Thursday, March 12, 2009

more Watchmen comments from my comic class

Steve here again, posting a wide variety of comments the students in my comic class had about Watchmen as we read it.

When we read chapter four, the Dr. Manhattan chapter, I had my students write about the character. I broke them into groups and had each group look at a different aspect of the character.

One group analyzed Jon Osterman's behavior before he became Dr. Manhattan to see how he was already displaying some of the detachment and belief in predestination that Dr. Manhattan is famous for. This group focused on how Jon was a bit of a pushover, planning to be a watchmaker because it's what his father wanted and then abandoning that career for physics when his father ordered him to. He only ever dated Janey Slater at her insistence, so it's no wonder that, after the fact, he claims that the universe was always his guide. He takes no responsibility for his actions because he never has, and his new unique perspective on time simply provides him an excuse for only intervening when he HAS to.

A second group focused on just that, Dr. Manhattan's view of the passage of time, which led to a pretty straightforward discussion of predeterminism v. free will. A third group looked at how Jon's abilities have shaped the world, in regards to society, politics, and pop culture.

Finally the fourth group discussed Jon's detachment from humanity in chapter four. I asked them whether or not there were any signs that he might care about people a bit more than he claims to. Some of the students argued that his claims of detachment were just sour grapes, the act of an outcast. Because the world treats him as different, he withdraws emotionally from the world as if to say "I never wanted to be in your stupid club anyway." He's not as completely emotionless as he claims, since he does react in anger when confronted about possibly giving cancer to those he loves and he runs away to Mars like a teenager hiding in his room when Laurie leaves him. (You could even make a case that while on Mars Jon is a stereotypical emo kid, making "profound" statements about the nature of the universe while lamenting over lost love.)

Other students then pointed out that these emotional responses were interesting when considered through the lens of his foreknowledge. Why would he get angry at the interview with Nova Express, they wondered, if he knew it was going to happen? My response was that foreknowledge of an event doesn't mean you're totally prepared for the emotional ramifications of it. I said to them, "I could warn you that I was going to punch you in the face, but it wouldn't make it hurt any less when I did so."

I also had my students write about symbolism when we got up to the seventh chapter, which is rife with symbols like reflections in glass representing the nostalgic remembrances of various characters or the embracing silhouettes/shadows/skeletons which could illustrate the emotional cost armageddon has on those at its heart. They also mentioned the recurring motif of the slashed circle (representing both impending doom and tainted innocence, depending on the scene) and of course the pirate comic. But one symbol a couple of students mentioned that I liked was Nite Owl's goggles. In issue seven, Dan makes mention of how he could always see more clearly when he wore them, and Laurie also wipes the dust from their lenses at one point, clearing the obstruction of her view (she does this also on the fogged-up window and on Archie's dust-covered eye). Each of these actions, my students argued, showed the characters of Laurie and Dan recognizing just how dependent they were on their costumed identities, how they need them to fully express themselves and how they are finally able to be honest about who they are when they're in costume.

Finally, when we got to the end of the book, one student pointed out that it was interesting how in one issue we see Adrian murder his three servants with poison, yet later he claims to Dan and Rorschach that they opened the dome themselves in a drunken stupor and died accidentally. We came to the conclusion that this disparity goes to show that Adrian is incapable of taking responsibility for his actions. He won't admit to personally getting his hands dirty killing these three men, even though he has just killed millions in New York. It also reveals his true nature, for if lying about the death of these three men is so easy for him, might he not be lying about his motivations for killing the population of New York? He claims to have altruistic reasons for his heinous crime, his desire for world peace, but he has also been maneuvering his companies in such a way to set it up that he will be the one to usher in this new age. He doesn't want world peace; he wants to shape the world in his image (as illustrated in his flier for the Veidt method) so his legacy will be remembered forever.