Disclaimer: Due to the sheer length and depth of both of these works, I have had to skip over some details of plot and character development involving Ozymandias and Griffith. Also spoilers ahead for Watchmen and Berserk.
One of the essential parts of any story is the antagonist, someone with bad intentions for the reader to root against. But, some authors choose to turn this formula on its head by creating heroic characters who do villainous things, all for the greater good of course. Often throwing the reader and community around a work into ethical turmoil. Two characters who perfectly exemplify this are Ozymandias from Alan Moore’s Watchmen and Griffith from Kentaro Miura’s Berserk
In Watchmen the reader is introduced to a world on the brink of nuclear self destruction. To make matters worse, the various ‘hero’ characters we are introduced to throughout the work are either uninterested, unable, or ill-equipped to do anything about it. Except for retired vigilante Adrian Veidt, a.k.a. Ozymandias, who has the funding and resources to actually stop this nuclear armageddon. Adrian uses the next to infinite wealth at his disposal to design, genetically engineer, and then deploy a giant psychic monster on top of New York City. The monster dies the second it makes contact with the ground, but it emits a psychic pulse that kills everything else in the city. Adrian does all this with the hopes that the nations of the world will separate their differences to fight an alien threat that doesn’t actually exist.
Adrian’s plan succeeds, at least at first, in response to New York City’s sudden and brutal destruction at the hands of an unknown threat the world’s nuclear superpowers put aside their differences to prepare for a future attack. But before Adrian can bask in his victory, he has one last conversation with the future seeing Dr. Manhattan where Dr. Manhattan warns him that nothing is permanent. This final scene forces Adrian (and the reader) to grapple with the possibility that the peace he sacrificed millions for may only be temporary.
While Watchmen presents a world on the brink of collapse, the medieval land of Midland where Berserk takes place is in a state of collapse. Small kingdoms are constantly warring with each other, bandits run rampant, monsters roam across the countryside and innocent men, women, and children are dying by the boatload. Enter Griffith, the secondary protagonist, leader of The Band of The Hawk (a janky, medieval version of The A-Team), and a close friend to the actual protagonist, Guts. It’s revealed through the early arcs of the manga that Griffith has a dream of creating a kingdom so large and so perfect that everyone can live safely and comfortably inside its walls, preferably with him in charge.
Griffith gets an opportunity to make this dream a reality when he is approached by 4 demon lords known as the God Hand. The group is looking for a new member and think Griffith is the perfect candidate. The God Hand offer Griffith a new, stronger demon body, an army of devout demon followers, and a laundry list of superpowers. All at the cost of sacrificing Guts and the rest of the Band of The Hawk. Unfortunately for Guts, and everyone else in a 2 mile radius, Griffith accepts the offer. Griffith’s former comrades are painful slaughtered and Griffith is reborn (See middle character in image below).
Griffith then uses his superpowers and demonic apostles to force all the smaller kingdoms under his banner, destroy an invading force from a country over, and kill any monster he catches wind of. But most importantly Griffith creates the Kingdom of Falconia, a utopia where everyone can live in peace and harmony. A paradise built by blood thirsty demons, on top of the dead bodies of those who trusted him.
To say Griffith’s actions lit the Berserk community on fire is an understatement. One side argues that Griffith’s immoral actions in the short term were justified by all the good he did in the long term. Meanwhile others argue that all of the good Griffith does while in power is overshadowed by all of the evils he committed to get there. Even more interesting is, if you look at both arguments, both sides are at least partially correct.
What makes both Ozymandias and Griffith such compelling characters is the ethical and moral dilemma they bring into their respective stories. Both characters force the reader and those who know the truth to cope with the fact that they have committed both the noblest of goods and the worst of evils, and make a decision as to which outweighs the other.
- Image citations list
Gibbons, Dave, and Alan Moore. “Watchmen.” Watchmen Wiki, 2000, watchmen.fandom.com/wiki/Adrian_Veidt.
Higgens, John. “Before Watchmen: Ozymandias #1.” Ultimate Comics, 2012, ultimatecomics.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/05/Photograph-169.jpg.
Miura, Kentaro. “Falconia.” Berserk Wiki, 2003, berserk.fandom.com/wiki/Falconia.
Miura, Kentaro. “Griffith on a Horse.” Picsart, 2003, cdn130.picsart.com/269379312028201.jpg?r1024x1024.
Miura, Kentaro. “The Band of the Hawk.” Funnyjunk, 2003, funnyjunk.com/Winner/funny-pictures/5995190/35.
Miura, Kentaro. “The ‘God Hand.’” Pintrest, 2000, i.pinimg.com/originals/c7/7f/ee/c77fee3a4c89b9ea85b0993050e0d0b2.png.