Writing 201: Wonder Woman

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She was an eagle shooting into the stratosphere,
a loaded canon flying through the sky in reverse.
With magnesium-coated wings that were labeled:
“BEWARE. Flammable when exposed to fear.”

She was a tiger stalking her prey in the savage night,
a shadow engulfing every poisionous strand of ivy.
With razor-sharp claws spelling out words in the dirt:
“BEWARE. Explosive when exposed to fright.”

She was a warrior clothed in her glimmering gilded cape,
a knife tucked beneath the slit of her dress.
With the words tattooed on her back, via White-Ink & Co:
“BEWARE. Perfection— a woman does not make.”

What Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation Taught Me About Cinema History, Franchises, and More

So I watched Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation two weeks ago, and I haven’t stopped thinking about it since. Okay, so maybe I’ve seen in 3 times since it came out. Doesn’t mean I’ve stopped thinking about it.

The Mission Impossible franchise is one of the longest running action movie franchises in Hollywood, with its first movie dating back to 1996. 19 years. 5 movies. 1 Tom Cruise. In an age where Marvel has built an empire out of 12 movies in less than 8 years (the Marvel Cinematic Universe kicking off in 2008 with Iron Man) it’s interesting to compare how the Mission Impossible franchise has evolved, survived, and also– improved, throughout the years.

Mission: Impossible (1996)

The first instalment in the series, and an adaptation of the original 1966-1973 TV series (I know, I just found out too) which, surprisingly, wasn’t received too well by the original cast of the TV show. They thought that the movie veered closer towards the action-adventure genre, thus taking away from the classic “mind game” of the original Mission. It wasn’t held to critical acclaim, but it wasn’t terrible either. I, personally, enjoyed the movie, but nothing particularly stood out to me as genre-defining or #iconic, except maybe the scene from the screencap above, yeah. It was a standard contemporary action-spy flick, with neo-noir elements that gave it some form of character, but what really brought it to heights was Tom Cruise.

In MCU terms, you could liken him to Robert Downey Jr. in the sense that he is the driving force behind the series. Granted, not all 11 MCU movies feature Iron Man, but he brought spark to the franchise, building the foundation for subsequent movies and acting as a very, very reliable anchor. (An anchor that keeps the $$$ in place, that is.)

Continue reading “What Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation Taught Me About Cinema History, Franchises, and More”

If “1989” Became the Soundtrack of a Modern Day Disney Fairytale

1. Welcome To New York

Imagine Cinderella getting ready to go to the ball, complete with stockings, clean white stilettos, a little black dress, red lips and of course, a face glowing with excitement as she looks forward to the shimmering, stylish night ahead. The song opens with this exact sense of anticipation, slowly building up to the chorus, in which all the doors fly open and the whole city seems to be right in front of you. Cinderella walks the street with utter confidence, dancing along as city welcomes her and tells her that it’s been waiting for her. Far away from her old village where her evil stepmother and stepsisters live, the song provides her with the gateway that she has been waiting for her whole life.

Continue reading “If “1989” Became the Soundtrack of a Modern Day Disney Fairytale”

Representing the Superhero’s Body in Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons’ Watchmen

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INTRODUCTION

Superheroes can be identified through three distinct features: the essence of their superpowers, the chevron or insignia they carry, and the costume they wear. Each superhero invariably possesses a combination of these three elements that make their characters unique. What is often less mentioned is a fourth element crucial to the superhero identity: the body, or the physique, despite it being the very element that glues everything else together and a central part of a superhero’s iconography. In graphic novels, an icon is anything that represents a ‘person, place, thing or idea’ as defined by Scott McCloud in Understanding Comics.[1] More importantly, icons are images designed to resemble their subjects in some way, shape or form—so what can be said about the body of a superhero, what do they represent about their subjects? How do they interact with the larger world around them? How do they betray their own subjects?

Alan Moore and David Gibbons’ Watchmen was created as a response to the genre. Moore stated in an interview about the effect that Watchmen made on the genre: ‘It was easy to have an effect because the writers and artists who came before us had never thought of challenging any of these assumptions regarding the superhero genre.’[2] Hence, this dissertation plans to investigate the ways in which the superheroes bodies’ serve the revisionary nature of the narrative as claimed by its creators. What can be said about the body of a superhero? What do they represent about their subjects? How do they interact with the larger world around them? How do they betray their own subjects?

