What Lies Beneath: The Watchmen and the Cruelty of Masks Panel at #ComicConatHome

Preview Day of #ComicConatHome started the same way SDCC has in previous years. It’s schedule showcased education panels from 3pm PDT to 6pm PDT, mostly provided by GeekED. One, in particular, was “The Watchmen and the Cruelty of Masks panel”. Panelists included: Dr. Kalenda Eaton (University of Oklahoma), Dr. David Surratt (University of Oklahoma), Hailey Lopez (UC Berkeley), Robert Hypes (Phoenix Creative Collective), and Moderator, Alfred Day (UC Berkeley). 

To quote the description:

HBO’s Watchmen put forth the idea that “masks make one cruel”. On college campuses, many people, both students, and non-students have taken up virtual masks to make statements and take actions that would not be acceptable if done in public. Zoom bombing, doxing, and anonymous threats have caused much dismay, particularly as campuses move to remote learning due to COVID-19. Come hear what educators have to say about the power of masks and how Watchmen and other comics show us a path towards heroism or villainy. 


The conversation overall was one that begged the question “What does one want to be, a vigilante or a superhero?” “And how does wearing a mask, (mentally more so than physically) help society?”

On Hooded Justice and Superman

Hooded Justice in the ‘Watchmen’.

Alfred Day began the conversation discussing the comparison of Superman and Hooded Justice. He spent time mulling the differences between a hero vs being a vigilante, the act of wearing a mask or not wearing one while doing heroic things (or things that are villainous). Panelists explored those concepts, making mention of how Hooded Justice used his mask to protect his identity as a Black man even among his fellow Minutemen. They also considered the subversiveness of his mask, a KKK hood with a noose around his neck. Hooded Justice was a literal representation of the racialized violence and trauma the Black community was facing in both the fictionalized Watchmen and in real life. 

On Massacres and Police

The discussion continued in that vein, regarding the intersectionality of today’s issues, (racialized violence from police officers), to that of yesterday’s, (the Tulsa Massacre). Panelist Hailey Lopez spoke of the show paralleling “our times by telling a story with kickers of truth in modern society” in terms of “unmasking” the “unhealing” of the United States, while also noting that “masks” can also help us to process trauma. Dr. Kalenda Eaton and Dr. David Surratt both made mention of Paul Lawrence Dunbar’s poem “We Wear the Mask” to drive that point home. Dr. Eaton referenced the poem as an example of the “dual purpose of masks…Black people wear masks to conceal hurt and trauma”, while villains, i.e, the KKK wear masks to cause hurt and harm while remaining anonymous. Dr. Surrat expanded upon that historical fact with “Blacks often knew who [KKK members] were.” Despite the hoods that they wore, “Blacks always had to have a plan B” to handle the situation.

This Revolution is Led by the Kids

Photo by Ashutosh Sonwani from Pexels.

The panel rounded itself out by talking about how the past is currently affecting the present and future, especially with today’s youth. Robert Hynes spoke on how young people are currently calling out wrongdoing by faculty and peers more and more via social media. He equated it to vigilantism and felt that the revolution “would be youth-led”. Nevertheless, the panelists also talked about the importance of youth holding adults accountable to the belief systems we’ve implemented as well as being mindful that that requires us to have more bandwidth. That sometimes causes BIPOC educators to do even more emotional labor in this very taxing time.

Alfred Day’s last question to the panel was “What masks are you wearing in society that you need to learn how to take off?” Dr. Sutton closed out the discussion with the importance of standing forthright in one’s truth, the struggle of removing familial masks that were put in place for protection and other masks that were still very much needed. All in all the panel was riveting, thoughtful, and definitely should be continued. Masks aren’t used to just cover the face, but sometimes deeper issues. Hopefully, one day we’ll unravel that as a community and a world.


Watch the panel on Comic Con’s Youtube channel here:


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