
Characterization:The Comedian
  • He gets involved in secret assassinations and wars all over the world, he gets a Vietnamese woman pregnant during the war there, and when she asks him to support her, he shoots her. He tries to rape a female superhero team member.
  • But he is notthe antagonist. The story starts with him being mysteriously beaten up and shoved out a window to his death.
  • In a weird way, he is scarred by his experiences. (this is reflected in the Vietnamese woman leaving with a huge scar down his face from a broken bottle).
  • His arc involves being continually haunted (and eventually killed) by his past, which he’s been trying to “laugh off.”

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inspiration doctor manhattan
Inspiration:Doctor Manhattan
  • A hero who, like the Captain Atom character, is like an atomic bomb or nuclear explosion is perfect for an exploration of cold war paranoia about the world being destroyed in the nuclear arms race.
  • Moore wanted a god-like, inhuman character, but not one who, Star Trek / Pinocchio-like, wants to strive to become human (a “real boy”). Manhattan is into being more than human.
  • The nudity was supposed to be aesthetic (artistic like the “David” statue) and also reflect is inhumanity (not needing clothes)

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origin story explanation doctor manhattan
Origin Story/Explanation:Doctor Manhattan
  • Dr. Jon Ostermanisn’t really human anymore.
  • Like The Incredible Hulk, he underwent a nuclear accident and now can rearrange molecules with his mind and experiences all time periods, all at the same time
  • The symbol he wears on his forehead is of a hydrogen atom. A hydrogen atom was split to bomb Hiroshima. The ManhattanProject was the codename for the design of the first atomic bomb.

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characterization doctor manhattan
Characterization:Doctor Manhattan:
  • Doctor Manhattan’s character arc is that, as he isn’t like other people anymore, he becomes increasingly unable to relateemotionally to his friends, girlfriend and the human race itself.
  • He gives up on wanting to help human beings, and wonders what he is now and what to do with his life. Like…everybody.
  • He stops wearing clothes, and goes to Mars to be left alone.
  • He can stop the world from blowing itself up with nuclear weapons, but doesn’t know why he should bother anymore.

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inspiration silk spectre ii
Inspiration: Silk Spectre II
  • Female comic book characters seem to have huge chests and wear bathing suits and heels. (You’d think men were drawing these books.)
  • Silk Spectre was inspired by Black Canary and Phantom Lady.

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characterization silk spectre ii
Characterization: Silk Spectre II
  • Laurie Juspeczyk’s mother was the seductive Silk Spectre in the 40s, and was mainly in it for the male attention.
  • Laurie was Silk Spectre II mainly to please her mother, and quit after a brief stint.
  • Her arc is about whether she can maintain enough of an emotional connection to Doctor Manhattan to convince him to save the world, and enough influence on new lover Dan Drieberg to get him to join her in fighting crime again. It turns out she and Dan share the crime-fighting kink.

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characterization silk spectre ii1
Characterization: Silk Spectre II
  • A twist is that it turns out that The Comedian, after his thwarted rape attempt on the original Silk Spectre, successfully seduced her, and fathered Laurie.
  • Laurie finding this out after her father has been killed, and realizing she may have inherited his love of brutal violence (besides his characteristic smoking), adds complexity to her arc and the story.

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recurring image the smiley face
Recurring Image: The Smiley Face
  • The Comedian’s symbol.
  • He laughs so he won’t cry or go mad at the state of the world.
  • Doctor Manhattan goes to the Galle Crater (real) on Mars (Mars: looks red, god of war) to think about whether he’ll save the world from nuclear war or not. From one angle, the Galle Crater looks like a Smiley Face.
  • Blood on a Smiley Face is upsetting.

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recurring image the radiation symbol
Recurring Image: The Radiation Symbol
  • The Cold War is on, so everyone is afraid of the nuclear bomb.
  • Doctor Manhattan is thought of as a “human nuclear bomb”
  • The government irradiates people who know Doctor Manhattan so they get cancer and he can be tricked into thinking he gave them cancer.

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recurring image watches clocks and gears
Recurring Image:Watches, Clocks and Gears
  • Jon Osterman’s dad trains him to be a watchmaker (they are “watch men”) until he hears the atom bomb has been invented, then says Jon needs to embrace the future and go learn atomic science.
  • The “Watchmaker” view of God is that He made the Universe like a watchmaker makes a watch, wound it up and then left it to run automatically on its own, predetermined like clockwork. Osterman is now pretty much a god himself. Will he do the same?
  • Osterman undergoes the accident because he has fixed his girlfriend’s watch and is going back into a machine where he left it.

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recurring image watches clocks and gears1
Recurring Image:Watches, Clocks and Gears
  • Clocks are often shown approaching midnight.
  • The “Doomsday Clock” was meant to represent how many hours away nuclear war might be.
  • On Mars, Doctor Manhattan makes a giant set of gears made of pink glass from melting Mars’ sand. He is thinking about if his fate is “like clockwork” or if he has choice, because he now always knows what all his choices will be.
  • The gears are like his heart: now mechanical and inhuman. One visit from his ex, though and it shatters into tiny shards and he chooses to return and help.

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some questions moore raises for consideration
Some Questions Moore Raises for Consideration
  • Does doing bad things lastingly hurt a person?
  • What role does the chance to create a personal or act like someone else play in learning who one truly is inside?
  • Does power inevitably make a human being unable to connect and relate to others?
  • Is ignorance of the future what makes human beings human and free to make choices?
  • To what degree does “taking up the mantle” of a parent or predecessor make it hard to be oneself and have one’s own life?
  • How serious, real and grown-up can a superhero comic book get, and still “work”? (How far can the genre successfully be pushed in that direction?)
  • Is effective use of the news and entertainment media all it takes to rule the world nowadays?
  • How weird is it, really, that people are entertained by depictions of sex and violence?

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some questions moore raises for consideration1
Some Questions Moore Raises for Consideration
  • How much damage can one well-intentioned but misguided human being do to a society?
  • Is sacrificing the lives of a few people, in order to save millions ever justifiable? What does supporting or benefiting from this strategy make one?
  • What does it mean if a country has little to offer the world but destruction and violence?
  • Is effective use of the news and entertainment media all it takes to rule the world nowadays?
  • Is an inability to compromise, particularly one’s principles, a crucial failing? (How simple-minded and dangerous is black-white, binary thinking which cannot deal in nuances and exceptions?)
  • Are manipulation, secrecy and lies essential tools in making human relationships last?
  • How much damage can one well-intentioned but misguided human being do to another person?
  • It is worth it to do another person the honour of carrying on in their footsteps, and walking in their shadow?

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