In this dissertation, we will be focusing on arguably the three most polarizing characters in the novel: Dr. Manhattan, Rorschach, and Ozymandias. The three of them represent three contrasting sets of ideologies and are the most different to one another in terms of physical appearance and design. By using theories of the body in literature, combined with theories of reading comic books and superheroes, we will see what makes these characters ‘super’ after all. Dr. Manhattan’s main struggle is establishing a sense of self and a solid ideology by which to operate by. He is noticeably absent, or detached, from the world around him—a separation that began when Jon Osterman’s body was disintegrated and then reassembled into the blue superhero we now recognize as Dr. Manhattan. Rorschach represents the conflict between the body and the psychological mind, and the mutable nature of identity. To him, the body is a mere vessel through which justice is enacted. Ozymandias, on the other hand, represents the link between superheroes and the public, profiting off a commercialized, militarized version of the idealized American superhero.

Moore and Gibbons’ novel explores a variety of twentieth-century ideas of postmodernism, fragmentation, political anxieties and concepts of identity and the self, relating to each superhero’s individual body. Superheroes are mostly portrayed in mediums such as comics, film, and television, so there is something to be said to the fact that they cannot exist without a visible, physical form. The graphic novel is a medium that is arguably more fluid than most, combining the reader’s power over moving through the narrative by way of our gaze, with the fuse of images and words broken up in panels—even the spaces in the gutter leave more room for interpretation. It seems almost contradictory, then, for superheroes, originally created to represent rigid, determined, concepts of justice to exist in such a space. But in Watchmen, Moore and Gibbons allow them to exist freely, in a realistic alternate-world so close to our own, it is as if we are seeing these characters living out their experiences in real life; their bodies, therefore, becoming the chess pieces by which we follow the narrative, subject to our invisible, scrutinizing eyes.

 

[1] Scott McCloud, ‘The Vocabulary of Comics’, Understanding Comics, (Northampton: Kitchen Sink Press Inc.: 1993), 24-59 (p. 27)

[2] AlanMooreVids, ‘Alan Moore talks – 02 – Watchmen’, < https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qKebCtCTbCA>, uploaded 15.10.2007, consulted 09.01.2018

 

DR. MANHATTAN’S DYS-APPEARANCE

Paul Sheehan discusses the notion of posthuman bodies in literature, from the Gothic creation of mythic bodies, ‘mutants, hybrids, and monsters’, to the more recent techno-bodies of present times, including clones and cybernetically enhanced bodies: eg. Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? Sheehan argues that posthuman bodies in literature are often representative of society’s fears in their respective time periods. Nineteenth century England was obsessed with, and frightened by, the ‘Gothic register of monstrosity and disease’, and so Frankenstein became an uncanny critique of the horrors of scientific medical advancement, with the creature depicted as an unstable result of attempting to re-manufacture a man into something more than human.[1] Dr. Manhattan’s transformation follows a similar narrative; separated and fragmented at the time of the nuclear accident, and then reassembled into something more than human, and is consequently feared by society. It is the uncanny nature of the superhuman body that provokes curiosity, anxiety, fear and wonder in people all at once. Dr. Manhattan’s body is illustrated in such a way that makes him the most striking icon in the novel; even on the cover page, Dr. Manhattan is placed in the center, front-facing, upright, blue, towering over the rest and standing in front of the contrasting yellow clock in the background. And yet, the subtle message conveyed by placing him in the back row, with not even a complete body in the frame (only his torso and above is captured), is an early clue to his fragmentation and involuntary separation in the narrative. Even the name ‘Dr. Manhattan’ itself is a constructed identity by numerous outside forces: the US military, the press, and also members of the Watchmen themselves.

In Chapter IV, ‘Watchmaker’, Dr. Manhattan directly narrates the process of the nuclear accident that instigated the superhuman transformation.[2] However, as each step of the transformation progresses, the panels also begin to illustrate distinct aspects of bodily separation: generational, societal, physiological, and eventually, separation from the self. Repeatedly denied any ability to define himself, even from early childhood, Dr. Manhattan, formerly known as Jon Osterman, once had dreams of continuing the family’s watchmaking profession. (IV/3) His father denies him this dream, and instead selects a path for him out of fear, in response to the creation of the atomic bomb during Jon’s teen years, telling him to become a physicist instead—the first stage of identity denial, and involuntary separation. Brent Fishbaugh labels Dr. Manhattan as a symbol for ‘cold, hard, true mathematical and chemical sciences’.[3] Jon’s identity is fostered as a calculated response to the world’s scientific advancements, and Dr. Manhattan’s body spontaneously becomes an embodiment of those advancements, and so the comparison can be drawn once more to Sheehan’s definition of the ‘posthuman body’ whereby the body itself becomes a direct representations of society’s fears during the time period in which it was born in. In Dr. Manhattan’s case, the character psychically embodies the undercurrent of nuclear anxiety in the late twentieth century.

