Literary Analysis Applied to
A Comic Book
(Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons’
When we take something established (a
belief, an ideology, a story concept, a
character, genre or myth) and take it
apart to see how it works, what it means
and so on, instead of just unthinkingly
staring at it, we call this “deconstructing”
the thing.
People my age did this with religion, with
music, with holidays, and with every
story from our childhood. Your movies
and TV are made by people my age
deconstructing and remaking stuff from
our childhood.
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In 1953, brand new
periodical Mad Magazine
took the established
Superman character…
And lampooned it,
(calling the character
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Alan Moore (no relation,
all appearances to the
contrary) decided it was
time someone took the
superhero genre and
pushed it, not in a
comedic direction, but a
dramatic, realistic one.
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Moore decided to
write a story filled
with elements and
themes he felt
were “too real” for
superhero comics
to normally cover.
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Real World Elements
Not Found in 80s Comics
“Heroes” killing
Sex and nudity
Bad Language
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Moore set Watchmen in an
alternate version of 1980s
America, one in which Richard
Nixon kept getting re-elected,
instead of having to resign for
The Cold War is out of control,
and superheroes are real, helped
America win the Vietnam War, but
are now outlawed.
Cars are electric, people have
little glass devices to prevent
second-hand smoke, and because
superheroes are real, children
read pirate comics instead
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Moore wanted the freedom to have
characters like Batman, Superman and so
on die, kill people, be gay, do wrong
things, have psychological problems and
so on, to make his story more complex.
He wanted to start the comic with the
shocking image of a famous superhero’s
body being found floating in the river,
permanently dead.
Being clearly told he was not allowed to
mess with anyone’s established, popular,
money-making superhero characters, he
got Dave Gibbons to design some
stereotypical superheroes for him to use.
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Character Origins
Moore decided that, if
superheroes were real,
and lived in our world,
they would be rather silly
and quite sad.
He decided dressing up
in costumes and running
around was kind of kinky
and weird, so he decided
in his book, society would
view superheroism as a
nerdy fad, and also as an
embarrassing fetish.
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Nite Owl II
Nite Owl II is a typical “normal
guy with gadgets and
vehicles” superhero, like
Batman or Blue Beetle.
Dan Drieberg
(Nite Owl II)
is based on
Clark Kent,
only chubby.
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Nite Owl II
As Clark Kent, Superman only
pretends to be nerdy
Dan Dreiberg really is nerdy.
He’s interested in birds. This is
how he invents all the Batman
and Blue Beetle style gizmos.
He has Clark Kent’s timidity, and
Superman’s idealism.
His arc involves him dealing with
and pursuing the fact that,
despite superheroes being
outlawed, he really needs the
costume to “come out of his
shell” and be who he really is
deep down.
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Spider-Man designer
Steve Ditko created blackand-white thinking,
justice-obsessed Mr. A
and mysterious The
The Rorschach
psychiatric test, with its
symmetrical blots,
inspired the character’s
mask, and reflects his
psychiatric problems
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Most superheroes are
handsome under their masks.
Rorschach is short, ugly, and
His mother was abusive and
promiscuous, and he has
emotional problems. This
makes the character more
flawed and interesting.
He wants to punish criminals.
His arc involves whether his
inability to compromise (or stop)
will get him in the end, or if he
can use this weakness to
achieve good. (His inability to
stop makes him unstoppable).
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The Comedian
The Comedian is
Moore and Gibbons’
take on
superheroes like
Captain America
and Nick Fury.
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The Comedian
The Comedian
represents every
bad thing America
ever did. (Moore is
The Comedian is
cynical and gleefully
He is unheroic,
macho, scary and
amoral, and not
funny, but he laughs
whenever it is
inappropriate to do
What would Freud say
Moore and Gibbons
are suggesting that
America was doing to
Vietnam during the war
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The Comedian
He gets involved in secret assassinations
and wars all over the world, he gets a
Vietnamese woman pregnant during the
war there, and when she asks him to
support her, he shoots her. He tries to rape
a female superhero team member.
But he is not the antagonist. The story
starts with him being mysteriously beaten
up and shoved out a window to his death.
In a weird way, he is scarred by his
experiences. (this is reflected in the
Vietnamese woman leaving with a huge
scar down his face from a broken bottle).
His arc involves being continually haunted
(and eventually killed) by his past, which
he’s been trying to “laugh off.”
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Doctor Manhattan
A hero who, like the Captain Atom
character, is like an atomic bomb
or nuclear explosion is perfect for
an exploration of cold war paranoia
about the world being destroyed in
the nuclear arms race.
Moore wanted a god-like, inhuman
character, but not one who, Star
Trek / Pinocchio-like, wants to
strive to become human (a “real
boy”). Manhattan is into being
more than human.
The nudity was supposed to be
aesthetic (artistic like the “David”
statue) and also reflect is
inhumanity (not needing clothes)
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Origin Story/Explanation:
Doctor Manhattan
Dr. Jon Osterman isn’t really
human anymore.
