Hello and welcome to In Too Deep, where I over-analyse a certain section of pop culture.
Watchmen is one of the greatest comic books ever written. Especially if you’re a comic book/superhero fan and thus can recognize not only the characters they’re based on (Captain Atom, The Question, Blue Beetle and the like), but the expies of other, more famous characters they’re meant to symbolize. But as I was describing it to a friend something suddenly hit me: Who is the protagonist of Watchmen? The lead character? Just who is Watchmen about.
First off, a bit of classification. The Protagonist is, in this case, â€œThe character whom the story revolves around.â€ There are six characters within Watchmen that this could apply too. So lets list them off and work out the story through their eyes.
Dr Manhattan: The only truly superpowered hero, he has the superpower to do, well, anything. In fact he’d solve the plot within minutes if he didn’t have one crippling flaw: His complete disconnect with humanity. He has apathy of a God. He doesn’t care about humanity or humans or anything in between. In fact his entire arc is learning that human beings are in fact special due to Quantum Miracles (basically the chances of you, as you are now, of even being born are slim to none, so a fully grown adult is pretty amazing). So is the story of Watchmen about a man learning to appreciate the miracles that are humans? Learning to appreciate them again? Is he the true protagonist of Watchmen?
Nite Owl II: Imagine Batman, but with sexual dysfunctional and self-esteem issues. That’s Dan Dreiberg in a nutshell really. A man that is better with gadgets then he is with most people. So what is his story in the grand scheme of things? Well I suppose the closest one he gets is having to conquer his social inadequacy and get together with Laurie. So is Watchmen the story of an impotent, middle-aged Clark Kent who’s been sucked into this grander conspiracy? Learning to overcome one’s fears and inadequacies to be the best a man can be? Is he the true protagonist of Watchmen?
Ozymandias: Okay if you’re reading this blog and haven’t read Watchmen close this window, run out to the book store, pick up Watchmen, read it, then come back and be satisfied that I didn’t spoil the fact that Ozymandias is the bad guy without having the courtesy of putting a spoiler warning up beforehand. Because Ozymandias does end up destroying parts of the world for the ‘greater good’ (and I controversially side with the movie’s version, since framing Dr Manhattan makes more sense then explaining where a big squid thing comes from and why it should suddenly appear). So is Ozymandias a bad guy, or a man doing evil for the greater good? Is he a hero or a villain? Is he the true protagonist of Watchmen?
The Comedian: Now here’s a fascinating character, due to the fact that he appears in so little of it but has such an important impact. It’s the Comedian’s death that starts it off. He finds out Ozymandias’ plan and can’t live with it. But we learn a lot about the characters in the flashbacks provided. Here is a man that has no morals whatsoever. A real sociopath. Now it seems odd to call him the protagonist, since he doesn’t do much on screen per say, but the story does reflect his nihilistic philosophy. That life is all one big joke. So is the story of Watchmen proving that the Comedian was right all along? Is he the true protagonist of Watchmen?
Rorschach: Everyone’s favourite psychopath and the one everyone wishes to be, he forges society’s rules to do his own crazy thing. He has a very black/white way of looking at the world and the ability to carry out the punishment we wish we could carry out. Just like the Joker, Rorschach is slight wish-fulfilment, since we’d love to punish bad people. But just because he’s the more popular violent anti-hero, does that make him the lead? Is the story of Watchmen about one man trying to bring justice to the world, even if he knows that not compromising on his beliefs will be the death of him? That we should all have a personal justice about how to do things? Is he the true protagonist of Watchmen?
Silk Sceptre: Like Dan she’s a second generation superhero, in this case taking the name from the mother that forces her into being a superhero. She doesn’t like it, but eventually chooses to do it because of the good she can do for the world. But she is the only female lead, leading to the question: Is the story about Laurie having to deal with living in her mother’s legacy and learning to be her own interdependent woman? Is she the true protagonist of Watchmen?
The Apathetic God. The Socially-Awkward Gadgeteer. The Tragic Genius. The Crazed Comedian. The Uncompromising Vigilante. The Interdependent Woman. Which of these is the true protagonist of Watchmen?
Truth be told, they all are. And none of them are. For you see the strength of the Watchmen is that you’re bound to end up siding with one of these characters. Perhaps you agree with Ozymandias that the ends justify the means. Perhaps you agree with the Comedian and that life is just a pointless joke with a terrible punchline. Perhaps you agree with Rorschach and how black/white the world is. What’s important here is showing that the character you sympathise with, the one you put in the lead protagonist role, reflects a large part of your personality. Whether you are uncompromising, nihilistic, apathetic. Who you side with shows who you are. So who do you side with?
So there you have it. A look at Watchmen and what the protagonists say about the reader. If you disagree with anything, or have anything to add, feel free to leave a comment. Till next time.
Oh, the character I side with? Well, see if you can work it out. I’d love to know what people really think of me.