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Martinez, Jasmin
Professor Jackie Hymes
English 114B
14 May 2014

Being Powerful Does Not Make You a Hero
The question “what is a hero” is often overlooked nowadays. When people think of
heroes, they think of someone who is admired for their courage, outstanding achievements, or
noble qualities. In true reality, the question is not “what is a hero,” no. It is “what makes a hero a
hero?” In the graphic novel Watchmen by Alan Moore the idea of being a “hero” is often
questioned. Characters such as Rorschach, Nite Owl, Silk Spectre, The Comedian, Ozymandias,
and Doctor Manhattan all carry those “hero” traits, but are flawed and do not own up to that title
which is why none of them are true heroes.
In John D. Cantwell’s article, “Heroes.” He describes how the definition of a hero is
complex using his own personal experiences. Cantwell says that most people have had heroes or
role models (or whatever you wish to call them), especially in the formative years; and that his
were typically family members, sports figures, or medical giants (169). Cantwell is correct; the
definition of a hero is complex. It is more generalized to public figures rather than those with
super human abilities. In Watchmen, the characters in the novel are all public figures seen as
heroes for their noble deeds and outstanding achievements; however, each “hero” has his or her
flaws which are not noticed by the citizens in this graphic novel which is why none of the heroes
are actual “heroes.” Cantwell reminds his readers that “we need heroes.” Heroes are what give
people a measuring stick as to what they can strive for, even if they fall short off the mark (171).
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Although the characters in the graphic novel are looked highly upon, they do not set that
“measuring stick” to set an example of what people should be striving for.
As stated earlier, all the characters carry those heroic traits, but that does not make any of
them a true hero. All the characters are flawed, which takes away that sense of “being a hero.”
To begin, Rorschach’s character is very dark and private. As a child his mother rejected him and
always chose men over him, giving him a negative view of all women for the rest of his life. In
the beginning of chapter six, Rorschach is in jail; he is forced to see a psychiatrist who shows
him inkblots to see if his condition has improved. The first inkblot reminds him of when he
caught his mother in of prostitution as a child. At that time, however, he did not know she was a
prostitute; he thought the men with his mother were just hurting her. His mother chose her
prostitution life rather than her motherly life and would tell Rorschach she should have aborted
him because he would cause her customers to leave (Moore and Gibson Chapter 6. 4). His
perception towards women flaws him because there could be a woman in need of help and he
would not be there to rescue her. He would let her struggle and maybe even die since he has such
a negative view on all women. Rorschach carries these psychopathic characteristics – brutality
towards criminals and is often violent when unnecessary. Sometime after being a vigilante, he
becomes brutal and violent after a gruesome murder of a young girl. Finding the murdere at the
scene, Rorschach goes after him and handcuffs him agains a heater, pouring kerosene all over
him as her yells for his life “you’re kidding, you have to be kidding, EEEEAAAGH” (More and
Gibson Chapter 6. 25). Rorschach ignites the murderer after dropping a lit cigarette on the floor
where the kerosene had reached. Instead of doing that, he could have put the murderer in jail
rather than brutally murdering him. All in all, Rorschach can be defined as an anti-hero with
traditional heroic elements. However, he is too black and white about everything and is blinded
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by his apathy for society and hungry for justice, which shows why he is a flawed “hero.” Others
like The Comedian as well can be defined as an anti-hero based on their actions.
In addition towards Rorschach, The Comedian is driven by the American Dream, but is
constantly blinded by his arrogance from mortality and social norms. He believes that humans
are savage in nature, that civilization is nothing more than an idea. True be told, The Comedian
thinks everything is just a joke and does not give a damn about justice. His way of thinking is
how he justifies his choice to become a mockery of society, fighting and killing without thought.
For example, in chapter two, Edward gunned down a pregnant woman for no valid reason. The
woman hurt his face because he was being rude to her and in return, he guns her down killing her
and her child. That scene shows how Edward acts before her thinks, but in a malicious way. He
can be defined as a nihilistic, maniacal man. Ironically, The Comedian is actually the saddest
character in all of Watchmen because he is always alone. He does not have a partner, let alone
true friends. His loneliness defines why he is the way how he is.
Furthermore, throughout the entire novel there is only one character who actually
possesses superpowers, that being Doctor Manhattan. After being disintegrated in a lab, being
torn from atom to atom, he came back as this blue super human that agreed to help the
government. Because of his super human abilities, it would make sense that he would be the true
hero in Watchmen, but no. Doctor Manhattan is too neutral and cannot understand human
intellect. He has the ability to perceive time and can also see his past, present and future
simultaneously. The superpowers he carries causes him to distance himself from other humans
which is why he is so neutral. For being the only one with those abilities, Doctor Manhattan does
not live up to the title of being a “hero.”
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Another character named Ozymandias eventually characterizes himself as a villain. He is
known to be the “smartest man alive,” but through his methods he creates a villain out of
himself. Ozymandias has the mentality that the only way to build something new, is to destroy
something old. During the Cold War, the East was torn from the West, and he believed that he
could reunite the two to obtain global peace. His intentions were shown at first heroic, but
because he killed millions of people to fulfill his vision of a world united, that is how the villain
in him came out.
Lastly, Silk Spectre and Nite owl both began a life of crime fighting because of their
parents. Silk Spectre only began that life style to live up to her mother’s expectations. Nite Owl
was left with his father’s inheritance after his death. Nite Owl was the type of hero that was
never afraid to risk his life for others, however, after being a costumed super hero was banned,
he became very depressed, finding little interest in his life. His depression is what flaws his
heroic characteristics. Silk Spectre on the other hand, has very liberal values and a strong sense
of feminism because of her forced career and the rape of her mother. As a hero, she has a hard
time seeing the bigger picture in things. She focuses more on smaller issues and has trouble
dealing with personal problems. Silk Spectre happens to be one of the more sane characters in
Watchmen and just wants to live a normal life. Her personal problems flaw her actions as a hero;
she mixes her personal life with her crime fighting life.
What it means to actually be a “hero” is often tested throughout the novel Watchmen. All
the characters have these heroic traits, but have these flaws that look down upon them. “What
makes a hero a hero” is not answered in this graphic novel. The idea of looking up to someone
with such great achievement or noble qualities is quite questionable with the characters of
Watchmen. Looking up to someone who is blinded by their own apathy, or by someone who just
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doesn’t care about justice, even by someone who cannot understand human intellect, is not who
humans should look up to as a “hero.” The meaning behind being a hero is something that still
needs to be redefined and not overlooked.