Watchmen, the 1986 graphic novel written by Alan Moore and illustrated by Dave Gibbons, is widely regarded as a masterwork of popular culture, one that certainly transcends the genre of comic books. That said, its treatment of love and sex have not been widely appreciated. For me, the most striking sexual fact in the novel is that the Man-Becoming-God, Jon Osterman/Dr. Manhattan, needs sex, whereas the Super Man, Adrian Veidt/Ozymandias, does not. One might expect the opposite: the closer to divinity, the less sex would matter. After all, sex is the heart of our struggle for genetic immortality—one might see it as pointless for someone who has already achieved personal immortality.
But there must be some meaning to this for Dr. Manhattan. Laurie Juspeczyk (“Jupiter”) is his squeeze for the some 20 years leading up to the main action of the novel. Her mother, Sally, tells her that, as far as the government is concerned, the only difference between Jon and an H-bomb is that “they didn’t have to get the H-bomb laid every once in a while.”
In contrast, Veidt is one of two superheroes in the novel who seem asexual (Rorschach being the other). We have no evidence that Veidt has a love life at all; in fact, we are tempted to speculate that he fills this gap emotionally with his affection for a giant, genetically engineered lynx. At one point, Rorschach hints that Veidt is a homosexual, but there is no verification of this; at most, it fits with our image of the putative homosexual aspects of Veidt’s grand hero from history— Alexander the Great.
To examine this difference between Manhattan and Ozymandias is to examine why Osterman needs sex despite being a demigod, since it is as clear why Veidt is auto-sexual as it is why Rorschach is anti-sexual: They are both divorced from humanity. Rorschach’s scarred childhood with his prostitute mother has made him thoroughly misanthropic and anti-social. Veidt, on the other hand, is so narcissistic he is Messianic; he’s too much in love with himself to trouble with sexual overtures to the mere run of humanity.
So why do they have to get the Jon/bomb laid every once in a while? One key to Dr. Manhattan’s sexuality is that it is in transition, part of his overall transformation that is central to the story. Jon’s burgeoning relationship with Janey Slater played a key role in the accidental chain of events that led to his irradiation and reconstitution from dissolute atoms. Jon and Janey had already slept together at that point, so with Jon’s metamorphosis, Alan Moore can hardly emasculate him. Why wouldn’t Janey be even more attracted to this naked superman?
One of the more striking visuals in the novel is Janey’s face when Jon first ascends from scattered particles in his finished form. The rest of the scientists are portrayed as terrified forms with wild hair, fleeing toward the periphery, then staring in fright. Janey however, stands in the middle of the scene, watching Jon levitate like an Ascendant Christ, all naked, muscular power, with the most incredible mixture of awe and hope on her face. She sees her boyfriend transformed into her vision of the ultimate alpha male. She utters a balloon of a single word, “Jon?” With a face like that, one can hear her lovesick, questioning tremble.
From that point, there is no reason their relationship should not proceed, and so begins one of the more politically incorrect sexual themes in the novel, a theme that, like all political incorrectness, was once universally acknowledged as true in the West, just as it still is in most of the world. It is this: when it comes to high sexual market value, man’s life can extend from mid-adolescence to the very extremity of middle age, but woman’s time in the sun is brief: traditionally extending from completed puberty for less than a decade before she should be hitched.
This is not dealt with explicitly in Watchmen, for it seems covered by the fact that Jon is, so far as we know, immortal: Janey ages and he does not. But what other than this basic biological fact regarding differential sexual market value must underlie all such tales of male longevity paired with ephemeral womanhood: Zeus with Leda, Europa, and so many more; King David and his last concubine; Highlander; and even, in full reverse, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button?
Sure enough, as Janey’s natural human life proceeds, she becomes jealous and bitter as Jon’s attention turns to Laurie, beginning when the latter is a mere sprout of sixteen. That Moore would pair her with Jon at an age when she is barely legal in much of the West, tells us that underneath Jon’s extreme genius, immortality, clairvoyance, raw power and blue skin, he’s just as turned on by hot young chicks as any red-blooded mortal man. (It’s a particularly daring plot choice for readers in prudish America.) After all, one view of orgasmic pleasure is that sex itself is the apparent goal our genes infused us with, just so they could replicate. A drive that strong need not disappear with immortality.
