Thursday, July 28, 2011

A Power Greater than Doctor Manhattan

I'm reading Grant Morrison's "Supergods" and it reminded me of something that bugs me about Alan Moore's "Watchmen". Doctor Manhattan was not the only superhuman. While the rest of the cast are all Golden Age hero types, just guys and gals in masks and tights who fight crime with their astonishing but still mundane skills, Doctor Manhattan was heralded as the first true superhuman, the game changer.

Nobody remembers the psychic.

Sure, he's dead and appears only as background info about a stolen head, but HE'S THE KEY TO OZYMANDIAS' PLAN. The only reason Ozymandias' cockamammie alien invasion incident is given any weight or reality in people's minds is the psychic resonance it carries. Ozymandias admits this. His genetic engineers took the dead psychic's brain and grew a psychic resonator from it -- McCluhan's statements that "The Bomb is an idea" made real.

The content of the bomb -- the giant squishy alien -- is practically irrelevant. Presumably, Ozymandias could have encoded just about any apocalyptic scenario into his bomb. He probably needed it to evoke fear, a deep, irrational reaction in the amygdalas of the human race, but this could have been done in any number of ways. Sure, the alien invasion scenario is the only one that would have united humanity against an outside threat and then spurred a new tech boom to take us to outer space to confront our enemies. It doesn't matter.

The real horror of "Watchmen" isn't the existence of Doctor Manhattan and the metaphysical and existential ramifications of that existence. The real horror is that psychic powers exist and can be manipulated to control the entire human race. We're all just buttons waiting to be pushed.

And that's the flaw of "Watchmen". Moore uses the psychic as a handwave, a MacGuffin to explain Ozymandias' plan, but ignores its implications. He's so enamored of Manhattan that he misses the landmine he's casually placed.

Or maybe I'm wrong. Maybe a re-reading of the work will reveal that he's aware of this secret thread and has taken pains to make it secret and yet implicit throughout. The work certainly does operate on many levels.


Allen Varney said...

Ozymandias is also a superhuman -- he catches a bullet.

Boris the Spider said...

Allen, yes Ozy does indeed catch a bullet. However, and this is a stretch, I can envision that as still being in the same genetic line of heroes like Doc Savage. An impossible feat -- except for someone who has learned amazing yogic martial arts in the Far East! The "science" of mind and body.

Sure, this excuse is weak, but I can't help but feel that bullet catching is sort of superpowers lite, like David Carradine catching arrows in "Kung Fu". It's still in the continuum of the Golden Age.

Of course, it could be argued that psychic powers are also in that continuum, but I think that would only apply to an individual whose power could be explained away as hypnosis and illusion. The sort of power Ozymandias unleashes is an unprecedented mass effect. (Unless you consider "clouding mens' minds" to hide an entire building, as in "The Shadow" movie, to be similar, in which case, okay, I guess it is still Golden Age.)