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June 3, 2009 / schulerbooks

Event Posting and Interview with Mark White, ed. of Watchmen & Philosophy

Live Web-Cast with the editor of Watchmen and Philosophy at 7 p.m. tonight, June 3, at Schuler Books of Lansing (Eastwood Towne Center)!

The Schuler Comic Book Discussion Group presents a live SKYPE web-cast with Mark White, editor of and contributor to Watchmen and Philosophy! You’ll be able to see Mark projected onto our big screen for an author talk followed by a Q & A session in which you can talk directly to him as if he were sitting in the same room. We’ll have autographed copies for purchase, as well as a drawing for a signed copy of the comedic superhero novel Captain Freedom by G. Xavier Robillard.

Click beyond the jump for an interview with Mark!

Watchmen and Philosophy

New book in pop culture series discusses the morals and ethics of the masked adventurers

Watchmen raises a host of compelling philosophical questions. How do Ozymandias and Rorschach justify their actions? What are the political ramifications of the Comedian’s work for the government? How do we explain the nature of Dr. Manhattan? And can a graphic novel be considered literature?

Whether you’re reading Watchmen for the first time or have been a fan for more than twenty years, “Watchmen and Philosophy” will help you read deeper into the philosophical questions and the revolutionary story that changed comic fiction forever.

Recently, we had a chance to interview Mark D. White, editor and contributor of the book, which is part of a series of philosophy and pop culture books published by Wiley.

“Watchmen and Philosophy” is part of a series of books. For example, I believe there is a philosophy of Family Guy book?

Mark D. White: Yes, but it’s not the philosophy “of.” That’s one distinction we really try to make clear with the books. It’s not the philosophy “of” something, it’s something and philosophy, in other words we’re using the something to introduce people to the basic concepts of philosophy. Certainly, we can’t do one with out touching on the other. We can’t use Watchmen to introduce philosophy without talking about the philosophy of Watchmen to some extent.

The books are not trying to… I’ve heard and I’ve read so many criticisms of the Batman book which I co-edited that say, “oh they didn’t totally talk about this aspect of Batman or that aspect of Batman”, But that wasn’t the point of the book. It wasn’t supposed to be the philosophy of Batman, it was supposed to use Batman to introduce people to different theories of ethics and identity and things like that, and touching, of course, on a lot of parts of the Batman mythos but not give a comprehensive coverage of the philosophy of Batman from A to Z.

How did the book come together? Do you solicit writers who have written on philosophy from the series in the past and ask them if they have read Watchmen and if they have any ideas for essay topics?

MW: That’s pretty much how it goes. We develop a plan for the book. We develop about a couple dozen sample chapter titles between myself and the series editor Bill Irwin, as well as the folks at Wiley, who are very pop culture savvy, and we issue a call for papers. This call for papers goes out to two main groups. The one is just posted to a lot of philosophy Web sites, philosophy listservs, and philosophy blogs, so we try to cast the net fairly widely. And we also send to past contributors to the series because, Someone who wrote for, let’s say, the Batman book — there’s going to certainly going to be some interest among that group for writing about Watchmen as well. Or people who didn’t write for Batman, but another pop culture book and that they are also interested in Watchmen. The nice thing about that is these chapters are written in a very specific style and it’s not natural for an academic philosopher to necessarily write in this style.

You wrote an essay entitled “The Virtues of Nite Owl’s Potbelly.” Is Nite Owl II your favorite Watchmen character? What made you choose Nite Owl as the focus of your essay?

MW: Well, he’s not my favorite character, necessarily, but I think he was a neglected character. Whenever people have discussions whether philosophical or otherwise about Watchmen the characters that usually get most the emphasis are Dr. Manhattan, Ozymandias, and Rorschach because they are most extreme characters. They are either extreme in their nature, like Dr. Manhattan, or are extreme in their actions, like Rorschach and Ozymandias, but Nite Owl is kind of this normal guy. I’m sure you know the characters in Watchmen were planned to be the Charlton characters that DC had acquired in the early 80’s. Nite Owl was based on the Ted Kord/Blue Beetle character. Blue Beetle was kind of like that, just a normal guy who had a lot of money, built himself a ship, had a suit, and just became an adventurer. That’s kind of what Nite Owl is, he never had aspirations to save the world (like Ozymandias), and he never had aspirations to cleanse the world of evil (like Rorschach). He was just out there trying to make the world a little better in so far as he could. I just thought that was really kind of nice. I mean the fact that he didn’t take it too far, he didn’t take it to extremes, and that’s why I discussed him through the lens of virtue ethics and one of the main tenets of virtue ethics is don’t take things to extremes. Find the comfortable Middle.

