Not too long ago, I read Watchmen, the graphic novel by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons, which is “one of Time magazine’s hundred best novels.” I confess that part of my motivation for doing so was that there was this supposedly awesome book out there, and I couldn’t form an opinion on it until I had actually read it.
To describe Watchmen in one sentence: imagine that you are falling deeper and deeper into a well, and as time passes you start becoming more desperate, losing hope. Then, all of a sudden you wake up and realize it was all a dream, but then you realize you need to get ready for a long day of work ahead and wish you were — well, back in the well. (No apologies for the pun; deal with it. And yes, I know I used two sentences instead of one.)
To put it in more meaningful terms, the story starts with a gloomy backdrop where it seems like the world is starting to fall apart, with nostalgic yet rosy scenes from the past being the standard to compare present day against. From there, it proceeds into darker territory, with a violent and strangely compelling narration “on the side” to set the appropriate mood. It eventually climaxes in what I would term a “moral muddle” — a situation where there’s no “right thing to do” and every avenue leaves the reader with a bad taste in the mouth. Being powerless as a silent audience doesn’t help much, either.
Of all the characters, Rorschach is portrayed as the most controversial, and yet, he is, in my opinion, the most straightforward, courageous and honest superhero in the story. It is said that Rorschach sees the world in black and white, but I disagree. The whole argument for accepting “shades of gray” stems from the fact that people think differently and believe differently; it does not preclude an individual from having absolute personal opinions. From that point of view, Rorschach has certain principles that he always stands by, and he takes it upon himself to “save the world” as he sees fit.
Dr. Manhattan, the only real superhero, is an enigma of sorts, because the novel hints that it is impossible to truly understand his point-of-view until we see time and events the way he does, connected in a single, complex and intricate pattern. Even so, I would have respected his indifference towards humanity if he had shown the same indifference towards the rest of Universe (including Mars). That human life and humanity in general is pointless is a perfectly sound argument (see Note 1), but valuing dust storms on Mars over human life, or billions of years over thousands is not an argument I am willing to consider without justification.
In an odd twist, Dr. Manhattan’s position also subtly points out that real power is to have the strength without having to actually use it. Having to use it would mean that you are a slave to that power, and (unless you are omnipotent) you are likely to eventually find yourself in a situation where your opponent cannot be destroyed by any power that you possess.
In conclusion — find some time to read the book.
Note 1: People tend to believe that it is their moral obligation to convince others that human life is not pointless, or that the argument in its favor is somehow taboo. I find it perfectly reasonable for one to agree that human life is pointless, but move on and be happy nevertheless.