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Below are the 3 most recent journal entries recorded in No Inklings' LiveJournal:

Friday, May 12th, 2006
10:43 pm
[spearofsolomon]
Watchmen: 03
To which Nate responds (and now we are caught up on the emails):

> You are right on in terms of Moore's deconstruction of the super hero. Why
> do having super powers and having a super agenda go hand-in-hand? Why is a
> costume a necessary accessory to a hero/villain? What does it really mean
> to save the world or be a hero? To what extent are super powers a benefit
> instead of a barrier between the super-powered person and others?

These are interesting questions, that I would not necessarily have thought of. They
seem to me to be questions that lurk behind the questions obvious in the text;
perhaps these are the questions that seem obvious to you, and the questions that
were raised in my mind might seem more secondary to you.

> Why do having super powers and having a super agenda go hand-in-hand?

I see this question now, but I would have said, "Why is it necessary to have super
powers in order to put on a costume and attempt to be heroic?"

Not so, you say, because Batman. Who is clearly a reaction to (and perhaps against)
powered heroes, rather than an inspiration for them. Furthermore, until super
heroes donned tights and assumed nonhuman powers (ie alien or supernatural) it would
have strange for a regular hero to do so (Bat powers), but afterward we are caused
to wonder about another of your questions,

> Why is a costume a necessary accessory to a hero/villain?

Clearly Batman couldn't be a hero in jeans and a T-shirt after Superman displayed
his physique so proudly, but why was it necessary for Supes to do so in the first
place? I'm not sure. Maybe we don't really believe that they are super if we can't
see every muscle.

A second response to the first question: this question wouldn't have occurred to me
in this way because there are so few super heroes in the story. In fact, I think
Moore may have gone through a process like this: 1) consciously reject all powered
beings, and instead deal with costumed heroes who are human in order to see what
real people who crusade vigilante-style might be like, 2) realize that one
superpowered being in a human world would be godlike and have massive repercussions
in society, and so decide to create one anyway. Or it could have been the other way
around: he might have realized that it would be interesting to have only one
superpowered being, and then realized that humans could also play at being costumed
heroes. But since the book is much more about the humans than about Jon, I would
say the former evolution is more likely. Maybe he conceived the thing whole cloth,
I don't know.

Third response to the first question: I didn't notice that, of all the "heroes,"
Jon, the most powerful, is the least interested in imposing his will or his vision
of society on society. That is, I noticed it, but I thought of it more in relation
to the nature of his power, rather than in terms of the power itself. Your question
might be implying that the more powerful a superhero was, the more likely it might
be that he would be removed from interest in human affairs he has increasingly less
connection with as his power sets him "above" or apart.

Or, you could be asking something like, "Why don't normal people behave the way that
superheroes in comic books do, to the best of their abilities?" I'm not sure I got
that question from the book, but I would venture to say that through the history of
comic books, the answer has been that Power justifies Action. The other side of the
coin of "Might makes right," which we abhor, is "With great power comes great
responsibility." These two statements seem very similar. The catch is that we
believe that as long as superpeople have the best intentions in mind, their actions
can be justified ethically. Perhaps this is what you saw, and what Moore was
actually getting at: Veidt has great intellectual power, which makes his "comic
book" situation far more applicable to reality than it appears. His intellectual
power actually puts him in a position of more authority than Jon the demigod, and we
are forced to consider which side of the above coin his actions reflect. He is
clearly trying to be the Spider-man variety - he isn't a mad scientist trying to
take over the world; he only wants to prevent nuclear war while putting himself in
an advantageous position; no awful motives are present. This then gives a magnified
perspective of a Spider-man or a Superman who, trying to foil a robbery, destroys a
building or hurts an innocent person. Perhaps they didn't mean it; perhaps they
view that building or person as necessary collateral damage to prevent a greater
evil. Judging Veidt a monster, can we then not judge the superhero in the same way?
Thanks for helping me work myself around to that.

About the costumes - my sole question (provoked by Watchmen) would have been, I
think, "To what extent is the costume not sexual?" Thinking about it, though, he
spends some time on Rorschach's mask, and a little on Veidt's idolization of the
Egyptian. I didn't think that stuff was as hard-hitting as the one or two lines
about sex from the Owl guy.

About the other questions, I'm not sure I could give more than really obvious
statements of Moore's views on them. The best I could say is that Moore obviously
doesn't think that super or costumed heroes would have any fewer problems with
relationship, ethics, lingering childhood problems, etc, than regular people.

> Anyway, I'd be curious what your reaction is, since you're much more
> familiar with post- and pre-Watchmen comics than I am.