But there is evidence of waning sex drive in Jon. He never does trade Laurie in for a third model because, over the two decades of their relationship, his initial enthusiasm, shared with the common run of male humanity, turns to a general detachment, not only from Laurie but from our whole species. The man-god does not just tire of Laurie, he tires of us.
Near the end of this phase, he alienates Laurie with a misguided attempt to stimulate her sexually by dividing himself into multiple copies and tempting her toward a novel form of group sex. This is as far as the novel goes to suggesting anything beyond vanilla sex within established straight relationships, and it turns out Laurie is not interested. However, that’s not necessarily because Jon’s idea (“I thought you’d enjoy it”) was off-putting; it’s because the “real Jon” was not even one of the copies on offer; the real Jon was conducting a scientific experiment while all this was going on in the boudoir. When Laurie discovers he has staged the whole auto-menage just to distract her and give him time to concentrate on what’s really important to him, she is outraged.
This scene also touches on another politically incorrect sexual theme in Watchmen: women are not much interested in the details of how the male, especially European man, has struggled to understand the world and then build on that understanding all those things that enable the march of civilization. Women are interested in relationships, family, and emotions. It seems reasonable that Laurie would be offended in the pseudo-menage scene, with his rationale that his “work’s at an important stage”; but later, in the scene with Jon on Mars, Laurie is almost completely oblivious to the natural wonders Jon is continually pointing out to her, and to the magnificent glass clock-ship he creates from Martian sand. “Look over there: a dust storm rising,” Jon points out. “Yeah. Very nice,” replies Laurie. Then she continues to examine relationships.
Seen as an archetype in 2015, Jon is an extreme form of “conventional alpha male”: He’s a celebrity alpha, pretty much like many Hollywood leading men, of all eras. A man like that can get the girl with hardly a try, because he has looks, he has money, and he has fame. He has so much fame that he’s sexually pre-selected; millions of women are already attracted to him, which makes it highly likely any particular woman he wants will fall for him with very little effort on his part.
There’s an important sense in which a celebrity alpha is not necessarily an alpha male at all: If his inner nature is dad-like, i.e. his long-term romantic goal tends toward finding that one woman for life, he is only slightly more likely than any similar male to go beyond that nature tendency and opt for a continual succession of women instead; if he does, it’s mainly his celebrity status that has tempted and enabled him-without that, he’d be a dad or fail at being a cad. In other words, leading men come in alpha and beta flavors, just like ordinary men: Some are like Errol Flynn and some are like Jimmy Stewart.
Looked at this way, Dr. Manhattan is the ultimate celebrity alpha who is a beta at heart. He’s a demigod who can see both within and beyond the scale of life to quarks and quasars, worlds he finds more fascinating and more comfortable. Not only is he not interested in using his status to increase his succession of women past two, he eventually loses interest in his second woman, and in the process, almost loses interest in all humans, indeed, life itself.
As a matter of fact, though I’m sure Alan Moore did not intend a close parallel, this is exactly what happens, at least at the sexual level, to most men who settle for one woman–they lose touch with sexual reality in favor of an idea, and they risk deep dissatisfaction with women, and often all people, as they are. Of course, most of these men are happy enough much of the time, but mainly because they have built a web of comforting ego-assuaging deceits between their youthful desires and their mature selves. A tiny fraction of these: “a nice house with lots of toys makes me feel just as good about my status as bedding beautiful women would,” “my wife would hate me and leave me if I cheated,” and, coming full circle, “I can’t be that guy anyway, because I don’t have the looks, money, and fame of a celebrity.”
So there’s a sense in which conventional alpha males are not alpha at all, not in one arena that can pack a big Darwinian punch—womanizing. They are the men conventional society, which nowadays is the society of mostly female values, designates as “alpha.” The truth is that what separates them from the general run of men is mainly that they are better at the material aspects of being beta: the best providers of money and security. But they are far from best at providing emotional thrills.