The second level of separation that Dr. Manhattan experiences is a separation from time, perceiving time as both a simultaneous and fragmented reality all at once. Scott McCloud explains the way time frames are visually represented in comics, the way the past and the future are simultaneously visible to the reader’s eyes, and that the reader has the power to choose in which direction the narrative moves by shifting their own gaze through panels back and forth.[4] The same power is seen in Dr. Manhattan’s way of experiencing time, shuffling through his memories and the undetermined future, and then choosing where to settle his gaze; on the falling cogs, the cold beer, the photograph, all of these are relics from the past being dragged back into the present (IV/3-6).

Dr. Manhattan’s detachment from time becomes an underlying factor for the superhero’s feelings of disassociation, as time is important to the body’s construction of memory, experience, and perception. Wendy Seymour claims that our relationship with time is largely shaped by the way ‘time exerts powerful dominion over human subjects’.[5] In being separated from time, Dr. Manhattan is essentially separated from the collective experience of humanity. His fragmented experience of time and reality is conveyed effectively in the graphic novel form due to the same ability in readers to go back and forth through pages and panels at our own will, as stated by McCloud. He only begins to see value in humanity once more at the end of the novel, when it had been revealed that Ozymandias’ tachyons had been blocking him from seeing into the future: ‘I’d almost forgotten the excitement of not knowing, the delights of uncertainty…’ (XII/7) Experiencing time the way an ordinary man would is described as a bodily pleasure that Dr. Manhattan admits to yearning for.

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(IV/9)

The most direct illustration of bodily separation and fragmentation can be seen on the page depicting the transformation of Jon Osterman to Dr. Manhattan. (IV/8-10) The panels illustrating the reassembling of the body are particularly distressing, outlining the various stages of physical formation in succession: the atomic particles, nervous system, circulatory system, muscled skeleton until the final form is achieved. It depicts a type of rebirth, but one filled with anguish and pain—with the bulging wide eyes, and the muscled form contorted in an almost tortured position and jaw open, looking at the sky as if crying in pain. What Dr. Manhattan is currently experiencing is a form of disturbance, which can be defined by a philosophical theory called ‘dys-appearance’, which refers to the mode ‘through which the body appears to explicit awareness’ in a time of illness, or crisis. [6] Drew Leder elaborates further on the concept and explains that ‘self-presenting particularly arises at times when ecstasis is disturbed, as by disease or dysfunction. Attention must then be turned back upon the body.’ Humans tend to not think about the specific actions of the leg joints while walking, or the lips when talking, or the finger muscles when writing—until an injury occurs, whereby then the injury forces the owner of the body to pay more attention to the specific disturbed bodily area or function. Relating back to the panels above, the wide bulging eyes can be read as a sign of Dr. Manhattan’s increased consciousness during this process of rebirth, a sign of ‘dys-appearance’ during a clear disturbance of ecstasis.

The increased state of hyper-awareness arises from the act of reassembling the body back together. He tackles the dysfunctions of the body and attempts to engage in recreating the self in a way that is familiar, but not exactly the same. The very distinct color change to a bright, electric, blue, is already a large sign that the body is no longer what we would deem as ‘natural’ and is instead reminiscent of Sheehan’s definition of the ‘posthuman’ bodies of science fiction. Indeed, Sheehan argues that when it comes to bodies in science fiction, ‘the bio-mechanical hybridity of the techno-body seeks stability and synthesis’[7], something that Dr. Manhattan wants in terms of pursuing both a stable form, as well as a stable identity. Dr. Manhattan not just alienated from society, but mankind as a species as well due to the accident’s resulting physiological changes.

 

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(IV/12)

Dr. Manhattan is subjected to alienation, structural fragmentation and a constant denial of identity that eventually pushes the character further away from society, and even at one point, Earth. The above panels illustrate the disconnect between public image and private identity through the use of the icon. Iconography is an important feature in graphic novels; it represents a ‘person, place, thing, or idea’ and is the primary language of comics.[8] The symbol drawn on Dr. Manhattan’s forehead would be described as a non-pictorial icon; their meanings are fixed and absolute because they represent invisible ideas universally acknowledged.[9] He resents the initial icon assigned by the press, deeming it meaningless, and changes it to: ‘A symbol I respect.’ (IV/12) Dr. Manhattan’s body is often contested by outside forces seeking to define the man in their own ways. In the illustration at the end of Chapter IV, ‘Dr. Manhattan: Super-Powers and the Superpowers’, we see Professor Milton Glass encapsulating all of these forces and icons that are imposed onto Dr. Manhattan’s body all at once: Da Vinci’s Vitruvian man, the hydrogen atom symbol, the Communist symbol. It is because of Dr. Manhattan’s inhuman-ness that people feel compelled to assign iconographic language as a means to define, label and constrain the body as a subject.

