Considering the King of Kings: Watchmen’s Ozymandias

Warning: Spoilers for Watchmen and Before Watchmen: Ozymandias ahead.


Before_Watchmen_Ozymandias_Vol_1_1_Variant_AThere’s no graphic novel/comic book character who has impressed me or made me think as much as Ozymandias (Adrian Veidt) from Alan Moore’s classic, Watchmen. As a power hungry, megalomaniac figure, his type is familiar in the superhero universe. Nor is his ‘damning the world for its own good’ an entirely new concept—what makes the difference in his case is that, unlike many of his fellow antiheroes/straight-out villains, Ozymandias’s scheme, so far as we can see, is successful.

I read Watchmen close to two years ago. The experience was, to say the least, unsettling. Moore’s novel has been called many things: a ‘tour de force’, a ‘masterpiece’, ‘gritty and realistic’ and a ‘watershed’ for superhero comics. It portrays a close-to-realistic universe, New York during the height of the Cold War, where scientists watch a ‘doomsday clock’s’ minute hand move closer and closer to total destruction. The United States government has hired the services of two ‘vigilantes’: a sociopath who calls himself the Comedian (a sort of deranged Captain America type) and Dr. Manhattan, an omnipotent being whose quantum powers have been bestowed upon him by a (wait for it) scientific experiment gone wrong. In a world of rising suspicion and fear of nuclear holocaust, one retired vigilante takes it upon himself to ‘save’ humanity by creating a faux war and, regrettably, losing a few million lives in the process of saving the whole.

That man is Ozymandias.

I suppose it’s not very surprising that I ‘fell for’ this character the moment his scheme became clear. Not only is he power hungry and super intelligent, but he also confesses to having found the inspiration for his scheme in classic science fiction. I also love those corny scenes where the villain explains his ultimate agenda, though they usually end in the hero besting said villain and ensuring that agenda never gets fulfilled (and I do have a well-known soft spot for charming megalomaniacs, like Blair Waldorf and Magneto). In Ozymandias’s case, the ‘heroes’ (always a questionable term where Moore is concerned) realize there is nothing they can do to foil his plan. What’s the point of telling an already panicked world that a well-known businessman, the ‘smartest man in the world’, is terrorizing them in order to achieve peace? AdrianVeidt

Yeah, no one would buy it.

At the close of Watchmen, the remaining superheroes are divided. Nite Owl and Scarlet Spectre II have taken off to try and eke a normal life together, gathering their scattered and damaged selves in a mutually supportive relationship. Rorschach is dead, Dr. Manhattan has taken off to outer space, unable to care any longer for the ‘microcosm’ that humanity constitutes; and Ozymandias is staring, teary eyed at his own success, watching as channel after channel broadcasts the devastation his crazy scheme has wreaked in New York City. 

In a world as grimy as the one Watchmen portrays, Ozymandias is a scarcely believable idealist. This is a world where the ‘heroes’ have lost faith, where they’ve, one by one, been hunted into darkened, rat-infested corners and, where they’re not killed out of hand, withered away in cynicism. Ozymandias, arguably, has a much more privileged  background than any of his fellows, being from a well-to-do family and then, after years of self-inflicted hardship, rising to  become one of the richest men in the world. He seems a reimagining of Bruce Wayne and Tony Stark, both billionaires who invest their time and energy in making the ‘world a better place’ in their own way. Unlike them, Ozymandias is not content to fight local crime in hand-to-hand combat. The ‘smartest man in the world’, his vision is much more universal.

Ozymandias combines the skill set of Bruce Wayne (and the assets) with the benevolent dictatorship espoused by a figure like The Avengers’ Loki. Like Wayne, he is a loner, a recluse who hides aspects of himself and his final plan from everyone. Fittingly enough, according to the non-Moore written prequel Before Watchmen: Ozymandias he takes up crime-fighting in order to avenge the loss of his lover, Miranda. After Miranda, his relations with women (and people in general) seem few and far between, surface at best.