Like The Incredible Hulk, he
underwent a nuclear
accident and now can
rearrange molecules with his
mind and experiences all
time periods, all at the same
The symbol he wears on his
forehead is of a hydrogen
atom. A hydrogen atom was
split to bomb Hiroshima.
The Manhattan Project was
the codename for the design
of the first atomic bomb.
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Doctor Manhattan:
Doctor Manhattan’s character arc is that,
as he isn’t like other people anymore, he
becomes increasingly unable to relate
emotionally to his friends, girlfriend and
the human race itself.
He gives up on wanting to help human
beings, and wonders what he is now and
what to do with his life. Like…everybody.
He stops wearing clothes, and goes to
Mars to be left alone.
He can stop the world from blowing itself
up with nuclear weapons, but doesn’t
know why he should bother anymore.
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Silk Spectre II
Female comic book
characters seem to
have huge chests and
wear bathing suits and
heels. (You’d think men
were drawing these
Silk Spectre was
inspired by Black
Canary and Phantom
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Silk Spectre II
Laurie Juspeczyk’s mother was the
seductive Silk Spectre in the 40s,
and was mainly in it for the male
Laurie was Silk Spectre II mainly to
please her mother, and quit after a
brief stint.
Her arc is about whether she can
maintain enough of an emotional
connection to Doctor Manhattan to
convince him to save the world, and
enough influence on new lover Dan
Drieberg to get him to join her in
fighting crime again. It turns out she
and Dan share the crime-fighting
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Silk Spectre II
A twist is that it turns out that The
Comedian, after his thwarted
rape attempt on the original Silk
Spectre, successfully seduced
her, and fathered Laurie.
Laurie finding this out after her
father has been killed, and
realizing she may have inherited
his love of brutal violence
(besides his characteristic
smoking), adds complexity to her
arc and the story.
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Recurring Image:
The Smiley Face
The Comedian’s symbol.
He laughs so he won’t cry or
go mad at the state of the
Doctor Manhattan goes to the
Galle Crater (real) on Mars
(Mars: looks red, god of war)
to think about whether he’ll
save the world from nuclear
war or not. From one angle,
the Galle Crater looks like a
Smiley Face.
Blood on a Smiley Face is
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Recurring Image:
The Radiation Symbol
The Cold War is on, so
everyone is afraid of the
nuclear bomb.
Doctor Manhattan is
thought of as a “human
nuclear bomb”
The government
irradiates people who
know Doctor Manhattan
so they get cancer and
he can be tricked into
thinking he gave them
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Recurring Image:
Watches, Clocks and Gears
Jon Osterman’s dad trains him to be a
watchmaker (they are “watch men”)
until he hears the atom bomb has been
invented, then says Jon needs to
embrace the future and go learn
atomic science.
The “Watchmaker” view of God is that
He made the Universe like a
watchmaker makes a watch, wound it
up and then left it to run automatically
on its own, predetermined like
clockwork. Osterman is now pretty
much a god himself. Will he do the
Osterman undergoes the accident
because he has fixed his girlfriend’s
watch and is going back into a
machine where he left it.
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Recurring Image:
Watches, Clocks and Gears
Clocks are often shown
approaching midnight.
The “Doomsday Clock” was meant
to represent how many hours
away nuclear war might be.
On Mars, Doctor Manhattan
makes a giant set of gears made
of pink glass from melting Mars’
sand. He is thinking about if his
fate is “like clockwork” or if he has
choice, because he now always
knows what all his choices will be.
The gears are like his heart: now
mechanical and inhuman. One
visit from his ex, though and it
shatters into tiny shards and he
chooses to return and help.
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Some Questions Moore
Raises for Consideration
How serious, real and grownup can a superhero comic
book get, and still “work”?
(How far can the genre
successfully be pushed in that
Is effective use of the news
and entertainment media all it
takes to rule the world
How weird is it, really, that
people are entertained by
depictions of sex and
Does doing bad things lastingly hurt
a person?
What role does the chance to
create a personal or act like
someone else play in learning who
one truly is inside?
Does power inevitably make a
human being unable to connect and
relate to others?
Is ignorance of the future what
makes human beings human and
free to make choices?
To what degree does “taking up the
mantle” of a parent or predecessor
make it hard to be oneself and have
one’s own life?
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Some Questions Moore
Raises for Consideration
Is an inability to compromise,
particularly one’s principles, a crucial
failing? (How simple-minded and
dangerous is black-white, binary
thinking which cannot deal in nuances
and exceptions?)
Are manipulation, secrecy and lies
essential tools in making human
relationships last?
How much damage can one wellintentioned but misguided human
being do to another person?
It is worth it to do another person the
honour of carrying on in their footsteps,
and walking in their shadow?
How much damage can one wellintentioned but misguided human
being do to a society?
Is sacrificing the lives of a few
people, in order to save millions
ever justifiable? What does
supporting or benefiting from this
strategy make one?
What does it mean if a country
has little to offer the world but
destruction and violence?
Is effective use of the news and
entertainment media all it takes to
rule the world nowadays?
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Imagery and Connections in Alan Moore and Dave …