Monday, March 02, 2009

Absent Friends (DC)
Where: Watchmen #2 When: October 1986
Why: Alan Moore How: Dave Gibbons

Strength: Rorschach 2 (Average)
Intelligence: Rorschach 4 (Tactician)
Speed: Rorschach 2 (Average)
Stamina: Rorschach 3 (Strong Willed)
Agility: Rorschach 2 (Average)
Fighting: Rorschach 4 (Trained)
Energy: Rorschach 2 (Projectile)

Math: Rorschach
Ranking: Draw (Not Ranked)

When it comes to matters of broad significance, you'll often find on the Infinite Wars a conversational fascination with the reactions of audiences, as much as any material itself. As millions cram in to theatres to see the Watchmen film, the opinions the story generates are potentially of as much interest as the book.

Revered as the 'greatest comic book of all time,' Watchmen is not the type of story people would typically go to a Superhero Fight Club to read about.
I like to think our discussions and musings about the superhero condition often expose and explore many multi-faceted and intelligent concepts, but I make no illusion about the station of this website. Superheroes are what we're about, and while this might not be the first source people look to for information on the epic tale, fortunately for me, it's very much a superhero matter!

For some; Watchmen stands as a lasting general criticism of the superhero concept. Responsible, in large part, for provoking an age of cynicsm and "grim and gritty" in superhero comics, Watchmen does indeed expose bold feet of clay in each and every one of it's Charlton-inspired heroes.
The narrative invests heavily in noting the frailty, deviancy, and tyrrany of it's starring heroes, but actually appears to deliberately inflect very little method of judgment into their portrayal. In expressing these elements of the human condition through their extraordinary cyphers, Moore (and Gibbons) appears to attempt to relate to the superhero concept through familiarity, borrowing not only from life, but also heavily from various eras of comics previous (to the 1986 release), writing an eventuating love letter to the superhero super-genre.

Modern readers have benefitted from twenty-plus years of Watchmen's influence.
For better, (or worse), publishers have absorbed many of the tropes emphasised in the book's examination of humanity, superheroes, and comic book fiction.
Anyone who has read characters like Batman, Daredevil, Blue Beetle, or The Question, is already well primed to have a sense of familiarity for what Watchmen is credited with purveying.
This is far from any kind of cricitism, but for those embarking on a first reading of the collected tale, with those modern exposures in mind, can not possibly fully appreciate what the story must have meant to those who read it in 1986.

Spotlighting this particular encounter allows us to talk a little bit about the most iconic character from the series without feeling overly concerned about spoilers. Not that the specifics of the fight are all there is to discuss. Honestly, while I'm reluctant to hold the story in the esteem many do, I find myself indulging the story with such a sprawl of subjects that I'm forced to question my own doubt.

Arguing against the significance Watchmen has had to the world of comics is a bit like trying to convince the world the Arctic isn't cold. Even if they've never been there, most people are pretty comfortable with their certainty of truth.
That recognition alone of the popular title is more than justification for it's reverence not only as a story, but as a totem through which the medium has been engendered to so-called "important" sources. With the days of pulp nerds pummeled into historic footnotes by Frederic Wertham, a work that reminds the world of the adult potential of comics is welcome.

That agreed, I simply cannot read Watchmen without finding myself objecting to the unique praise heaped upon it. No, I would not decry the quality of the tale. Moore (and Gibbons) cram sufficient degrees of quality into their story to be worthy of praise. I suppose it's more the lack of perspective in widespread acclaim that bothers me more than the relative familiarity of the content.

As a modern reader versed in a basic 101 of the past and present of comics, I'm of the opinion that we should all be reading this material with enough imagination to indulge similar concepts of humanity that makes Watchmen and it's characters so significant. Forthcoming in it's nature as a derivative work, it is undoubtedly this inflection of humanity and frailty that creates Watchmen's legacy. While this quality has existed for as long as superheroes themselves, the references that build Watchmen's human condition and the conflicting archetypes of it's characters are particularly well done. While not responsible for inventing the practise, it no doubt helped permeate a sense of depth in superhero comics.

Rorschach has become one of the most popular cyphers for the exploration of ideals that Watchmen presents. Based on The Question, with heavy influences from another subversive Ditko creation of objectivist leanings, Mr. A; the character is memorable for an arc that allows readers to feel the gamut of emotion for a man who is disturbed, maladjusted, and quite possibly the greatest hero of this alternate New York.

As an uncompromising individual of unwavering certainty where matters of morals are concerned; Rorschach possesses an edgy intrigue reminiscent of The Dark Knight's counter-cultural revolutionary, Joker, which makes his renewed popularity with pubescent males wholely unsurprising.

In a world without widespread superheroics, Rorschach's greatest "powers" are will and dedication to the pursuit of justice through physical means. As a power fantasy, he is a highly achievable ideal of moral purity, intent on pursuing justice without compromise. Of course, this same narrow focus is revealed through the story to be seeded in the very dark psyche of a man who began with good intentions, but became something very different.

Pursuing the character's origins, Moore reveals a history that might suggest something about the state of mind necessary for someone to actually stand in the street and go the extra mile to become a masked vigilante.
What ever the intended point, it was the noir-inspired grim and gritty outlook of the journal scrawling narrator, in tandem with DKR's Batman, that helped produce a generation of violent psychopathic heroes in the 1990's.

