Adrian Veidt may be the smartest man in the world, but apart from his health and wealth, he has nothing that you could call a classic superpower on the Watchmen side.
But there is a point in the story of Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons that he quietly and skillfully shows one of the most basic superhero powers. And in the last episode of HBO’s Watchmen, he does it again.
[Ed. Note: This piece contains spoilers for watchmen on HBO.]
Early in “See How They Fly” Adrian tries to escape from Europe’s utopian prison with Lady Trieu’s spaceship. The gamekeeper interrupts him at the pass and after repeatedly asking “master” to stop and after his master has repeatedly dismissed the warning, the guard shoots him.
Adrian collapses dead, only to kick the overseer hard as he approaches. Ozymandias’ secret has been revealed: he caught the bullet in his hand.
Why Adrian Veidt can catch bullets
That was no illusion: Veidt can tear a ball out of the air. At least he can if need be. He shows this special talent in the last issue of Watchmen. After Veidt explains to his costume hero that he dropped a psychic squid on New York City, Nite Owl is incredulous and reaches for straws. Veidt could not be the man behind the comedian’s murder, Rorschach’s arrest, and the disappearance of Doctor Manhattan. He was a well for assassinations!
“You couldn’t have planned it!” Says Nite Owl, “What if [the hired assassin] shot you first instead of your secretary?”
Veidt answers with his typical … guile.
PICTURED: Alan Moore, Dave Gibbons / DC Comics
Just a few scenes later, Veidt uses his considerable money where his mouth, which is even more remarkable when he actually catches a pistol, is fired from the Silk Specter just a few meters away from him. As in the show, he falls to the ground, but the ball is in his bloody hand and he hits his opponent with a quick surprise blow.
Wait, how does he do it?
In short: comic logic.
Although stage magicians have been doing variations of the bullet-catch trick for 400 years, this is just a trick. The performer does not rely on actually catching a bullet, but veils the firing of a fake bullet and the veiling of an apparent bullet on himself, in order to reveal it in the end.
But the margin remains big in the imagination, especially in the comic book genre, where one of the most recognizable skills of its founding character – Superman – is that he can shake off bullets like rainwater. The Guardians’ costumed crime fighters are shabby and famous. Doctor Manhattan is the exception that proves the rule.
But a focus on Jon can hide the fact that Ozymandias also has an absurdly superheroic origin. He is a mythical, self-made man who has given up his inherited fortune to follow Alexander the Great’s steps in search of enlightenment and “travel through China and Tibet while gathering warlike wisdom,” as he describes in Watchmen the moment he realized his personal philosophy and decided to become a costumed crime fighter when he wandered naked in the Egyptian desert after eating a hash ball.
And yes, it all sounds like an epic college trip, but it’s also a deeply rooted cliché in Western adventure literature. It is reflected in the origins of Batman, Green Arrow, Doctor Strange, The Shadow and even The Count of Monte Cristo. These are all characters who have traveled to the Far East and come back with mystical secrets and mysterious abilities.
Moore and Gibbons’ source of inspiration for Ozymandias – a character from Charlton Comics known as “Peter Canon, Thunderbolt” – also fits into this group of other men. Adrian’s “Veidt Method” self-improvement brand featured in the Watchmen comic relied heavily on similar New Age ideas that a person can control their mental and physical health by simply applying their own will.
In other words, Ozymandias can catch bullets because he is the kind of character that an old mental technique would have studied to enable him to catch a bullet if necessary. It is comic logic. Moore and Gibbons didn’t think it was possible to catch a bullet.