Watchmen by Alan Moore is a comic book about heroes who fight crime. The genius of Alan Moore, however, ensures that these heroes aren't exempt from being human and being vulnerable. That is the beauty of Watchmen. This is far from a sappy tale of self righteous crime fighters. In fact, it's a dark, convoluted maze of human psychology, and its myriad flaws in an anarchic, twisted world.
This book debunks the age old mythology of superhero literature where heroes are portrayed as the torch bearers of human conscience, and good defeats evil in a prolonged battle to save the human race from a terrible fate. Here's what this book proposes and challenges: What if you cant save the human race because they have forsaken their humanity? What if human life has come to symbolize an endless pursuit of selfish, violent and narrow choices? What if society does not want heroes? What if being opportunistic, destructive, amoral and apathetic is getting to be the foundation of public consciousness? What if society has become so subversive and apocalyptic that its each man for himself, and anyone who interferes is gutted without any thought? And, what if our leaders are hellbent on a third world war in their eternal lust for power, and control? What are the heroes supposed to do in this case?
Usually, there's this notion that the world needs to be saved from a calamity? What this book asks is this: Who's going to save the world from the human race? And, that is where part of the brilliance and epicness of the book comes from. Also, conventional heroes switch effortlessly between their roles: Einstein, a Buddhist monk, Bruce Lee, Mother Teresa. What about being a jaded, cynical, vile, monstrous creature? This is where the other half of the book's brilliance comes from. Our heroes, here, are only extraordinary because of their extraordinary demons and their intense, extreme psychology, and edgy philosophy.
So, what sparks the heroes of this book to fight crime? Simple. Some of them were battered enough, abused enough, mad enough, overstimulated enough, hungry enough, helpless enough, and egoistic enough to don the mask and stop the mayhem. So, what happens when they come together? Simple, they don't get along, and go their separate ways.
As a brief synopsis, this book is about two generations of heroes, their struggles, their madness and their eventual boycott by the public and the government. What thwarts the older generation is the gradual shift in the crime culture: drugs, prostitution, and gambling becomes far more prevalent, and the heroes have no way of battling this maniac tide of human madness. In 1949, when the older group calls it a day, most of them meet a cruel fate including murder. The second group gets officially outlawed by the government in 1977 and are forbidden from fighting crime. They are reviled by cops and people alike. However, at least one of them continues to fight in secrecy, and two others work as sanctioned government agents.
The book starts off with the murder of a masked adventurer, and crisscrosses into a jumble of story-lines dealing with conspiracies, abuse, rape, mystery, prostitution, complex relationships and an idiotic, hopeless, helpless society and manipulative governments leading the world into a third world war. So, what happens in the end, and who saves the day?
First, we must ask: How do you force the world to unite, and stop all wars? Simple. Introduce an alien invasion, and the collective ego of the human race will direct its wrath upon the distant enemy, and not upon each other. That is precisely what one of the hero does, though in the process he wipes out everyone in the New York city as part of the gimmick. His ploy actually works, and the third world war is called off, but not before he also kills at least a couple of his hero brethren. The apocalypse has been subdued, and lot many lives have been saved than killed. So, would you consider this man a hero?
What I found ironical was that the man who was born into a wealthy family and was a genius, and never languished in poverty or abuse from fellow humans chose to kill millions to save the world from an impending disaster of war, but the man who did suffer severe abuse as a child, and whose father abandoned him before he was born, and whose mother was a prostitute who beat him, and loathed him doesn't mass murder, refuses to participate in the propaganda, and decides to tell the world the truth about the so called alien attack. It is a bitter parody that the man of means does not trust people, but the scorned, abused man believes that the people should be told the truth. Whose side would you be on? I cant choose.
Another interesting story arc is the monumental perspective shift of one of the most powerful superheroes in this book. Jon, the only superhero with unimaginable powers, finds life completely meaningless, and becomes so detached that he leaves for Mars, dooming the human race to a painful mass extinction. In the end, however, he kills a hero to preserve the farce of an alien attack, so the human race could have a chance at peace. Moore's universe makes for a compelling reality: everyone changes, and we live in an ambiguous, counter-intuitive, paradoxical and complex world.
I have always wondered what would the human race do if we were about to be made extinct by an an invincible extraterrestrial civilization? In the time that we have left, would we unite, and create a utopia, or would anarchy and chaos ensue? I thought we would be peaceful, and it would be a perfect world, but some of my friends said, we would kill each other for every last bit of what we want, and would perish before the aliens got us.
This book makes you question a lot of things. Who exactly was a true hero in this book? The one who saved the world by destroying some part of it? Or the one who saw everything in black and white? Or the one who had no faith in a weak human society? Or the one who believed in truth even though people had not the scarcest idea of how to deal with truth? Or the one who laughed it all off as a black comedy of a ship of fools? I couldn't find a single hero that hadn't erred in ways big and small. Which is exactly how Alan Moore intended it to be. He quoted that his main idea with this book was to present an alternate form of reality about heroes, and to show that no-one's perfect, and that everyone errs.
I am left with one other question: how do you change people's mentality? Their thinking? Would the human race have been able to handle the truth, or have we become so evil that deception and lies work more powerfully?
Finally, I have been converted into an Alan Moore fan. He's no wonder revered as a great artist and his comic books have long been a part of the pantheon of great literature. He is one of the most prolific, and well-known comic book writers. I highly recommend reading his comic books. As for me: library, here I come for Alan Moore's comic books.
The love for books & a hunger for stories was programmed into my DNA. And, sooner than later, life experiences sealed the deal. Books have saved me, transformed my life, enlightened me and have shown me the path I must walk. In a way, far too many books have played the role of kindred spirits and guides, leading the seeker in me to answers and paving a way for a new way of life. Books have helped me keep my wits, my sense of wonder, my sense of mystery and curiosity & my sanity in a life that has been anything but predictable and normal.