In today's featured scene (from the second issue); Rorschach has embarked upon a process of fact finding, in response to the murder death of former costumed hero cum government enforcer, Edward Blake, aka; The Comedian.

Initially interested only in the investigation of an extravagant homicide, Rorschach stumbles upon the hidden closet of Blake's alter-ego, leading him to jump to the conlusion of a possible plot against masked vigilantes.

Outlawed by the Keene Act legislation of eight years prior to Blake's death, most costumed heroes have retreated into retirement by this time. Only Rorschach remained defiant of the ban, joined in activity by Blake, and Dr. Manhattan, who entered the employ of the United States government as a physicist and superhuman deterrent to the Soviet Union with whom this alternate United States has maintained Cold War tensions with. Rorschach visits Manhattan, and several other retired heroes, in the interest of warning them based on his potential theory. He does so, even though no leads present themselves when he probes the criminal petri dish of local bars.

As would be logical of any conventional superhero mystery, Rorschach seeks out one of the Comedian's nemesis with which he shared a rivalry for four decades.
Edward William Jacobi, better known as Moloch the Mystic, is a pale shadow of the colourful villain that menaced New York, when Rorshach comes to see him.
Now a tired old man, Jacobi is no better prepared to resist the shock arrival of Rorschach, than he would have been the might of the physically impressive Blake.

Rorschach hides in Jacobi's refridgerator, leaping out to pin him to the ground and begin the wild ride of interrogation. With a knee in Moloch's back, he probes for details about his relationship with Edward Blake, revealing an unlikely meeting between the villain and a drunken Comedian. Rorschach pins the villain to a wall, sparing him brutality to hear the details of a terrified hero's night visit to a man who spent countless hours trying to kill him.

Rorschach's physical domination of Moloch gives him a level of information he requires. He allows the villain to escape unpunished, promising a subsequent visit.

In many ways, it was Rorschach's violence and introspective disillusions that caught on over the course of the medium's most infamous age. Moore's design for the hero presents a multi-faceted interpretation that allows Rorschach to fill the conventional slot of an urban superhero protagonist, while also possessing dimensions that reveal one particular version of this type of human being.

With any luck, this fate will not befall superheroes in cinema, who have much less quantity to weed out unfortunate trends such as these. In an act of something akin to reverse-evolution, the failure of the recent Punisher movie might have afforded us the opportunity to avoid the cinematic equivalent of the proliferation of internally absorbed maniacs. If only comics were so lucky.

In wrapping up this tremendously late feature, it might be nice to make some reference to the film. Script changes to the ending have been a popular point of subject for many. More prominent is the removal of the "squid" from the movie ending, but as disappointed as I might be by the specifics of that change, it perhaps more troublesome to learn that Rorschach's conclusion is no longer played out alone.

There was something very poetic and human about the way Rorschach ends his role in the story. In the book, the masked anti-hero makes his final appearances in the last issue alone, save for his final antagonist. If you're wondering, yes, he does finally uncover the truth behind the mystery of Edward Blake's death, but his last contribution in the story is as a character, and human being. His final appearances are punctuated by his uncompromising focus and the fact that while he finishes the story as one of the most powerful individuals in the situation, he also does so alone, completely feeble as a result of his steadfast morals.

I expect we will elaborate on those final scenes at some point in the future.
While I am very reluctant to hold Watchmen in the untouchable regard that is known of the pseudo-intelligencia, herded sheep, and peripheral poseurs, I have to agree that it is an incredibly satisfying superhero tale. And a superhero tale it is, indeed. Unashamedly.

If you've found yourself bewildered by the changes made to the film's conclusion, then you might like to check out the two-hour Q&A podcast with screenwriters David Hayter and Alex Tse, from Creative Screenwriting magazine. The podcast, (dated 03/26), offers candid discussion about the motivations of the changes and exactly what they entail. Be warned, there are spoilers aplenty, so if you haven't had the chance to draw your own conclusions by reading the book, I strongly suggested you rectify that first. Watchmen is available super-cheap via Amazon, and by using purchase links provided on this site, you help sponsor future entries. For reasons that may not corroborate with popular opinion, this almost certainly is a twelve issue comic book every reader should find their way to.

I'd like to give the Watchmen screenwriters the benefit of the doubt, because under the pressures of a live podcast, they certainly don't seem to sell the motivations of their changes very well. Personally, I think the discussion reveals fundamental misconceptions about the nature of what's being presented, even on very basic levels, like the origins of the so-called "squid ending." Justifications made to reject acceptance of what is on the page, and make shifts, seems to completely undermine a subtle context made very appropriate by the comic.

I will leave you to draw your own conclusions, however, and look forward to any opinions you might have to share. I'm sure what little criticism I have been able to articulate about the book, will be divisive.

The Fight: 4 The Issue: 5.5
Winner: Rorschach

Who watches the Watchmen?
While the epic DVD release of the eagerly anticipated film (released March 6) is a couple of months away, you needn't wait that long to get your Watchmen movie fix! Available on DVD and Blu-Ray, Tales of the Black Freighter elaborates on the comic-within-the-comic that resonates with events in the Watchmen universe. While it might not carry the weight of expanding a sense of humanity in a group careening toward doomsday, it is sure to be an interesting addition for any Watchmen fan's collection! Also featured is a special expanded feature based on the Hollis Mason biography famously quoted in the back of Watchmen #1 and #2; "Under the Hood." By using purchase links provided, you help sponsor future entries in the Infinite Wars! Cheers!

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