I'm actually not that familiar with pre-Watchmen comics. It turns out that, like
most pop culture, most comics are not that great and so not that enduring. I've
read early issues of Spider-man and Superman, and X-men, but they aren't
groundbreaking in content anymore, and were never sophisticated, so there isn't much
left to find in them. There's no nostalgia there for me, because I didn't read them
until I had read a thousand other issues. I'd say that almost everything I've read
has been influenced by the greatest of the books I'm just now getting "back" to,
although I didn't know it until now. Certainly the best of the books that I enjoyed
borrowed heavily in concept, theme, or tone from one or the other of the Moore or
Miller groundbreakers. Plot details may have come from more traditional superhero
fare but the humanity was borrowed from other sources.

So: I still haven't gotten around to answering your question, "How could comics
continue to operate in the same way after Watchmen?" I was going to give it a shot,
but I'll give you tonight, and really as much time as you want, to elaborate any
more on why they shouldn't be able to, and then I'll give my nascent theory. This
email is long enough.

Nate
10:38 pm
[spearofsolomon]
Watchmen: 02
To which Greg responded:

You are right on in terms of Moore's deconstruction of the super hero. Why do having super powers and having a super agenda go hand-in-hand? Why is a costume a necessary accessory to a hero/villain? What does it really mean to save the world or be a hero? To what extent are super powers a benefit instead of a barrier between the super-powered person and others?

Anyway, I'd be curious what your reaction is, since you're much more familiar with post- and pre-Watchmen comics than I am.

More later,
Greg
10:21 pm
[spearofsolomon]
Watchmen: 01
I thought this might be a good place to have this conversation, since we haven't used it for anything else. Maybe someone else will join in.

Greg and I have been emailing about Watchmen. Greg started off by saying that he'd read it and then we talked about it a little, at the end of which I responded that I would read it again and get back to him. Here's the email:

On 5/3/06, Nathan Spears <spearofsolomon@yahoo.com> wrote:

I read Watchmen again. So mention a couple things about it that you find
interesting and let's talk about them.

I'm interested in your statement that Moore dissected the idea of the superhero so
much that it should have impacted everyone after him. I reread the book with that
in the back of my mind, so now I have a response of sorts. But I should probably
start by asking what exactly you mean, and I'll hazard a guess.

I think that you mean that Moore looks at motivations, origin stories, costumes,
toys, adolescent fantasy perpetuation, psychological problems, etc, for these
costumed crusaders, in such a humane, grounded kind of way that it would be
difficult to go back to the "noble teenager afflicted with powers" kind of story.
Is that a good starting point for what you meant?

Something I found interesting about the story, whether it was intentional or not,
was an aspect of Jon. Let me give a little preface. So, if we take everything in
Watchmen at face value, then I think the book becomes cheaper. For instance, the
discussion we had about whether or not the book's "greater good" philosophy adopted
by the characters at the end, except Rorschach, was presented as something we ought
to emulate or not. I don't think I had a clear word from you on that, so you might
chime in at this point. Or you could read on. Actually I have more to say about
that now. The first time I read the book, I definitely sympathized with Rorshach's
POV at that point; that this psychopathic killer's no compromise mentality made more
ethical sense than Veidt's arranged peace. Now I think that was probably just my no
compromise mentality vibing with Rorschach's, but having read more about Moore, I
think that he probably felt that way too. He tends to have a very "no compromise"
mentality in his personal life, and his contempt for power structures and moral
wheeling and dealing makes me think that he rejects Veidt's ideas as fiercely as
Rorschach. Adding to all this speculation is the very concrete moment in Watchmen
when Veidt asks Jon if Veidt has done the right thing, in the end; to which Jon
replies, "Nothing ever ends." You could start up there with a talk about how
happiness founded on lies is not real happiness, and how things are bound to come to
light in the long run, Rorschach's journal, etc.

I was also curious why Veidt let Dan and Laurie live. Perhaps he thought he needed
to do so in order to keep Jon from disintegrating him.

Ok, so back to this aspect of Jon that I found interesting. So we are presented
with this vision of Jon, very powerful, very smart, god-like. I think that this is
one of the surface aspects of the novel that we can reject. For instance; humans
(not Jon) have many of the same powers of observation and interpretation; vision,
hearing, interpreted by thought. But we differ in how we make use of those things.
Some people look at numbers and calculations and perform complex mathematical
operations mentally; other people are less capable of using similar biological
machinery to perform the same operations.

So Jon is presented as, or appears to the people around him, as being god-like. My
contention is that Jon is very poor god. Using the machinery available to him, he
seems to be a sort of idiot-savant god. He can barely influence the events around
him; the best he seems to be able to do is continue in the role he lived in as a
man, with his increased powers at his disposal. He is obviously shown to be
inhuman, incapable of caring sufficiently about human affairs, but he doesn't seem
to have acquired anything particularly interesting to replace those human interests.
He can see backward and forward in time but these abilities paralyze rather than
enable him; it's as if he's observing his life instead of creating it. I'm not sure
how to spell out this feeling I had any further . . . the essence is that Jon is
kind of a retarded god.

Thoughts?

Nate
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