The Sleep of Reason Produces Monsters: Rorschach, Romanticism, and Watchmen (Part II)

whatyousee“When virtue has slept it will arise more vigorous.” – Friedrich W. Nietzsche, Human All Too Human, 83

In the last section of this exploration we began to take a look at Alan Moore’s graphic novel Watchmen as a work of Romantic literature, mainly pertaining to the character of Nite Owl II. As the first exploration came to an end I introduced a concept that I would like to call Romantic Justice, which will become more tangible through this discussion dealing with the character of Rorschach.  Again, it is my ultimate goal to explore each character that Moore developed as an individual piece within a complex work of reaction and Romance, and then to explore the work itself as an entire piece of modern day Romantic literature. In this section we will turn to one of the most complex characters introduced within the novel, the brash, seemingly unfeeling, and troubled Rorschach. I am going to argue that Rorschach not only has the ability to feel (to the point of light empathy at times), but that he is one of the strongest Romantic presences in the novel. Rorschach represents a call for justice and morality of days past (Romantic justice) and is a beacon for national pride, all of these being just a few of the Romantic call backs of the character. But, before we can start discussing the intricacies that Rorschach holds, we must first look into his development and background to give us a grounding within his reality,

 Born to an abusive prostitute as Walter Joseph Kovacs in 1940, Rorschach had a very disjointed and harsh setting in which he developed. The only fragments in which Walter understands his father through are that he is named Charlie and he was a huge supporter of President Truman (something I believe helped develop the ideologies that Rorschach believes his entire life). At the young age of 10, Walter sees what he believes is a man hurting his mother. As he got closer he realizes it is his mother and one of her clients in the middle of quite a graphic session. Upset by the presence of a child, the client throws five dollars at his mother, explaining that is all she is worth, and storms out of the apartment. His mother then slaps Walter, asking if he understands what he has cost her and then bluntly states the fact that he should have been aborted. Walter was also tormented and teased often by his peers, causing him to one day lash out violently and severely injuring another child on the street. This incident lead to Walter being placed into the care of the State and into an alternative school. It is within this school that Walter blossomed, mainly in the fields of literature and theology. We learn about an essay that Walter produced while here that expresses support for Truman (surely a call back to his missing father) and his support of the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Albeit extreme, Walter expresses this support as he rationalizes that while the bombings ending in death, that they in fact saved millions of lives as opposed to the continual loss and strife of a larger war breaking out. This is a key piece of information about the character of Rorschach that I will call upon later in regards to his ultimate demise. At the age of 16, Walter discovers that his mother had been murdered by her pimp to which his only response was “Good.” It is in 1964, at the age of 24 where Walter experiences and event that would ultimately lead him into the realm of masked justice.

As described in the novel by Rorschach, in 1964, a young woman by the name of Kitty Genovese was raped, tortured and brutally murdered outside of her apartment complex while her neighbors watched and did not call the police. It was this incident that made Walter “ashamed for humanity” and want to distance himself from being recognized as a person in the modern era. Taking a scrap of her dress from a seamstress shop that Walter worked at, he created a face that he could “bare to look at in the mirror”, this was the face of Rorschach. In 1965, Rorschach reluctantly teams up with Nite Owl II and a group of masked heroes named the Crimebusters. Rorschach feels that teams of vigilantism are nothing more than a “publicity exercise” and that they are “too big and unwieldy”. There is a constant theme and message that the character of Rorschach puts out and it is that of fighting crime because one is “compelled” to do so, rather than for notoriety or for selfish, narcissistic purposes.  This comes into full fruition when Rorschach goes to speak to Adrian Veidt/Ozymandias about the death of their fellow crime fighter The Comedian. Veidt became a superstar when he revealed his identity as Ozymandias and used his new found fame to start a company that capitalized on his crime fighting persona. When speaking about the Comedian to Veidt, Rorschach states that the Comedian “never set up a company selling posters and diet books and toy soldiers based on himself. Never became a prostitute. ” It is in the nature of Rorschach, a moral absolutist and objectivist, to feel that actions and deed should come from an innate sense of compelling morality as opposed to a vain and capitalistic sense of existence, This truly speaks to the Romantic nature of Rorschach, as it shows that much like the original figures of the Romantic movement he displays an endless yearning for unobtainable goals within his realm of existence. He wants nothing more but the good to shine through in a world full of vanity and immorality, and he does this through any means necessary.

With the passing of the Keene Act in 1977, we saw a split within the faction of masked vigilantes. Some chose public fame, some a private unassuming life, and others decided to contract their services through the government. But not Rorschach. He placed the body of a rapist on the steps of the police station and simply said “NEVER!”. He felt that the world had become too corrupt to rely on the current systems of government, state, and above all human morality. It is through his conservative train of thought we see the truest, most Romantic, act of rebellion in a tumultuous time of politics and society. One could easily argue the the main trait we must focus on with Rorschach is his violent, chaotic, disjointed frame of action, but it is through his eloquent thought (displayed through his journal, we will go more in depth with this in a later section) and contrary nature that we see a call for change and a slim beacon of hope (despite it being heavily muddled down in dread). In chapter five, Fearful Symmetry, we can see Rorschach clearly expressing this “Walked home past trashcans stuffed with rumors of war, weighing factors; bodies; motives… waiting for a flash of enlightenment in all this blood and thunder.” Rorschach ultimately gets caught and placed into the Sing Sing prison. It is in here, and his interactions with the inmates and primarily the psychologist that we learn the inner workings of Rorschach.