 

[1] Paul Sheehan, ‘Posthuman Bodies’, The Cambridge Companion to The Body in Literature,

  1. David Hillman and Ulrika Maude (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2015), 245-260 (p. 248-9)

[2] Moore, Alan, and Gibbons, Dave, Watchmen (London: Titan Publishing Group, 2005)

[3] Brent Fishbaugh, ‘Moore and Gibbons’ “Watchmen”: Exact Personifications of Science’, Extrapolation, Vol. 39, Issue 3 (The Kent University Press: 1993), 189-198 (p. 194)

[4] Scott McCloud, ‘Time Frames’, Understanding Comics, (Northampton: Kitchen Sink Press Inc: 1993), 94-117 (p. 104-5)

[5] Wendy Seymour, ‘Time and the Body: Re-embodying Time in Disability’, Journal of Occupational Science, Vol. 9, Issue 3 (Routledge: 2002), 135-142 (p. 135)

[6] Drew Leder, ‘The Dys-Appearing Body’, The Absent Body (London: University of Chicago Press, 1990), 69-99 (p. 86)

[7] Sheehan, ‘Posthuman Bodies’ (p. 251)

[8] McCloud, ‘The Vocabulary of Comics’ (p. 27)

[9] McCloud, ‘The Vocabulary of Comics’ (p. 28)

 

RORSCHACH TESTING THE LANGUAGE OF PSYCHOLOGY AND PAIN

When it comes to examining the relationship between the body and systems of justice in Watchmen, Rorschach’s character represents the closest link between the two. He directly embodies pain and violence in the narrative, both of which are important themes in the novel. In Watchmen, Dr. Manhattan’s pain is a result of alienation, Silk Spectre’s pain is a result of a traumatic discovery, Nite Owl’s pain stems from feelings of masculine inadequacy, and even Ozymandias feels pain—pain because the world is self-destructing, thereby resorting to extreme methods in order to fix it. Rorschach’s pain is closely interlinked with childhood trauma, but this chapter will focus more on the bridge between language and pain, Rorschach’s perception of pain in the body of society, and the instability of the body when confronted with violence. Peter Fifield explains that it is within the nature of pain to resist language: ‘For all of language’s power, pain is the experience that, more than any other, cannot be put into words’.[1]

In Watchmen, the largest body that shows symptoms of pain in the narrative is the city itself—in fact, it is the body that most actively resists language because it is not a living, speaking creature or character. Readers must rely on Rorschach’s opening narration in the novel to describe its symptoms to us. He communicates a sense of disgust towards a variety of bodies and bodily parts in the city: ‘Dog carcass in alley this morning, tire tread on burst stomach’, ‘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’ and so on. (I/1) Various states of bodily mutilation and carnal sins are portrayed, such as the dog, the burst stomach, the city as a circulatory system pumping sick blood, and sex and murder are culpable for the ‘filth’ clogging the body.

The city becomes a personified victim—bleeding out, like the pool of blood on the street dripping into the sewer. Unlike Dr. Manhattan, Rorschach is more physically connected to the world and society, despite loathing it for its sins. Even by describing the city as a living organism with a broken system, Rorschach inevitably ties himself to it and recognizes himself as a part of this greater body, in line with Fifield’s analysis that pain in literature is often used as part of a greater narrative beyond the individual.[2] Fishbaugh declares that ‘Rorschach was created entirely by his environment, and it is that environment which has driven him to the extreme behavior he so often demonstrates’.[3] It is no wonder, then, that Rorschach is drawn to violence and pain, because the greater organism of the city is also prone to the same ills. Rorschach, therefore, becomes the language of pain in the narrative, the bridge between the physical experience and the expression of it.

Alan Moore directly addressed Rorschach’s pain in an interview from 2007: ‘He was in pain, psychological pain, every moment of his life and he wanted out of it but with honor, in whatever his own twisted standards of honor might have been’.[4] In another interview with Christopher Sharett, Moore talked about the choice to take a ‘psychoanalytic approach’ with Rorschach’s character.[5] We see this approach in practice when Rorschach is being interrogated by the prison psychologist, Mal. Rorschach is given the Rorschach test—a test that requires the subject to assign meaning to black and white inkblots on the page. Without an external force defining these inkblots, the images are rendered meaningless. Rorschach’s character represents the antithesis to Dr. Manhattan, with an ideology that can be encapsulated in the quote: ‘Not even in the face of Armageddon. Never compromise.’ (XII/20)

Rorschach displays very little self-doubt, if at all, and does not struggle with constructing a valid sense of self. With a very secretive and shrouded sense of self-presentation—the concealing detective outfit, the shifting mask—Rorschach appears to be more interested in exposing the true nature of others: ‘This city is afraid of me. I have seen its true face’, a quote that is paired with the image of the Comedian’s smiley face drenched in blood in the gutter. (I/1) Janice Ross claims that scientists and artists Western Europe had an interest in ‘unmasking, freeing and unfettering the body’ during the turn of the century, around the same time when Watchmen was written.[6] Her lecture examines the Rorschach test, and the ways in which we assign meaning to visually empty bodies when they are deliberately ambiguous, and how internal emotions are coded in external actions. Just as the test is about projecting the body’s interior onto an external medium—Rorschach projects his ideas onto the bodies of his victims through means of violence in order to fulfill his own sense of justice.

