Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?

I did.

With the release of the movie
The Watchmen I became interested in understanding the reasons behind the hype. A friend at church loaned me his copy of the graphic novel which I read over the next four days. The artwork was adequate, but not spectacular; the story was well plotted, the characters atypically complex, and the ending was satisfying. My overall reaction was that it was ok but I wasn’t compelled to see the movie.

Part of my reaction was to the sub-plot of the pirate tale. While it was woven well into the main story, it simply didn’t do anything for me. But this was a minor point compared to my indifference to the characters themselves. One of my earliest memories of comic books was reading
Captain Atom in Charlton’s Strange Suspense Stories, certainly issue #77 and possibly #76, in 1965 when I was ten. So I have a soft spot in my heart for Captain Atom and, later, Blue Beetle. To a lesser extent I followed The Peacemaker and Judomaster.

The characters in
The Watchmen were shadows of the Charlton characters. Dr. Manhattan was Captain Atom recast; Rorschach was The Question; Nite Owl was Blue Beetle; The Comedian was Peacemaker; Ozymandias was Peter Cannon, Thunderbolt; and The Silk Spectre was Nightshade. Dr. Manhattan, being a poor copy, simply soured me on the story. Instead of the atomic man who explored the mysteries of space, the most powerful man in the world was paralyzed by his philosophy. I usually enjoy exploring the effects a worldview has on people, but not with my childhood hero.

But then the superdrive in my Macbook Pro stopped reliably burning dual-layer DVDs. So on a Saturday I took it to the Apple store, they had one part available, and they would try to effect the swap that day. Since they had my laptop, I looked for something to do. So I went to the movie.

I was blown away. The graphic novel came alive. The special effects were spectacular, especially
Manhattan’s “fortress of solitude” on Mars. I remember thinking, “Oh, that’s what the comic imagined.” After the fact, it was obvious, and I shouldn’t have missed it when I read the novel; but that doesn’t lessen that moment of awe. I was able to put aside the distortion of my childhood heros and enjoy the story for itself.

It is a dark movie. The line between “good guys” and “bad guys” is sometimes nonexistant. This is a good thing, since it is true to life, even though we don’t like to admit it. There is graphic, disturbing, violence. There is graphic nudity, both male and female. One character declines to wear any sort of costume to show his disassociation with mere humans. There is graphic sex, voluntary and otherwise. The ending shows the futility of human knowledge. It may have been the author’s intent to show the futility of human existence, that left to ourselves we are doomed to suffering and strife.

But this is an old theme: compare with the book of
Ecclesiastes in the Bible. Fortunately, we have not been left to ourselves.
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