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One of the title characters in writer Alan Moore and artist Dave Gibbons' epic superhero series Watchmen (DC Comics, 1986–1987), Adrian Veidt adopted the alias Ozymandias, the Greek name for the Egyptian pharaoh Rameses II. Moore was also invoking the poem of that name by the great English Romantic poet Percy Bysshe Shelley (1792–1822), which describes the remains of the arrogant pharaoh's colossal statue, surrounded by the empty desert: its pedestal is inscribed, “Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!” Veidt, “the world's smartest man,” is based on the Charlton Comics superhero Peter Cannon, aka Thunderbolt, but he also seems inspired by such genius heroes as Mr. Fantastic and Doc Savage. Born in 1939, Veidt modeled himself after Egypt's conqueror, Alexander the Great, and became a costumed crime fighter. Though Veidt had no actual superpowers, he had trained his body to near physical perfection, and was virtually invincible in hand-to-hand combat. Nevertheless, in 1975 Veidt retired as a superhero. Instead, like a capitalistic version of Alexander, Veidt built a vast corporate empire, becoming one of the world's wealthiest men. (Spoiler warning: Those who do not wish to learn the ending of Watchmen should read no further.) Veidt believed that nuclear war between the United States and the Soviet Union was inevitable unless he implemented an extraordinary scheme. Veidt oversaw a covert project that genetically engineered a monstrous new life form. Veidt planned to teleport the monster into Manhattan, causing it to telepathically slaughter much of the city's population. The world would assume that the creature was from outer space, and the two superpowers would lay aside their differences in order to cooperate in defending themselves against a possible alien invasion. In 1985 Edward Blake, the superhero known as the Comedian, discovered Veidt's scheme and was horrified. Hence, Veidt went to Blake's apartment, overpowered him, and hurled him to his death. Thus began the murder mystery with which the Watchmen series begins. Veidt also manipulated events so as to coerce the world's most powerful being, Dr. Manhattan, into leaving Earth. The vigilante Rorschach recognized there was a conspiracy afoot. He and the superhero Nite Owl eventually realized that Veidt was behind it and headed to his Antarctic retreat, Karnak. But by the time they finally confronted Veidt, he had already teleported his monster to Manhattan, killing half the population of New York City. In the aftermath of the September 11, 2001, attack on the World Trade Center, Moore's Watchmen scenario seems grimly, unwittingly prophetic. But Veidt's horrific scheme had the effect that he intended, and the United States and Soviet Union backed away from the brink of World War III. Thus Moore confronts both his superheroes and his readers with this conundrum: was Veidt justified in perpetrating the massacre of millions in order to avert the potential deaths of billions in a nuclear war? In Watchmen's final panel Moore raises the possibility that Veidt's hoax will be exposed, setting the world back on the road to war. So this new Ozymandias' works may also end in despair.
king of ancient Egypt, evoked by Shelley as an example of the perishability of power. [Br. Lit.: Benét, 749]