It’s been several days since the latest Watchmen episode, “A God Walks Into Abar,” and I still can’t believe that this series was able to top itself after the last big reveal of Will Reeves being Hooded Justice. But top itself it has, and in the most unexpected way possible.
How many of us are still trying to pick our jaws off the floor from the revelation about Dr. Manhattan’s identity? At this point, I really don’t know where the show will take us in its final two episodes, but I can only imagine how rocked we’re going to be by the number of reveals there are left in store for us. But with that said, what sense can we make from what we’ve witnessed in this episode? How does Dr. Manhattan’s appearance change anything going forward? Let me try to put my brain back together and suss out what we can glean from this monumental reveal.
Dr. Manhattan is Black
Hilariously, out of all of the “OMG!” posts I saw regarding Dr. Manhattan’s reveal, I did see someone (who had an American flag in their Twitter handle, a possible clue regarding their “patriotism”) tweet how they felt the series had finally jumped the shark with the Cal = Dr. Manhattan shocker. I had to laugh to myself, since that’s one of the reactions the show’s writers probably wanted.
It’s radical to make the most powerful being in the universe disguise himself as a black man. Is that because no one typically assumes black men are powerful enough to be a superhero, much less a nuclear-powered superman? Perhaps. Why else would Dr. Manhattan’s reveal be so impactful?
If we take a look at the state of the superhero in comic books, it’s only been in recent years that true attention has been paid to superheroes of color beyond what service they can provide the white superheroes. It also hasn’t been too long since superheroes of color were put into stereotypical boxes, with storylines and costume choices solely centered around their race. Even in today’s modern landscape, such as the MCU, some fans were still reeling at the prospect of The Falcon becoming the next Captain America, even though his ascension to the position is canonical within the comic books. Fans were mad about this. In 2019. So it should be no surprise that not many people expected Cal to actually be the most powerful being in the universe. Black men aren’t expected rise to such heights in comic books (or in life, if you talk to some misguided people).
But that’s the beauty of the Dr. Manhattan reveal. It causes all of us – even those of us, like me, who want to see black characters in big positions – to think about how we ingest the messages from popular media. Dr. Manhattan’s reveal also shed light on some of our own psyche as well. It showcases how starved we have been as a population when it comes to seeing people of color as impressive, imposing beings that command respect. It’s uplifting, in fact, to be a black viewer and see that the main black characters in a prestigious show like Watchmen — Angela, Will, and now Cal — are the most powerful. If you combine their power with Lady Trieu’s, who is using her own power to stop white supremacy, then you get a narrative we haven’t seen very often in television, if at all. That narrative: if people of color can rally together, they can use their combined forces to take on white supremacy…and maybe even win.
For some viewers, this is a narrative as revolutionary as it is scary. There are no patronizing “good” white characters for white audience members to latch onto. Even Laurie, who is arguably the only white character who hasn’t double-crossed Angela yet, is still not helping with the underlying idea of trying to “save” Angela — she’s simply trying to uncover a larger conspiracy. The major players at the heart of the story are all people of color, and on top of that, two of them are women. It’s what some might call a “social justice warrior” future, but it’s what I call “actual reality.” Finally, a show recognizes that non-white characters deserve storylines that respect them and the histories from which they draw. This is such an astounding show, especially in the political and social times we’re living in right now.
Dr. Manhattan Against Cyclops
One smart Twitter user suggested that the Cyclops symbol seems to reference the hydrogen atom symbol on Dr. Manhattan’s head. That makes sense to me, seeing how Keene and the rest of the Cyclops gang are trying to become superpowered beings like Dr. Manhattan himself. Talk about a scary future: immortal white supremacists killing non-whites (and non-abiding women of all races) with impunity. It also makes sense that the only person who could stop other Dr. Manhattans is the original Dr. Manhattan.
Again, the historical implications of Dr. Manhattan as a black man come into play. How cool is it to know that Dr. Manhattan will be able to finish what Hooded Justice started but couldn’t complete? It is, indeed, a passing of the torch from Will, the very first superhero, to Dr. Manhattan, the very first superpowered superhero. It’s black legacy informing and supporting itself, empowering itself to higher heights. It’s a f— you to everyone who believed black people couldn’t amount to anything or have the ability to battle white supremacy from an upper hand.
