Comic Books in the Super Hero Universe

A few weeks ago, while discussing Watchmen, Dr. Beaty commented that in a world where superheros are a well known part of everyday life, comics may be very different. If you are unfamiliar with Watchmen, there is a subplot involving a boy named Bernie who frequents a news stand to read the Tales of the Black Freighter story of a marooned Navy captain and his attempt to save his family from the accursed Black Freighter, a pirate shipped crewed by the souls of the damned.  While writing Watchmen, both Gibbons and Moore agreed that in a world where superheros are an established part of the global community, people probably wouldn’t find them very interesting. The choice to have comics about pirates was suggested by Gibbons and Moore agreed because his interest in Bertolt Brecht and  the Black Freighter alludes to the song “Seeräuberjenny” from Brecht’s Threepenny Opera.


The Tales of the Black Freighter runs throughout the Watchmen and parallels the main events of the story such as Rorschach’s imprisonment,   Dr. Manhattan’s exile on Mars and Ozymandias’ regrets over his actions. I think that it is interesting that Mooere and Gibbons both thought to change the popular topic of comic books, particularity because none of the Watchmen have actual super powers with the exception of Dr. Manhattan. Regardless of the pirate theme, the  Tales of the Black Freighter storyline can be said to underscore the main themes of Watchmen. The weakness, fallibility and corruptibility of  human beings and the nature of justice being pursued outside of society’s channels run parallel to the themes explored through the main plot of the story.

Another example of comic books withing a comic book universe is the D.C.’s the Flash. After the second Flash, Barry Allen, was involved in a chemical accident and gained his super speed, he named himself after the first Flash, Jay Garrick whom Allen had read about in comic books as a child. This is a different approach to the comic books within the universe of other comic books problem. Not only do super heroes exist in this universe but they also have comic books which inspire the identities of new super heroes.

It is peculiar that Watchmen avoids the use of super heroes in comic books but the character Adrian Veidt markets his own line of action figures and other related merchandize because his identity as Ozymandias is public knowledge. While Moore and Gibbons believed that people would not read comic books about super heroes existed, they apparently thought that there would be enough interest in super heroes for Veidt to market his own line of action figures and other memorabilia.

I am curious to see if anyone else has any good examples of comics being depicted in another comic book universe. Let me know what you think.

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One Response to Comic Books in the Super Hero Universe

  1. dylanrama says:

    I think the distinction you have pointed out between the in-universe comics and Adrian’s line of Ozymandias action figures is a very interesting one. The point that people would not be interested in comics about super heroes is a good one, and led me to a possible analogy for real life. In Moore’s universe, superhero comics would probably not sell well, and I think this is because if people were interested in superheros they would just follow the exploits of Dr. Manhattan, Ozymandias, Rorschach, etc. If I could read in the papers about Nite Owl’s recent exploits, why would I want to read a comic either about him or a similar character? I think a parallel to this in the real world could be sports. Professional athletes are in the public eye, and we can watch their story lines play out on the field or rink at the stadium or on television. The public probably isn’t interested in comics about athletes because so many individuals are already so invested in the real life sports world already, similar to the controversy surrounding masked vigilantes in Watchmen. If anybody thinks I missed the mark or has other comments, I would love to hear them.

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