The Deluded Hero: an exploration of Adrian Veidt (Ozymandias) of Watchmen, looking primarily at Chapter 11.
The first thing we see in chapter 11 is the emblematic outline of the blood drop, rendered this time as the vivacious view into Veidt’s garden, framed by the white of the harsh Antarctic snow. This image is similar to the shot of the Bernards at the end of the chapter in the penultimate panel, with the blood drop-esque image of two Bernards’ silhouetted bodies coming together right before the light of the teleportation fills the frame entirely in the next panel. The twin images, both resultant from the work of Adrian Veidt, are inexorably linked, suggesting Veidt is indeed culpable for the murder of the New Yorkers; their deaths are necessarily linked to the vision of Veidt’s garden through the snow rushes.
It is also interesting to note that Veidt’s observations are overlaid on the images at the start of the chapter, but we get no such commentary on the images at the end. Veidt’s thoughts and ideas aren’t present in the final images, suggesting he doesn’t reckon his plan in terms of real human cost, but rather qua the idyllicism of the first panels, which show the audience an allusion to the garden of Eden with the variety of life and bright coloring of the flora & fauna, seen through the inhospitable conditions of the unprotected world. This is a space Adrian has cultivated, raising life from the worst conditions almost miraculously, and he is willing to sacrifice it for his aims.
On page 4’s final panel, the large painting of Alexander the Great’s splitting of the Gordian Knot hangs above Adrian as he leaves the viewing room, no longer “putting things off;” the panel’s bottom is framed with flowering foliage with petals of purple, yellow, and red. Those first two colors are associated with Veidt; what about the last? Page 5 offers up the red light on the machine that transports the monstrosity of deception; Page 7 has red roses dotting the scene of the first panel, wherein Veidt betrays his associates with red wine; on page 11, we again see the red roses around the base of the console he uses to “burst the bubble,” killing his associates; Veidt also picks a red flower as the snow covers the face of one of his victims on the last three panels of page 12; on page 8, red flowers rest at his parents’ grave, which he leans against, viewing the sky.
To bring up an earlier image of similar nature, we can recall Moloch, an unwitting pawn of Veidt, placing red roses at the grave of Edward Blake, murdered by Veidt. I’ll also note here that we do not know how Veidt’s parents died, and he viewed them as “intellectually unremarkable,” though they did well enough to provide him with a substantial inheritance. We should also take note of the speech bubbles in the panel (3, pg. 8) wherein he gives the associates the unflattering description of his parents: they obscure him, and this is the only time in the monologue where the bubbles do.
If his words about his parents serve to obfuscate his character, and this is the only thing he feels he has to hide, well, that suggests an interesting relationship to his late parents, perhaps even an unhealthy or narcissistic one which demotes their importance to inflate his own. Does this tell us explicitly that he murdered them to get their inheritance or something? No, but it does indicate he feels some level of shame regarding his unexceptional family, and perhaps that is where this overachiever mindset, which has divorced Adrian from the horror of his actions through the necessitation of sacrifice for the gratification of success, results from.
The red scarf around Alexander’s neck in the painting of panel six on page 8 associates the color with the only man with whom Veidt felt any kinship as a youth. Red, I think, is associated with sacrifice for greatness; Blake was sacrificed, the associates were sacrificed, the people of NYC, the garden, perhaps even Veidt’s parents were sacrificed for his future greatness. Alexander, may then be supposed by Veidt to have lived out a similar philosophy of sacrifice for greatness.
The foliage of page 4 is also reminiscent of the garden’s, offering a link between the two concepts of “garden as symbol of Veidt’s deception” and “the practical joke as Veidt’s masterstroke success.” Furthermore, the analogy of Alexander the Great’s undoing of the Gordian Knot to Veidt’s connivance of the world is reinforced by the fact that his stance in panel one of page 7, as he confers with the associates he will shortly poison, is exceedingly similar to Alexander’s in the earlier panel’s painting. In this comparison, we see that Adrian has long been willing to sacrifice much to reach a singular benchmark, a level of accomplishment, but this desire is realized as Veidt’s unique role in a world which requires horrific measures to receive that gratification.
The trick of the superhero is the tying of a socially-relevant extremism to a persona both public and personal, which informs the abilities and motivations of the individual who claims the mantle. Rorschach’s extremism is based in absolute morality as a response to the cruelty the world showed him; Dr. Manhattan’s is in his all-consuming rationality as a response to losing a sense of control over his own destiny. Veidt’s breed is of exceptionalism as a response to the fetishized obligation of sacrifice for power, and I think it would be wrong to suggest he is heroic or villainous per se for holding that perspective.
In fact, I think that’s his mistake. His monologue in the garden has him always facing the sun whenever it’s drawn, suggesting his focus, his almost religious belief in the path he has embarked down. That, to me, is a sign that he mirrors a personality other than Alexander: the man in the comic book, suffering greatly in his journey back home, driven mad by the prospect of evils taking all he loved from him, zealous in his desire to conquer those demons, until finally, those same evils succeed in laying claim to the one thing only he could give: himself.
It is a heroic desire, wishing to save the world at any cost, I will grant you this; yet we see the bill for the success of his “practical joke” in the image of the blood droplet, dashed throughout the book, and we understand it to be something he does not balance properly against the gratification of his aims. He relishes the hard choice, for he thinks it makes him great. Right or not, he is the deluded hero, and he ends up utterly effective at pruning the thorns from the rose of the world, despite the fact that those like Rorschach and the Comedian arose from the very same DNA that he did. He calls this sacrifice; I call it ultimately irresponsible, and if I must name him a hero or a villain, I think the deluded hero ends up the latter.
Originally published at mark-ik.tumblr.com.