Wednesday, November 27, 2013
I am left with the impression that Watchmen fervor, as it were, has died down somewhat. I mean, it's always going to keep as one of the most influential comic book stories ever told. And I'm still a fan of the movie. I'm not going to say that it was the greatest film I ever saw or that watching it in any way resembles the experience of reading the comic. I am going to say that I think it was probably the best Watchmen film it could have been.
It was incredibly ambitious. Maybe some stuff doesn't translate to the big screen and Watchmen seems--to me--intended to be read as so much of it is a satire on comics. You know, because it kind of finds this way to link the evolution of comic book storytelling with the evolution of American history and makes them synonymous (don't ask me how it manages to pull this off...it just does). But they frickin' tried. The costumes, the cast; you gotta give them some credit, here.
I suppose one of the things that makes Watchmen so timeless is the frightening, relativistic depiction of morality it hits you with. But who's really the HERO in Watchmen? See, debatably, EVERYONE is the hero...from a certain point of view which, unfortunately, ends up being a bit of a zero sum game where maybe no one is the hero then.
Let's start with the most obvious protagonist: Nite Owl.
He's easily the most relatable character. He's the kind of superhero you grew up with. He's a good guy who wants to do good. As the story goes on, Nite Owl's perspective starts to seem sort of shortsighted compared to the bigger players. Ozymandius and Rorschach seem like they're playing a much bigger game than Nite Owl. They're musing about humanity and the nature of society while Nite Owl just seems like he wants a very simple life. He wants to be the good guy who goes ahead and beats up the bad guys in front of him.
See, but by the end of the story maybe you think twice about Nite Owl's way of being in the world. Look at all of the destruction wrought by everyone else? You could make an argument that Nite Owl stays 'limited' throughout the story, that he stubbornly doesn't want to look at the big picture. It's too threatening. He just wants to see the world in a very simple way. But you could also make an argument that Nite Owl's way of looking at the world is better. He's just trying to help. He isn't fiddling with the course of human history or trying to bring about devastation on a mass scale. He just takes what's in front of him and tries to do the best he can with it. Maybe it is shortsighted, but maybe it's also kind of pure.
And the fact that there is this suppressed part of Nite Owl that's just dying to get out is really relatable. Okay, I always found it a little bit creepy that he has a little bit of an intimacy issue that only gets resolved after he does some serious violence to a bunch of criminals. But see, again, you don't HAVE to read it that way. Maybe it's just that there's this reallygood part of Nite Owl that wants to get out. That wants to be the hero and fight the good fight. But all of this relativism and legal mumbo jumbo has him so tied up that he can't let it out and just let himself be who he wants to be. Maybe it's that he finally gives himself permission to just handle things his way--the way classic superheroes have handled things--that finally make him feel like himself again.
I'd like to read the character that way, anyway. It makes him much more redeemable. He's still the only guy in this comic who doesn't seem to do anything that makes you scratch your head and go "that's screwed up." I think it's easy to chalk him up as a joke compared to Rorschach, but I'm not so sure. Maybe Nite Owl is the only real superhero in the world anymore. Of course, there are other interpretations of who's most important in the Watchmen universe...