Through the vignettes that Rorschach interacts with the doctor he again clearly expresses the need for people to gain notoriety, informing the doctor he is well aware that his intentions are not to make Rorschach better, but to learn about him and gain recognition and publication fame through his work with the masked enigma. Rorschach goes into detail with the doctor about a formative incident involving the kidnap, rape, and murder of a child. Rorschach tracks the perpetrator down, and discovers dogs feeding on the bones of a small child. After punishing the dogs violently, Rorschach enters the home and punishes the man for the atrocious crimes he committed. While Rorschach explains this in greater detail, this is the incident in which he decides to become and remain Rorschach. In a comment to the doctor, he states “this rudderless world is not shaped by vague metaphysical forces. It is not God who kills the children. Not fate that butchers them or destiny that feeds them to the dogs. It’s us. Only us.” (Watchmen, Chapter 6: The Abyss Gazes Also)  It is here that Rorschach cries for a new humanity, one that acts on sensations of morality and goodness. It is here that Rorschach calls for a reforming of society and the world at large, to return to a time when we could have faith in each other and act for ourselves. As mentioned earlier Rorschach keeps a journal in which he eloquently keeps his internal dialogue. This tool not only helps carry the narrative of parts of the novel, but allows us to see the glimmers of disgust, hope, and struggle that Rorschach is experiencing. When he speaks to other characters in the novel, while poignant, he speaks in absolutes and broken sentences, but it is through his art (writing) that the true character of Rorschach is exposed.

Ultimately, Rorschach is broken out of Sing Sing by Nite Owl II and Silk Spectre II a mist anti-hero riots occurring throughout. Collectively they have discovered that all along it has been Adrian Veidt/Ozymandias that has been slowly killing off the masked heroes and planning to send the world to be damned. Aware of what may be to come, Rorschach sends his journal urgently to The New Frontiersman, a conservative news publication that he frequently reads because they remain the only people he can trust. He does this that in hopes they will take his writings and use them to expose Veidt and the inner workings of the world at large. They confront Viedt in his Antarctic hideout (pretty sweet I know, he even has awesome tigers there) and after much discussion Rorschach stands up and informs them that he is going to warn the world and expose the Watchmen for who they are.  In response to this Dr. Manhattan steps forth and informs Rorschach that he cannot allow this, causing Manhattan to annihilate Rorschach in his tracks, stopping him forever. We can compare this ironic imagery to that of Truman sacrificing less life for the possibility of more. When Rorschach defiantly tells Manhattan to do it, he is sacrificing himself for the rest of the vigilantes.

watchmen-rorschach_00357524Through Rorschach we find a character who wants nothing more but for the return of innate good to the world through an unpopular and counter-culture attitude of the time. He cries out the true Romantic spirit of rebellion and nationalistic spirit that the masses attempted during the original Romantic movements of Europe. We find his actions to be revolutionary and reactionary in a trying time of the world, only hoping that people would wake up to see where the changes were needed.  “If someone obstinately and for a long time wants to appear something it is in the end hard for him to be anything else. The profession of almost every man, even that of the artist, begins with hypocrisy, with an imitation from without, with a copying of what is most effective. He who is always wearing the mask of a friendly countenance must finally acquire a power over benevolent moods without which, the impression of friendliness cannot be obtained – and finally these acquire power over him, he is benevolent.” – Friedrich Nietzsche, Human All Too Human, 51 Through his mask, Rorschach became the cry for reaction and change in a world that was beginning to become so consumed in vanity and superficial artifices that it could not see the one thing it needed most, humanity.

In the next section I will discuss the nature of Adrian Veidt/Ozymandias as the polar opposite to that of the character Rorschach. but even through the exploration of the character who I am claiming to be the polar-opposite of the most Romantic character (Rorschach) we will still be able to discover Romantic undertones within his existence and structure within the realm of the Watchmen.

FOR PART 1 OF THIS SERIES, CLICK HERE.

If you liked this article, and would like to hear more thoughts on the subject, we are doing a corresponding podcast for each of the articles in this series. CLICK HERE, or just watch this:

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Love is my mover, source of all I say. I'm simple - let's keep it that way. Listening is my virtue and my vice. I am insatiable, periodically - but a human, always. Spitting out seeds of doubt left and right - but trying not to slip on the shells (constantly and forever)

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One comment on “The Sleep of Reason Produces Monsters: Rorschach, Romanticism, and Watchmen (Part II)
  1. J.Crowe says:

    This is a completely misread analysis of Rorschach.
    Alan Moore, the writer of Watchmen, has stated was supposed to be an analogue of how a single-minded, revenge-driven batman-esq vigilante would be in real life. He’s a sociopath, he’s a murderer, he’s so obsessed with fighting crime that he doesn’t take care of himself. He kills criminals left and right based on his own sense of justice. He’s not the moral center of the story. He’s supposed to be the unlikeable outcast.

    And his death? It was not him “sacrificing himself for the rest of the vigilantes”. Rorschach, the uncompromising randian-hero that he is, wouldn’t do that. Nor was it him still not compromising. It was his way of dying in a heroic way. Moore even said that Rorschach has a “king-sized death wish”, and that he “actively wanted to die but in his own dignified and honorable way, no matter how “twisted” it might have been.” Rorschach had already won, as he had put enough info in the journal that he sent to the news to prove osymandis’ guilt. Rorschach didn’t need to go back, because he had won. No, it was his way of dying. he took off his mask because he was done being Rorschach. It was Walter Kovacks wanting out. Out, through death.

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