Heroes Never Rust #93 by Sean Ironman
Watchmen: Master Plans
So we have come to this. The penultimate issue of Watchmen. The issue when the villain is truly revealed and his master plan is set. Although a few pages are given over to some of the residents of New York City, most of the issue is set aside for Night Owl and Rorschach’s confrontation with Ozymandias, the comic’s villain. There is some action, with Ozymandias easily taking care of the two heroes. (I must say, on a side note, how interesting it is to make Ozymandias so much more powerful that the heroes in this issue. At no point, do the heroes really even stand a chance at stopping Ozymandias. I like it.) The problem that many stories have, not just superhero stories, is that the villain ends up explaining the whole plot to the heroes. A lot happens in Watchmen, and readers do need to understand how each piece fits, but usually, there is no actual story-based reason for a character to lay out the plot. Yet, here in the penultimate issue, Ozymandias tells Rorschach and Night Owl everything. And it works! The issue is one of the best of Watchmen.
The comic sidesteps the exposition aspect of revealing Ozymandias’ master plan by making the revelation less about revelation and more of a persuasive argument. Ozymandias, for all his power, does not show aggression toward his old teammates. When Rorschach and Night Owl first approach, Ozymandias is eating. He only strikes Rorschach and Night Owl in defense. Once the heroes are on the floor, Ozymandias asks, “Now…what can I do for you?” Ozymandias isn’t looking for a fight. He truly believes that what he is doing is the best thing for the world, and instead of beating Rorschach and Night Owl, he is trying to convince them. He wants his old teammates on his side. When Night Owl asks Ozymandias what he’s trying to do, Ozymandias responds, “What we all tried to do after our initial struggle to find our feet. I’m trying to improve the world.”
Ozymandias doesn’t just reveal what he’s trying to do, but what he has done. He goes back to his beginnings as a masked vigilante. He talks about meeting The Comedian, about meeting his old teammates. Ozymandias is building an argument. The physical fights that occur between his words are because Rorschach attacks him while he is speaking. Ozymandias wants to help the world, just in a different way than Rorschach and Night Owl. The death of a few to save the many. Ozymandias only got Doctor Manhattan off world because Doctor Manhattan is too powerful, and The Comedian was killed because he discovered Ozymandias’ plan. Rorschach asks, “Blake’s murder. You confess?” and Ozymandias responds with “Confession implies penitence. I merely regret his accidental involvement.” Ozymandias, in a way, is right in distancing himself from emotion. A doctor cannot get emotionally involved with his or her patients. Perhaps a superhero must be objective. Ozymandias does not revel in what he has done, but he believes that by destroying the present system in place then the future will be secured.
At the end of the day, the issue works when Rorschach and Night Owl refuse to let Adrian succeed. They have listened to his pitch, but they won’t let him do it. And, in response, Ozymandias utters one of the best lines of Watchmen, “Dan, I’m not a republic serial villain. Do you seriously think I’d explain my master stroke if there remained the slightest chance of you affecting its outcome? I did it thirty-five minutes ago.” The heroes are too late. Ozymandias isn’t trying to convince Rorschach and Night Owl to help him. He’s trying to convince them to understand why he did what he did. Being far from New York City, the location of the attack, the heroes don’t realize it’s too late to stop the attack.
The problem with the villain explaining the whole master plan is that, of course, the hero is going to get free and stop the villain. The villain is really just telling the hero how to stop the plan. But, here, the trope is turned on its head. As Ozymandias is laying out what he has done and why, readers will rely on what they have learned from stories so far, that the heroes will win. The villain’s plan will not succeed. But, the reader is proved wrong in Watchmen. It makes the comic more memorable and more shocking, not by the murder of the residents of New York City, but by making the reader feel comfortable and then pulling the rug out from underneath. Without Ozymandias revealing his master plan, even if the same attack was set and went off without the heroes standing a chance, the issue would fall flat. A surprise only works if readers are led to believe one thing first. By relying on the cliché of the overly talkative villain, Watchmen brings something new to the table.
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.