Alan Moore

The Use of Masks and Facades to Hide Insecurities:


A Critical Analysis of the "Heroes" in the Graphic Novel Watchmen


[(Essay Date 3 June 2012) This literary criticism is written by R.G. and it analyzes the mental contortion and lack of stability of the men and women behind the masks in the graphic novel Watchmen by Alan Moore.]


In Alan Moore's Watchmen every masked avenger has his own small insecurity, the precipitating reason why he first dons his mask. The mask, in turn affects each hero's perception of himself, and consequently the way he behaves. Ultimately, none of the characters are normal per say. From the Minutemen, the initial masked super heroes, to the new age super heroes, the Watchmen, these instabilities, along with the fact that some of them are normal people, help show the readers that insecurity is present in everyone, hero or not, and that some people go to extremes to hide their insecurities.The Minutemen, in the novel were the initial superheroes, the first generation. The first gang, most of them, except for Hollis Mason, who was Night Owl and Edward Blake, who was the Comedian, are not featured in the graphic novel. However, even though these characters were not often mentioned, when they were mentioned, their mental instabilities were sure to come up as a topic of conversation.

Hollis Mason, when referring to the Minutemen said, “Yes, we were crazy, we were kinky, we were Nazis, all those things that people say”. These “Nazis” hid behind the masks of the Minutemen. Two of the Minutemen, mentioned briefly in the story, were Captain Metropolis, and Mothman. Both Captain Metropolis and Mothman clearly used their masks to hide their anomalies: their insecurities, aggressive natures, and their indifference to humanity. The costumes helped make them who they eventually were and wanted to be. Without the costumes or the costumed life, they lost it, and fell apart.

Captain Metropolis was the creator of the Minutemen, he was allegedly in a relationship with another superhero who controlled him to such a degree that he could not disentangle himself from the relationship. Metropolis tried to assemble the new age superheroes, the Watchmen. The Watchmen were difficult to assemble and were not successful. Captain Metropolis' life was crime fighting. Due to the failure of the Watchmen, he became despondent and killed himself later in his life.

Mothman was a superhero out to help the poor and less fortunate, which was one of his reasons for donning his mask. In the novel, a series of trials to ban super heroes were alluded to. It is said that during these trials, Mothman, under pressure and fear caused by losing his costume, became an alcoholic. Along with alcoholism he was institutionalized for mental instability. Once again, his whole life was realized by the donning of the costume. When he lost his costume he lost his strong identity and ultimately his sanity.

The main characters in the graphic novel that had the greatest problems were Night Owl II, Rorschach, Dr. Manhattan and the Comedian. All four of these characters’ lives were bettered, in their opinions, by their masks and costumes or by sheltering themselves in some manner. Night Owl II, also known as Dan Dreiberg, is a nervous wreck in the beginning of the graphic novel. He is timid and unsure of himself. It is only later on in the novel, when he dons his costume, that he finally gains confidence. At that point in the graphic novel, one of his old friends comes to visit him and fellow superhero Rorschach is in jail. Dreiberg has trouble being sexually involved with his friend. Then, as soon as he dons his costume his confidence is restored and a sexual relationship commences. Later, while his confidence is at an all time high, he suggests, “I think we should spring Rorschach”. He only considers this after he donning his costume. At most other times Dreiberg believes Rorschach is crazy. Also, it would be inconceivable to him that anyone could be broken out of jail. However, when he is protected by his costume he feels safe, and capable of anything, even ventures that would seem impossible to him under ordinary circumstances.

The next anxious character that the graphic novel deals with is Rorschach himself. Rorschach is so crazy that his mask has become who he really is. When Rorschach is arrested the detectives remove his mask. Rorschach responds to this action by yelling, ‘“NO! My face! Give it back!’” His mask has become more of a face to him than his natural features. The reason for his regression into his mask is because of his torment as a child. Rorschach, also known as Walter Kovacs, was harassed as a child. His mother was a prostitute and people often teased him for this. His own mother wished he was never born. The mask was a place where Walter could hide, and be safe from ridicule. As a result, Walter Kovacs became Rorschach. He regresses so far into this personality that when a jail psychiatrist visits him and greets him kindly, he responds with, “You keep calling me Walter. I don’t like you.” When a person loses their identity they lose their name. In this case, Rorschach consciously chose to rid himself of his old identity. He got rid of his old name, he became both ideologically and physically, Rorschach, and only Rorschach.

