A Balance of Characters
In Alan Moore’s Watchmen, character Nite Owl is surrounded by the intense personas of his fellow costumed vigilantes. He does not handle situations in either Rorschach’s or Manhattan’s opposing fashions, but has a simple ideology in his viewing of the world. In terms of how he brought himself to be a hero, Nite Owl did not share the same motives as Ozymandias, who strived to follow in the footsteps of Alexander of Macedonia, or Rorschach, who began fighting due to his disgust for the world. Finally, Nite Owl is the middle ground between Ozymandias’s ego and Manhattan’s nonchalant persona. Nite Owl can therefore be thought of as the balance between the extremes found in the other characters.
Too much violence can never be a good thing, but too little does have its negative effects as well. Conflicting ideologies are often at the root of many issues, whether big or small. Retributivism, the ideology that rationally punishes people because they deserve it, is Rorschach’s philosophy. The extent to which Rorschach exercises retributivism is, however, at the detriment of many of the tertiary characters of the graphic novel. Upon hearing the kidnapping of a young girl not being dealt with, Rorschach knows he has to step in and act as the justice of the situation. Seeing “two german shepherds… fighting over [a] knob of bone” that he thought to be the little girl’s, he slices one of the dogs’s head open (6, 18). Rorschach therefore punishes those who are not the direct culprits of the situation, punishing them because they took part in the aftermath. Manhattan, however, let fate take its toll on the world. Living in the past, present, and future all at once, he’s aware of all of the world’s phenomena, but does nothing to stop them from occurring due to his fatalist beliefs. Manhattan knows that no beings walking the Earth have the power to change upcoming phenomena. Everyone is just a puppet, playing out a predesignated role. Although Manhattan may seem like a god-like figure to some, he knows that he is a “puppet who can see the strings” (9, 5). His übermensch abilities have people think that he is capable of changing the world, when in fact he refuses to toy with preordained notions. Nite Owl is the mean between these two characters; he does not drastically interfere in events that do not concern him, but does not let what can potentially be changed slip through his fingers. For example, in the situation where the apartment building catches fire, Nite Owl is the first to set up his ship and jet off to save the people. He simply practices virtue ethics; to do what is the opposite of evil and to follow rules. A person’s choice of beliefs and ideologies are linked with who they are and what they think of themselves.
Everyone has an underlying motive when they begin a new chapter of their lives, and the same goes for heroes. Whether it be due the negative or positive side of the spectrum, everyone is pushed by a reason. Ozymandias’s motive lies at the positive end of the spectrum; “the only human… with whom [he] felt any kinship” (11, 8), Veidt is driven by Alexander of Madedonia to achieve greatness, to “measure [his own] success against [Alexander’s]” (11, 8). He strives to be such a big person, wanting to produce change. Unlike Ozymandias, Rorschach is triggered to become a hero due to his negative perception of the world. Wearing the “face [he] could bear to look at in the mirror” (6, 10), Kovacs decided to become masked adventurer Rorschach following Kitty Genovese’s rape and torture case, since he was “ashamed for humanity” (6, 10). He believes that “mankind is rotten” (6, 11) and people are destructive. He has no hope for anyone or anything anymore. Unlike Rorschach and Ozymandias, Nite Owl was not driven by anything so morally extreme. He was inspired by his hero, Hollis Mason, and wanted to “carry on his name” (7, 8). Dan had average intentions in wanting to be a hero, and admits it himself: he was “rich, bored, and there were enough other guys doing it so [he] didn’t feel ridiculous” (7, 8). He does not want to reverse the destructiveness of mankind or change the world. He knows he did not have the means or the expertise to be revolutionary. What he does know is that he holds a meagre, but substantial amount of importance in the world.
The world is in dire need of leaders, but these leaders present themselves in two different fashions; they are either overly egocentric or give themselves too little credit as to the power and importance they hold in the world. Ozymandias is overly consumed by his own sense of importance. He takes it upon himself to restructure its future, hence the destruction of New York City, recognizing its fragility in such a hazardous time. He automatically asks himself what he could do, in a manner that insinuates that all of this detriment had fallen onto his shoulders. Manhattan, placed on the other end of the spectrum, is pressed into service by the United States government. Every other character seems to recognize Manhattan’s importance. Manhattan knows that in the broad spectre of the universe, he is simply “a puppet who can see the strings” (9, 5). While Manhattan is a realist, Ozymandias is a distorted version of a optimist, and Dan lies somewhere in the middle. Nite Owl realizes that the concept of hero-ship is simply “crap dressed up with a lot of flash and thunder” (7, 8), suggesting that he is not such an important person due to the costumes that he wears. In the meantime, he also attends to the tenement building that had caught fire and saves the lives of dozens alongside Laurie. He shares traits belonging to both Ozymandias and Manhattan, making him an equilibrium between their extremes.
Meeting many of the other characters’s traits midway, Nite Owl acts as a balance between their extremes. Compared to Rorschach and Manhattan, he handles situations with a simplistic angle, and his motives for fighting crime are ordinary compared to Ozymandias and Rorschach. Finally, he gives himself a substantial amount of importance, in contrast to Ozymandias and Manhattan. Sometimes, the average, most simple standpoint can be successful as well.
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