Friday, 14 October 2016

The Graphic Novel as Existentialist text........

I watched this again last night. Its brooding description of an alternative America echoes the feel of the Trump rallies and the nature of the American Election process. In the film it is asked What happened to the American Dream. Rorschach replies “ Here it is2 “look at it” I have included at the vignettes from the film. This graphic novel is uncomfortable to watch and yet shows the value of this genre to serious academic discourse.

The graphic novel genre is still in most places perceived as being far from the realm of serious literature. In a way graphic novels such as More and Gibbons “Watchmen” have allowed people like myself who read serious literature but also grew up with the American Comic book to reach a compromise and acceptance of both. I have always believed that a graphic novel is a serious art form that is capable of dealing with ideas that are as challenging and illustrative of serious ideas as literature or as film.

Watchman is a sequential art in a graphic book form. And covers autobiography, art, journalism and history its also of considerable length and it has to be read in order and not the way we might read a series of comic strips..


The story deals with the costumed heroes of our childhood. The sort of superhero I can remember from seeing at my Grandfathers knee. Moore and gibbons created a new set of Comic book Heroes based on the characters we know and at the same time allowing a rich and varied form of difference.

Nite Owl has many of Batman characteristics, including a fascination with gadgets and devices and almost a prototype Bat Cave. The Comedian, who is killed in the first chapter but whose story is told in the remembrances of other characters as the story unfolds. He is a sort of dark Captain America. Silk SpecterI and II are a mother and daughter from different generations of costumed heroes are more or less Wonder Women even down to the costumes.
-brilliant Ozymandius is a self made hero-brilliant, beautiful and strong a sort of perceived Neitzchian Superman. He has developed his powers in such way that he is now almost not human. He is roughly based on the Dc Comics version of Marvel-man, an adapt ion of the earlier British Miracle-man.. Then we have Rorschach the Vigilante who preys on the fears of criminals but who operates almost completely outside the bounds of society that he is pledged to protect.. His name comes from the shifting shapes on the mask he wears. He is probably based on the Charlton hero the ”he Question” Finally there is Dr Manhattan who was damaged in a Nuclear accident he is a kind of mutation. He I is the only hero with superpowers and he is very loosely based on the traditional Superman of the films and comics .


Despite their descent form these superheroes we see their charterers in a unique way. They are darker as troubled as we are, more human and dysfunctional both psychologically and sexually, they experience problems of intimacy and search for an existential meaning outside of their superhero selves. They are all at least middle aged and they are all flawed in some way as we all are. To make them more interesting these characters are place din a realistic world that resembles our own and yet is different in a number of ways.

The year of the watchman story is 1985. Richard Nixon is President and there was no Watergate. Nixon has changed the Constitution to allow himself to stay in power. Henry Kissinger is still Secretary of State and because of Dr Manhattan his powers tipped the Cold War into an American victory, largely because the Russians had nothing to challenge him with.

In 1977 in this alternative world world the Police and Criminal enforcement Agencies had grown frustrated with the costumed heroes interference in their work and lives and went on strike. This caused Congress to pass law against vigilantism. So most of these costumed heroes have been retired some eight years.

The Soviets and the Americans are in a massive arms race in the alternative world. The expensive arms race has led to a declining support for society's infrastructure, toads, buildings, transport and services are constantly being curt back. Each side s are stockpiling Nuclear war heads and the presence of Dr Manhattan has increased the tension and there is a great fear that the Russians might try a pre-emptive strike,

the main plot of the novel concerns the the consequences of the murder of the costumed hero the Comedian. The murder awakens in Rorschach the suspicion that someone is trying to kill off the heroes and the ides gains credence from other events, including a smear campaign against Dr Manhattan that drives him into exile.. it becomes clear that there is a conspiracy to eliminate the heroes and in particular Dr Manhattan They suspect that the Soviets are behind it and this in turn leads to a paranoia so frequent in such historical situations. This paranoia has effect both collectively on society and the individual psyches of the many players in the novel.

Most of the sub-plots in the novel are based around ordinary people going about their everyday lives experiencing the fear that a war is coming that will wipe out all human life on Earth.. The real virtue of the book is the detailed description of the lives of these minor characters are overshadowed by the events of the larger plot.

There is for example a graphic novel within the graphic novel.. it is called “Marooned” that serves a variety of functions within watchmen-allowing the news vendor and the boy who buys the graphic novel to comment on the whole situation of the plot. This parallel structure works throughout the novel. There are multiple plots, and they are skilfully interweaves drawing our attention to contrast and parallels in the main plot.


