I'm not the biggest fan of Watchmen but it occurs to me that one of its strengths is that it presents an oddity in heroic fiction: a compelling and differentiated cast of characters who are all wrong.
At least from their creators' point of view. We know this was intentional because neither Dave Gibbons nor Alan Moore are exactly quiet about their beliefs or their takes on the characters.
Watchmen arguably says a lot of things, but it unarguably says these:
- Don't be Rorschach--don't be so focused on whatever injustices blows across your windscreen that you become a right-wing crank blind to finding ways to fix the bigger picture.
- Don't be Adrian Veidt--don't be so arrogantly obsessed with your clever solution to the bigger picture that you are willing to ignore the horror and injustice right in front of you that it creates.
- Don't be Dr Manhattan--if you have the cleverness and power to fix things, think about it and then help fix them, don't just pull a technocratic Pontius Pilate and go along with whichever of those other two assholes moves first.
- Don't be Laurie and Dan--yes, you get to go home and be in love and have weird sex and act normal and relatable in your quiet home--but you let millions of people die because you want to pretend all this interdimensional squid-murder is over your head and too big to take on.
We now know for a scientific fact that, at least so far, fictions where you're personally asked to try to model the good guy don't make people who play them any better. We also know for a scientific fact that reading and enjoying Watchmen hasn't made people better or more thoughtful either.
However, the richness and plausibility of its moral grays does, at least, seem to give it a better chance at entertaining smart people than a fiction whose main selling point is reminding them that good things are good.