This is the war handwavium score for “Watchmen”, a 12 issue comic book series by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons.
Total: +327 points.
-10 point: Chapter 1, page 16: Rorschach breaks anonymous mans’ fingers trying to get information. Turns out he doesn’t know anything. Showing realistic issues with torture.
-5 points: Chapter 2, page 15: Comedian kills Vietnamese woman, pregnant with his child. Would be -10 points, but she initiates physical violence by slashing open his face with a broken bottle. Protagonist kills innocent civilian.
-2 point: chapter 2, page 18: Comedian shoots rubber bullets at anonymous kid spray painting graffitti. possibly protagonist overusing force. Possibly just a paper target.
10 points: chapter 2, page 21: Rorschach threatens to break Moloch’s arm unless he tells truth. Moloch tells the truth. Fantasy Torture.
12 points: chapter 3, page 13: Nite Owl and Laurie beat up 6 paper targets in alley way.
10 points: chapter 3, page 14: Nite Owl and Laurie beat up 5 paper targets in alley way.
3 points: chapter 4, page 14: Dr. Manhattan vaporizes man with gun. paper target.
6 points: chapter 4, page 20: Dr. Manhattan in Vietnam jungle, kills 2 paper targets.
5 points: chapter 4, page 23: Comedian, operating alone brings back the Americans held hostage in Iran. Apparently, not a single hostage is killed. This, we are told, silences “even his harshest critics”. Unrealistic portrayal of violence.
3 points: chapter 4, page 23: Rorschach leaves dead body on police doorsteps. Paper target.
10 points: chapter 4, page 23: Rorschach kills a multiple rapist that police did nothing about. violence superior to social structures.
10 points: chapter 5, page 5: Rorschach uses torture to get truth out of Moloch. Fantasy Torture.
6 points: chapter 5, page 7: three dead paper targets being investigated by police.
3 points: chapter 5, page 14: Veidt’s unnamed female companion killed by assassin. paper target.
3 points: chapter 5, page 16: Veidt kills unnamed assassin with poison pill. paper target.
5 points: chapter 5, page 27: Rorschach attacks three policeman. paper targets.
Observation: chapter 6, page 4: Rorschach as child is struck by mother and by john/client. Could be pointless demonstration of evil. Could be Mary Sue-ism.
4 points: chapter 6, page 7: Rorschach as child attacks two paper targets.
3 points: chapter 6, page 12: Rorschach kills anonymous prisoner with hot grease. paper target.
10 points: chapter 6, page 14: Rorschach captures two bad guys and leaves them for police. Violence superior to social structures.
2 point: chapter 6, page 15: Rorschach beats up anonymous bad guy. Paper target.
10 points: chapter 6, page 18: Rorschach uses torture to find kidnapped girl.
6 points: chapter 6, page 23: Rorschach kills two dogs. paper targets.
10 points: chapter 6, page 25: man makes repeated mentions that there’s no evidence and Rorschach can’t “prove” he did anything, implying “prove” in a court of law. Rorschach handcuffs man to pipe, gives him a hacksaw, tells him he’ll have to saw through his arm to get out, then lights the building on fire. Man is killed. Lethal Rube Goldberg Machine. Violence superior to Social structures.
10 points: chapter 6, page 28: Dr. Malcolm starts story as a “positive” person. Always looking on the bright side of life. Rorschach tells him how the world is Nasty, Brutish, and Short, how there is no one but us, that there is no God (p. 26), and that hell is other people. By page 28, Dr. Malcolm takes on Rorschach’s view that it’s a dark world, we’re all alone, the horror of empty and meaningless. Violence over social structures. Bad philosophy from sociopaths winning over positive philosophy from well adjusted people.
5 points: chapter 7, page 12: Police shown beating passive women peace protestors with baton. Police and the “masked adventurers” are basically on opposite teams. Government is shown as ineffective. This is a pointless display of evilness.
5 points: chapter 8, page 6: inmate talks cop into abandoning post and giving inmate some private time with Rorschach. Violence superior to social structures.
5 points: chapter 8, page 15: Rorschach breaks paper target’s arms (Larry), then inmates kill Larry to get to Rorscharch. Paper Target. Lethal Rube Goldberg Machine.
3 points: Chapter 8, page 17: Rorschach kills paper target with arc welder. (Michael?)
+8 points: Chapter 8, page 27: anonymous gang breaks into wrong superhero’s apartment, thinking he had something to do with Rorscharch breaking out of prison. 4 nonlethal hits against the mob of paper targets.
-5 points: Chapter 8, page 27: anonymous gang breaks into wrong superhero’s apartment, thinking he had something to do with Rorscharch breaking out of prison. Vigilanteism misidentifies innocent target. Half points because its an anonymous group, rather than one of the main characters.