The design and art in the book tie the many strands together. One of the books unifying symbol;s is a smiley face, which appears in the cover of the first issue. It turns out to be a button the Comedian wore when he was thrown out of the high rise apartment window, and when the body is taken away , the button remains in a pool of blood just by a drain entrance. The button itself has one little drop of blood across the right eye and this visage interweaves throughout the rest of the book.

Another feature of the book is the intercalary material. Between each chapter is four pages of an essay or a collage of text material relating to the them and background of the chapter or developing the storyline as a whole. This material provides much of the texture for the book, that provides information that enriches and deepens the book itself. This material explores the motivation to become a superhero and explores them in detail. It looks at reason far beyond the need to create a just society and uses many ideas from the Jungian concept of the shadow to even more complex psychoanalytical defence mechanisms.


The book asks how far should we trust our guardians whether they are middle aged superheroes coping with mid life crises or our own government “protecting” us from external threats. It asks about inter state and asks much about the nature of globalisation and capitalism. We may also see within in questions about the nature of bullying and power over others.. The point is that a society can see itself as so invulnerable that it can do anything like stockpile nuclear weapons and gloss over the reality of the true situation by choosing to do what it wants.


The book asks “Who watches the watchmen?” and provides no ultimate answers. They watch each other watch themselves, the rest of the world watches them and we as readers watch them too. The book reminds us that the whole issue of superhero comics I sloaded witgh questions about power and the way that power effects and changes us. The graphic novel it provides is a worthy existential classic and reminds us of Sartre claim that hell is other people.



Rorschach: I heard joke once: Man goes to doctor. Says he's depressed. Life seems harsh, and cruel. Says he feels all alone in threatening world. Doctor says: "Treatment is simple. The great clown - Pagliacci - is in town. Go see him. That should pick you up." Man bursts into tears. "But doctor..." he says "I am Pagliacci." Good joke. Everybody laugh. Roll on snare drum. Curtains.

Rorschach: None of you seem to understand. I'm not locked in here with you. You're locked in here with *ME*!

Adrian Veidt: I'm not a comic book villain. Do you seriously think I would explain my master stroke to you if there were even the slightest possibility you could affect the outcome? I triggered it 35 minutes ago.

Rorschach: [reading from journal] Rorschach's Journal. October 12th, 1985: Dog carcass in alley this morning, tire tread on burst stomach. This city is afraid of me. I have seen its true face. The streets are extended gutters and the gutters are full of blood and when the drains finally scab over, all the vermin will drown. The accumulated filth of all their sex and murder will foam up about their waists and all the whores and politicians will look up and shout "Save us!"... and I'll whisper "no."

Rorschach: You see, Doctor, God didn't kill that little girl. Fate didn't butcher her and destiny didn't feed her to those dogs. If God saw what any of us did that night he didn't seem to mind. From then on I knew... God doesn't make the world this way. We do.

Rorschach: Never compromise. Not even in the face of Armageddon. That's always been the difference between us, Daniel.

Adrian Veidt: [Nixon finishes his speech on Veidt's TVs] Do you see? It's your super powers retreating from war. I've saved the Earth from hell. We both have. This is as much your victory as it is mine. Now we can return. Do what we were meant to.
Rorschach: We were meant to exact justice! Everyone's gonna know what you've done...
Adrian Veidt: Will they? By exposing me, you would sacrifice the peace so many died for today.
Dan Dreiberg: Peace based on a lie.
Adrian Veidt: But peace! Nonetheless.
Jon Osterman: ...He's right. Exposing Adrian would only doom the world to Nuclear destruction again.
Laurie Juspeczyk: No... we can't do this.
Jon Osterman: On Mars, you taught me the value of life. If we hope to preserve it here, we must remain silent.
Rorschach: Keep your own secrets...
[the others look as Rorscach leaves, then Jon and Adrian make eye contact]
Dan Dreiberg: Don't even think about it.
[Goes after Rorscach]
Dan Dreiberg: Rorscach! Wait.
Rorschach: [Turns] Never compromise. Not even in the face of Armageddon. That's always been the difference between us, Daniel.
[Leaves the building]
Adrian Veidt: I've made myself feel every death... see every innocent face I've murdered to save humanity.
[Turns to Jon]
Adrian Veidt: You understand, don't you?
Jon Osterman: Without condoning... or condemning. I understand.
Rorschach: [Outside, in the snow, Rorscach comes across a copy of Jon standing in the snow] Out of my way. People have to be told.
Jon Osterman: You know I can't let you do that.
Rorschach: Suddenly you discover humanity. Convenient.
[Takes off his mask]
Rorschach: If you'd cared from the start, none of this would've happened.
Jon Osterman: I can change almost anything... but I can't change human nature.
Rorschach: Of course, you must protect Veidt's new Utopia. One more body amongst foundations makes little difference. Well, what are you waiting for? Do it...
[Jon hesitates]
Rorschach: DO IT!
[Jon makes Rorscach explode into a pile of blood]
Dan Dreiberg: NOOOOOOOO!

