Friday, July 20, 2007

YAFQ: Giant Squid?

(Warning: Spoiler of sorts for the end of Watchmen)

The origin of this week's Yet Another Friday Question is in a conversation I had a couple of days ago:

The conversation turned (as sadly a majority of my conversations do) to graphic novels. M mentioned that she had recently read Watchmen, only her third graphic novel ever (after Maus and Persepolis). She liked it, but didn't care much for the ending, specifically the giant squid. J and I--both long-time comic readers--said that we didn't mind the giant squid and thought that it worked. M said that she had done some unscientific polling and that people had one of two reactions: "Giant Squid? Really?" or "Yeah, Giant Squid!"; and that those reactions broke down along gender lines.

So our Friday question to you is this:

What did you think of the giant squid in the last chapter of Watchmen?


Gordon D said...

Personally, I understand what Moore was trying to do plot wise - have a "bigger than all of us" threat to scare nations into cooperating.

However, having a giant squid was too much - it might have been easier to just do some kind of "unearthly wreckage", or a message that "we are detonating our psychic device". That might have worked better.

But hey, we're stuck with the squid.

Johanna said...

Dumb. Plus, wasn't that idea copied from the Outer Limits or something like that? It struck me as something that would have made more sense in the 50s, not the 80s.

Anonymous said...

All I'm saying is, if I ever have a doomsday device, it's gonna look like a giant squid.

Bruno Urbano said...

I remember thinking it felt funny, but then coming to terms with it (for being a man-made alien, it looked decent enough) but maybe I was just forcing it into making sense, since everything in the best comic I had ever read had to be equally good.

Peter J said...

I should start by admitting that I only read Watchmen recently, for the first time. And I found it, like a lot of comics from the 80's, pretty unnecessarily dark. But I do remember the 80's and what it was like living under Reagan and expecting the bombs to start falling any day. So it's fair to say that these dystopian 80's comics comics (Dark Knight Returns being another one) are only products of their times.

Presumably, the 'squid' was a Lovecraft/Cthulhu reference; as in Lovecraft's stories, things from other dimensions are too horrible for the human mind to comprehend and lead observers to insanity/death.

I think it's hard to imagine something that would be so horribly frightening that humanity would throw down its guns and back away from the nuclear brink. So it was a clever device for Moore and Gibbons to fall back on Lovecraft's (often parodied) unspeakable/unnamable horror.

There's a certain campiness in having the world's salvation hinge on the appearance of a giant dead squid in the streets of Manhattan, but it's a campiness that's borrowed from some of the earliest traditions of horror literature. Just because it's silly doesn't mean it doesn't work.

If you just gloss through Lovecraft's stories it seems incredibly silly that someone's raving about the "unnamable" atrocity that he saw, that isn't there any more, and doesn't seem especially threatening. But if you stop and think about what it would really be like if a gigantic monstrous thing materialized in the middle of a city and killed 4 million people, that's actually kind of scary.

I'd also say that within the world of the story, the huge squid functions as a metaphor for outside aggression. It works where a message that "we are detonating our psychic device" wouldn't because it gives the people of that world something they can glom onto and see. On the evening news, all over the world, there are images of a hideous monster surrounded by millions of corpses in the streets of New York. That's a hell of a lot more powerful than an image of corpses and an ambiguous message that no one can really see or understand (or know the authenticity of). With a huge physical presence that is obviously responsible for the destruction, there is little danger of people around the world dismissing or misinterpreting the disaster. It's obviously been caused by some kind of alien monster. No question about it.

Unless, of course, Rorschach's journal clues them in.

Anonymous said...

When I first read this series, some 20 odd years ago, the fact that it was a giant squid didn't even register. I was so wrapped up in what the climax was going to be the particulars didn't matter.

Thinking about it now, a giant squid is ridiculous. But! Think about it in terms of the story, trying to place yourself in the shoes of any number of the bystanders in the story. A squid is perfect.

it is a lifeform still "alien" in terms of how it looks and understanding how it works. Monkeys aren't alien or terrifying because they're too familiar. Plus squids are just familiar enough that we can BE terrified. If it's an unknown threat we'll be sitting around confused. "What is it?" as opposed to "Oh my God!"

It's part of that shorthand that storytellers have to use in order to produce, in the audience, the proper reaction. In other words, the squid is a cheat.

But, you know, that's my two cents…