The Comedian; also know as Edward Blake, a member of the Minutemen and the Watchmen is another masked avenger with serious issues. He was a certified sociopath who did not value human life at all. In addition, as his name suggests, he thought that all of life was a joke. The Comedian was a rapist, and a murderer. The only way that this was allowed to occur was because of the mask. When Dr. Manhattan mentions the Comedian, he says, “Blake is interesting. I have never met anyone so deliberately amoral.” The unfortunate part about this statement is the fact that it is completely true. Dr. Manhattan is all knowing, his analysis of a person is a true analysis of a person. While in Vietnam Edward Blake informs the woman who he had impregnated that he planned on leaving her and her country behind. When the woman finds out, she cuts him. After she cuts him Blake shoots her. Blake does not concern himself with the fact that she and their unborn baby are dead. Blake could have easily survived the attack, he was a superhero. However, his thoughts on life were so menial that retaliation was second nature. The Comedian was Edward Blake’s way of hiding his immorality. He uses his mask and the corresponding superhero persona to hide, cloaking his violence in the name of justice.

The final mentionable character is a man who cannot escape his mask so he finds another way to hide. In the novel, his identity has been assumed for him, and his state is permanent. He is a public figure, and he can not create another identity to hide. This man is Dr. Manhattan or Jon, and he is an actual superhero. He can manipulate matter and predict the future but he can not create an alternate persona for himself. His identity was created accidently and his physical state was permanently altered. Unlike the others, when things went wrong, he had no where to hide. During the graphic novel he is accused of giving his friends cancer due to his radioactive state. This causes him to lose control and go insane. His craziness causes him to teleport people out of a room, and then, to teleport to Mars, a place without people. His departure also symbolizes how he has lost touch with humanity. During the novel he has the following conversation with his girlfriend. “’You’re going to try to convince me to save the world’ She replies ‘To save…? I have to convince you? Jon, this is insane’” She along with others, notice that he does not care about the human race at all. The Comedian had already noticed this sad fact about Jon. When the Comedian shot the woman who he impregnated, Jon was present, and he could have stopped him, however, to Jon, the life of a young Vietnamese woman meant nothing. Unfortunately his antipathy extends to the lives of all other humans. Although he does not hide behind an identity, it is because he does not have the ability to do so. He glows blue, and this is an is an obvious characteristic. However, when things get bad, he, like anyone else, must find a way to hide. The other characters use masks, he uses Mars, but essentially what he is doing is the same, he is hiding himself from others.

All of the masked avengers, along with some others, used their masks to hide from society, or to hide who they really are. One actually hides from the world.. This is not an abnormal practice, people often hide in some way in society now-a-days, using and makeup to disguise things they do not like. However, in this super hero story, the practice is preformed to the extreme. Society is a scary place and people need a way to cope, so they create new personalities for themselves in order to shelter who they really are from others. These characters do not just change their personalities, they literally change their identities.



Corruption in All Forms of Government:

A Critical Analysis of the Pro-Anarchy View Point in V for Vendetta

[(Essay date 3 June 2012) This literary criticism written by R.G. deals with the anti-governmental viewpoint prominent in V for Vendetta by Alan Moore and the reasoning behind it.]

The graphic novel, V for Vendetta, by Alan Moore, unquestionably supports anarchist ideology. Support for this direction is exhibited by the main character, V, through his statement, “Anarchy means ‘without leaders’; not ‘without order.’” His very signature closely resembles an anarchy symbol. The historical symbol for anarchy is the letter “A” inscribed in a circle. In this story, the main character’s symbol is the letter “V” inscribed in a circle. Anarchist ideas are not simply shown by V’s vocal and active support of anarchy however; they are also shown through his condemnation of other forms of government.

One of the strongest allusions in the novel is to an actual historical figure named Guy Fawkes. Guy Fawkes is known for the failed gun powder plot to blow up the parliament. V dresses as Guy Fawkes dressed, and he sings a tune in remembrance of Guy Fawkes, ‘“Remember, remember the fifth of November, the gunpowder treason and plot. I know of no reason why the gunpowder treason should ever be forgot.’” The gunpowder treason is a reference to Guy Fawkes attempt to blow up parliament with the intention of killing King James I and restoring the Catholic monarch to power. Guy Fawkes is essentially seen as a symbol of rebellion in the novel. He worked against one monarchy to restore another. He was not opposed to monarchy in principle; he was opposed to a particular monarch. Therefore, his actions are simply meant to symbolize standing up for what you believe in.

