Watchmen: Would Jameson Approve?

This assignment is interesting. I am not, nor have I ever been, a fan of comics, but I’m having fun seeing echoes of Jameson all over the place. I can even see a bit of Saussure and the French duo, Deleuze and Guatarri.

tada2Like the reflective walls of LA’s Bonaventure Hotel, Watchmen reflects the genre in which it situates itself, and yet it is certainly not a direct representation. This is a comic book – kind of. The format, like all comic books which came before, comes complete with crime, super heroes and cartoon-like illustrations, yet Watchmen borrows this traditional form to create something new, a graphic novel (as in pictoral AND graphic in content). This gives whole new meaning to the recycling of comics.

33_signsI’m reminded of Jameson’s description of the Bonaventure’s confusing layout with entrances that aren’t clearly marked and with no directions within. Maybe it’s just that I’m new to the whole comic thing, but it took me some time to learn how to navigate through the narrative. In the traditional sense of reading from left to right, I could enter into the story, but I needed to allow the text to carry me through time (flashback with the actual use of a flash image) and space (the use of color to designate East coast, West coast, Vietnam and Mars). Like the Boneventure’s escalators and elevators, the text required me to be receptive and adapt to the space within the page.

This is where Saussure’s sign/signifier/signified theory comes in. While he spoke solely of speech, I learned a new visual language, one randomly assigned but accepted and understood by the comic community. Again, I’m reminded of how color represents place while images of flash bulbs and fireworks signal flashback. This only works if this is true of all comics. Perhaps the Super Man and Batman “Pow” is a better example of the sign we all know to signify a punch.

More directly associated with Sassure is the necessity for societal acceptance in the adaptation of language. Minuteman Hollis Mason in Under the Hood also talks about?this happening in his lifetime when he says:

The arrival of Dr. Manhattan would make the terms “masked hero” and “costumed adventurer” as obsolete as the persons they described. A new phrase had entered the American language, just as a new and almost terrifying concept had entered its consciousness. It was the dawn of the Super-Hero” (Watchmen 13).

(Uh, do I credit Mason or Moore & Gibbons for this quote? I jest. Ah, the technicalities of a new form…)

To return to Jameson here, I have to ask – Are the super dudes parody or pastiche? I think parody, although Jameson would disagree. One thing is clear. These guys aren’t super heroes in the traditional sense. Most don’t have powers at all, except for the tall, blue freak. (I mean that in the nicest possible way.) These clowns (I mean that in the nicest possible way too) don’t even have morals to guide their mother-freaking mental ship. The Comedian is the ultimate satirical character. He isn’t funny and he doesn’t seem to find the world as funny as he says he does. His superbly f*&!ed up power is to rape a fellow super hero and shoot a pregnant woman carrying his child. Aside from the foulest of his transgressions, I think he’s an amusing character… but I’m kinda sick like that.

To recall Deleuze and Guattari’s rhizomes, this novel is certainly the organic orb to which the metaphor refers. There is a pulpy center called Watchmen. Off to one side is the offshoot of the Comedian’s journal. To the other, there is a comic book within a comic book. And somewhere left of center is Hollis Mason’s autobiography. This is no typical, traditional, linear representation.

questionJameson would have a field day with the fact that Watchmen looks back to a non-existent social and political history. This brings us back to our discussion of capitalization on both the nostalgia and originality of a piece depending on the consumer’s generational perspective. If comics are for kids, and this is definitely not, does this idea still work? It seems that this book targets the same audience that was once interested in comics, although it targets them at an older age. And does Watchmen lose it’s comic critique in the face of the previously released Heavy Metal, an adult cartoon that similarly looks back on “future artifacts?” Does that make it pastiche – a dead language – something lacking indiviuality? I think yes. Sure, it won awards for what it accomplished, but so do pop songs and they’ve all been done before too.


  1. All you smart people….Kim, your piece was great. Normally I?d try to argue something with you, but I don?t have anything to say. I thought that comic books would be right up your alley. Maybe you really like them, obsessively, and you don?t want to tell anyone…? Hurm…(courtesy of Rorschach).

    I liked your assessment of the Comedian, although I don?t share the same fondness. He doesn?t seem like your typical upstanding American hero, which is why you like him. I agree with Laurie?s anger towards her mother for letting go of the attempted rape so easily. Discussing this novel makes me feel like we?re talking about a soap opera.

    I think I now understand the rhizome since reading your post. Nice way to tie the two theories together. Its funny to think about a bunch of old men hanging around reading comic books again, trying to recapture some youth. You wonder if you?ll still be into the same things when you get old- rap music, popped collars, cartoons, drugs..etc. Is there a point in life where we stop changing with the times because the times have left our comfort zones? Will we all start eating those cookies that come in the metal container? I hadn?t thought about the target audience, because I thought I was the target audience. It does make sense- maybe I?ll give this book to an old guy after I?m done reading it and see if it brightens his day.

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