Rorschach (born Walter Joseph Kovacs) is a fictional comic book character and an antihero of the acclaimed 1986 DC Comics miniseries Watchmen. Rorschach was created by writer Alan Moore with artist Dave Gibbons, but as with most of the central characters in the series, he was an analogue for a Charlton Comics character, in this case Steve Ditko's The Question, and Ditko's small press character Mr. A.
His mask displays a constantly morphing inkblot that is based on the ambiguous designs used in Rorschach inkblot tests. Rorschach was named the 16th Greatest Comic Book Character by Empire magazine, 6th Greatest Comic Book Character of All Time by Wizard magazine, and 16th on Top 100 Comic Book Heroes by IGN.
Fictional character biography
Rorschach (born Walter Joseph Kovacs) is the son of Sylvia Kovacs, a prostitute, and "Charlie" (surname unknown). His mother was frequently abusive and condescending toward her son. In July 1951, at the age of 10, Kovacs became involved in a violent fight with two older bullies, in which he partly blinded one with a cigarette and took a large bite out of the other's cheek in a blind rage. Once his living conditions were finally looked into he was removed from his mother's care and put in "The Lillian Charlton Home for Problem Children" in New Jersey until 1956, where he rapidly seemed to improve, excelling at scholastics as well as gymnastics and amateur boxing.
After leaving the Home for Problem Children when he was 16, Kovacs took a job as a garment worker in a dress shop, which he found "bearable but unpleasant" partly because he had to handle women's clothing; it was here that he acquired the fabric that he would later fashion into the mask he wears as Rorschach. The fabric, inspired by Dr. Manhattan, contained two heat and pressure-sensitive viscous fluids between layers of latex, creating a shifting black-on-white color effect without mixing to form gray. Kovacs scavenged the material from a rejected dress that had been special-ordered by a young woman with an Italian name. Though Kovacs learned how to cut and fashion the material successfully with heated implements, he soon grew bored with it, as it served him no real purpose at the time.
Two years later when buying a newspaper on his way to work in March 1964, Walter read about the rape and murder of Kitty Genovese (he later told his prison psychologist "[The] woman who ordered dress. Kitty Genovese. I'm sure that was the woman's name."). Ashamed by what he read about the unresponsiveness of her neighbors, Kovacs became disillusioned with the underlying apathy that he saw as inherent in most people. Inspired by Genovese's fate, Kovacs returned home, made "a face [he] could bear to look at in the mirror" from the dress's fabric, and began fighting crime as the vigilante Rorschach. Initially, Kovacs left criminals alive, but bloodied, for the police to arrest. In the mid 1960s, he teamed up with the second Nite Owl, a partnership which proved highly successful at battling organized crime.
In 1975, he investigated the kidnapping of a young girl named Blair Roche after promising her parents that he would return her alive and well. He was given the name of an abandoned dressmaker shop, where he found a little girl's underwear in the stove and two dogs gnawing on a human bone. Convinced that its occupant, a man named Gerald Grice, had killed Roche and fed her remains to his dogs as scraps, Kovacs killed the dogs with Grice's meat cleaver and waited for his arrival. When Grice returned, Kovacs surprised Grice by throwing his dead dog's bodies at him and handcuffed him to a stove. As Grice insisted he had not been involved in the kidnapping, Rorschach poured kerosene around him and gave him a hacksaw, hinting that Grice would have to cut off his own hand in order to escape. Rorschach then set the building on fire and left, noting afterward that no one emerged.
When the Keene Act was passed in 1977 to outlaw vigilantes, Kovacs responded by killing a wanted multiple rapist and leaving his body outside a police station with a note bearing one word: "neveR!"
By 1985 and the events of Watchmen, Kovacs is the last active non-government sanctioned vigilante. The first character to appear in the series is a red-haired man carrying a sign reading "THE END IS NIGH." A police report describes him as a "prophet-of-doom sandwich-board man seen locally over the last several years." This character appears several times through the early chapters, although it is not until Rorschach's arrest and unmasking that he is revealed as Kovacs.
Events of Watchmen
Rorschach is the only vigilante who remains active after the passage of the Keene Act outlaws masked vigilantes (aside from the Comedian and Dr. Manhattan, who both serve in the employ of the US government). Rorschach investigates the murder of a man named Edward Blake, discovering that he is the Comedian, one of only two government-sponsored heroes. He believes that someone is picking off costumed superheroes, a view that strengthens when Doctor Manhattan is forced into exile and when Adrian Veidt, the former vigilante Ozymandias, is targeted with an assassination attempt.