Democracy is one type of government that is criticized in the graphic novel. The chancellor, a chief oppressor of the population, is quoted as saying, “The Romans invented fascism. A bundle of bound twigs was its symbol. One twig could be broken. A bundle would prevail. Fascism…strength in unity”. This reference to unity is probably a reference to theUnited Statesgovernment. “United” is significantly featured in the name of our country. Remarkably, one of our country’s most prominent sayings is, "United we stand divided we fall". In addition, this idea of strength is also reflected in theUnited Statesmotto, “don’t tread on me.” The chancellor’s specific allusions to theUnited Statesgovernment’s signature slogans indicate his disapproval of theUnited Statesgovernment.

Condemnation of dictatorships is also prevalent in the novel. The chancellor is, depicted as someone who is heartless. He is “heiled” by an assembled group as he enters a building. This is an unmistakable reference to Hitler’s regime. The same chancellor also says, “The only freedom left to my people is the freedom to starve. The freedom to die, the freedom to live in a world of chaos. Should I allow them that freedom? I think not. I think not.” This quote is meant to indicate how a leader often presents his ideas in a way that is appealing, or even frightening, but persuasive. The statement is a propagandized way of saying that the people will have no freedom, but phrased in such a way that makes it appear that the freedom is sacrificed in order to maintain the people’s safety. Propaganda is used in many dictatorships and totalitarian governments. It is what helps the dictator gain power over the other government authorities. It is used as a tool to gain and maintain power. The highlighting of such dramatic misinformation is another pointed governmental criticism. Propaganda is a form of lying, using half truths in order to mislead. It is, therefore, looked down upon by informed, unbiased observers.

The graphic novel also takes a strong position against theocracies. One allusion to a theocracy is the evil government’s main slogan, “Strength through purity, purity through faith.” This slogan is exhibited on posters placed throughout the city. The slogan is often depicted with a cross. These signs are most likely a reference to theocratic rule. In the graphic novel, the main character slashes his symbol into these posters, exhibiting his distaste towards that governmental model. In addition to the oppressive slogans, an important characterization of a corrupt religious order can be seen in the perverted priest. He is depicted as a man of great power in the community, and he has a taste for young children. V soon assassinates him, showing his severe disapproval of the priest and ultimately, the priest’s ability to use his authority for his own, despicable desires.

Though the explosion of buildings is primarily a reference to Guy Fawkes and a symbol of rebellion, it also holds other meaning in the novel. Gun powder is not only used by Guy Fawkes, but is also used in the demolition of a windmill in Animal Farm. Animal Farm is a very prominent anti-communist novel written by George Orwell. In the novel, gunpowder is used to blow up a windmill built and run by a communist government. The government lies and behaves as if someone else destroyed the windmill, playing off the explosion as a mistake. By doing so, the government hopes to manipulate the people into believing that enemies of the government are trying to threaten the security of the government and its people. In V for Vendetta, gun powder is used to destroy the Old Bailey, along with the large clock tower. After they are destroyed, the government explains that they were, “scheduled demolitions”. These premeditated uses of the gunpowder, followed by deceptive government misinformation, as seen in Animal Farm, are anti-communist references, in and of themselves.

Essentially, the novel tries to establish that rule by a government, or any regime at all, results in repression and loss of freedom. Anarchy is depicted as the ideal model. Anarchy is not discussed critically; instead it is put on a pedestal. When the civilians of the story ascend into anarchy they gain freedoms and the ability to think without restrictions. The novel’s point of view with respect to anarchy as the desirable model can be derived from the lack of criticism of anarchy, as well as the abundant criticisms of other forms of government: democracy, dictatorships, theocracies and communism. The novel discusses only the negative aspects of the governmental forms it considers. It focuses on their restrictiveness, and their use of deception and absolute power to rule the citizens. While governments are not named, the specificity of the allusions to unique slogans and events tie the judgments to particular governmental entities. Anarchy is viewed as the only model that allows people to have complete freedom.