The counterpart to the provider beta is the natural alpha, the born womanizer. It’s crystal clear who plays this archetype in Watchmen—the Comedian, Edward Blake. And nothing could illustrate better Moore’s understanding that many women are strongly attracted to this type of man than the fact that Blake, who once raped Laurie’s mother or came within a minute of raping her, later reunited briefly with her under more tender circumstances, therein fathering Laurie.
Blake has a whole panoply of characteristics that fascinate already fascinating characters. Rorschach says of him,
Forceful personality. Didn’t care if people liked him. Uncompromising. Admired that. Of us all, he understood most. About world. About people. About society and what’s happening to it. Things everyone knows in gut. Things everyone too scared to face, too polite to talk about.
As intelligent men facing lunatic times, we were very alike, despising each other instantly.
And Osterman, in paraphrase:
I never met anyone so deliberately amoral–like me, he understood perfectly what Vietnam said about the pointless butchery of the human condition, but unlike me, he didn’t care.
However, it’s Blake’s sexual force that is central here, and on that subject, there’s little to add to the stark contrast of his dual persona as Sally Jupiter’s rapist and Laurie Jupiter’s dad: Moore has not been so politically incorrect as to suggest that Sally enjoyed the sexual assault–it traumatizes her, and for the rest of her life she remains, for the most part, outwardly antagonistic to Blake. But when the chips are down, she choose her assailant to father her child. “Watch what people do, not what they say” is a time-honored maxim; it goes treble for women, the more instinctive sex.
It is true that Moore portrays Sally as a tough, ambitious, and vulgar woman, which puts further distance between this 1986 character and one of today’s more daring conjectures, that most women have nuanced and ambivalent attitudes toward rape and aggressive sexual conquest, and, furthermore, the more feminine and attractive the woman, the more the dark side of this ambivalence will have its allure.
In evolutionary terms, the persistence of the womanizing reproductive strategy is felt to lie mostly in the possibility that, through cuckoldry, the womanizer can forgo the immense costs of raising a human child, by leaving such dirty work to the woman and her luckless cuckold. From a woman’s point of view, she may also gain, because it is the lot of all mothers to have this hard work to do anyway; and her offspring may possess and pass on some of the genes that contribute to the womanizing personality, perpetuating this risky but potentially very rewarding strategy. And, of course, male self confidence is a trait that can make him a better provider and achiever, not just a better womanizer. However he uses it, if man learns to display self-confidence to women, he will be much more attractive to them.
In Watchmen, this greater complexity of the cuckold issue is never explored, at least not through the issue of Laurie’s paternity. There is a cuckold, but it’s Sally’s agent, Larry Schexnayder, whom she married several years before Laurie was born. We get the impression that Schexnayder has never thought Laurie was his genetic child, and doesn’t much care. The reason this is believable, compared to the soul-destroying pain and shame felt by most awakened cuckolds down through the ages, is that as her agent, Schexnayder has always lived off Sally. Sure, the agent-star relationship is something of a partnership, but a star, by definition, is a brand in human form, whereas agents are interchangeable. Moreover, Schexnayder seems to derive much of his status satisfaction from the visibility of marrying a star and living the show-biz life, not from having sex with her and inspiring her to bear his children. Very beta male behavior, and consistent with a high tolerance for being cuckolded. He hasn’t slaved away his life to raise the child of another man and a stay-at-home princess; he has made a comfortable living off his star and is willing to pay the price of cuckoldry.
However, the personal tragedy of the cuckold is touched on elsewhere in the novel, though not through the ultimate man-rape of dyspaternity. Early in the comic, we learn the story of Moe Vernon, a garage-owner who had employed one of the original heroes as a boy. Upon learning that his wife has run off with the head mechanic at his own garage, Moe cranks on “Ride of the Valkyries,” runs a hose from an engine exhaust into his office, and drifts off into oblivion. Thus, this famous theme, with all its intended pomp and triumphalism, becomes “the saddest music I know.” My conclusion is that the locus of female power has nothing to do with shieldmaidens and Amazons: Woman’s power is in rather the sphere of love and sex, not the battlefield, but their wielding of power nevertheless produces casualties.