Rorschach questions Moloch, a former supervillain who unexpectedly attends Blake's funeral, who tells him what little he knows. Later, after reading a note written by Moloch telling him to come over for more information, Rorschach visits him again, only to find him dead, shot through the head. The police, tipped off anonymously over the phone, surround the house and arrest Rorschach after a fight, in which Rorschach tries to escape by jumping through a window, but is unmasked.
Rorschach is sent to a prison, where many of its inmates are criminals he put away, including the Big Figure, a dwarf crime boss who is hungry for Rorschach's blood. During his incarceration, he is interviewed by the prison psychologist Dr. Malcolm Long, who believes he can help "rehabilitate" him; instead, Rorschach's explanation of his life and his justifications for his uncompromising worldview lead Long to question his own views and wreaks havoc with his personal life. One day during lunch, one of the inmates attempts to attack Rorschach with a screwdriver, whereupon Rorschach throws the boiling contents of a deep-fryer into his face in self-defense. After the inmate dies, the prison breaks out in a riot. The Big Figure and two of his associates try to kill Rorschach, but he outwits and ultimately kills them all in rapid succession. Nite Owl and Silk Spectre II, two other vigilantes, begin to take his "mask killer" theory seriously and break him out of jail to follow up on it.
Doctor Manhattan comes back from his self-exile to transport Silk Spectre II to Mars. Rorschach and Nite Owl enter underworld bars to find out who ordered the assassination attempt on Veidt. They obtain a name, a company called Pyramid Deliveries, and then break into Veidt's office. Nite Owl correctly deduces Veidt's password and finds that he runs Pyramid Deliveries. Rorschach, who has been keeping a journal throughout the duration of the novel, realises that they may be no match for Veidt. He makes one last entry in his journal, stating his certainty that Veidt is responsible for whatever might happen next, and drops it into a mailbox.
Nite Owl and Rorschach fly out to Antarctica. There they learn the true nature of the conspiracy and Veidt's motivations—to unite the world against a perceived alien threat and stop the possibility of a nuclear holocaust. Veidt then reveals that he set his plan into motion well before they arrived. Doctor Manhattan and Silk Spectre II arrive at the base after viewing the carnage Veidt's false alien has wrought on New York City. Despite their mutual horror, Nite Owl, Silk Spectre II and Doctor Manhattan all agree to keep quiet about the true nature of the events when the United States surprisingly does enter into a peace accord with the Soviet Union. Rorschach refuses to cooperate and sets out to return to America and expose the truth; Doctor Manhattan confronts him outside, and is forced to kill Rorschach to prevent him from doing so.
In the final scenes of the comic, Rorschach's journal has made it to the offices of the New Frontiersman, a right-wing newspaper. Outraged by the new accord between the Soviet Union and the United States, the editor pulls a planned two-page story. He leaves it to his assistant Seymour to decide how to fill that space, and Seymour begins to reach for the paper's "Crank File," which contains the journal. The outcome is left to the reader's imagination.
Powers and abilities
Like most characters in Watchmen, Rorschach has no obvious "super powers". He merely has his will, physical strength, and skills. Rorschach is extremely resourceful, adapting ordinary household objects into tools or weapons, such as pepper to blind a police officer and the use of hairspray in combination with a match to set fire to another police officer, during a confrontation at Moloch's house. During the series he is shown to use cooking fat, a toilet bowl, a cigarette, a fork and his jacket all as weapons; he is also shown using a coat hanger as a makeshift measuring device. He owns a gas-powered grappling gun, which he uses to climb buildings (and once as a makeshift harpoon gun against a police officer), as seen in Chapter 1, which was designed and built by Nite Owl II.
Rorschach is well versed in street combat, gymnastics, and boxing.
Despite his mental instability, Rorschach was described as "tactically brilliant, and unpredictable" by Nite Owl, and possesses surprisingly good detective skills, as displayed when he is able to locate the Comedian's costume in his apartment when the police could not.
He is also skilled at lock picking; a running gag throughout the series has him breaking into Nite Owl's home to talk to him.
During his childhood he was described as bright, and excelled in literature, mathematics, and religious education. Rorschach considers his mask his true "face" and his unmasked persona to be his "disguise". He continues his one-man battle against crime long after superheroes have become both detested and illegal. Moore depicted Rorschach as being extremely right-wing, and morally uncompromising, a viewpoint that has alienated him from the rest of society, even among other superheroes. He is often described as being mentally ill by other characters in the comic.
He has taken on the persona of Rorschach in every part of his life and hates being referred to by his birth name. Rorschach has deep levels of hatred for immoral behavior and is openly derogative of any other vigilante who does not share his unwavering views, deriding them as "Soft". His views on right and wrong are starkly black and white with no room for compromise or exception. However, his misogyny and his respect for the Comedian is such that he waved off the Comedian's attempted rape of the first Silk Spectre as a "moral lapse." Paradoxically, the crimes that most affected him spiritually were against women: the murders of Kitty Genovese and Blair Roche.
