Vigilanteism is the act of taking the law into one’s own hands by punishing those thought to have done wrong. Acts of vigilanteism can vary from verbal taunts, physical force, and sometimes to death. This is usually done because the court systems have failed, or are presumed to fail. Vigilantes typically want justice and security for the ‘common man’ and will penalize those that endanger this ideal. Other times its fame and fortune that calls to people to act in this manner.
This moral concept lends itself to comics easily, considering many “heroes” could be labelled as vigilantes. Some of these figures work with the government, police, and other authority figures (“ISAs” and “RSAs”), but they’re still independents, as described by Hughes (547). After the “Keene Act” is passed in the Watchmen universe any non-government sanctioned practicing hero would be considered a vigilante (Moore).
Dubose takes the concept of vigilanteism further by differentiating “police vigilantes” from the “proper” form of vigilantism. This strain of vigilanteism describes those that are aligned with The Powers That Be and who act for the sake of protecting the established order operating “in accord with society’s moral code.” They’re typically celebrated (918-921). Doctor Manhattan and The Comedian would fit this as they both worked with the US Government.
The truest (and most extreme) vigilante in Watchmen would have to be Rorschach, who is uncompromising in his fight against evil. He has a strict moral code and never wavers from punishing those wrong-doers.
Dubose, Mike S. “Holding Out for a Hero: Reaganism, Comic Book Vigilantes, and Captain America.” The Journal of Popular Culture. 40.6 (2007): 915-933. Google Scholar. Web. 10 November 2011.
Hughes, Jamie A. “Who Watches the Watchmen?”: Ideology and “Real World” Superheroes.” The Journal of Popular Culture. 39.4 (2006): 546-556. Google Scholar. Web. 11 November 2011.
Moore, Alan. Watchmen. Illus Dave Gibbons. New York: DC Comics, 1986. Print.