Like Loki, Veidt is ‘burdened with glorious purpose’. His role model and personal hero is
Alexander the Great, the near-legendary warrior king who conquered most of the then known world at the age of 33. As the alleged ‘smartest man in the world’, he believes he has a duty to helping humanity, to guide it towards a better future, one not wracked by petty conflict and ensuing misery. Like Loki, he believes that taking the freedom of choice and knowledge from his ‘herd’ is a good thing, and only helps humanity. Unlike Loki, he is doing this not to obtain open and obvious power. The world does kneel to Adrian Veidt, but it does not know it. Tom-Hiddleston-Loki-Costume-Chest-Shoulder

Interestingly, I think Tom Hiddleston might have done a great job as Ozymandias. He gets that tortured genius thing so well. Then again, I think Tom Hiddleston could do great in most roles.

The superhero universe is filled with characters who are driven, ruthless, charismatic and romantic. Ozymandias has all these qualities. But Ozymandias towers above his fellows, in my opinion, because he owns his power and potential in a way that many don’t. He has an almost inhuman sense of duty, one that flogs him on to devastating acts. He is both so in love with humanity and thoroughly disgusted by it. He is the worst kind of sociopath—one who believes that everything he does is for the ‘greater good’. Albus Dumbledore couldn’t match up to this guy, Elder Wand or no.

tumblr_mg3d7kyvlL1qfxwtoo6_1280Is Ozymandias a hero or a villain? He is both. Moore intertwines his story with that of the tortured castaway from the Black Freighter, a man who damns himself and all those he loves out of his own despair. Watchmen’s narrative ends before we can find out the long-term effects of Ozymandias’s scheme, so we don’t know whether he did wreak more evil than good, but perhaps the story is an indicator, from Moore, of where things will go. Ozymandias is the smartest man in the world, but his very name indicates eventual ruin. After all, it’s the name given to the statue of king, fallen in a desert and scoured by the sand.

The Golem and the Djinni

I felt like I hadn’t read a very good fantasy book in a long time,  one that presented something that seemed wholly new while at the same time reminding me of others cast in the same mould. At least, that’s what I felt until I picked up Helene Wecker’s The Golem and the Djinni.

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What a gorgeous cover

Set in 1899, in a New York which is just recognizable enough to keep its readers comfortable, Wecker’s debut novel explores the relationship between two outsiders in this city of immigrants: a Golem and a Djinni. Chava, the golem, was created to be the wife of her master, Otto Rotfeld, a Polish Jew who plans to emigrate with his newly created wife to the New World.  Fortunately for us, Rotfeld disregards the golem-maker’s advice and wakes his ‘wife’ while still on board the ship. Unfortunately for him, he dies soon afterward, leaving her to fend for herself in America.

More resourceful than your average clay-woman, Chava not only finds a trustworthy mentor and guide, but also stumbles across a being who, like her, is trying to pass off as an average human while being nothing of the kind: a djinni from the Syrian desert.

The two strike up an unlikely friendship, but things go haywire when Yehudah Schaalman, the golem’s creator, shows up in New York, bent on a quest to find the secret to eternal life.

The Golem and the Djinni was a really, really good read. Not only did Wecker conjure up a vivid turn-of-the-century Manhattan, but I loved how she took on the magical and mystical aspects of cultures that have, by and large, been ignored by the mainstream Western fantasy canon. The only other book I’ve read that delved into Jewish lore, for instance, was Michael Chabon’s The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Klay, where there was a golem figure, albeit for a blink-and-you-miss-it duration. Of course, Jonathan Stroud’s Bartimaeus series spends a lot of time in varied magical cultures, but in the adult canon, there seem to be fewer instances of diversity. Things are changing, yes, but slowly.

What I really loved about the book, though, was Ahmad, the djinni. I really enjoyed following him on his jaunts through nocturnal New York, discovering the world five hundred and more years after being ensconced away in a lamp. Most of all, I loved how, through him, Wecker brought to life ‘Little Syria’, the Arab neighbourhood of the city, and all its residents: Maryam Faddoul, Boutros Arbeely, Mahmoud Saleh.

