As Bob Dylan would say. “The times, they are a changin’…” and in the Watchmen, the times do change drastically. This 1986 comic series created by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons allowed readers to plunge into the psyches of different characters that, in their own version of the 80s, were considered the superheroes of their own time. The series itself critiqued as well as satirized the entire idea of superheroes in general while simultaneously taking place during the Cold War. Fear of nuclear armageddon was inevitable at the time and to the readers, two characters in particular were considered the moral compasses and the most beloved throughout the majority of the series despite their unconventional tactics and use of violence or personalities and beliefs of what justice and society is according to them; The Comedian (AKA Edward Blake) and Rorschach (AKA Walter Kovacs). They have important differences and commonalities such as their use of violence, different moral beliefs and opinions on what justice is explaining why they are even remotely beloved by readers.
Watchmen does not shy away from scenes of violence and it is considered by many to be a form of aggression. Some consider it to be the result of many situations involving socio-political issues around the world and more domestic tensions in the personal lives of individuals . What is depicted in Watchmen is not gratuitous but it is graphic. However, the characters themselves both do not seem to be bothered with their own acts of violence. For example, in Vietnam, Blake smiles while burning victims with a flamethrower, as if he enjoys violence (4. 19. 5-6). He enjoys telling jokes or saying sarcastic comments, though very macabre, during very depressing times or during horrible actions being done. For instance, when the Comedian tries to rape Silk Spectre (AKA Sally Jupiter), he is caught by Hooded Justice and is then beaten to a pulp (2.6-7). During that fight, he jokingly states that punching him in the face is what turns on Hooded Justice, implying that he is most probably gay (2.7.3-6). There was no reason as to why he attempted to rape Jupiter nor is there any reason that incited Blake to use violence. If one excludes the time that he spent in Vietnam, one may deduce that the Comedian never truly went on missions for motives other than his own. but it only emphasizes what Dr. Manhattan (AKA Dr. Jon Osterman) has stated, that “he suits the climate here (Vietnam): the madness, the pointless butchery…”. One can assume that the Comedian does not have a true motive for the use of violence. That personal trait alone can be considered controversial due to the fact that, throughout the stories introduced by comic publishers in previous years, the characters who were deemed superheroes always had a motive when it came to using violence. For Rorschach’s case, he stays emotionless throughout the series and is not affected physiologically by the use of violence. Granted, he is masked and his facial expressions are absent when using more aggressive tactics but he knows that through using them, he will get what he needs. For example, in the first chapter, Rorschach decides to question people in a bar while simultaneously breaking a man’s fingers in front of all the customers. His mask is worn during that time therefore we do not get a true look at his facial expressions. Furthermore, during his questioning, the speech bubbles stay the same and there is no differentiation in the font size, suggesting that his emotions do not fluctuate throughout his investigation. If we exclude their tremendous physical strength, one can understand that both these men do not have what is considered superpowers or god-like abilities. The violence used is to be considered by the reader completely inhuman as both Blake and Kovacs do not have any emotional turmoils when acting violently.
One must also consider both characters’ belief systems as an aspect of what distinguishes them and makes them so beloved. Throughout the series, Rorschach has always gone through with whatever he had the drive to do. For example, when hunting down the murderer of the little girl, he completes his investigation no matter the cost. He also shows no visible emotional change when in jail, insinuating that he has no reason or plans to change who he his, what he does, or what he believes. Rorschach displays a very neutral face without showing any emotion, therefore hiding what he may think or feel. He understands that people are afraid of him and consider him a psychopath or mentally ill, partially due to a troubled past and the fact that he was left unwanted by his mother, stating that she should have aborted him (6.4.7). Another reason one must consider that may have caused many to consider him a psychopath is his encounter with Gerard Grice, where he burns him after discovering that he killed Blaire Roche (6.18.1)- (6.25.1-8). Rorschach states that it was he who opened Kovacs’ eyes (6.21.7). One can deduce that this meant that Rorschach now has taken control over Kovacs and that Kovacs is not of use. In other words, emotions and humanity have been replaced with coldness and numbness which gives Rorschach an advantage when it comes to solving cases. He is no longer emotionally involved in anything or feels any emotions, hence why he meets with Dr. Malcolm Long for consultations. However, due to the knowledge of the people’s perception of him, he uses that perception to his advantage, instilling fear upon those who are considered his enemies. This is vividly depicted by simply putting on the changing mask. The mask itself is faceless therefore having one question who could even be wearing it. He believes that his mask is also his true face ( 5.28.7). One can say that his alter ego is Walter Kovacs and that his true self is Rorschach, despite what is legally official. Furthermore, his sense of justice is drastically different than what his counterparts believe to be right. He believes that one “ must never compromise, not even in the face of Armageddon”. This notion of never compromising to keep peace is a distinct belief Rorschach holds dear. He tells Dr. Manhattan that “Evil must be punished.” and
