Graphic Mythology: An Impersonal God

Allow me to jump back into the DC universe and a graphic novel which was a critical sensation. Watchmen was highly regarded (perhaps too highly) and garnered all kinds of superlatives when it came out. The artwork for this limited series now seems dated, but it is good enough to stimulate the imagination and move the story (a strong one) forward. It’s a bit dark and violent for my tastes, but it was well-written and different, especially for the time it was published. I could see what at least some of the excitement was about.

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For the purposes of my blog, I will focus on one character and leave the rest of his dysfunctional cohorts to struggle with their humanity. Doc Manhattan was once a man named Jon Osterman until a nuclear accident at the research facility where he worked turned him into a god. He is no longer bound by time, space, or mortality. He can control energy and matter, has mastered the quantum universe, and can change his dimensions at will. He is invulnerable. As can be seen, he has many of the characteristics one would attribute to God. His character is another matter.

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Doc is detached to the point of indifference. Though he has the power to prevent it, he watches in bland astonishment as another “hero” called The Comedian kills a pregnant Vietnamese woman. In his post-human state, he has sexual relations with first one woman (Jenny Slater) and then another (a fellow superhero named Laurel Juspeczyk, a.k.a. Laurie Jupiter) but feels nothing for either of them. Selfish preoccupation and insensitivity are among his hallmarks, and he is a god the U. S. government mistakenly thought they could control.

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This is not the God of the Judeo Christian tradition. His behavior squares more with that of the male members of the Greco Roman pantheon – most notably Zeus (Jupiter). The graphic novel was a good, albeit uncomfortable, read for me, but if you’re shopping for a god or even just a hero with whom to identify, I prescribe someone other than Doc Manhattan.

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12 thoughts on “Graphic Mythology: An Impersonal God”

    1. Other than having read this particular graphic novel, I am unfamiliar with the author. I am hesitant to speculate on his world view or his attitude toward religion. I agree that the portrayal has certain things in common with other secular portrayals of God, but I am unsure as to the writer’s intentions.

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  1. I thought Watchmen was amazing, and still do. It’s not supposed to be a comfortable or fun read; it’s supposed to challenge you to think, and worry. I wouldn’t ever think of Doc Manhattan as a god. True, he’s super powerful, but gods aren’t always omnipotent or even immortal, so the reverse makes sense too. What makes someone a god, I would say, is that he (or she, or it) is an object of worship.

    Doc Manhattan wasn’t supposed to be a god that you would want to worship. He’s a tragic figure, who has lost his empathy and humanity, and is caught between two worlds, not quite understanding what he is or what he should do. I got a great sense of how alienating it would be to be able to see the past and the future, and how confusing it would be to try to talk to these limited little creatures stuck on one timeline.

    However, I’d say he makes an excellent template for an impersonal god if you’re creating a fictional world. There’s a line I can’t quite remember where someone asks him whether he cares how things turn out, who lives and who dies. He tries to convey how disconnected he is from these human affairs by comparing it to whether she has a favorite color of ant, I’ve gone back to use that idea when trying to imagine how the gods in my fictional world think and act, and find it really useful.

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    1. I enjoyed reading your comment, and I agree that the purpose of the graphic novel wasn’t comfort or reassurance. I want to emphasize that Watchmen is GOOD – full of complexity and nuance. For the purpose of my blog, I chose to go with the “God exists, and he’s an American” perspective presented at one point in this story. I understand that he wasn’t literally portrayed as God. Like you, I read, look at, and watch the creative efforts of others to stimulate my own imagination for the stories I write. Thanks for making such an effort to submit your thoughts to my site.

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      1. I tried to read it but it was a little too much for me. Alan Moore’s material is more darker but also realistic in its portrayal of the human condition. I appreciated his work “V for Vendetta” and that dark feel was throughout the book. I managed to finish it but I couldn’t finish other works by Alan Moore.

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  2. I didn’t read the series closely, when it came out, but I’ve always thought Manhattan was a skewed take on Superman. His amazing powers and complete detachment ask us to wonder why a character like Superman would devote himself to protecting people who ultimately have so little in common.

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    1. Doc Manhattan was a well-conceived, emotionally dysfunctional character who somehow lost his use for humanity. When his perspective was enlarged, he overlooked the small. This stands in stark contrast the Judeo-Christian concept of an omnipotent being who actually cares, so I thought it would be a good jumping-off point for this week’s post. Thank you for your thoughtful comment.

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