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(VI/17)

Interestingly enough, the test becomes a medium by which Rorschach influences Mal, the prison psychologist, to see the world in the same way as him. Mal’s probing into Rorschach’s origin story, ‘Tell me what you really see’, consequently results in a shift within him. (VI/17) Through Mal’s attempt to ‘unmask’ Rorschach, the opposite occurs, whereby Rorschach strips Mal of any understanding he thought he previously had of the world; this very moment is depicted through the use of symmetry in the panels, the lingering gaze on their faces, eyes, and the sickly shades of purple and green in the background, as if Rorschach is permeating into him. The only color that pops is red on Rorschach’s head, and the in the bloody image of the dog, recalling another gruesome image of a dead dog from the beginning of the novel. Later on, Rorschach reveals the story of the girl who had been raped and fed to the dogs; the canine’s cracked head becomes symbolic of when Walter Kovacs turned into Rorschach: ‘It was Kovacs who closed his eyes. It was Rorschach who opened them again.’ (VI/21)

Unlike Dr. Manhattan, who underwent a structural reassembling of the body into a ‘posthuman’ super-being, Rorschach transformation is a more deliberate, ideologically motivated change. The symmetry in these panels is key in representing Rorschach’s inner psyche. John Jennings explains that symmetry is an important part of the superhero genre, as it is the primary property of superhero chevrons, the term for a superhero’s insignia.[7] Rorschach’s chevron also happens to be his ‘face’, the inkblot mask, and without his ‘face’ the man behind the mask appears as an emotionless, expressionless, and almost dead man. Recalling Moore’s earlier quote claiming that Rorschach is a man in deep, psychological pain, we can begin to read into the relationship between the effects of that pain and Rorschach’s inscrutable face, composed of the mutating, yet symmetrical inkblot. In Watchmen, symmetry is often unsettling, as Jennings states, it represents ‘the interlocking concepts of chaos and order’ and nowhere is it clearer than in Rorschach’s character.

Hence, the body becomes a site of repressed instability; even Rorschach’s ultra-violent thoughts are contained within the perfectly symmetrical panels in the image referenced above. Psychologically, Rorschach’s mutating identity can be related to a form of depersonalization disorder, which Conor Michael Dawson links with aspects of postmodernism, citing research that suggests that the postmodern, war-ridden, climate of America is linked to increased cases of depersonalization disorder.[8] Dawson uses Daphne Simeon’s definition of the disorder that characterizes sufferers as experiencing disruptions in ‘consciousness, memory, identity, and perception, leading to a fragmentation of the coherence, unity, and continuity of the sense of self’’ among other symptoms.[9] Rorshach has a characteristically succinct style of speech that focuses on the plain subject, never straying to divulge unnecessary detail or emotion, and this can be seen as a form of ‘fragmentation’ from the self. Fifield cites an example from Henri Alleg’s short novel The Question (1958) in which the main character describes the pain of torture, in short, disconnected sentences, and the body is described ‘as if it were a mechanical device, with no sense of affective involvement.’[10] However, the image of the body as a ‘mechanical device’ may be better suited to Dr. Manhattan. Despite both of them being fragmented, and to a certain degree, alienated by society in similar ways, one fundamental difference remains in the way they relate to their bodies—their perception of pain. Rorschach is still undeniably human, up to the very last moments of life. Dr. Manhattan, on the other hand, can never know what a human death would feel like, in all its physiological pain. Rorschach is connected to society by blood, up to the very last moments when Dr. Manhattan murders him, leaving spatters of gory red blood among the white Arctic snow.

It is, indeed, unsettling that the body meant to establish order, becomes susceptible to transformation upon witnessing chaos. Just like Walter Kovacks transformation to Rorschach is permanent, Mal is unable to go back to seeing the world the same way after listening to Rorschach’s story. He starts mirroring Rorschach’s blank facial expressions during a dinner party when a friend jokingly asks him about Rorschach’s case. He then starts speaking with the same straightforward and monotone voice Rorschach uses, ‘Today he told me about a girl who got kidnapped […] She was six. Her abductor killer butchered her and fed her to his German shepherds.’ (VI/27) Dawson uses examples such as Fight Club and Black Swan to illustrate the ‘disruption of identity’ that occurs when a subject encounters a mirror image of themselves or their own doppelgängers.[11] Mal’s identity is disrupted by Rorschach, and it happens during the moment when the two of them are face to face in isolation. Due to Rorschach’s pain being transferred through psychological examination, the simple act of assigning meaning to the inkblot test causes another man to transform into something he never thought he would become. The body is presented as malleable, vulnerable to change and psychological effect.

