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In the world of DC Comic's Watchmen, since superheroes actually exist (and have come to be disapproved of by the public), the superhero comic book industry never took off beyond the "Golden Age" and the predominant comic book theme is Pirates. "Tales of the Black Freighter" is one of the most popular pirate comics in the setting of Watchmen, and a major story from it, known as "Marooned", is told in several parts at various points in the story, being read by a boy at a newsstand.
Despite the fact that the pirates are supposedly the equivalent of comic book heroes in this world, there is absolutely nothing romantic, admirable or likable about the pirates in Tales of the Black Freighter. Indeed, Watchmen’s story–within–the–story features one of the darkest depictions of pirates in all of fiction, including other works where the pirates are villains. The Black Freighter itself seems to be a semi–demonic vessel which only the most evil of men are drawn to to join its crew.
In the story, the Black Freighter attacks the unnamed main character’s ship and destroys it, and he winds up on a distant island with his entire dead crew and the remains of the ship all around him. The man worries about his family, as the pirate ship had been heading towards the direction of his village, so in desperation he puts together a grotesque makeshift “raft” from the pieces of his ship and some of the dead bodies, and begins riding it back home. Along the way, the man becomes increasingly insane from weariness, anger and fear, and eventually believing that the pirates must have already reached his village and killed everyone, the man’s goal in his own mind becomes to kill the pirates in revenge rather than saving his friends, thus his cause ceases to be heroic.
By the time the man finally reaches land, he has become completely insane and violent, and the first thing he does is murder two random people, who he believes to be pirates, and steal their horses and clothing, in order to reach the village faster and look less recognizable, and when he goes inside his own home he begins to beat the person in his wife’s bed to death, again thinking that it is a pirate, until it is revealed that it really IS his wife, that the pirates actually hadn’t come yet, and that the man has become just like them.
Horrified, the man runs away back to the shore, where he sees the real Black Freighter making its arrival. Knowing there is no hope for him now, he climbs the ship’s rope and boards it to be killed and/or join the other damned souls that make up its crew.The reason for the comic’s presence in Watchmen is symbolism: the man represents Ozymandias. The story is concluded around the climax of the book just as his plan is revealed and enacted, and the person reading the comic is actually among those killed in the resulting explosion.