Posts Tagged Watchmen

Why a Nietzschean superman values humanity more than humans

Doctor ManhattanIt’s not often that a superior being reminds you about why it’s great to be human. As we wade through our daily lives, we tend to notice the negatives: confusion, irrationality, uncontrolled emotion, physical frailty, the list goes on.

That uniquely human trait known as “consciousness” might seem to override these foibles, but the rise of big data is making it seem like what Watchmen’s Dr. Manhattan would call a “highly overrated phenomenon.” Luckily, the Doctor is in.

In Watchmen Manhattan, a super being with God-like control of matter, along with the ability to teleport, fly, and grow into a giant, hides out on Mars after being accused of giving his colleagues cancer. He teleports his former girlfriend, Laurie Jupiter, herself a superhero called the Silk Spector, to Mars to convince him to save humanity. In the end, he convinces himself.

Manhattan sees things on a big scale (he finds erosion entertaining), so he’s more aware than most people of the unlikelihood of a specific human individual coming into existence.

“To distill so specific a form from that chaos of improbability, like turning air into gold… That is the crowning unlikelihood. The thermodynamic miracle,” Manhattan says. It’s particularly true of Laurie, whose mother had sex with her (absent) father even after he tried to rape her.

The whole speech is very dramatic, and definitely worth a read, but what does this have to do with data?

Sometimes I wonder if people think they can override human uniqueness with data, that if they acquire a large enough sample size, they can accurately predict human behavior.

I made the mistake of going to a psychology lecture in college. The visiting professor, apparently a well-regarded expert in the field, said his experiments had determined the level of autonomy an individual exhibits in a given situation.

I’m not a psychologist, but that seemed a bit odd. Doesn’t extrapolating what people do under controlled circumstances run counter to the nature of, well, autonomy?

Some might point to the wealth of data from uncontrolled circumstances that is available to researchers. Data: A Love Story is about how an Internet trend analyst constructed the ideal online dating profile by data-mining sites, and found herself a fiancee by systematizing her dating preferences.

Since I’m not very good at math, I guess that means I’ll never find true love online. Or maybe the future isn’t that dismal.

It’s true that Netflix can make good movie recommendations, but can an algorithm really account for the infinite number of variables contained within each individual consciousness?

By definition, data tells us what people have already done. As long as they keep doing the same thing (which, admittedly, they probably will) that’s fine. But what happens if someone changes their behavior? Or everyone?

Humans are subject to physical needs and social stimuli, but they are not programmed to act a certain way. As Dr. Manhattan points out, each person is one of a nearly infinite amount of possible combinations. It’s important to remember that.


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Why stop at Seven Samurai?

So, rumors are going around that Zack Snyder (director of 300 and Watchmen) is working on a Star Wars version of Akira Kurosawa’s classic Seven Samurai. I’m assuming that means seven warriors will band together to defend a small village, only this time they’ll have lightsabers.

Whether this actually happens or not, it shows the flexibility of Kurosawa’s original story. Seeven Samurai has already been adapted as Magnificent Seven and an anime called Samurai 7. Tropes from the original have also been recycled in countless actions films.

Which begs the question: What other sci-fi adaptations of Seven Samurai are possible?

Seven Gundams: I’m thinking specifically of Gundam Wing; they’re only two pilots short of a full contingent already. The plot would involve seven laconic teenagers and their mobile suits defending an unarmed space colony, with space rice as their only payment.

Seven Redshirts: A Federation starship is dispatched to defend a small outpost from the Romulans and/or Klingons. An away team is dispatched. Everyone dies.

Seven Klingons: Klingons consider a glorious death in battle as payment. Three survive (as in Seven Samurai) and their shame is passed down for three generations.

Seven Superheroes: Pretty much a standard Avengers (Marvel) or Justice League (DC) story, but substituting an impoverished village for New York/Metropolis.

Seven Transformers: Not that Optimus Prime would ever accept payment for defending humans against a Decepticon attack, but some Energon would sweeten the deal and give Megatron a reason to attack.

Seven Mandalorians: Factional differences lead to the destruction of all seven before the Hutts get to the village.

Seven Soul Reapers: A group of Soul Reapers has a dispute with the Soul Society (it happens all the time) and redeem themselves by entering the World of the Living to stop marauding Hollows.

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Remaking a Classic

Cover of one of seven Watchmen prequel miniseries. Image courtesy of IGN.

In all of last week’s Super Bowl fanfare, I missed what will surely be one of the most controversial decisions in nerdom. On February 1st, DC announced a series of prequels to the greatest graphic novel of all time, Watchmen.

“Watchmen 2” is officially titled Before Watchmen and consists of seven miniseries of between four and six issues each. The series will follow individual characters from the original, including the Comedian, Dr. Manhattan, Rorschach, Nite Owl, Silk Spectre, and Ozymandias, plus a series dealing with the Minutemen team.

Does this mark Alan Moore’s triumphant return to DC? Of course not. Moore was appalled, telling the New York Times  that “I tend to take this latest development as a kind of eager confirmation that they are still apparently dependent on ideas that I had 25 years ago.”

Many fans, and some literary critics, consider Watchmen to be a technical triumph, an expression of everything a graphic novel could be, in the same way that Great Expectations and Hamlet defined their genres. Therein lies the danger: it’s impossible to alter great literature the way DC alters it’s regular stories. “As far as I know, there weren’t that many prequels or sequels to Moby Dick,” Moore said.

High criticism aside, there is another reason why the Watchmen prequels will not live up to the original. These days, major comic events are drawn out over several series, just look at Marvel’s Fear Itself and DC’s War of the Green Lanterns.This allows publishers to sell more books while allowing writers to get lazy, since they don’t have to include as much material in each book.

Cover of the collected edition by Vertigo.

Watchmen was the opposite: it was a self-contained 12-issue series with no tie-ins (the story took place in its own universe, after all). Not only did this make for better reading, it also negated the need for prequels. Moore and Gibbons were so thorough in their development of the characters and the fictional world they inhabit that they were able to tell the reader everything he or she needs to know about them.

Watchmen contains enough backstory to chronicle two generations of heroes, in addition to its detailed, present-day main plot. What is left for the prequels? Character origin stories? Already done. A look at the “Golden Age” of heroes in the Watchmen universe? Already covered in the Under the Hood sidebars.

DC feels that the Watchmen characters are ripe for an update. However, Before Watchmen seems more like a dilution than a revitalization. The company’s editors need to realize that, while the Watchmen characters are popular, it’s not the same popularity as Superman or Batman. People read Watchmen for the book itself, not just for individual characters.

I’ll reserve full judgment until I see the actual comics, but right now Before Watchmen seems like a cynical attempt to milk Alan Moore’s dystopian cash cow instead of trying something new, or even living up to the old stuff.

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