 

[1] Peter Fifield, ‘The Body, Pain and Violence’, The Cambridge Companion to The Body in Literature, ed. David Hillman and Ulrika Maude (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2015), 116-131 (p. 119-20)

[2] Fifield, ‘The Body, Pain and Violence’ (p. 121)

[3] Fishbaugh, ‘Moore and Gibbons’ “Watchmen”: Exact Personifications of Science’ (p. 192)

[4] AlanMooreVids, ‘Alan Moore talks – 02 – Watchmen’, < https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qKebCtCTbCA>, uploaded 15.10.2007, consulted 09.01.2018

[5] Andrew Hoberek, ‘Poetics’, Considering Watchmen: Poetics, Property, Politics (New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press, 2014), 35-77 (p. 49)

[6] TAUVOD, ‘The Dance in the Inkblot’, < https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bmKsJsJQJ6Q>, uploaded 30.12.2012, consulted 12.12.2017

[7] John Jennings, ‘Superheroes by Design’, What Is a Superhero?, ed. Robin S. Rosenberg and Peter Coogan (New York: Oxford University Press, 2013), 59-63 (61)

[8] Conor Michael Dawson, ‘The Fractured Self: Postmodernism and Depersonalization Disorder’, Aigne (University College Cork: 2013), 51-65 (p. 54)

[9] Dawson, ‘The Fractured Self: Postmodernism and Depersonalization Disorder’ (p. 53)

[10] Fifield, ‘The Body, Pain and Violence’ (p. 120-21)

[11] Dawson, ‘The Fractured Self: Postmodernism and Depersonalization Disorder’ (p. 61)

 

THE VEIDT METHOD

The relationship between superheroes and the public in Watchmen is a central theme of the novel; from The Keene Act, Dr. Manhattan and the Comedian’s enlistment in the U.S army, Rorshach’s vigilantism and attempt to take on all of society’s criminals—the culmination of this portrays a strained relationship between the government, the public, and the superheroes themselves. Out of all of the Watchmen, Ozymandias seems the most comfortable navigating these roles. He seems confident, at ease with his public image, and his relationship with society is quite different from the rest of theirs. As an entrepreneur, Ozymandias doesn’t fold into public pressure. He works within the system, understanding that superheroes carry value and power as public icons. Ozymandias capitalizes on the superhero body and its form by selling action figures through Veidt Industries. The superhero body is sold as a symbol of strength and stability in a time of political turmoil. Karen J. Hall discusses the cultural impact of action figures back in the 1960’s; when the first G.I Joe figures were created, these figures were men of ‘militarized, masculinized citizenship, not of woman born but government issued’.[1] The Keene Act in Watchmen essentially classifies superheroes as government-issued properties, and Ozymandias’ plan to launch a commercial toy line represents them as properties owned by Veidt Industries further this analogy. In Watchmen’s America, there is a constant undercurrent of fear within the present society, as Ozymandias underlines in a letter sent to Leo Winston, President of Marketing and Development in Veidt Industries:

‘My study of recorded sales figures in a historical contexts suggests an increase in the sale of soldiers and action figures in times immediately prior to a period of anticipated war or bloodshed, and we should take advantage of this syndrome for as long as it lasts […] More militaristic flavor will sell better. The American public has never really gone in for super-heroes in a big way.’ (X)

That ‘syndrome’ mentioned is nuclear anxiety, as the world’s nations are on the brink of World War III. The letter reveals the amount of detail and consideration that goes into commercial production, contextualizing these toys within the broader political context; if Rorschach is connected to the body of society by blood, than Ozymandias is connected to it by money. He tells Leo to remove Nite Owl, Rorsharch and Moloch from the proposed toy line, leaving himself as the sole superhero figure, complete with a ‘costumed army of terrorists’ to match—also to be introduced as villains on the Veidt Industries’ Saturday cartoon show. Much like the way corporations nowadays choose to diversify their product lines in order to make more money (such as Disney with Marvel films, TV shows, comics, merchandise, clothes, toys, etc.), Veidt Industries is ever-present in the narrative. We see billboards of Nostalgia, the perfume brand, all over the city. Ozymandias views the superhero body through the same lens that a corporation would, as an asset to be capitalized on. In order to be comfortable with selling one’s own body to the public, a person would need to be confident in the practice of performative self-expression. Ozymandias’ costume represents that exaggerated performativity; it’s shiny, colorful and regal, emulating the Alexander the Great. His character could even be read as a type of outsider, just like Rorschach and Dr. Manhattan, due to the ‘full embrace of an embodiment that is completely ‘other’ to his time and to his comrades’ as Yen-Lian Liu states.[2]

