Heroes Never Rust #92 by Sean Ironman
Eventually, a story must come together—well, at least a good one. All the subplots and character interactions must mean something. Many writers seem to try to make their story “realistic.” More like life. But, life is meaningless, and stories help us make sense of the randomness of life. At some point, stories come together and give readers/viewers something to hang onto. As Watchmen approaches its climax, issue ten brings the disparate plots together. We get Nixon preparing to possibly start nuclear armageddon, Night Owl and Rorschach growing closer like real partners and understanding one another, Ozymandias preparing and heading to his secret base, the pirate comic featuring the “hero” returning to his home town, the missing scientists and artists boarding a ship thinking they are going home only to discover that it is a trap and are blown away, the solution to the “mask killer” theory of Rorschach’s as Night Owl stumbles onto financial files on Ozymandias’ computer, Rorschach mailing in the journal he has been writing this whole time to the New Frontiersman, and Night Owl and Rorschach approaching Ozymandias’ secret base to confront the potential villain. A lot happens this issue, and even though Watchmen is typically dense, this issue features a lot of moving parts to close out parts of the story and set the reader up for the climax. This is also the part of a story that I feel is the most difficult to pull off. A lot of moving parts can show the reader the strings to a story, the writer as puppet master behind the scenes.
The closer the plots are to one another the better they will match up and the less strings a reader will be able to notice. For example, Rorschach mailing his journal and the solution to his “mask killer” theory directly relates to one another. Before going off to confront the possible villain, Rorschach mails his journal, afraid that he might not make it back. In instances such as these, subplots coming together make sense. Readers may feel fulfilled with the plot developments closing, but there’s no need to think of the writer trying to end plots because the developments make sense on a character level. Readers are still in the story.
But, over developments, such as Ozymandias heading out to his secret base, Nixon preparing for a possible holocaust, and the end of the missing scientists and artists plot, border on coincidental. So, right when Night Owl and Rorschach need Ozymandias’ help and accidentally stumble on to the fact that Ozymandias is behind The Comedian’s death is when Ozymandias, unaware of his old teammates’ actions, leaves town to complete his master plan? If Ozymandias was still around, then Night Owl and Rorschach would not have accessed Ozymandias’ computer and would have never solved the case. Ozymandias has to leave for that plot point to work. Readers may begin to see the story’s strings. But, why does this work? Why do readers just follow this thread in Watchmen? In the thirty years since the comic’s publication, as well as a major blockbuster film adaptation, I have never heard of anyone complaining about this plot point. So, why do readers buy this, when in many other stories, readers would call out such coincidental actions? For one, and I think this is very important, there’s a strong payoff in the next two issues. I believe readers, at least many of them, are fine with overlooking the shuffling of the game board to set up something epic. And Watchmen succeeds in that. When there is little payoff, then readers begin to question the reasons behind it, and because those reasons don’t produce a stronger narrative, writers face a backlash. Secondly, for all the importance the scene has to the solution to the long-running plot of The Comedian’s murder, the comic has become much more than that mystery. The comic began with The Comedian’s death, but since then, the comic has opened up and The Comedian is barely mentioned anymore. The scene of Rorschach and Night Owl stumbling onto the truth is only three pages long. By moving onto other story elements and not building this one moment up to the reader, readers are less likely to look so hard on the scene. The scene is written as if it were just something inconsequential. Confronting Ozymandias is the important moment, finding out that the heroes need to confront Ozymandias is something that needs to happen, but that isn’t really important in the long run.
Another coincidental moment, and perhaps one that is more difficult to pull off, is the end of the missing scientists and artists storyline. This story has existed on the edges of the comic. None of the main characters even seem to care. Most of the information has been given to readers through newspaper articles and TV programs that are on in the background. Here, in issue ten, the storyline ends in a two-page scene. There’s a ship departing the island where the scientists and artists have been kept, no exactly prisoner though. They seem to have been promised a great deal of money and now think that they will be free to continue their lives. Then, a bomb is discovered on the ship, it blows, and everyone is killed. This may seem coincidental, and it is. At the moment when the heroes will soon close in, the biggest evidence against the villain is destroyed. But, this moment has to happen—well, not necessarily the bomb, but the solution to the mystery. The reason this coincidental moment works is that it does not actually affect the story. At all. It never changes one of the main characters’ path. By being so inconsequential to the story, the scene actually succeeds. It’s just information for the reader. The main characters, other than Ozymandias who makes it happen, never actually find out about it. The plot has existed in the background this whole time and it ends in the background. The missing scientists and artists help explain how Ozymandias creates this master plan of his, which we’ll find out more about next issue, so it’s necessary to the story, but it never actually changes anything. It’s an explanation more than an actual subplot.
At some point, coincidence is essential to storytelling. Some reader will always be able to ask questions like, “So, Silk Spectre picks this very moment to leave Doctor Manhattan, who wouldn’t have left Earth if she were still around?” Or, “Obi Wan Kenobi just happens to find Han Solo, a rogue with a heart of gold, in the cantina?” Or, “Superman just happens to land in Kansas as the Kents drive by, instead of in water?” At some point, readers just have to buy that certain story elements will occur. Any story can have holes poked in it. Coincidence in storytelling fails when it affects the main storyline, when it affects the protagonist(s). Readers then see the strings, see the writer working the story into a certain position, instead of allowing the story to evolve naturally.
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.