Wednesday, August 20, 2008
Watchmen Book Club: Chapter IV
Chapter IV: Watchmaker
This chapter offers not only a biography of Dr. Manhattan, but also the most detailed information yet about the history of this mirror-vision of the United States. It makes sense, given how much American history and Dr. Manhattan have intertwined.
I love how Dr. Manhattan's origin story is so textbook superhero. Accidentally locked in an experimental vault and hit with a blast of radiation. Might as well have been gamma rays or a spider bite. And yet the results are so atypical. Dr. Manhattan makes all other superheroes obsolete --not to mention all other weapons, armies, governments, and gods. The only thing standing between Dr. Manhattan and world domination (not to use such a cliched phrase) is his relative disinterest in the idea.
We see a lot of how Manhattan is corralled, almost immediately, by the U.S. government. "The Superman exists, and he's American," was the first public statement made. Say what you will about Cold War-era America, they were on the ball right here.
So Dr. Manhattan becomes the lynchpin for U.S. nuclear superiority, as we've heard before. The process by whch that happens isn't really much of a process at all. It just kind of makes sense for the U.S. to wrap him up tight, and Osterman doesn't put up much resistance.
What resistance he does put up is mostly sartorial in nature. You can't make him conform to your bourgeois standards of clothing, man! He's a free, naked being at heart! But as far as his misgivings about the morality of intervening in the war in Vietnam (or not intervening in the Kennedy assassination), he's bemused but ultimately passive. Whereas Edward Blake let himself be co-opted by the government because their fascist interests dovetailed, Osterman just seems to be playing out the string.
Which brings us to Dr. Manhattan's temporal displacement, which provides the structure for this chapter. He experiences everything that happens along his timeline at once. Past, present, and future, all happening, all the time. It's tough to get a grasp on what that might mean for someone, psychologically and spiritually, but it's pretty safe to say it's a big reason for Jon's bewildered and distant personality. It's no wonder he prefers to occupy himself with math and physics -- those things that are constant.
The watchmaker-as-worldmaker metaphor is an interesting one -- it made me think of Neil Gaiman and one of my favorite quotes from a book ever (the "God is a hope, a dream, a myth, a watchmaker..." paragraph from American Gods).
Some other random notes:
-- Interesting that Nixon asks Dr. Manhattan for intervention in Vietnam, while Jon makes a note of Kennedy pointedly not asking for similar intervention in Cuba.
-- LOVED that image of the nervous system with eyes as Jon was beginning to re-assemble his body.
-- Jon's conversation with Hollis Mason -- a casual dropping of his knowledge of the electric car and how, thanks to him, it would soon be cheap and easy to mass produce (and thus make Mason's second chosen vocation as obsolete as his first) -- cracked me up.
-- Interesting how the other heroes view Dr. Manhattan. Mason sees him as the death knell for "masked adventurism" as he knew it, while Adrian Veidt can only focus on the technological advances.
-- Liked the off-hand note about Edward Blake solving the Iranian hostage crisis and how it bought him immunity from his critics. So even in a universe where Reagan never got to be president (due to Nixon's dissolving of presidential term limits), at least someone gets to use the Iranian hostage crisis to their advantage.