“People must be told” (12.28.5). By stating this, one can say that Rorschach holds no place for even the faintest of lies to keep peace. It may also mean that his belief system must be the one people should follow. To “never compromise” is to never give in to what even the masses believe. Through this notion of being an anti-populist or even having a controversial opinion on how justice must be practiced is what makes Rorschach so distinguishable as a character. In the final pages of the series, the masked heroes all come together, except for Rorschach, deciding what is best for keeping the peace by not admitting to what Ozymandias (AKA Adrian Veidt) has done. To never compromise is a trait that was quite rare in the comics of the past. For instance, Golden-Age heroes would always seek peace but in no way does that mean seeking truth. Rorschach. In the case of Edward Blake, it is no secret that he believes that everything is a joke (2.22.1). As Rorschach confirms, “Blake understood. Treated it like a joke. He saw the cracks in society […] He saw the true face of the twentieth century and chose to become a reflection, a parody of it.” (2. 27. 1-2). One can say that “It” is referring to society, and how individuals live in the twentieth century and the irony around it all. This can be due to the fact that Blake has never had a true moral compass and showcases what humanity is like if conformity or so-called sanity was never part of society’s collective unconscious. For instance, the sexual assault of Sally can be once again an example of how Blake showcases the animalistic representation of humanity. Furthermore, the idea that Kovacs states in his journal; “Some animal urge to fight and struggle. […] We do what we do.” (2.26.5) only emphasizes the importance of Blake’s trait that is the one of sheer chaos. Though there is no true depiction of any political motives or beliefs coming from Blake, one can assume he may be chaotic neutral. He is an individualist and does what he deems to be worth doing to him and exclusively him. By being the one who jokes, he may be free from society’s shackles of conformity. One can assume this by looking at how he acts throughout the series and when reading up on his backstory. For instance, he criticizes the Crime Busters for being too politically involved, as if their involvement in catching criminals will never change anything. “ See you in the funny papers” ( 2. 11. 5), the final line said by Blake during the meeting of the Crime Busters may be hinting that in the end, none of their work matters to anyone and will change very little. Though it is not clearly stated, Blake believes everyone is guilty of their own ways. No matter what. In other words, The Comedian believes that humanity as a whole should be considered the epitome of natural selection. “It doesn’t require genius to see that America has problems that need tackling…” as stated by Ozymandias on the tenth page of the second chapter, to which Blake responds with “An’ it takes a moron to think they’re small enough for clowns like you to handle.” (2. 10. 7) which only emphasizes the idea that The Crime Busters is, to him, a complete joke. It is no secret that Blake does not believe in the establishment and understands that there is a lot of irony in what the said establishment is trying to do. For that reason however, he, like Rorschach does not compromise. Throughout the series he has the exact same beliefs. He does not change and one can say that he doesn’t want to change. “Once you realize what a joke everything is, being the Comedian is the only thing that makes sense.” he says to Osterman
(2.13.3), insinuating that once again nothing will ever matter and it is better to mock it all.
However, once he does discover the plans made by Adrian Veidt, he breaks into Moloch’s apartment, crying and ranting about how the life he was leading. This is where we see the Comedian break character. The show he has put on ends and we see a more emotional side. Interestingly, he is also one of the characters to not confront Adrian even after he discovers his plans. One can assume that in the end he also compromises and therefore does give in, destroying the notion of standing by his beliefs, no matter the cost. Furthermore, readers may be able to distinguish the contrast between the Comedian and Rorschach; one character never compromises, no matter what the cost and the other will compromise in order to stay safe, for his own sake. A comedian may mock the world, but if there is no world to mock, then what is the point of being one in the first place
In conclusion, both Rorschach and The Comedian are considered fan-favourites due to the fact that they have very distinct traits separating them from the other masked heroes in the series.. They do not conform to what a superhero archetype should be and therefore giving one a different approach to how one reads or views comics as a literary genre. Their use of violent tactics to showcase not only at times their belief system but to acquire information as well as their views of society and the justice system can truly make one yearn for a different viewpoint. During a time when trust in the governments was scarce, one can assume that these complex and vital characters that most likely share the opinion of the masses at the time, allowed people to not necessarily associate one’s self with these characters but to in fact dive into the psyches of such distinguishable characters and to have a more metaphorical understanding of how justice and the different faces of society as well as it’s irony go hand in hand.
Moore, Alan (writer), Watchmen, Gibbons, Dave (illustrator), New York: DC Comics, 2012 (Print)
- For Text references
Gibbons, Dave (illustrator), Watchmen, Moore, Alan (writer), New York: DC Comics, 2012 (Print)
- For Image references