10 points: chapter 9, page 24: Laurie’s mom, Sally, was nearly raped by Eddie (the Comedian) chapter 2, page 6. During the attempted rape, Eddie says standard rape justification of “I know what you need. you gotta have some reason for wearing an outfit like that.” We now find out that the attempted rapist Eddie was right. He did know what Sally wanted. Sally wanted to have sex with Eddie, and Sally ended up getting pregnant with Eddie’s child, and that child was Laurie. Misrepresentation of Rape.
-5 points: Comedian attempts to rape Laurie.
Observation: Chapter 10, page 6: While Rorschach has been continuously identified as the craziest of the masked vigilantes, he actually shows the decency to keep the fact that the landlady is a prostitute a secret from her kids.
10 points: Chapter 10, page 14: Rorschach successsfully tortures useful information out of the correct person and gets the clue he needs.
10 points: Chapter 10, page 16: Nite Owl successfully tortures useful information out of the correct person and gets the clues he needs.
6 points: Chapter 10, page 18: shown two paper targets killed in ship explosion.
Observation: Chapter 10, page 8: Veidt reveals his hero worship of Alexander the Great.
15 points: chapter 10, page 11: Veidt kills his three assistants for no functional reason whatsoever. Pure demonstration of his insanity.
Observation: chapter 10, page 28: 11 paper targets shown killed as a result of Veidt’s plan. Civilians. Note that civilians killed in the crossfire of a battle would normally reflect negative points, but in this case, civilians are intended targets. Since all the main characters alive at the end (Veidt, Dr. Manhattan, Nite Owl, Laurie) all agree that the ends justify the means, then these civilians are paper targets that they must kill to get to their goal (world peace).
Observation: Chapter 12, page 1: 50 dead paper targets.
Observation: Chapter 12, page 2: Another 50 or so dead paper targets.
Observation: Chapter 12, page 3: 10 dead paper targets.
Observation: Chapter 12, page 4: 4 dead paper targets.
Observation: Chapter 12, page 5: 7 dead paper targets.
Observation: Chapter 12, page 7: 7 dead paper targets.
10 points: Chapter 12, pages 2 through 7 seem to exist mostly to show a lot of dead bodies and blood and gore and veins in teeth. There are approximately 150 dead civilian bodies shown on those mostly static pages. Normally, if a story had a war going on and showed civilians getting caught and killed in the crossfire, that would subtract points from the war handwavium score. But this isn’t that. This is something different. This is intentional targeting of civilians. And it produces a positive effect, world peace. There is also the issue of whether to count every single body represented on the page, all the way to the tiny stick figures in the far background. If I were scoring a movie, I’d count only the people you see actually killed on screen. But this is a different media. So I don’t know what to do with this scene. I won’t score it as paper targets, but I’ll give it 10 points for showing violence as superior to social structures.
10 points: Chapter 12, page 19: Veidt’s plan to unite the world against a common, alien entity works. Peace breaks out world wide. Hobbes’ Leviathan fantasy come true. Violence over social structures.
30 points: Chapter 12, page 20: Dr. Manhattan, Laurie, and Nite Owl, all agree to keep the truth a secret. They become complicit in Veidt’s plan. Violence over social structures.
10 points: Chapter 12, page 24: Dr. Manhattan, who couldn’t care less about the human race just a couple hours ago, who had to have Laurie convince him that Earth was worth saving, who has shown a penchant for determinism and argued for the non-existence of free will, and who is demonstrably as smart as a God, goes beyond complicity with Veidt’s plan and actually actively engages in killing Rorschach (who is the only one in the group to hold truth more important than anything else) to keep the secret.
“Watchmen” is a twelve issue comic book series that was first published in 1986. It is set in an alternate history of 1986 where super heroes exist and masked heroes without super powers are running around as well. The point of view character for the story is mainly a masked vigilante named Rorschach. Rorschach is described as mentally unstable. He is shown to use torture and vigilanteism to effective ends. We are never shown Rorschach kill an innocent man he thought was a criminal. We are shown Rorschach torture a man by breaking his fingers who we find out doesn’t actually know anything, but Rorschach continues to use torture until he gets the informaiton he needs. His torture never produces false leads. His history is that of a boy with no father, born of a prostitute mother, abused by his mother, abused by her johns, abused by the kids around the neighborhood, taken from his mother and placed into a foster home. His psych evaluation says he’s crazy. People call him crazy.
But it turns out that Rorschach is not only the only person who figured out that something bad was going down long before anyone else did (He realizes that the Comedian’s death wasn’t a robbery gone wrong), he is also shown to be the only one who manages to maintain the integrity to not go along with mass murder to achieve world peace (He refuses to be complicit in covering up the truth about Veidt’s actions at the end of the story).
For this, he is killed by Dr. Manhattan, a god-like character, whose lack of people skills make him more of a sociopath than Rorschach. The only thing Manhattan has going for him is that he is all powerful. He doesn’t even have a weakness like Kryptonite. He can do anything, and yet, he decides to go along with the idea of wiping out half of New York city to maintain the international solidarity against what everyone else thinks is an alien attack from another dimension.
