I wound up finishing off the Watchmen graphic novel last night, and to be honest, my knee-jerk reaction upon completing this book was slight disappointment. Immediately after I finished the book and closed the back cover, I put Watchmen with the rest of my finished comic books, shut my light and laid in the darkness for a few minutes. Before long, I turned the lights back on and re-read the last few pages of the final chapter over again, and decided that the whole book was completely genius. With that, I put the book down again, shut the lights and proceeded to toss and turn for a good hour, totally undecided as to what I thought about how this graphic novel ended...
As I continued to think about how the Watchmen ended, both last night and now, I am still slightly conflicted as to how I feel... On one hand, the plot of the story was genius, and I didn't realize Adrian was the real villain here until near the end of Chapter 10. Adrian's plan in and of itself was masterfully done and the implementation was flawless. I especially liked the end of Chapter 11, where Nite-Owl asks Adrian when he planed on going through with his plan and Adrian tells Owl that the plan took place 35 minutes ago, explaining that he wasn't like one of those caricature villains who was going to explain his plan before he did it, thus leaving the heroes an opportunity to foil him. The way the puzzle fit together in the end was really a beautiful thing to read as well.
However, the fact that Adrian wasn't punished(in the conventional sense)bothered the hell out of me! The guy just wiped out 3 million people! F### world peace, I'm taking his ass in! Yeah, I get that Adrian was extremely sorry that the world had become so f###ed up that he felt he had to take such drastic measures to fix things, but the guy deserved to be killed in a climatic battle or locked up in a frigging prison or something. 3 million people!!! Dr. Manhattan vaporising Rorschach was also pretty irritating. Why the hell did Manhattan care if Rorschach alerted the authorities? Manhattan had already proven that he really didn't care about Earth, so why should he care if Adrian's plans stood revealed? Then again, Rorschach might have realized he had no recourse and wanted to die at Manhattan's hands, which would explain why Manhattan even bothered to kill him. Rorschach must have known deep down there was nothing he could do, no one he could turn to and no way to get out of Antarctica, which would explain his final moments and his impassioned plea for death, since his entire world view of justice against villains had been destroyed.
That was my other bone of contention though, so what if Adrian's plan WAS revealed to the world? The U.S. and the U.S.S.R. would still temporarily cease hostilities in order to bring Adrian to justice, no? Adrian's apprehension would become the #1 priority of the U.S., and I'd wager the U.S.S.R. would be interested in helping capture Adrian, since I'm sure the Russians wouldn't want a repeat of what happened in New York to occur in Moscow. I guess my main problem with the way this story ended would have to be the fact that deep down, I NEEDED that "happy" ending. That's the thing that bothered me the most after I first put this book down after finishing it. 3 million people died in New York, and basically, the "heroes" didn't do anything to bring the man responsible to justice.
After reading the last few pages again though, I realized that the fact that the heroes didn't do anything was the really brilliant part of this story. As a long time comic book fan, I'm conditioned to see the heroes always do the right(or comforting)thing. In my mind, Superman or Captain America would have either stopped Adrian's plans or brought him to justice. The heroes here, possibly even Rorschach, realized that if Adrian's plans were revealed, sure, hostilities between the U.S. and U.S.S.R. would stop momentarily, but within a few weeks, the world would once again be on the brink of World War 3. The Watchmen did what they thought was best to preserve world peace, which was unfortunately to allow the deaths of 3 million people to go unpunished.
The thing is, I was just SO pissed when Adrian stood in front of his wall of televisions, with the painting of Alexander the Great hanging in the background and screamed triumphantly, "I DID IT!"... Sure he had "united" the world like his idol, Alexander had nearly done, but he was also celebrating the deaths of 3 million innocent people. However, I was continuously drawn back to the exchange between Adrian and Manhattan right before Manhattan left our galaxy. I read that exchange so many times last night that I actually have it memorized. With just the two of them present, Adrian asks Manhattan if it all worked out in the end. If anyone could answer that question definitively, it would be Manhattan, since he is living simultaneously in the past, present and future. Manhattan responds simply, "In the end? NOTHING ends Adrian. Nothing EVER ends." Before Adrian could question Manhattan any further as to what he meant by that, Manhattan leaves our galaxy to create life of his own, far away from Earth.
Manhattan's final words were really the only thing that helped me finally get some sleep last night! While I would imagine what Manhattan meant is completely up to debate, to me, he was telling Adrian that while everything is peaceful for the moment, it couldn't possibly last. War would never, EVER end. The hostilities between the have's and the have not's in society would never end. Adrian's plan was but a temporary bandage, covering up something that would always be festering on this planet. All of the hatred, all of the ugliness, the conflict, it would NEVER end. It might be hidden for now, but it would come back, that's just human nature. I feel that's why Manhattan left this galaxy to "create" life in another one. I believe that Manhattan understood that eventually the Earth would once again be on the brink of a nuclear holocaust, which is why he wanted to create new humans far away from our inevitably doomed planet.
Honestly, my fatalistic outlook on the way this book ended was what comforted me enough to catch some sleep last night. Whether it would be Rorschach's journal that would reopen the hostilities between the Earth's super-powers, or something else, Manhattan seemed to acknowledge that the end was still nigh, it had just been pushed back a bit at the expense of 3 million victims.
If I was going to score this graphic novel, I'd obviously give it a 10 out of 10. Alan Moore's story was stupendous and Dave Gibbons artwork was practically flawless. The ending was vexing, but the thing about a piece of art like this book is that Alan has left several ways to look at the way it ended and gives you, the reader, your own way to make sense of what you think happened. Did Adrian really succeed where Alexander the Great failed and unite the entire world? Was Rorschach really trying to get back to civilization, or had he resigned himself to facing a quick and painless death, so he wouldn't have to live with the horrible burden of allowing the murderer of 3 million people to walk free? Did Dr. Manhattan see the future of the Earth as a much worse off place? Is that why he decided to take his leave of the Earth? Does the New Frontiersman newspaper actually read and print what they find in Rorschach's journal concerning Adrian's master plan?
Every question I posed above has several answers, many answers which prompt further questions. To me that was the very best thing about the Watchmen. I choose to believe that in the long run, Adrian fails miserably and the Earth continues on it's race towards doomsday. However, I'm sure there are many other people who read the same thing I did and came to a much different conclusion. I'd love to know what other readers of this graphic novel thought, and if they saw the ending and more specifically, the discussion between Adrian and Manhattan differently then I did. That's it for now. Now, I put this great book away and go back reading my "conventional" super-hero comic books. But, within a month, after I've taken a few steps away from the Watchmen and their complicated world, I fully intend on re-reading this novel in order to see what I may have missed during the first read through.