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The theme of the apocalypse is extremely popular in various contemporary superhero movies. In the story of Watchmen, the enemy is the historical situation of the Cold War and the nuclear bombs. Watchmen tells an alternate postwar American doomsday story combined with a search for the murder of The Comedian that makes the retired superheroes re-emerge. It tells the story of a fight against time – will they be killed before they find the one behind the attempted murders on the superheroes? Or will they make it in time before the nuclear apocalypse? “The end is nigh” as it says on Rorschach’s sign in the 3rd chapter of the graphic novel.
Why is Watchmen apocalyptic?
In Watchmen we experience two narratives: the background historical situation and context with the Cold War and the plot with The Comedian’s death that start the re-emerge of the Watchmen. The two narratives become connected because of the Watchmen’s possibility of chThe Doomsday Clock, evident in each chapter of the graphic novel, is first set at 11:50, ten minutes to twelve which represents the countdown to the apocalypse. In the end of the narrative of the film (SPOILER ALERT!) Adrian Veidt places a “fake” nuclear bomb by saying that “millions of people must die, before billions can be saved”. Therefore, one might say that the bomb does not have the same effect as what we understand by the term of apocalypse, but nevertheless, it is enough to prevent a real nuclear bomb from The Soviet Union and an actual apocalypse. A typical characteristic of the apocalyptic genre is an ending where everything have to become bad before it gets better. Veidt is aware of this, and uses Dr. Manhattan as a scapegoat and bombs NYC with his divine powers. He knows that the only way to stop a nuclear war is to release a bomb. Furthermore this bomb must be kept as a secret to the rest of humanity. This to prevent attacks from the The Soviet Union, who retreated after the bomb attack, developed from the powers of Dr. Manhattan himself. Another apocalyptic element in Watchmen is the role of Dr. Manhattan. Apocalyptic films have frequently turned to religious symbolism and characterizations in order to provide a sense of hope. Dr. Manhattan is the only character in Watchmen who has supernatural powers which makes him a hope for mankind. He is a godlike figure and could be the saviour of the world.
The apocalypse genre can be divided into two categories: the apocalyptic and the post-apocalyptic. The difference between these two is, of course, the time of the apocalypse. In typical apocalyptic narratives the apocalypse is about to happen and the post-apocalyptic genre is obviously situated after the apocalypse. This makes Watchmen fit into the apocalyptic category.The post-apocalyptic genre is based on the survival of men after the destruction of mankind, which is definitely not the case in Watchmen. The ending in Watchmen doesn’t exactly provide any hope for the future, but the fear of a nuclear war is nevertheless gone. The tragic apocalyptic genre is normally known for the belief in a divine and God-like power that is able to save the world from the apocalypse. In the post-apocalypse there is no belief in a mightier God because the world already has been ‘destroyed’. As mentioned earlier, Dr. Manhattan is depicted as their big hope, but later in the film he actually gets more inhuman, which creates a fear of him among both the citizens and his vigilant ‘friends’.
Why is the apocalyptic genre so popular?
The narrative techniques of transmedia storytelling allows us to explore and expand the world in the way we like, just as long as we respect the mothership and the rest of the already existing world. This becomes interesting in relation to the apocalyptic genre, since an ending in such narratives is not necessary. This is shown very well in the way the graphic novel of Watchmen is adapted into a movie, a video game and several other media platforms. Another reason is to be found in the way our lives as human beings in our modern age have become very stressful. In the last decades people have become more stressed than ever, which creates an image of the stress as something apocalyptic which is able to influence us. This element contains both fear and hope, since we fear an ending but hope that the stress will go away, so everything becomes better. Wouldn’t the destruction of humankind make everything better on earth?
Nevertheless the ending in Watchmen is not clearly suggesting a good or bad future for the Americans. What do you think will happen after the Doomsday Clock passes 12?
Gotten you interested? We thought so! Stay tuned for more Watchmen-fun when apocalypchicas watch broadens out the universe of the franchise.