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.