Moore has said that the character's real name, Walter Kovacs, was inspired by Ditko's tendency to give his characters names beginning with the letter K. In an interview for the BBC's Comics Britannia, Moore stated that Rorschach was created as a way of exploring what an archetypical Batman-type character—a driven, vengeance-fueled vigilante—would be like in the real world. He concluded that the short answer was "a nutcase."
A four part series on Rorschach is due to be released in the summer of 2012, written by Brian Azzarello and with art by Lee Bermejo. This is part of a planned 35-issue Before Watchmen series.
References in other comics
The Question, on whom Rorschach was partly based, actually read a copy of the Watchmen trade paperback in Question #17 (1988). Question is briefly inspired by the comic and the character of Rorschach, leading him to take a more physically aggressive style of crime fighting. At the end of the issue, having been overpowered in hand-to-hand combat by a pair of villains, he is asked if he has any final words, and Question remarks "Rorschach sucks."
In issue #2 of the 1996 DC Comics miniseries Kingdom Come by Alex Ross and Mark Waid, Rorschach appears as a background character breaking Brother Power's fingers. He is also seen standing between the Question and Obsidian, during a scene in which Superman visits a metahuman bar.
In Astonishing X-Men vol. 3 #6, Rorschach makes another cameo appearance in one of the riot scenes, running across the panel.
Rorschach was featured in promo artwork by Art Adams for the Countdown to Final Crisis: Arena mini-series, where he is being beaten by Batman from Frank Miller's The Dark Knight Returns. However, DC opted to omit Rorschach and the "Dark Knight Returns" Batman from the actual Countdown to the Final Crisis: Arena miniseries.
In the four-part "Deadpool" miniseries written by Mark Waid in 1994, Deadpool's mask is removed, at which point the character parrots Rorschach by saying, "My face! Give me back my face!"
Steve Ditko described the character of Rorschach as Mr. A, only insane.
During "Second Coming"- X-Men crossover Fantomex, while fighting a group of Nimrod robots from the future, quotes Rorschach line from when he was in prison : "None of you understand. I'm not locked up in here with you. You're locked up in here with me" and then adds "stupid movie."
In Other Media
Jackie Earle Haley portrays the character in the 2009 film adaptation, with Eli Snyder, the son of director Zack Snyder, playing the young Rorschach in a flashback. The film differs slightly from the graphic novel, mainly in that Rorschach uses the meat cleaver that killed Blair Roche to kill Grice.
Rorschach is also shown to openly disapprove of Dan and Laurie's relationship, mockingly stating "Should have known all it would have taken you to come back was nice pair of legs" and being condescending toward Laurie for "being unfaithful to Jon", asking if she "just got tired of being patriotic or did somebody put you up to it?" Unlike in the book, Dan is present for Rorschach's death (whereas in the book, Rorschach dies without anyone save for Dr. Manhattan watching). Another difference from the book is Rorschach's age, being 45 in the graphic novel, and being age 35 in the film.
The 2009 video game Watchmen: The End is Nigh and Watchmen: The End Is Nigh Part 2 features Rorschach and Nite Owl as partners. The game follows the two during their vigilante acts prior to the Watchmen movie.
Part 2 of the game ends with the reason for the end of Nite Owl's and Rorschach's partnership. Jackie Earle Haley provides the voice of his character from the movie.
A Rorschach costume is available as downloadable content for the PS3 video game LittleBigPlanet and LittleBigPlanet 2.
The second Nite Owl is Daniel Dreiberg, a retired, out-of-shape superhero who uses owl-themed gadgets, in a manner which led Dave Gibbons to consider him "an obsessive hobbyist... a comics fan, a fanboy." Nite Owl was based on the Ted Kord version of the Charlton superhero Blue Beetle. Just as Ted Kord had a predecessor, Moore also incorporated an earlier adventurer who used the name "Nite Owl", the retired crime fighter Hollis Mason, into Watchmen. While Moore devised character notes for Gibbons to work from, the artist provided a name and a costume design for Hollis Mason he had created when he was twelve. Richard Reynolds noted in Super Heroes: A Modern Mythology that despite the character's Charlton roots, Nite Owl's modus operandi has more in common with the DC Comics character Batman. According to Geoff Klock, his civilian form "visually suggests an impotent, middle-aged Clark Kent." The second Nite Owl is another Crimebusters vigilante who has not revealed his identity in the post-Keene Act era throughout the novel.
In the 2009 Watchmen film he is played by Patrick Wilson, who put on 25 pounds in between the filming of his flashback scenes and the 1985 scenes, showing the physical decline of his character.