One of the most well put together graphic novels ever created is Alan Moore’s Watchmen, which has won him much acclaim, including being one of Time Magazine’s 100 best novels. One of the most interesting characters in Watchmen is the superhero turned vigilante Rorschach. He is so interesting because he personifies the ability to do what he thinks is right, without compromising, even until death, but at the same time, he is breaking countless laws and seemingly being an unnecessarily violent person. So, do we cheer him on because he’s fighting for what’s right, no matter what, or do we wag our fingers at him, shake our heads and condemn him for not following the rules, which presumably are also what is “right.” Rorschach is the type of character that nearly half of the people who know who he is will think he is crazy, and nearly half will think he is more sane than everyone else. He also makes us ask the age-old philosophical question of what is “wrong” and “right” and what is “good” or “bad.”
And it is precisely this line of questioning that makes us interested as humans because we strive to learn what we should do daily to be “good” and “right.” It so important to us that we define these terms that we create religions and contradictorily wage wars to try to find out just who is right, wrong, good, and evil. Some would argue that Rorschach is literally insane and that affects his judgment, so it is our job as the reader to also define “crazy.” Many people might come to the conclusion that anyone in an opposing religion, or opposing army is insane to be doing what they are doing, but these individuals are probably thinking the same thing back, so who is to say that just because someone thinks differently than society, like Rorschach, that he or she is crazy and that their thinking style is necessarily worse?
On the first page of Watchmen, Rorschach writes in his journal, “They could have followed in the footsteps of good men like my father, or President Truman. Decent men, who believed in a day’s work for a day’s pay.” Later, it is revealed that Rorschach has never met his father, so why is it that a man who generally assumes the worse in everyone has given his father, who presumably left him when he was too young to remember, the benefit of the doubt? It is a glimmer of hope in his heart that at least one person in his life has to be decent, since everyone he has actually met is not? Or is he just plain insane, concocting a story in his head that because his mom is miserable to him, she must have drove off his hardworking father? As well, since Rorschach has not show any political inclination, the fact that he thinks President Truman is a decent man as well, stems from the fact that he heard his father liked Truman.
Also around halfway through the book, we learn that Rorschach’s “day job” is carrying around a sign that reads, “The end is nigh.” Obviously, a job that you do not do for money, but for your own beliefs, it is pretty pathetic. Why would Rorschach continue to fight crime if he thought the world was going to end soon? Again, the questions can be asked whether he is just hopeful that the world may really not end so soon after all, or whether he is merely out of his mind and not realizing that he’s living a contradictory life. A third option is that this “job” is just a guise to throw away any suspicion of who he really is, because how could someone with such a pathetic life be such a hard person on the side?
Basically my take on the Rorschach character can take one of three forms: a hopeful superhero who thinks the world might end soon, and most people are bad but that the world could continue moving forward because there are still some good people out there; a crazy vigilante who fights what he thinks is crime for the very tiny chance that the world might not end the next day; or third, a mix of both, a crime-fighting masked avenger who has just enough faith in the crazy things he does to not stop them because it might actually be helping the world become a better place.
An article called “Rorschach Doesn’t Shrug” by Brian Doherty of reason.com directly discusses Rorschach’s philosophical view of the world, which he says is Objectivism. Brian says, “He lives by his objective understanding of right and wrong,” meaning his whole life is devoted to what he does. However, Brian brings up an interesting point; if Rorschach thinks the streets are filled with nothing but evil-doers and slime, then why does he care that Ozymandias is going to blow up half of those streets? It is not because killing is wrong no matter what, because Rorschach himself has killed. I think he merely has faith that a small percentage of those people could be good people, even by his standards.
In Andrew Hawnt’s “Watchmen’s Rorschach – The Antihero’s Antihero” he discusses how Rorschach is an antihero and how he made a prominent psychiatrist question himself, as well made a man chose between sawing off his own hand or burn to death. But does this make Rorschach crazy? Unlike many mainstream superheroes, I believe Rorschach was driven partially insane by all the evil he saw. As he was meant to be a more realistic superhero, (he doesn’t even have any powers) he also was meant to have a more realistic reaction to how a superhero’s life would be.
In conclusion, I think that Rorschach is a combination of good and evil, insane and sane, and hopeful and pessimistic. As one of the most influential comic book characters created, it is important to understand the psychology behind the mask. This will also help comic book fans to understand the lack of psychology behind some superheroes or book, movie, and television show characters. As well, how you analyze a book, comic, or movie means a lot towards what you get out of it, and some books, comics, or movies stay with you for the rest of your life.