However, this notion that Ozymandias wants to achieve this distancing is not entirely accurate. As seen in the interview with the Nova Express, Ozymandias insists that anyone can achieve self-realization to the same degree, ‘There’s a notion I’d like to see buried: the ordinary person. Ridiculous. There is no ordinary person.’ (X) In order to maintain his corporate-consumer bond with the public, Ozymandias must preserve the narrative that his body is an attainable ideal to strive towards, insisting that the ‘means to attain a capability far beyond that of the so-called ordinary person are within reach of everyone’ given that they possess the desire to do so. Taking inspiration from Alexander the Great, Ozymandias presents himself as a visionary for the new world. In Nova Express interview, the reporter asks, ‘What sort of world do you see it being, in the future?’ to which Adrian replies, ‘Not a utopia […] but a society with a more human basis, where the problems that beset us are at least new problems.’

Ozymandias believes in the basis of humanity and does not try to reject it like Dr. Manhattan and Rorschach do. The Veidt Method ties into this ideology and reconfigures it into practical theory, which happens to be marketable. Ozymandias knows the only way to shape a revolution is through the most accessible and wide-reaching way possible: commercial sale. As Michael Furlong explains, ‘Ozymandias is also emblematic of commodity fetishism, since no one (except him, until the very end), understands how the process of the manufactured creature is produced in all respects. In other words, some, like The Comedian might see parts of the plan, but Ozymandias orchestrates the entire doomsday scenario as a capitalist enterprise.’[3]

The photograph of Ozymandias used in the Nova Express article presents him as a classically beautiful, physically defined figure, posing like an Olympic athlete to show that he has reached man’s peak form without transforming into an ‘other’ like Dr. Manhattan has. The superhero body is inexplicably linked with concepts of masculinity and masculine beauty. When Nite Owl and Silk Spectre are trying to be intimate for the first time, the panels of them on the sofa are interspersed with panels of Ozymandias performing a gymnastics routine on television. Dan’s impotence is juxtaposed with Ozymandias’ perfect build and masculinity, and the ease and strength displayed in the performance. The live commentary also riddled with innuendo, ‘just look at the confidence as he leaps up and grabs the bar’, ‘the audience is on the edge of their seats’, and one seemingly directed towards Dan’s performance issues—‘the grace of each movement is extraordinary. This is a man in his forties…’ (XII/14-15) The sexualization of the superhero body is nothing new in comic books. However, they are usually portrayed in the female superheroes instead of the male. Another character in Watchmen who capitalizes on their superhero identity is Sally Jupiter, the original Silk Spectre. In an interview with Probe Profile, the reporter asks about Sally’s sex-symbol status as Silk Spectre. Sally replies by saying explaining what putting on the costume meant for different members of the Minutemen:

‘[…] for me, it was never a sex thing. It was a money thing. And I think for some people it was a fame thing, and for a tiny few, God bless ‘em, I think it was a goodness thing. I mean, I’m not saying it wasn’t a sex thing for some people, but, no, no, I wouldn’t say that’s what motivated the majority.’ (IX)

She outlines the different means of empowerment for superheroes in the costume: sex, money, fame, and moral ‘goodness’ to the few. Despite claiming that it was never ‘a sex thing’, Sally represents the feminine foil to Ozymandias’ approach with the public, as the only other superhero with a printed interview with the press, and a well-known public identity. We see Sally with her ‘Tijuana Bible’ at the beginning of the novel, a pornographic comic book containing fetishizing artworks of her in her superhero alter-ego. Laurie calls it ‘vile’ and reprimands her mother for allowing herself to be subjected to this degradation. (II/8) More than just a ‘money’ thing, this is not the only example of Sally capitalizing on the Silk Spectre persona and figure. In an article with The Daily World, preceding the Probe Profile interview, the subheading for Sally’s interview is titled: ‘Villains Vie for Voluptuous Vigilante’, with a picture of Sally posing in a reprimanding position, with a playful smile while carrying a pair of handcuffs. She states in the article that she eventually hopes to move on to a modeling career, with a biographical film about Silk Spectre already in production. While Ozymandias capitalizes the masculine superhero body as a means to reshape society, Silk Spectre capitalizes on the fetishization of the female superhero in order to build her own public profile, using it as an opportunity to further her own career goals.