Dr. Manhattan: She was pregnant. And you gunned her down.
Edward Blake: That's right. And you know what, you watched me. You could've turned the gun into steam, the bullets into mercury, the bottle into goddamned snowflakes but you didn't, did you? You really don't give a damn about human beings. You're driftin' out of touch, Doc. God help us all.

[after killing a murderer who begged to be arrested]
Rorschach: Men get arrested. Dogs get put down.


Rorschach: Rorschach's Journal: October 12th, 1985. Tonight, a comedian died in New York.
: It doesn't take a genius to see that the world has problems.Adrian Veidt
Edward Blake: No, but it takes a room full of morons to think they're small enough for you to handle.

Rorschach: Give me back my face!

Edward Blake: Once you realize what a joke everything is, being the Comedian is the only thing that makes sense.

Jon Osterman: Reassembling myself was the first trick I learned. It didn't kill Osterman... did you really think it would kill me? I have walked across the surface of the Sun. I have witnessed events so tiny and so fast they can hardly be said to have occurred at all. But you, Adrian, you're just a man. The world's smartest man poses no more threat to me than does its smartest termite.

Dan Dreiberg: What happened to us? What happened to the American Dream?
: "What happened to the American Dream?" It came true! You're lookin' at it...

Edgar Jacobi: I have cancer.
Rorschach: What kind of cancer?
Edgar Jacobi: Well, you know the kind you eventually get better from?
Rorschach: Yes.
Edgar Jacobi: Well, that ain't the kind I got.

Jon Osterman: In my opinion, the existence of life is a highly overrated phenomenon.

Jon Osterman: Will you smile? If I admit I was wrong?
Laurie Juspeczyk: About what?
Jon Osterman: Miracles. Events with astronomical odds of occurring, like oxygen turning into gold. I've longed to witness such an event, and yet I neglect that in human coupling, millions upon millions of cells compete to create life, for generation after generation until, finally, your mother loves a man, Edward Blake, the Comedian, a man she has every reason to hate, and out of that contradiction, against unfathomable odds, it's you - only you - that emerged. To distill so specific a form, from all that chaos. It's like turning air into gold. A miracle. And so... I was wrong. Now dry your eyes, and let's go home.

Laurie Juspeczyk: The most powerful thing in the universe... still just a puppet.
Jon Osterman: We are all puppets, Laurie. I'm just the puppet who can see the strings.

Laurie Juspeczyk: Do you remember that crazy guy? What did he call himself... Captain Carnage. The one who used to pretend he was a supervillain just so he could get beaten up all the time?
Dan Dreiberg: Yeah, he tried that on me once. I just walked away. He starts following me down the street in broad daylight, yelling 'Punish me! Punish me!' I'm just saying 'No! Get lost.'
Laurie Juspeczyk: God. Whatever happened to him?
Dan Dreiberg: Well, he pulled that on Rorschach, and Rorschach dropped him down an elevator shaft.
[pause, then both laugh]
Laurie Juspeczyk: Oh my god. That isn't even funny.
Dan Dreiberg: [laughing] It is a *little* funny.

Laurie Juspeczyk: Everyone will die!
Jon Osterman: And the universe will not even notice.

Jon Osterman: I am looking at the stars. They are so far away, and their light takes so long to reach us. All we ever see of stars is their old photographs.

Rorschach: [voiceover] Rorschach's journal, October 13th, 1985. 8:30 PM. Meeting with Dreiberg left bad taste in mouth. A flabby failure who sits whimpering in his basement. Why are so few of us left active, healthy, and without personality disorders? The first Nite Owl runs an auto repair shop. The first Silk Spectre is a bloated, aging whore, dying in a California rest resort. Dollar Bill got his cape stuck in a revolving door where he got gunned down. Silhouette, murdered: a victim of her own indecent lifestyle. Mothman's in an asylum in Maine. Only two names remain on my list. Both share private quarters at Rockefeller Military Research Center. I shall go to them. I shall go tell the indestructible man that someone plans to murder him.

Rorschach: [examining psychiatrist's inkblot test] A pretty butterfly.

Adrian Veidt: I don't mind being the smartest man in the world, I just wish it wasn't this one.

Rorschach: Of course. You must protect Veidt's new utopia. What's one more body amongst the foundations? Well, what are you waiting for? Do it.
[Dr. Manhattan hesitates]
Rorschach: DO IT!

Dr. Manhattan: I feel fear, for the last time.

