Heroes Never Rust #85 by Sean Ironman
A great deal occurs in the third issue of Watchmen. Laurie and Dan get their taste for superheroics reinvigorated when they are jumped in an alley. Doctor Manhattan is confronted on television for allegedly giving cancer to people around him due to his super powers. He leaves Earth for Mars. Rorschach continues with his theory that someone is trying to plot against the superheroes. But, the scene that sticks out to me as the most interesting is Doctor Manhattan’s sex scene with Laurie toward the beginning.
The scene opens with Doctor Manhattan’s blue hands touching Laurie’s face. Then, a third hand appears. Freaked out, Laurie screams and the sex stops. Two Doctor Manhattans are in bed with her. When she goes to another room in their house, she spots a third Doctor Manhattan in some sort of a lab—his office, I presume. Laurie, upset that her boyfriend thinks so little of loving her that he duplicates himself so that he can continue his work, storms out. It’s a short scene, only two pages, but it’s a vital one that helps develop both characters and moves the plot along, giving Doctor Manhattan no reason to remain on Earth after Laurie leaves him.
Sex can be difficult for some readers to get through in a story. It’s not for me (as a writer or a reader) so sometimes I’m confused by certain readers’ responses to stories featuring sex. I can understand when readers feel sex scenes are gratuitous, and I feel the same in certain works, True Blood, for example. But, gratuitous can go for any type of scene. A conversation can be gratuitous. A gratuitous scene goes overboard long after the scene accomplishes what it was meant to accomplish for the story. If a conversation goes on too long, then it is gratuitous. The same with an action scene. Any scene. Of course, there are gratuitous sex scenes. But, just because sex is present doesn’t meant the scene is gratuitous.
First, there is little nudity in the sex scene in issue three. Laurie pulls the covers up. The reader knows she is naked, but showing her breasts would be gratuitous here. Readers are shown Doctor Manhattan’s ass, but he spends the majority of Watchmen nude, so that doesn’t really count. The scene is shown knowing full well that most people view sex as an intimate act. It’s personal. And because most readers would agree with that idea, the scene works well. Doctor Manhattan has become so distant from his humanity that he cannot even be present when making love to his girlfriend. If readers did not view sex as a personal and private act, they might very well agree with Doctor Manhattan as Laurie complains and storms out. Instead, readers are able to understand that Doctor Manhattan has become less interested in human acts. He would rather stick to his experiments. During the argument, Laurie throws a beaker filled with some sort of liquid at Doctor Manhattan. It smashes on the counter, spilling its contents. As one Doctor Manhattan tells Laurie he is prepared to discuss why she is angry, another duplicate fixes the mess and recreates the beaker and liquid. Even as he is fighting with girlfriend, his mind is really on his experiment.
Second, the sex portion of this scene is only in three panels (four if you count the larger panel of Laurie pulling away from the two Doctor Manhattans). Twelve panels show the argument and Laurie storming out. The sex is not the important aspect of the scene. (When are the physical actions of a scene the most important aspect? Most of the time it’s the mental or emotional responses of the characters.) The sex is presented to get to Laurie storming out. She can only stand so much of Doctor Manhattan not caring. In an act as intimate as sex, she needs him to care. To want to be there with her in the moment. The sex that is shown is only a close-up of Doctor Manhattan’s hands on Laurie’s face. It’s enough to have the reader understand what is going on, but that’s where the sex ends. Once a reader understands the choreography of a scene, the scene can focus on character development, show reflection, or show internal thoughts. Beyond that, a scene can become gratuitous.
Watchmen is a book for adults. In my opinion, if one is writing for an adult audience, nothing is off limits. Adults can handle it. If they can’t, then they need to take a look at their life. Hiding away from what’s in the world is not in the interest of art. At some point in the creative process, a writer must consider their audience. I don’t mean pandering to their audience. But, a writer should ask himself or herself who they are writing toward. I read Watchmen the first time when I was eighteen. Perhaps I could have read it a couple of years younger, but to truly appreciate it, readers must be mature. If I read Watchmen back when I was only reading X-Men comics and discussing them with neighborhood friends in my parents’ driveway, I would have hated it. Including sex in adult stories is not a necessity, but it does allow a writer to connect to readers and to get readers to think about an idea in a different way. I spent my childhood reading superhero comics, and when I read Watchmen, I finally understood what it would mean to have superpowers. Watchmen places superheroes in the real world—the comic makes them relatable. We have sex, and so do the superheroes.
Sean Ironman (Episode 102) earned his MFA at the University of Central Florida. Currently, he teaches creative nonfiction and digital media at the University of Central Arkansas as a visiting professor. His work can be read in The Writer’s Chronicle, Redivider, and Breakers: A Comics Anthology, among others.