 

[1] Karen J. Hall, ‘A Soldier’s Body: GI Joe, Hasbro’s Great American Hero, and the Symptoms of Empire’, The Journal of Popular Culture, Vol. 38, No. 1 (Massachusetts: Blackwell Publishing: 2004), 34-54 (p. 35)

[2] Yen-Lian Liu, ‘The Masculine Masquerade of Superheroes in Watchmen’, Gender Forum, Issue 62, ed. Prof. Dr. Beate Neumeier (University of Cologne: 2017), 39-65 (p. 49)

[3] Michael Furlong, ‘Drawing Desires Performance: Dominance and Submission in Will Eisner’s The Spirit and Alan Moore’s Watchmen (Florida: Florida Atlantic University, 2011), (p. 93)

 

CONCLUSION

Within this framework, we can see varying levels in which the superhero body, as depicted by Moore and Gibbons, achieve the goal of serving its revisionary narrative. All three characters—Dr. Manhattan, Rorschach, and Ozymandias exhibit signs of postmodern expression, particularly, fragmentation. However, since the whole novel is built upon a fragmented narrative, this in itself is not what makes their bodies unique. Rather, it is the different states of fragmentation experienced by each of them and the ways in which they are deliberate or involuntary. In Dr. Manhattan’s case, the superpowers seem to operate as a reflexive muscle of the body, without much thought or attention; the entire concept of being able to control atoms through one’s free will instantly demonstrate this effect. Dr. Manhattan’s body is also perhaps the very symbol of why we read superhero comics, in order to marvel at the inhuman body and see the ways in which it interacts with the icons that we recognize in the real world. Rorschach, a character who one might attribute to being reclusive and closed, becomes the language of pain in the narrative. Visually, Rorschach remains ambiguous and the least ‘super’ of all the main superheroes discussed in this dissertation. However, Rorschach embodies the crux of the graphic novel itself—a reading experience that is built upon the act of assigning meaning to images we see on the page. Ozymandias, at last, reminds the reader that even in a semi-realistic depiction of the world, there will always be someone capitalizing on the narrative. In some ways, Ozymandias appears to be Moore’s way of reminding us that the superhero enterprise is an enterprise just like any other, and to never trust bodies sold in the public domain—whether it’s through self-help books, action figures, or television appearances that coincide with untimely bodily dysfunctions; a superhero’s body remains subject to the narrative’s control, and if they were to exist in real life, they would undoubtedly fall into the same consequences.

 

Primary Sources

Moore, Alan, and Gibbons, Dave, Watchmen (London: Titan Publishing Group, 2005)

Secondary Sources

 AlanMooreVids, ‘Alan Moore talks – 02 – Watchmen’, < https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qKebCtCTbCA>, uploaded 15.10.2007, consulted 09.01.2018

Dawson, Michael Conor, ‘The Fractured Self: Postmodernism and Depersonalization Disorder’, Aigne (University College Cork: 2013), pp. 51-65

Fishbaugh, Brent, ‘Moore and Gibbons’ “Watchmen”: Exact Personifications of Science’, Extrapolation, Vol. 39, Issue 3 (The Kent University Press: 1993), pp. 189-198

Furlong, Michael ‘Drawing Desires Performance: Dominance and Submission in Will Eisner’s The Spirit and Alan Moore’s Watchmen (Florida: Florida Atlantic University, 2011)

Hall, Karen J. ‘A Soldier’s Body: GI Joe, Hasbro’s Great American Hero, and the Symptoms of Empire’, The Journal of Popular Culture, Vol. 38, No. 1 (Massachusetts: Blackwell Publishing: 2004), pp. 34-54

Ed. Hillman, David and Maude, Ulrika ‘The Body, Pain and Violence’, The Cambridge Companion to The Body in Literature (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2015)

Hoberek, Andrew, ‘Poetics’, Considering Watchmen: Poetics, Property, Politics (New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press, 2014), 35-77

Ed. Rosenberg, Robin S. and Coogan, Peter, What Is a Superhero? (New York: Oxford University Press, 2013)

Leder, Drew, ‘The Dys-Appearing Body’, The Absent Body (London: University of Chicago Press, 1990), pp. 69-99

Liu, Yen-Lian, ‘The Masculine Masquerade of Superheroes in Watchmen’, Gender Forum, Issue 62, ed. Prof. Dr. Beate Neumeier (University of Cologne: 2017), pp. 39-65

Scott McCloud, Understanding Comics, (Northampton: Kitchen Sink Press Inc: 1993)

TAUVOD, ‘The Dance in the Inkblot’, < https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bmKsJsJQJ6Q>, uploaded 30.12.2012, consulted 12.12.2017

WORKS CONSULTED

Hutcheon, Linda, A Poetics of Postmodernism: History, Theory, Fiction (New York: Routledge, 2005)

Klock, Geoff, How To Read Superhero Comics and Why (New York: The Continuum International Publishing Group Inc, 2006)

Ed. White, Mark D., Watchmen and Philosophy: A Rorschach Test (New Jersey: John Wiley & Sons Inc, 2009)