Allan Moore was ahead of his time, a comic book genius by any standards.
To comic and movie fans alike, Moore is know for writing such classics as the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen and V for Vendetta. I watched V for Vendetta shortly after Gloria Macapagal Arroyo declared a state of emergency, placing the Philippines under virtual Martial Law. One could not escape comparisons between his fictional world and the current state of repression in the country.
After more than 14 years of waiting, I recently got to read the graphic novel Allan Moore is best known for: The Watchmen. I read it, finished it, and then was left disturbed for two days.
The Watchmen has been some kind of comic book Holy Grail for me. I often heard of the Watchmen as being the greatest graphic novel every written. It ranked up there with Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns and Neil Gaiman’s Seasons of Mist, yet critics hailed it as something more. I never did get a chance to read it.
When activist work took over, and when I went full time, collecting comic books became somewhat of a luxury.
But there were ways of getting to read comics even without buying them yourself. There was of course my younger brother who could actual afford them.
Last week, in between preparations for the May 1 Labor Day rally and our Bayan anniversary, I was able to read the entire Watchmen graphic novel.
The graphic style was not really that spectacular. The comic had the traditional and visually boring grids and the colors and pens were pretty average though reworked by the Wildstorm outift. I could tell that comic book design and graphics have gone a long way from when Stan Lee first picked up a pen.
But the story was something else.
It was the 80’s. In this alternate reality, Richard Nixon is still president, managing to win the Vietnam War and get himself elected for a third term by changing the constitution. (Sounds eerily familiar?)
The world is on the brink of nuclear annihilation. The United States and the Soviet Union are competing for nuclear supremacy, even if it means destroying each other and the entire planet along with them.
Against this backdrop, we find a bunch of retired “masked adventurers” or “superheroes”, trying to explain the mysterious death of one of their own, the masked adventurer known as The Comedian.
One by one, our heroes are targeted for elimination. The most powerful of them, Dr. Manhattan, was forced to go on exile due to intrigues by some investigative journalist. The slightly deranged crime-fighter Rorschach was set up for arrest by the police. Ozymandias, the world’s smartest man, was almost killed by an assassin’s bullet.
It seemed that there was a conspiracy to eliminate masked adventurers.
The absence of Dr. Manhattan was most telling of all. Manhattan was the only force able to prevent the nuclear arms race from spilling over and destroying mankind. He was employed by the US government to keep the Soviets in check. How? Manhattan could manipulate matter at the sub-atomic level. In short, he could do anything with anything. He could create something out of nothing. He could bend time and space, teleport and basically just see the future. He was the ultimate weapon. With him exiled, war was no longer a distant possibility. War was imminent.
Our heroes eventually find the force behind the killings of masked adventurers. Turns out it was one of their own; Ozymandias, the smartest dude on earth. (The guy also happens to be one of the wealthiest men on the planet, amassing an empire founded on every conceivable major industry. The guy even built a palace in Antarctica.)
And here is where sick becomes sicker.
Ozymandias killed the Comedian because the latter discovered a dark secret, an elaborate master plan which one could say had the best intentions but the wrong means.
For years, Ozymandias contemplated the problems of the world amidst the prospect of nuclear horror. Superheroes and adventurers were becoming obsolete because nuclear science possessed the power of eliminating the human race. Either masked adventurers adapt to this reality or they would be thrown in the dustbin of obsolescence. .
What to do then? How to stop the holocaust? How to achieve world peace? The problem seemed like the legendary Gordian knot. And Ozymandias thought he was Alexander the Great. The trick was not to untie the knot but to cut the knot.
Using his command over vast resources, Ozymandias had his scientists “build” a monster, an alien-like creature that would horrify even the world’s super powers. The monster was to be teleported to New York City. Teleportation would cause the monster to die. The death would then trigger a psychic blast which would kill half the population of the city.
The scientists cloned the brain of young psychic who died and magnified its mental powers. The monster’s brain carried the psychic abilities of the kid. On its brain was encoded the worst horrors conceivable to man. There was too much horror as to traumatize and kill a person.
The plot was simple yet devious. Ozymandias would make it appear that Earth was under attack by aliens. The only way to beat the external threat was to for the world’s super powers to unite and set aside their differences. The ruse had to be believable. The death of millions of innocents became a necessity.
What is frightening and disturbing about the Watchmen was that when our heroes discover the plot, though a bit too late, they too were forced to agree with the methods of Ozymandias. Upon seeing that the “alien invasion” was able to stop the war, our heroes did not seem to have any choice but to keep their mouths shut and conceal the conspiracy, lest the fragile peace be broken and the deaths of millions become meaningless. Damned if they did, damned if they don’t.
Except for Rorschach, the others grudgingly went along with what had happened. The uncompromising Rorschach had to be physically eliminated by Dr. Manhattan at the sub-atomic level (he disintegrated).
With millions dead, the world now had peace. Or so we thought. The story ends when a group of independent publishers discover the journal left by Rorschach which detailed the involvement of Ozymandias in the deaths and disappearance of masked adventurers.
The Peace that was bought with the lives of millions was now threatened by Truth.