Rorschach: We need to squeeze people.
Dan Dreiberg: [sarcastic] Sure. We'll pick them out of a phone book.
Rorschach: You forgot how we do things, Daniel. You've gotten too soft. Too trusting. Especially with women.
Dan Dreiberg: No, listen, I am through with that! God, who do you think you are, Rorschach? You live off people while insulting them and nobody complains because they think you're a goddamn lunatic!
Dan Dreiberg: [Rorschach approaches Dan, who sighs and turns to him] I'm sorry. I shouldn't have said that, man.
Rorschach: Daniel? You are a good friend.
[extends his hand and Dan takes it]

Detective Fine: [From outside Moloch's apartment] Rorschach! This is the police, we know you're in there.
Rorschach: No! No!
Detective Fine: [From outside Moloch's apartment] If there's anybody in there with you, send 'em out unharmed.
Rorschach: No! No, no, no, no!
Detective Fine: [From outside Moloch's apartment] Come out and make this a nice, clean surrender.
Rorschach: Walked right into it! Stupid, stupid, stupid! Never surrender.
Detective Fine: [From outside Moloch's apartment] Alright, I hope you're ready, hero.
Rorschach: When you are.

Jon Osterman: What is this? Another ultimate weapon?
Adrian Veidt: Yes. You could say that.
[Veidt turns on TVs with remote]

Sally Jupiter: I'm 67 years old. Every day, the future looks a little bit darker. But the past... even the grimy parts of it... keep on getting brighter.

[Laurie and Dan are breaking Rorschach out of prison]
Rorschach: Need to visit men's room.
Laurie Juspeczyk: Oh, Christ!

[repeated line]
Edward Blake: This is a joke. This is all a joke.

Dan Dreiberg: I'm not the one still hiding behind a mask.
Rorschach: No. You're hiding in plain sight.

Dr. Manhattan: They claim their labors are to build a heaven, yet their heaven is populated by horrors. Perhaps the world is not made. Perhaps nothing is made. A clock without a craftsman. It's too late. Always has been, always will be. Too late.

Wally Weaver: You see, at the time I was misquoted. I never said 'The Super-man exists and he is American', what I said was '*God* exists and he is American'. Now if you begin to feel an intense and crushing feeling of religious terror at the concept, don't be alarmed. That indicates only that you are still sane.

Sally Jupiter: Things are tough all over, cupcake. It rains on the just and unjust alike. The Comedian was a little bit of both.

Adrian Veidt: Dan. A world united in peace... there had to be sacrifice.
Dan Dreiberg: No! You haven't idealized mankind but you've... you've deformed it! You mutilated it. That's your legacy. That's the real practical joke.

Sally Jupiter: [Eddie is aggressively coming on to Sally despite her reluctance] I said "no", Eddie.
Edward Blake: [smiles] "No" spelled Y-E-S.
Sally Jupiter: "No" spelled N-O. All right?

Rorschach: This city's afraid of me... I've seen its true face...

[after the intruder kicks the door open]
Edward Blake: Just a matter of time, I suppose.

Edward Blake: God damn I love working on American soil, Dan. Ain't had this much fun since Woodward and Bernstein.
Dan Dreiberg: How long can we keep this up?
Edward Blake: Congress is pushing through some new bill that's gonna outlaw masks. Our days are numbered. Till then it's like you always say, we're society's only protection.
Dan Dreiberg: From what?
Edward Blake: You kidding me? From themselves.

Dan Dreiberg: [referring to the exit tunnel] There's a maintenance hatch that will let you out two blocks north.
Rorschach: I remember. I used to come here often, back when we were partners.
Dan Dreiberg: Those were good times, huh Rorschach? What happened?
Rorschach: [as he walks down the tunnel] You quit.

Rorschach: Your turn doctor! Tell me!
[puts on Rorschach mask]
Rorschach: What do you see?

Rorschach: I don't like you.
Prison Psychiatrist: Ah. You don't like me? Well, why is that?
Rorschach: Because you're fat.

Janet Black: Doctor Manhattan as you know the Doomsday Clock is a symbolic clock face analogizing humankind's proximity to extinction, midnight representing the threat of nuclear war. As of now it stands at four minutes to midnight. Would you agree that we are that close to annihilation?
Jon Osterman: My father was a watch maker. He abandoned it when Einstein discovered time is relative. I would only agree that a symbolic clock is as nourishing to the intellect as photograph of oxygen to a drowning man.
1
[Looking at psychiatrist's ink blot, remembering being bullied]
Rorschach: Clouds.

Adrian Veidt: The only person with whom I felt any kinship with died three hundred years before the birth of Christ. Alexander of Macedonia, or Alexander the Great, as 


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