Sunday, March 05, 2006

I'd Have Followed Len Wein's Advice on the Ending of Watchmen

Len Wein has always stated that he did not like the ending of the Watchmen series, and I am inclined to agree with him.

As Wein mentions, the whole series was so original, so inventive, so to have an ending that was VERY similar (i.e. the same) as an ending to an Outer Limits TV show probably was not a good idea.

So I'd have followed Len Wein's advice and changed it to something - anything.


Blogger Harvey Jerkwater said...

I thought the ending worked well. Each character reached their ultimate point of failure.

Ozymandias's "superiority" led to mass murder for his interpretation of the greater good. A self-defined superman with a sense of mission and a belief in an ability to accurately predict the future would do that. Plus, it felt right. Who is more dangerous than the man who knows, deep in his heart, that he's right, everyone else is wrong, and that to make an omlette requires the breaking of eggs?

Dr. Manhattan grew so detached that he simply faded away.

Rorschach could not compromise in the face of massive evil, nor could he do a damn thing about it, and was destroyed.

Nite Owl and the Silk Spectre were never more than regular folks playing dress-up, and proved to be ineffectual in the face of the true problems of the world, like Ozzy.

The ending ties together the themes of the story. And I liked the sudden jarring juxtaposition of the Big Fake Alien.

The whole story was a graft of realism onto the super-hero genre, and a reflection of just how goddamn silly and scary super-heroes would be in real life. A big fake alien invasion is both in keeping with that idea and a big visual whammy at the end of a story lacking in big visual whammies.

Also, the entire series hinted at Ozzy's master plan. With that buildup, it had to be big, it had to be weird, and it had to be very visual. I'd say it worked.

I'm sure a better ending could be devised, but the one already there worked really well.

(The Outer Limits episode in question is "The Architects of Fear." Robert Culp is transformed into a fake alien to scare people and unite a divided world. Doesn't work.)

I suppose the story could have been changed to keep Ozzy from being the secret villain, but I liked that. It both aped and mocked the superhero comics from which The Watchmen sprang.


3/15/2006 5:38 PM  
Blogger Richard said... first I was going to scoff...but and Len are onto something here.

The "faked alien invasion" idea always felt a little off-kilter because -- in a series where one of the hallmarks was everything being interrelated on multiple levels, thematically as well as literally -- the motif of alien life comes out of nowhere. It doesn't resonate with anything else in the series. Apart from Doc Manhattan spending time on Mars, there's nothing in the series about space travel or other worlds or xenophobia. Even the big political conflict is with Russia, rather than a nation of a different race like the Chinese, so fear of "the other" as metaphor doesn't even enter into it. The best you can say for it thematically is that Adrian Veidt's Alexandrian obsession leads him to think of solving a Gordian Knot in wild, lunatic terms that have nothing to do with the stated limits of the puzzle. So, yeah, in that limited sense it works...but you know, not really all that well.

But hang on to your socks, because I've just worked out what it could have been instead.

What if the series lost the whole "uniting the world by faking an alien invasion" thing altogether...but still had at its center Adrian Veidt cooking up some big mysterious plot to unite the world and dispel the threat of nuclear war. The whole series proceeds exactly as it did up until the last issue. But what, you ask, is Adrian's big idea? How does he cut the Gordian Knot?

His ultimate goal would be to kill Doctor Manhattan.

Yes, it's already there, but only as a side note. This should have been the center of Veidt's whole plan. Eliminate Doctor Manhattan -- destroy him visibly and publically, by luring him to that fateful Manhattan intersection and having the "intrinsic field remover" concealed in the buildings Veidt owns. A massive explosion wipes out the Doctor, and a good portion of New York City. The entire world sees Doc Manhattan is gone.

And now, Veidt has reasoned to himself, no more threat of war. Because of course the world powers will wake up to the fact that no superhuman exists to protect them. Of course America can't go on being an imperialist power without his presence, and will have to deal fairly with other nations on an equal footing. Of course it was the existence of Doc Manhattan that allowed us to get so close to nuclear war, and without him everything will become sunshine and lollipops all the time. It stands to reason, right? Right? (And the irony-conscious comics reader gets that Adrian is totally wrong, because our own Doc Manhattan-free world had the same problems anyway...)

In the last issue, the world reels in shock because something was powerful enough to take out the Doctor. It has the same basic effect of uniting the world temporarily against this new unknown foe. Adrian thinks he's won. But Doctor Manhattan comes back (as he did in the published version) and confronts Adrian before leaving Earth forever. The end of the book ends up being much the same. But we now have symmetry between Adrian as "hero-killer" at the start and at the end, and without the phony alien coming out of left field. And at the end, we know what Adrian doesn't...that his "solution" is only temporary, and that Doctor Manhattan never was the source of the problem in the first place.

3/15/2006 7:04 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Mmmm, no, I think that's pretty lame, RAB. First, as you admit, it's a rehash of what actually does happen, only on the sidelines. Second, if someone did "kill" Dr. Manhattan, the natural suspect would be the Russians. Dr. Manhattan was viewed by the world as a walking weapon; his disappearance is akin to a missile silo being taken out in a pre-emptive strike. America would assume Moscow was responsible, assume that a nuclear strike was imminent, and would launch its missiles in an attempt to strike first. Veidt wouldn't be dumb enough to think that Manhattan's disappearance would defuse the situation; in fact, earlier in the book he arranges for Manhattan to flee the planet because he knows it'll escalate tensions.

