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Watching the 'Watchmen' - Joel Hall

When I was a kid, I used to think about how cool it would be to have super powers.

In one of the more naïve prayers of my youth, I asked God to imbue me with super powers, so I could defend myself from a group of school-yard bullies.

After watching "Watchmen," the movie, this weekend, I have no desire, whatsoever, to be a superhero. In fact, I think the title would be too much for any person to bear.

Prior to the movie, I was completely unaware that "Watchmen" existed in comic book form, nor was I aware the gritty tale of past-their-prime superheroes is the only graphic novel included in the All-TIME 100 Novels list.

I walked into the theater with no expectations. What I saw forced me to rethink the consequences of having powers greater than any other human being.

In most superhero stories, there are clear lines between the superheroes and the super villains. Even Batman, one of DC Comics' most complicated heroes, knows what side of justice he is on.

In "Watchmen," the cast of characters comes with loads of baggage, ranging from human detachment, to sociopathic and psychopathic tendencies.

The character Nite Owl II (played by Patrick Wilson) is paunchy, unsure of himself, and afraid to re-enter the world of crime fighting. The Silk Spectre II (Malin Akerman) is a somewhat easy heroine, who hops in and out of bed with Nite Owl II, and Dr. Manhattan (Billy Crudup), a nuclear physicist, who is given God-like omnipotence and the power to bend matter to his will, as the result of a freak accident. As his perception of time becomes less and less linear, he loses his compassion and ability to feel human emotions.

Some characters divulge their secret identities, only to use their fame to sell tell-all books and create multibillion-dollar empires, such as Nite Owl I (Stephen McHattie) and Ozymandias (Matthew Goode). The Comedian (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) is a hero, but at the same time, is a murdering, womanizing sadist.

Rorschach (Jackie Earle Haley), arguably the most interesting character in the movie, with the purest sense of justice, also is an obsessed lunatic, who loses his sanity after failing to save a girl from being murdered. He is what Batman would be like if pushed over the deep end, or perhaps, what Batman would be like, if he truly did exist.

While all the characters are different, they all defy the traditional idea of a superhero: perpetually just, heterosexual, and invincible. Some of the characters given brief mention in the film are depressed, alcoholic, over-sexed, or homosexual, all aspects of humanity that are glossed over in most comic books.

While the heroes in "Watchmen" share the complicated personalities and flaws of human beings, they also experience their tragedies. Some characters are murdered because of their beliefs, and sexual orientation, while others become the victims of rape. The characters grapple with right and wrong, and sometimes fail, just as ordinary people do.

While "Watchmen" is not for everybody, it may be the most realistic portrayal of superheroes on film.

While you won't leave the theater feeling better about superheroes or the world in general, the movie is probably the closest mere humans will get to understanding what really goes on behind the mask.

Joel Hall covers government and politics for the Clayton News Daily. He can be reached via e-mail at: jhall@news-daily.com.