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Watchmen And Philosophy (A Rorschach Test) edited by Mark D. White

01/12/2009. Contributed by Geoff Willmetts

Buy Watchmen And Philosophy in the USA - or Buy Watchmen And Philosophy in the UK

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pub: John Wiley & Sons, Inc. 227 page indexed enlarged paperback. Price: $17.95 (US), $21.99 (CAN), 11.99 (UK). ISBN: 978-0-470-39685-8.

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With a selection of books examining the philosophy of various stories from film and comicbook characters out there, I thought it would be a wise decision to look at them. Interestingly, I'm learning as much about philosophy as I am as it's application to the subject at hand. With this book, the sixteen philosophers who are also fans of the 'Watchmen' apply their knowledge to the characters although the one question none of them approaches is should vigilantism be used when there is a failed police system? They're interested in not only watching but examining the Watchmen and what motivates them rather than that particular bigger issue that got them started in the first place.

Over the fifteen chapters, all the lead characters are examined in some detail as to their motivations and drives. Obviously there is some focus on Rorschach and Dr. Manhattan as one is the extremely right-wing and the other who has god-like powers but has lost interest in the human race. I would suggest that before you read this book that if you haven't read the 'Watchmen Graphic Novel' in some time, do so before knuckling down here. You'll notice that I'm taking it as read that you've got more than a passing interest in the subject and this looks like it was put together before the film version.

Something I think all these philosophers forget when it comes to characters is that to get conflict you have to have contrasting personalities. Alan Moore said at the time of writing the series that having so many super-egos in the same room would make things insufferable and wanted to play that up to the hilt. Just because they have the same crime-fighting goal doesn't mean they all go about it the same way. In many respects, DC's other teambooks forget individual personalities when the characters are bunched together and tend to come from the same hymnbook until change dictates or reduced sales dictates otherwise. Interestingly, after 'Watchmen', the most significant change DC made to the Justice League was to throw a humorous element in rather than to show how dangerous vigilantism, even authorised ones such as the JLA can be.

I doubt if Alan Moore decided on specific personality traits based on philosophical consideration as much as he aimed for more rounded developed personalities coupled with extreme behaviour based on the stereotypical patterns in established super-teams and hiked it up with a heavy dose of fallibility. Hmm..philosophical speak is rubbing off here. I'm on a learning curve.

Moore was obviously interested in how motivated the characters because he flipped alternate issues going into the history or origin of each character that supplied the extra depth and familiarity with them. You might not necessarily like them but you would understand what motivated them. Interestingly, of all of them, it's only the Comedian's background that is fragmented. Considering his own morality, one could well see Edward Blake could easily have turned into a real villain if he'd chosen that direction.

The philosopher examination here, though, is more to do with matching particular character traits. Dr. Manhattan is seen as stoic and the Comedian as an ironist - that's someone who sees everything as ironic - for instance. No doubt some of that might be at play in the original writing but if anything, such traits weren't used in the regular comicbooks which is what made it stand out. The reason for the latter is more to do with sustainability as characters are passed from writer to writer. With 'Watchmen' as a closed reality written by one writer the gloves are off to do whatever he wanted and didn't need to worry as to what would happen in the aftermath. Indeed, Moore's killing of Rorschach especially irritated the DC higher-ups who wanted to do more with him which is rather odd considering that they already owned The Question whom he was based on.

The chapter by Aaron Meskin queries whether graphic novels should be regarded as literature, let alone serious literature. In all genres, there's bound to be a range of talent in skills and storytelling from its various writers. If everyone came out of the same box, there would be no selectivability to match personal taste. When it comes to graphic novels and comicbooks in general the illustrations replace the descriptive narrative and contribute largely to the mood of the scene. Most of this information is actually supplied by the writer to be interpreted by the artist who stages the panels. With 'Watchmen', Alan Moore gave precise instructions as to what he wanted to convey to the point that artist Dave Gibbons commented that he was being given too much information to do his job. Comicbook artists are interpreters of the written word but comicbooks over all are a collaborative effort. The fact that 'Watchmen' is seen as a remarkable piece of literature and won awards for it should speak for itself.

Should I go on? As you can see from just some of my thoughts above this book has made me think a lot about the subject. There's lots more here for you all to digest and discuss. If you're a fan of the 'Watchmen' then I'm sure you'll get something from this book that will make you think. Just don't throw people down lift-shafts.

GF Willmetts

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This book has 12 votes in the sci-fi charts

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