I think, honestly, that Ahmad shone more brightly than Chava did. Perhaps this is to be expected, considering that he is a being of fire while she one of clay, and that what defines him is passion and spontaneity versus her more ‘modest’ and calm demeanour, but I think Wecker also fell more deeply in love with this character than the other. For one thing, Ahmad has (what seems to me) a far more interesting and layered ‘back story’ than Chava. For another, I think he progresses and achieves more as a character in the course of the book, but we can always debate that after you read it.

Or maybe I just have a soft spot for ‘passionate’ handsome, cursed men. Rule out nothing.

After finishing this book, I’m diving back into Stroud’s series, if only to reacquaint myself with the djinn. I also intend, at some point, to pick up Saladin Ahmad’s Throne of the Crescent Moon, if only because I need to step out of my comfort zone of elves and goblins and try something a little closer to home. And what do you know, maybe by then I, or one of my esteemed peers, would have produced some new, truly epic ‘Indian’ fantasy.

And I don’t mean myth fic, no siree.

What are you waiting for? Go get a copy of Wecker’s book now. I promise you, you won’t regret it!

Revenge Wears Prada

Do you remember the time when Andrea Sachs told her draconian boss (yes, the one played by Meryl Streep) to ‘Fuck off’ in the middle of a Parisian fashion show?

Yeah, I was sure you did. If nothing, you can recall Anne Hathaway throwing a cellphone into a fountain after a one-night-stand-gone-bad with the Mentalist guy.

Apparently Andy’s abrupt departure didn’t sit too well with Miranda, and ten years later, she’s about to serve her former junior assistant some cold revenge.

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‘Revenge Wears Prada’ is the saga of said comeback. Andy and her new BFF Emily (the same girl with the plush British accent in the movie) run a luxury wedding magazine called The Plunge, are married to rich and handsome men and live in style on the Upper East Side. Andy’s husband is Max Harrison, the CEO of a media company, and he’s everything she (or her female readers) have ever dreamed of. Everything looks perfect, except, of course, it doesn’t last.

Enter Miranda Priestly, now Editorial Director of Elias Clarke (and not just Runway). She makes Andy and Emily an offer for The Plunge and all hell breaks loose, with Emily and Max raring to go for it and Andy resisting with all the strength she can muster. Will Miranda win out, as she usually does, or will Andy manage to be the one who gets away for a second time running? You’ll have to RAFO.

I really enjoyed this book. I read the prequel a few months ago (refer to my post, Strapping on that Prada), and found it, while not the most elegantly written of texts, refreshing, entertaining and surprisingly thought-provoking. While the ‘revenge’ here seems a little too long-boiled (meaning, it takes forever for Miranda to enter the scene, and even when she does, she’s annoyingly brief), and hardly the most earth-shattering, the world that Weisberger recreates is arresting enough to compensate for the glacial pace of the storyline. Plus, we get to meet old favourites like Lily, Alex and the ever-flamboyant Nigel and see where the decade has taken them. There’s even a short encounter with, dare I say it, the oh so sexy Christian Collinsworth.

Andy’s journey in Revenge is obviously very different from her experience in the first book. Here she’s an established editor, one who has definitely arrived on the New York fashion scene, handling her own team of (and I snorted here in understanding) entitled young twenty-somethings. Despite her success however, she remains a relateable, girl-next-door type of character, one who cannot dress well enough to impress Emily, who is not ‘posh’ or ‘appropriate’ enough for her snooty mother-in-law, who prefers to snooze under the covers rather than head out to the gym. A jarring difference from the first book is the shifting of perspective–where Devil stuck in first-person, Revenge is told from a third person limited perspective, namely Andy’s.

To put it simply, Revenge does not accomplish much as a story, but what it does do is take your mind off things for a little while by presenting you the world of the rich and famous, replete with fairytale weddings, jilting actresses and closet-fuls of designer clothes (and designers). So if you want a fun and fabulous read, please do go ahead and get your hands on it. Let’s all pretend to be more glitzy than we really are. At least for a couple of days.