I personally can’t wait to see how Cal-as-Dr. Manhattan will take on Cyclops. Do I know how any of this will end? Not at all. But it will be heartening to see Keene’s face when he realizes that the man he’s been aspiring to be has been living as a black man for years.
Could Angela Become the Next Dr. Manhattan?
For the Kavalry, the only thing that could be worse than Dr. Manhattan choosing to live life as a black man is that Dr. Manhattan has been married to a black woman and just might choose to pass on his powers to her. One of the theories floating around Twitter is that facing his own death, Dr. Manhattan might decide to give Angela a portion of his powers, if not all of his powers. If you’ve been watching with an eagle eye since the beginning, or if you’ve rewatched the entire series like I have, you would have noticed that there’s intense symbolism around eggs.
I already mentioned some of that symbolism in one of my deep dives, when Lady Trieu gave the farming couple who was drowning in eggs they couldn’t sell a child of their very own. Outside of Watchmen, eggs are symbols of fertility and rebirth. But within Watchmen, the symbolism becomes even more pregnant with meaning. The eggs are not just a symbol of rebirth, but of legacy. Indeed, “legacy” is the very word Lady Trieu used when talking to the couple. Whoever holds the eggs in this series gets rewarded with a legacy of their wildest dreams. The couple who couldn’t have kids were able to have their very own child thanks to Lady Trieu. As Cal, Dr. Manhattan’s waffle-making was a way he was interacting with eggs, and the product of those interactions — the waffles — were fed to his “legacy,” his adopted children.
But when Dr. Manhattan isn’t Cal, who embodies his legacy then? If you recall in “A God Walks Into Abar,” Dr. Manhattan manifested an egg in order to show his powers to Angela. This led to the illuminating fact that Dr. Manhattan could theoretically pass on his powers to another person or other type of organic matter. Since he was talking to Angela about that, and since it seems like he loves Angela more than he’s loved anyone else he’s been romantically linked to, does this mean that he believes Angela could be the only person worthy of carrying on his powerful legacy?
If it’s true, such a fact could be too much for the Kavalry to take. My reading of the Kavalry is that they seem to see Dr. Manhattan as the ultimate white ideal, despite wanting to destroy him. They want to use his powers to achieve what they believe is their birthright: the ability to take out anyone that doesn’t align with their “values” of racial supremacy. It’s all strange, since not only has Dr. Manhattan lived life as a black man for a decade, but the man behind the superhero, Jon Osterman, is also of Jewish descent and an immigrant. In so many ways, Dr. Manhattan is the embodiment of everything a group like the Kavalry hates. Yet, they look to him to be their final form.
If you think about it, Veidt wasn’t wrong when he talked about appropriation. But I think the argument about appropriation applies more strongly to the Kavalry than it does to Dr. Manhattan. While Dr. Manhattan did take the form of a black man, he simply took that form because it was the one Angela was the most comfortable with. He didn’t try to gain anything from blackness or steal anything from it; he simply wanted what best suited his partner. Meanwhile, the Kavalry are trying to appropriate Dr. Manhattan’s powers by kidnapping him with the intent to destroy him in order to become him. They will misuse his powers for their own evil ends. This also doesn’t account for the amount of pop culture the Kavalry has consumed that is created by the very people they want to destroy — remember that Kavalry member in the first episode who was listening to rap music before the cop pulled him over? How does he think he’s going to hear that particular rapper again if he destroys him?
With the race to appropriate in full swing, imagine how they would feel if Dr. Manhattan simply gifted his powers to a black woman. Their heads would explode, similar to how Dr. Manhattan literally exploded the heads of those Kavalry members trying to kill Angela as she risked her life to save him. It is beyond the scope of the their imagination to believe that a black woman could become the most powerful being in the universe. But it’s a reality they just might have to get used to if the egg-equals-legacy theory holds true.
With that said, I can’t even form into words how excited I am to watch the finale of such a stellar season of television. I’m interested to know what your assumptions and theories are, so write them in the comments below.
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