He can do anything, but he decides to kill Rorschach to reinforce a lie, rather than, say, undo the catastrophe, and use his infinite powers and infinite wisdom to lead the world to a lasting peace. Instead, the best he can come up with is to go along the a madman’s plan to scare the world into uniting against what they think is an alien threat.
That’s the problem with introducing a character with god like powers into a story. The author really needs to have god like intelligence to make the character believable, otherwise, the character just comes off as a wish fullfillment fantasy of what a finite mortal would THINK they would do if they HAD god like powers.
Along the way, a lot of violence is shown to the reader, which racks up the war handwavium score.
The death of civilians might usually count as negative points (bringing the war handwavium score down), showing the ugly cost of war, however, since all the main characters alive at the end (Veidt, Manhattan, Nite Owl, Laurie) agree that the death of those civilians are worth the world peace induced by fear of death and world annihilation. So, they don’t get counted. The first time I scored “Watchmen” I counted them as paper targets, which increased the score by 300 points, but there are issues with how many bodies do you count, you don’t actually see their deaths, and I haven’t come up with a good way to score something like that, so I withdrew those points in favor of 10 points for showing violence being superior to social structures.
The story tells us that all the social structures in the world were driving headlong into WW3, and the only way to avert it was to cause the innocent deaths of half the people of New York City. Not only does this avert WW3, it transforms the world into a bunch of peace-loving peace-niks. Everyone agrees to help everyone else. Group hug.
The world’s smartest man, Veidt, wants to bring peace to the world. His plan? Kill half the people in New York City. But that’s not the main problem, the problem is it fricken *worked*.
The God character, Dr. Manhattan, is even smarter than Veidt, and also able to alter anything and everything literally. His response to Veidt’s plan? Yeah, now that you’ve killed all these people, we should just go with it. Not only am I willing to let you live after killing millions of people. I’m going to kill Rorschach because he won’t lie. That’s “God”s response.
This is, ultimately, the fantasy of war handwavium, that war, and violence, and the use of force, can achieve good ends, better ends than social structures can achieve. The world is shown tearing itself apart, the social structures, the UN, national governmetns, international relations, all are failing to achieve any sort of peace, and all are marching inescapably towards war. And Veidt fulfills the war handwavium fantasy of bypassing all these failing social structures and imposing a world peace by killing half the people in New York City.
In Watchmen, we are shown on screen 5 scenes where a main character tortures some anonymous character and gets useful information. We are shown on screen 1 scene where a main character tortures an anonymous character who doesn’t know anything. We are told after the fact that a main character had to go through 14 people before he was able to get useful information.
Folks can argue that Moore did that simply because he didn’t have time to show all fourteen that failed. But he didnt have to show all five that worked, either. WHether he made these choices consciously to make some point about war, I don’t know. But his choices in narration, standing by itself, without people trying to post-insert explanations into the narrative that aren’t actually shown in the narrative, tells a story that torture is an effective method for producing information.
Folks can argue that Moore was trying to show these heroes were really anti-heroes, that they’re not good people, whatever, but Moore does this inside a narative that shows us that torture works.
If Moore wanted to show me that these folks were anti-heroes, fine. Then to keep the war handwavium score down, he would have to do it in a way that showed torture being ineffective, producing many more false leads than positive ones, showing us more of those innocent people beign tortured on screen.
Same thing goes for vigilantiesm. While folks argue that Moore wanted to show these guys as anti-heroes, what Moore shows us in the narrative is that vigilantism works. We are never shown or even told about a scene where Rorschach killed an innocent person that he thought was guilty. We are shown Rorschach committing lethal vigilantism against a number of people, and they’re all guilty. We are never shown cases of misidentification.
With Comedian, we are shown two instances where he commits violence against an innocent individual, but in both cases he is “off duty”. Neither are vigilantisms gone wrong. Both are his own amoral behaviour coming out. But we are also shown that the backstory of the Comedian is that he alone went in and ended the Iranian hostage crisis, apparently without the death of a single hostage, since it was enough to silence all of his critics at the time. So while Comedian is shown to be an amoral anti-hero capable of being violent against innocent people, the one act we are shown on screen of his vigilantism is super successful.
So, the score with Comedian gets +5 points for the Iranian Hostage bit and -5 for the two violent acts we see him commit against innocent people. With the Comedian, the score goes to zero. Probably the number you want for an “amoral superhero” story.
Rorschach, though, gets numerous points for his vigilantism against guilty parties. And there are no negative points because he never misidentifies and kills an innocent person. We are shown one instance of him torturing an innocent persion, and that subtracts some points.
But we are shown far more instances of violence being more effective than social structures than we are shown violence being inferior to social structurs, that the final score ends up being a large positive number.
Whatever Moore intended to tell us with his story, I don’t know. But what he shows us is a world where torture works, where vigilantism works, where governments can’t stop the rush to WW3, but an act of mass genocide will cause an outbreak of world peace.