Returning to Schexnayder and his contentment with living off the Sally Jupiter brand, there is a lesson here about end-stage feminism. The more women are “empowered” to become full providers, not only providing the womb and work of mothering, but most of the provisioning as well, the more some men will sink to the bottom of male ambition and live off a woman with minimal effort, not caring if they are cuckolded, happy to be mothered amid feminine emotional wallowing, happy for occasional lackluster sex. It’s another result of perpetual adolescence for modern beta-boys.
And by becoming the default provider-beta, the welfare state accentuates this trend. Considering the relatively small numbers of Blacks who live in the two great welfare exemplars, Canada and Sweden, it is surprising how many unwed White mothers can be seen in these countries with little mulattoes in tow. Though many Blacks have a raw virility less common in Whites, they barely need it to cuckold the welcoming governments of the West, absentee fatherhood being the time-honored African way of life. Meanwhile in America, a welfare state with large numbers of Blacks, the President himself embodies this theme.
The close of Watchmen reads almost as almost a parody of “beta settling.” Laurie has not, so far as we know, had lovers on the side for all those years she was with Jon. At 36, she is getting close to hitting the female Wall—when the modern woman begins to feel she’s not up to the alpha males she bedded in the past and casts around for a safe beta-provider to get cosy with. In Watchmen, that would be Dan Dreiberg. Laurie’s settling for Dan represent the romantic and sexual aspects of the settling for comfort that is Veidt’s goal for world peace—comfortable times are decadent times, both materially and sexually. (Well, at least Dan’s a superhero.)
I have suggested much here that could be construed as very negative about women:
- Women say they want “a nice guy,” whereas, sexually, they are far more likely to reward arrogance;
- Women want the security of a beta, and the semen of an alpha, if they can get them;
- Women are generally uninterested in science, building, and the mechanics of how things work;
- Women are much more open to aggressive sex than it is permissible to discuss outside of play-acting;
- Rape has had its role in shaping their evolutionary psychology;
- In Darwinian terms, women are capable of committing something more costly to a provider male than rape is to a female: they are capable of lying him into expending his substance raising the child of another man for decades.
And I admit that I do believe these facets of women are real, and are relevant.
But perhaps the real tragedy of the sexes in modernity is not the persistence of these inner aspects of women, nor even the denial of them by feminism. Perhaps the real tragedy is the expectation that women should be something they are not. Who cares if Laurie is uninterested in hadrons, dust storms, and Olympus Mons? As a woman, she is most interested in the personal creation and nurturing of life. Isn’t that more than enough?
It all reminds me of a tale, apocryphal but nonetheless insightful, of a botanist who responded to a zoology colleague’s criticism of the passive, static nature of plants with, “Good God, they eat light–isn’t that enough for you?”
In the end, Jon Osterman finds Laurie’s womanly nature enough, for it saves humanity. On Mars, while Jon is expounding on the cosmic meaninglessness of man, Laurie is solving a puzzle that is pregnant with human meaning–the puzzle of who is attracted to whom, and why. And being a woman, she does not piece this out in the abstract, as in modern Game theory. She does not boil it down to an explicit, empirical understanding. No, Laurie arrives at her own understanding of an uncomfortable truth—that women are attracted to dangerous men—through examining the origins of her own particular life, solving the riddle of her paternity.
And it is up to Jon—whose near-omniscience has failed to encompass that small riddle, Jon the demi-god, Jon with his abstractions—to extend Laurie’s discovery to the unpredictable miracle that is all life. And in that extension, he decides to save human life. In the end, this understanding of the eternal feminine is the key that allows Jon to transcend personal sex, in favor of expanding the creative power resident in sex to new worlds, completing his quest for Godhood.
All because of woman’s power to choose in the game of Life.
Isn’t that enough?