I really don't think anybody's going to improve much on the ending of Watchmen here. Hype notwithstanding, it really is the best comic book to come from one of the best comic book writers of the last couple decades, and the ending, complete with the big alien and Rorshach's journal, is note-perfect.

3/15/2006 7:41 PM  
Blogger Richard said...

Personal taste is exactly that, of course, and I wouldn't dream of trying to persuade you that you're utterly and totally wrong. But I must quibble with you on one plot point. Veidt does not arrange for Manhattan "to flee the planet because he knows it'll escalate tensions" and I see nothing in the text to suggest that. Veidt speaks of wanting to "neutralize" Doctor Manhattan, presumably as a potential obstacle to his machinations, which he does by arranging a phony cancer scare. But Veidt can't possibly know in advance that the Doctor would respond by leaving Earth -- how could anyone know that? -- and besides, escalating international tensions would not specifically help his plan. Hastening a declaration of nuclear war would only increase the chances of a first strike taking place before he's able to put the final stage of his plan into motion, so it could actually be a hindrance.

Actually, this does tie into the logic of my idea, in that Veidt's inability to predict how Manhattan will respond to a given situation is precisely why someone fearing for the safety of the world would want to eliminate him. I also think it would be reasonable and appropriate for someone in that world, having experienced that version of history and without knowledge to the contrary, to conclude that Manhattan's existence had been the root cause of the problem all along. But now I've crossed over into trying to change your opinion, which is something I just said I wouldn't dream of doing...

3/15/2006 9:11 PM  
Blogger Harvey Jerkwater said...

Veidt did understand Manhattan's psychology pretty well. He knew that Jon was becoming more and more alienated from humanity, and would likely lose interest in it. The cancer hoax was designed to drive a greater wedge between Dr. Manhattan and humanity. Out of fear of cancer, people would stay away from him. This would increase his alienation, speeding his departure.

Also, Veidt flatly stated in the end of the book that Jon's appearance wasn't as big a factor in the world's sorry state as you might think. Ozzy said that Dr. Manhattan sped up the race to armageddon, but that he wasn't the cause.

3/16/2006 9:37 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I can see staying with Ozy's plan, becuase, as Harvey says, it's pretty much where that character was going from page one...

The thing that always got to me, however, is that no one... not Dr. Manhattan, not Nite Owl, not Rorschach, not even the Comedian... no one objected to Ozy's plans on the grounds that it had roughly 0% chance of ever achieving his stated goals. Everyone is pretty clear on the moral implications of his decision to murder millions of people, but nobody ever says, "Wait a minute! That's just dumb!"

The simple fact of the matter is that Ozymandias, while clearly not half as clever as he'd have you believe, should still be moderately competent. He manages to outwit everyone else in the series at every stage of the game. But in the end, his Big Idea is "I'm gonna kill a bunch of people and no one's ever going to figure out that it was all a big fake, not even a hundred years from now when I'm dead and can't kill anyone who starts to put two and two together, and nothing else will ever go wrong, either, because I'm just that cool." That just threw me out of the story completely.

I've always wanted to see a follow-up to Watchmen in which the international team of scientists investigating the event accidentally stumble across the secret of interdimensional travel and the united forces of Watchmen Earth ruthlessly conquer a hundred alternate universes, only to be overthrown and exterminated by a coalition of former slave races in 2250. Boy, would Ozymandias look dumb, then.

3/17/2006 8:40 PM  
Blogger Brad Curran said...

Yeah, I don't have a problem with Moore swiping the climax of Watchmen's plot from the Outer Limits, because the ending is ambiguous and perfect. I mean, sure, change the threat to something else. A giant Swamp Monster if you want to be cute. But the ending, with Rorschach's journal winding up in the right wing paper's office, and Robert Redford running for President? Perfect.

3/18/2006 7:27 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Actually, haerandir, if I remember correctly, the Owl doesn't seem to take Ozzy's plan all that seriously at first. He basically has a "riiiiiiighhht....." reaction to it, for memory.
I like the big fake alien for at least a couple of reasons: it's exactly the kind of ludicrous plot thread you'd see in a comic, and the whole point of Watchmen was to place comic book characters (and their attendant plans and hijinks) into the real world.
Secondly, even though it seems random, if you look back over the book, it is foreshadowed reasonably often. Without the big fake alien ending, a bunch of other stuff would also have to be taken out, most notably the pirate comic. That's because, for those who haven't read it recently, the pirate comic was foreshadowing Ozzy's plan, which itself involved the guy who wrote the pirate comic.
I loved that particular part of 'Watchmen', and ultimately 'Watchmen' is up there with 'Maus', where any suggestions we make could never equal what we were originally given.

3/19/2006 2:41 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Six months later...

The alien has never bothered me. What bothered me was the almost instantaneous response which showed Ozy's plan working. Even given that we're supposed to be watching an abbreviated timeframe, it's too immediate. Those guys wouldn't still be standing around the lair when the countries all made friends.

More poignant to me, might have been a scene where Ozy's watching the screens and they're like, "Now what, Adrian?" The idea that his plan worked at all is vaguely insulting to the reader's intelligence, and that it worked so quickly, with apparently no debate on the global scene, is completely ridiculous.

But I don't have the solution for the problem with that ending. I also hate the first few pages, the splashes with all that horrible coloring. It feels like wasted pages.

9/26/2006 5:42 PM  

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