“Perhaps the first thing one realizes upon rereading Watchmen is that it requires rereading. Watchmen was written to be reread; indeed, it can only be read by being reread. That may sound paradoxical, but upon rereading Watchmen it becomes painfully obvious that meanings of almost every word, image, panel, and page multiply- obviously multiple. In Watchmen meanings are primarily multiplied by the fact- and this is painfully obvious when one finishes the series and then rereads it- that from the first panel, the parts all fit into a whole one grasps only in the end.”
“Because that end is so unsuspected and surprising, the parts are given a new and different meaning by their place in it. This new meaning, moreover, immediately strikes home as the true meaning of the work, thereby subverting and displacing the first reading.”
- Iain Thomson, “Watchmen- Deconstructing the Hero”
“I think Watchmen, if it offered anything, offered new possibilities of how we perceive the environment surrounding us and the interactions and relations of the people within it.”
Alan Moore is an eccentric genius visualized; he has intense eyes and a wild bushy beard and hair. He speaks in a calm, thoughtful, but forceful English accent, reflecting his roots in his hometown of Northampton. He punctuates thoughts with a cigarette in his hand, his fingers decorated with rings and a metal plate covering a finger. The mystical Moore was kicked out of school for selling LSD. He is also a vegetarian, a polygamist, an anarchist, and a practicing magician, even claiming to worship a snake-deity named Glycon.
He is also one of the greatest comic book writers of all time. Just a selection of his acclaimed writing includes V for Vendetta, From Hell, and The League of Extraordinary Gentleman.
Along with other artists and writers, he is credited with bringing a mature, literary presence to mainstream comics in the 1980’s, starting with his work on titles like 2000AD and Swamp Thing.
The peak of this wave of comics geared toward thinking adults was Watchmen, created as a series in 1986 with illustrator Dave Gibbons. The book deals with some intense, real life issues facing its group of humanized superheroes, while a nuclear clock ticks in the background.
The book has been a large influence on the RLSH, and as noted in the quote above, how they might perceive their environment. This was something conveyed to me very early on by The Watchman, when I asked if his name was in reference to the book.
“As for my name....It is not directly inspired by Alan Moore's Watchmen, nor am I a Jehovah’s Witness. Those are two things that people seem to wonder about. I am a fan of the book though, as are most real life super heroes. Many have called it ‘the RLSH bible.” The Watchman said.
Along the path of my writing, you’ll encounter more than one reference to Watchmen and its personal influence on various RLSH philosophy and style.
Gost Face (1), a RLSH from the Netherlands describes the impact the graphic novel had on his decision to become an RLSH.
“What really grabbed me at the throat was the fact that these heroes weren't perfectly polished people who could do anything they wanted: these heroes were actually normal everyday people with normal everyday problems, who happened to wear a costume and nickname for their own various reasons.
You didn't just relate to these characters, you were one of them” Gost Face told me.
The “RLSH Bible,” was written by Moore in 1986 and 1987 as a 12 issue miniseries for DC Comics. DC had acquired rights to superhero characters from Charlton comics, and Moore fit this acquisition into an idea he had been thinking over.
“I think I had some vague idea that it would be quite interesting to take a group of innocent, happy-go-lucky super-heroes like say, the Archie Comics super-heroes, and suddenly drop them into a realistic and credible world.” Moore explained in an interview.
DC wasn’t keen on the idea of their recently acquired characters ending up dead and dysfunctional and suggested Moore create new characters for the series. Moore set about creating characters with some similarities as the Charlton superhero line up.
Watchmen was an instant success. It won a Hugo award in 1988, and has been reprinted in graphic novel form several times. It was the only graphic novels on Time’s 2005 “All-TIME 100 Greatest Novels List.” A film adaption was finally made and released in March 2009.
A complex world is brought to life in Watchmen, in a way never so boldly portrayed in comics before. There is rape, abuse, greed, and genocide. The line between good and evil, hero and villain isn’t clearly defined, and that’s what makes the storyline so intriguing.
