Watchmen: The Wind-up
Yesterday I think I came down too hard on poor Nite Owl & Silk Spectre, and it’s time to redress that balance. Sure, they’re part of Moore’s superherodom-as-swingers-club critique–but you’d have to be an awful prude to hold that against them… Certainly, it’s not great that Dan’s states of sexual arousal are more tied in to what he’s been wearing than who’s in his arms, but I don’t think that takes anything away from him as a person. Is this Moore’s critique of the eighties “me-generation” philosophy? Or his endorsement of it?
I’ve read a lot of rave reviews of Rorschach as a “realistic” psychological portrait of a “battle-hardened hero”–but I don’t accept that view at all! I’ve already gone on record with my opinion that Rorschach is the Spider-Man/Dr. Strange figure abstracted from his relationships to Aunt May/Betty Brant/Liz/Ancient One/Clea/Wong–I know I’ve read someplace that the character is based in large part on Mr. A & The Question, or even on Ditko himself! But I prefer to think of Rorschach as Peter Parker, frozen in one of those lonely tableaux that conclude many of the Ditko ASM‘s… and which, to my chagrin, no one seems to have deemed scan-worthy! If you happen to have a Masterwork or Essential handy, check out issue #11 for an example of what I mean–now imagine if no new “surprises” awaited that character, just an endless stroll through that same moody panel… that’s Rorschach!
But back to Daniel Dreiberg (the true focal point of Moore’s revolution in psychological realism)–so the guy substitutes altruism for viagra? So what? Are we still so messed up about sex that we can’t imagine a person being virtuous and aroused at the same time! Thankfully, Moore–unlike some of his nineties successors–has a more balanced understanding of human sexuality than that. (My opposition to the “psycho-realist” school of superheroics has nothing to do with its’ tendency to dwell on sex per se–I just happen to be more interested in the kinds of existential questions that the “anti-realist” tradition is better equipped to deal with.)
Many critics want to read Nite Owl as some kind of masochist (Geoff Klock does this), because he puts his life on the line for thrills–but I think it’s the other way around! Dan’s “early retirement” is the real act of renunciation/self-torture. He punishes himself for enjoying the superheroing so much by burying himself in the ornithological journals. Moore throws us a curve by giving us that stuff about the exo-skeleton that broke Dan’s arm, and the subsequent exchange about how all costumes are bound to “mess you up”.
The Nite Owl/Silk Spectre aspect of this book is an “empowerment fantasy” (and I’m really not a fan of those), but the point is that it’s a good empowerment fantasy–Moore is saying: “look, these people are doing wonderful things for their community and they’re gonna fuck each other as soon as they’re done. They aren’t even gonna wait for the owl-plane to land.” There’s a darker side to this coin (i.e. some of the other masked marvels we meet actually seem to get off on beating other people senseless), but Dan and Laurie just get off on “making a difference”, and this is made crystal clear in the wonderful bk 7 fire-rescue, which actually does give us something like that “lost innocence of the silver age” (are you reading this ADD?) that you hear tell of–but with a little sex… Gibbons’ low-angle shot of “archie” taking off perfectly conveys the sense of liberation these characters must be feeling, and that shot from above on the top of page 23 is totally unexpected (I don’t think I’ve ever come closer to feeling as if I were flying while flipping through a comic book) What clinches this scene for me is how Dan serves coffee to the besooted refugees. That’s gotta be one of the kindest moments in the history of superhero comics–and I like to see kind people getting what they want, even if they roll over my vision of the superhero comic as inheritor of the American romance tradition in the process!!!
I’d better stop now (even though I don’t want to!)–I’ve got a lot of Canadian poetry to read, and I’m planning to brush up on my Animal Man (I want to devote next week to Morrison’s masterpiece, if only to prove to myself that it’s at least as interesting as Watchmen–so please check back then huh? even if it’s only to scoff!)
Good night friends!