It’s not unfair to say that Alan Moore’s superhero epic Watchmen might be the most easily debatable graphic novel of all time. And not just for what happens inside the pages, but the publishing drama outside the pages as well. With the release of HBO’s Watchmen series, which essentially served as a sequel, interest and debate over the story has been renewed. And within this crazy world of superheroes and political upheaval, there’s probably no figure that draws as much controversy as the psychotic vigilante Rorschach.
Okay. Maybe I’m biased a bit as Rorschach was my favorite character in the story. So much so that his arc was inspiration for a recent novel of mine. In Watchmen, Rorschach is really Walter Kovacs, a socially repressed man who decides to become a costumed crime fighter. He gets his name from the amorphous blob on his mask that continually changes shape…like a Rorschach test.
At first Rorschach is an idealistic hero, but Walter slowly becomes so tormented by the apathetic dredge of society that he turns into a brutal murderer that dishes out justice anyway he sees fit. His mind is warped to see depravity on every street corner. He’s a moral absolutist. To Rorschach the world is simple. There’s right and wrong. Black and white. And no compromise in the middle.
Rorschach’s controversy grew when in the HBO series his identity had been taken up by a group of white supremacists hell bent on triggering a race war in Oklahoma. People started asking the question…was Rorschach a white supremacist? To some the answer was undoubtedly yes. There are entries of Rorschach’s journal littered throughout Watchmen, many of which show a clearly racist train of thought. But I would tread lightly when labeling Rorschach anything. Although he views the world as amazingly simple, Rorschach himself is a complex character.
Yes. He might find minorities appalling. But he finds everyone appalling. Rorschach has trained himself to see injustice and corruption everywhere. It’s how he survives. Yet he’s also driven by the strictest moral code to defend innocence to the ends of the Earth (literally). If Rorschach saw white supremacists attacking a person of color I don’t doubt for a second that he would intervene. Mainly because he views racism just as poorly as he views race mixing. That’s just how messed up he is. I’m sure many would disagree with me, but that’s the beauty of Rorschach as a character. Just like his name implies, everyone sees something different when they look at him.