Spoiler Alert


Gandalf impersonator, self-styled wizard and sometime rape narrator Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons got together to craft a story for DC Comics involving a set of characters purchased from another company in a buyout. Typical of Moore, who is an excellent writer despite his obsession with rape as a plot device, he came up with a tremendous magnum opus that DC nevertheless were forced to reject for its Charlton properties (as some of them die in the story, and the others end up looking less than heroic). Nevertheless, the characters were re-tooled somewhat to not so much resemble their originals: Blue Beetle became the Nite Owl, The Question became Rorschach, and so forth - but this gave Moore more of an opportunity to mine the rich narrative and meta-narrative in what remains to this day one of the very greatest examples of genius in comic books ever seen.

Some of the ideas in this comic book series are Buddhist - it remains as to whether or not Edward Kovacs is describing multiple personality or a genuine change in self when he describes closing his eyes as Edward Kovacs one day and opening them again as Rorschach. Doctor Manhattan derives much of his power from the fact that he has literally a superhuman control of will, at the cost of his attachments to everything around him - and his idea that things only exist in space and time, and it is a mistake to see them as just what they are in terms of how we perceive them. A rock face contains a block of rock which contains a statue, which contains a broken statue in a museum, which contains the dust to which it will eventually return, and that dust was a statue that belonged to a rock face, making the matter itself a function of time, space and observation. It also plays with the idea that no action exists without a result - but not for Doctor Manhattan's father discarding his watchmaking tools, he would not have enrolled in atomic physics, but not also been a watchmaker who fixes a girlfriend's watch leading to the events that turn him into a muscular bald alien with a giant bouncing penis. Heavy stuff.

But some of them are also Christian, quite probably by accident. The general gist of the Watchmen is to turn the clock back and make superheroes for the most part costumed men who have trained very hard to be more than just police. The Comedian was a highly trained mercenary, Hooded Justice was clearly a weight training freak on steroids, and Nite Owl was left a lot of money and turned it all into crime fighting gadgetry. Only Doctor Manhattan is "super" in that sense of the word, the rest are ordinary folks, dealing with ordinary problems. They grow old. They suffer. They are beaten up and feel loss. They have sex.

Neither are they particularly paragons of justice in any sense of the word. The Comedian is an amoral monster, a rapist who coldly executes a woman, pregnant with his child, who he led on. The original Silk Specter has no problem with being turned into a Tijuana Bible pornographic target. Her daughter, bullied and forced into replacing her, has no interest in the job. Rorschach himself is the kind of human being who makes Moore literally recoil when people come up and claim to be influenced by him. To push the Christian analogy hard in the paint, he has a strong sense of justice but little humanity - a vengeful personality who never knew his Father, and therefore lives by a rigid, inflexible legalistic code and considers the entire world and everyone in it corrupt beyond redemption.

In one scene, Rorschach beats up an aging, dying ex-supervilain named Moloch and almost breaks his arm at the shoulder to extract information. He also comes very close to reporting the man for persisting in crime - that crime being that he's taking illegal medications to try and claw as much life back from an incurable, fatal cancer as he can. But it takes the fact that the man is frail, dying, and moribund to move his moral compass enough off magnetic north (as opposed to true north) in terms of "justice". Barely. For anyone clearly concerned about "justice", prosecuting a dying old man would be unjust and cruel, but thoroughly in the context of the law. There is much of the Pharisee in this ugly red headed whoreson, and that's probably the point.

Speaking of Biblical analogies, you cannot ignore the fact that they have a legitimate nonhuman entity in their midst who performs miracles amongst them until he is chased away and hounded by the authorities after being falsely accused, and literally ascends back to the heavens?

Then again, a major theme in this book is to think of it as a realistic portrayal of what crime fighting people in capes would be actually like. One of the reasons for the name "Watchmen" is the phrase "Who Watches the Watchmen", a phrase being spraypainted on the wall in one scene until Rorschasch violently stops it. What if these heroes were human, in every sense of the word? Fallible, flawed people, trying to do the right thing?

One of the recurring themes in the Bible (a book many people dismiss as a fanastical book with a man being eaten by a fish, living in it for 40 days and then being spat out elsewhere, a guy who collects animals on a boat that in no way could have carried the earth's species on it, and so forth - missing the point of the book entirely) is the idea that all of its heroes are deeply flawed people. Jesus for the record was a homeless laborer whose best friends were the equivalent of biker gang members and disresputable shifty truckers. He hung out with drunks and prostitutes - but they were given authority to cast out demons and heal, and were transformed and redeemed by their ministry.

To those who say that Watchmen is much more heroic and deep a title because of the real flaws and tribulations of its heroes - David was a shepherd boy yanked into the kingdom of Israel who nevertheless killed a close and faithful friend to cover up adultery with his wife. One of the biggest heroines of the Old Testament was a literal prostitute. One of the minor prophets of the Old Testment was a man cursed to be married to a woman who slept with every man in town, so that he could write a very real and heartwrenching analogy for how God feels when personally betrayed by a creation he nurtures and loves so much.

But two of the biggest questions remain in both books - the first is, how do you keep your faith when everything around you changes, and everything you know and believe in needs to change? Rorschasch's fatal flaw is that he cannot change - in the light of a necessary evil done for a greater good, he cannot accept that the more heroic thing to do is let a lesser evil win. And the second is, what is the nature of evil, and what do we do in the face of it? Watchmen doesn't contain the Christian answer for this - it leans more towards the hero of the Baghavad-Gita, who is advised by Krishna to do exactly what he's doing, because fate has placed him where he is and he must be who he is.

Pious Bible thumpers, Chick tracts, hateful legalists and others do more to turn people away from the fact that the Bible has more questions than answers and is more of a path to discovering issues than a textbook full of legal answers. One of the things that shakes seminarians to the core is the fact that they realize once they commit to a life of study of the Scriptures - the story is layer upon layer, and doesn't resolve as easily and nicely as a little comic book tucked into a phone booth or a televangelist's 5 minute elevator pitch would suggest. To pastor, to be a confessor, to counsel, grieve and heal - you have to realize that the world is full of shades of grey, and lives are a lot messier than we care to admit.

I'll get back to the subject of Watchmen immediately - it's a nuanced book that asks a few different questions, and comes up with some different answers. Like the Bible, it presents at different times different approaches and different arguments about the nature of good, evil, justice, and good conduct. It ends in a surprising way, however, in that it has a morally ambiguous ending, and leaves the reader with as messy and grim a world view as when they start.