Pretty much the antithesis of the Rorschach character.

MW: Yes, or Ozymandias because they both take things too far. They both have their grand plans to save the world, and of course they do it in very opposite ways. But, Nite Owl never had that in his head or Silk Spectre for that matter. Silk Spectre is not really a separate case.

I noticed that there wasn’t much written about Silk Spectre in the book.

MW: Well, there is the chapter written from the aspect from feminist philosophy about both the mother and daughter and how did they stand in respect to theories of feminism. There was that chapter but as far as the ethics chapters, they did focus on Ozymandias
and Rorschach, and I stuck in the chapter about Nite Owl too just to show that you don’t have to be so extreme or dedicated.

When I did the Batman book, Batman is usually portrayed as this one hundred and ten percent dedicated, devoted, driven often to the point of insanity to eradicate crime for Gotham City. That’s kind of the same model as Rorschach and Ozymandias. They both devote their lives to saving the world and Nite Owl just doesn’t do that. So, I kind of wanted to show that even though Ozymandias and Rorschach being the polar opposites ethically are interesting characters you don’t have to be that extreme to be an ethically interesting character or a noble character. Just in recognizing your limitations and doing the best that you can do with what you have is noble in it. You don’t have to push yourself to 110% devotion.

The one thing that really does stand out about Watchmen as a story is the fact that many of the characters are so extreme in their views of the world, and in the actions they take. Did you find that Watchmen had a lot more philosophical “meat” to chew on than some of the other titles in the series?

MW: Oh definitely, definitely. The genesis of this was when I finished up the Batman book. It was done in June and I handed it in Thanksgiving 2007 and I was emailing with the Wiley people, who are just fantastic, and I told them “Hey a Watchmen book would be great to do too. I just finished the Batman book, it was really fun, it was really interesting and I would like to do another one and Watchmen sounds great. Did you know there was a Watchmen movie coming out?” I am biased because Batman is my favorite character and so I had tons to say about Batman but I said, “Wow. If you want to look at a comic property that just has philosophy oozing out of the seams, it’s Watchmen.”

That explains why you wrote the Nite Owl chapter because most people consider Nite Owl to be the Batman of Watchmen.

MW: I wouldn’t call Nite Owl the Batman of Watchmen — not really. I don’t really see a Batman in Watchmen. Like I said, that’s the analog, even if it’s not original to me, it’s Blue Beetle or Green Arrow — another millionaire who decided to become a crime fighter. Iron Man to some extent. He had the accident in a war zone, his heart was damaged. He built the Iron Man suit to save his heart and he decided to use it to save the world. I have never found him to have that great of a moral obligation to do it. It was like he thought, “I have the money, I have the means, and I have the time. Why not try to make the world a better place?”

There are certainly similarities between Rorschach and Batman. Rorschach doesn’t have the self imposed moral limitations that Batman has of course, but Rorschach does have a messed up childhood, definitely in a different way of course. I thought the other day, Batman and Ozymandias have a bit in common too, the way they both push themselves to mental and physical perfection. So in way Batman is a combination of Ozymandias, Rorschach, and Nite Owl, and then some!

Rorschach is so extreme in his methodologies and has a “black and white” view of the world; virtually no shades of gray. That’s a strong dissimilarity to Batman who, like you said, has this moral compass behind everything he does. As your book states in many of its essays, Rorschach feels that if you’ve done wrong you need to be punished. That’s it; no exceptions.

MW: I think Batman shares a little on that point of view though. Just not as extreme. He doesn’t take it upon himself to punish the wrongdoers.

Yes, he always brings them to the Gotham Police or to Arkham Asylum.

MW: Right, he always wraps them up and puts a note on them. Of course he doesn’t leave them evidence; he doesn’t follow the rules of evidence. You have got to wonder if they could ever press a case against these people. Batman sees his role in strictly defined terms. He is going to help catch the criminals. He’s not going to try them; he’s not going to punish them. But Rorschach of course considers the criminal justice system to be broken and so he has to assume all those roles for himself. He’s more like the Punisher in Marvel Comics. He has taken upon himself to act as judge, jury, and executioner.

View the original story at



Leave a Comment
  1. schulerbooks / May 24 2010 8:57 pm

    I believe you have to pay to be able to post videos – it’s not terribly expensive, but it is extra. Once you sign up for it, you have a tab next to the post images button. Hope this helps!

  2. zhuzhu / Jan 10 2011 7:33 pm


    Nice to be registered on My little name is maxizhu 😉

  3. lighting / Jun 17 2011 3:52 am

    Great study… Did you do all of it on your personal? This must’ve taken lots of time. Excellent Article.

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