Friday, January 3, 2020

Watchmen: the comic. Alan Moore (story) Dave Gibbons (art)

Holy smokes!  I realised that I hadn't transferred my old Watchmen related reviews over from Opera so I'll be inter spersing the new reviews with the old

  What can I say that hasn’t already been said about this graphic novel? Well one aspect I think has been overlooked is the pulp/serial vigilante influence on Watchmen.

Let’s look at the pulp references in Watchmen. The obvious point to begin is with Hollis Mason, The original Nite Owl – whilst not strictly a pulp reference but when we first meet him on page nine of chapter 1 we see that he has a copy of Phillip Wylie’s Gladiator, a novel considered by many to have been an influence on the creation of Superman. Later in the “excerpts’ from Under The Hood, we see that Mason was a fan of the Pulps referencing The Shadow and Doc Savage (Chapter 1; PP4-5*) While Superman is also cited as an influence it is The Shadow that Mason references in the second excerpt from Under The Hood (Chapter 2; p7) in designing his outfit. Hollis Mason is the only Golden Age character we are privy to the full reasoning why and how they adopted a costumed identity and it seems that he is a fan of the pulps.

It is appropriate the second Nite Owl – Dan Dreiberg is also a fan. Dreiberg wrote Mason to get permission to become the new Nite Owl and Dreiberg spends his time with Mason reminiscing about the past. Dreiberg also owned a Silk Spectre Tijuana Bible when he was younger.

Much has been made of the comic book influences on the characters of Watchmen but there is a pulp/serial vigilante influence. Now in some cases it may be a stretch and I certainly don’t suggest that there is the simple correlation that Watchmen shares with the Charlton characters.

 The most obvious is Ozymandias (Adrian Veidt)– like Doc Savage he travelled the world gaining knowledge becoming the physical and mental peak of human ability – both Savage and Veidt have remote polar bases.

 Rorschach - His simple outfit of trench coat and fedora calls to mind Pulp private eyes like Sam Spade and Philip Marlowe and also Pulp heroes like The Shadow, The Spider (as seen on the covers), and The Whisperer. Rorschach’s journal calls to mind the war journals of the Executioner and the recordings of The Assassin Robert Briganti. (I would mention the Punisher but he’s a comic book character)

 The Silk Spectre (I & II) - The original Silk Spectre like The Domino Lady uses sex appeal to fight crime.

 The Nite Owl (I & II) –There is a similarity with The Black Bat as well as The Black Hood. The Black Hood is fairly unique in making the leap from comics to the pulps. The second Nite Owl invokes the wealthy crime-fighting playboy trope seen in many pulp heroes.

 The Comedian – Certainly Johnston McCulley’s The Crimson Clown invokes a similar naming convention, but I’ve long thought that The Comedian’s original costume resembled that of The Avenger especially as depicted on the covers of the 1970’s Warner books reprint and revival novels.

 Captain Metropolis- Many pulp heroes have a military background like Captain Metropolis such as Doc Savage, The Shadow and The Spider

Dollar Bill- The Corporate superhero as far as I can tell has no precedent in the pulps but several serial vigilantes, Hawker and The Expeditor come to mind, are sponsored by millionaire backers.

Mothman- This character had a fairly insignificant role in Watchmen but if we look at some versions of the penny dreadful character Spring-heeled Jack there is a slight resemblance in that both use mechanical aides to fight crime one flying the other leaping

Hooded Justice – His appearance is that of an executioner – possibly an allusion to Mack Bolan’s crime fighting persona.

Silhouette – Dressed all in black, a silhouette is a type of shadow, perhaps she was intended as a distaff version of The Shadow.

Like I said earlier these are very thin but it appears that the Minute Men are very much in the pulp/mystery men mould with the Shadow and Doc Savage as a partial inspiration for at least one of the members. The second generation of heroes – The Crimebusters (Watchmen in the movie version) with the exception of Doctor Manhattan would seem to borrow from the serial vigilante tradition as well as that of comic book characters.

Watchmen can be seen as a metaphor for the Superhero (Doctor Manhattan) replacing and superseding the non powered mystery men/pulp hero (every other hero mentioned above. We see this especially with Doctor Manhattan and Hollis Mason Nite-Owl I. One of the reasons Mason retires is the appearance of Doctor Manhattan which made Mason feel redundant. Mason plans on becoming a mechanic. Ironically, one of Manhattan’s inventions, an electrical car, quickly renders his new career equally redundant.

 Doctor Manhattan’s role in Vietnam meant that in this alternate reality, the events of that War most likely would not have caused the burst of vigilantes we saw in fiction in our world.

 * The page numbers are from the “pages” from Under The Hood.

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