The book begins with the character of The Comedian being thrown out of his apartment window by an unknown assailant and crashing to the street below. Fellow hero Rorschach investigates the scene and pockets the Comedian’s blood splattered smiley face pin.
The Watchmen world takes place in an alternate timeline, one where Richard Nixon is still president in 1985. The main characters are a “silver age” of heroes, following in the footsteps of an earlier generation of heroes active in the 40’s. In the story, a 1977 Keene Act outlaws costumed vigilantes. The act seems to mirror poor public opinion. The spray painted words “Who Watches the Watchman?” in protest over the heroes, appear throughout the story.
Dr. Manhattan, the only character in the story with super powers, and Golden Age left over The Comedian, continue on as government sanctioned heroes. Silk Spectre II, who has adopted her persona from her mother, and Night Owl II, following in the footsteps of a Golden Age hero who he has befriended, have both retired. The only one still out there operating is the vigilante Rorschach.
“We do not do this thing because it is permitted. We do it because we have to. We do it because we are compelled.”Rorschach says and RLSHs do compare themselves to Rorschach-isms like this.
Rorschach slinks around the story at night in a fedora, trenchcoat, and a face mask decorated with shifting Rorschach blots, armed with little more than his will, his fists, and some impromptu weapons. Alan Moore describes him as “the least morally compromised of all the characters. He is also psychotic, which raises an ambiguity to the thing.”
The ruthless and psychotic career of Rorschach is told throughout Watchmen in the present story line and in Rorschach card induced flashbacks. Rorschach will do whatever it takes to survive and find the answers to his case. Rorschach punches people and breaks their fingers for information. In one flashback, he captures a child molester and murderer and gives him a choice; he can burn to death in the abandoned house he has been using, or saw through his handcuffed arm to escape.
In another scene, Rorschach was been captured and jailed. In the prison lunch room, he throws hot deep fryer oil on an inmate threatening him. His court appointed psychologist, reviewing the incident, quotes Rorschach as telling the cafeteria, “None of you understand. I’m not locked up in here with you. You’re locked up in here with ME.”
Quite a few RLSH relate to this insane character, although they point out they are more inspired by his will and wit rather than his violent confrontations. None of the RLSH I spoke to told me they planned on breaking fingers or confronting cops with an improvised flamethrower made out of a hairspray can. Several RLSHs have adopted Rorschach’s motif; a trench coat, fedora and some kind of facial mask covering all or most of the face.
One example of a Rorschach inspired RLSH is the aforementioned Gost Face, who has designed a mask in tribute to the character.
“My favorite character is Rorschach. Not because I like to break people's fingers or pour hot cooking fat over them, but because I can relate to his way of thinking.
In this political correct world we are living in today, even criminals get cuddled and protected by society, probably even more than their victims. A rapist? ‘He is actually a good guy, but he had a bad childhood.’
A Thief? ‘This man was only stealing because he himself is a victim of poverty.’ A Murderer? ‘Let him do community service so he can see the error of his ways.” Gost Face said that this attempt to put criminals in a gray area is what has fueled his desire to follow Rorschach’s footsteps.
“This angers me: these people have committed crimes. They are nothing but criminals, and that's just it.
I don't see the world as Rorschach sees it (black and white), but I definitely see the difference between a common thug and a good, law-abiding citizen.” Gost Face says.
Much of Alan Moore’s work from this period has a very distinct anarchistic quality to it. His message is often that the status quo, the people in power, need to be destroyed before we can begin again. This is the theme in V for Vendetta, which takes place in a future where “Britain has been taken over by a coalition of fascist groups with a romantic anarchist adventurer (named V) set against them.” as Moore says in an interview. V begins by working alone, but then encourages the population in joining him in taking back their government. He leads a masked revolution.
Watchmen has a similar message. The characters struggle with the reality that the only way to save the world might be to decimate the population of New York. They operate outside of the corrupt bureaucracy of the government, and it’s likely that such romantic, revolutionary ideas appeal to the RLSH.
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1. "Gost" isn't a typo.