Hank McCoy (Before the Fur)

Of course, Rorschach is the most recognizable figure in Watchmen. Debatably the most memorable. So why do you think that is? Why do so many people walk away with Rorschach on their mind, feel like he’s the character that’s their favorite?

Sure, he seems like he’s a clinically detached badass who could drop you like a bad habit without batting an eye. But it’s what he has to say about what exactly is going on in Watchmen--what makes people tick--that I think we end up loving about him. It’s no surprise that his superhero name is Rorschach, because when his own state-mandated therapist finally gets a glimpse of what Rorschach really believes about people, it becomes clear that Rorschach’s conceptualization of the world and what motivates people is as stark as it is sophisticated.

To some extent, Rorschach understands that--to quote Neil Gaiman--people "do what they do because they are who they are." To some extent, Rorschach doesn’t seem like he believes in free will. He seems to recognize that the things that shape our lives, the experiences that we have as children, set us on a trajectory that is somewhat inescapable. Rorschach is perceptive. He seems to see into what motivates other people, what drives them. Maybe some of the other heroes in the world think they’re enacting justice. Maybe others just call it that and really just like being violent to some extent.

But Rorschach doesn’t seem like he lies to himself about what he’s doing and why he’s doing it. He knows that to some extent, he’s reacting to the trauma of his past. But at the very least, this insight seems to give him the leeway to try to harness his reaction to trauma to some good end. He knows that the world is not a clean, safe place, but at the very least he can try to fight fire with fire and hope that might contain some of what’s nasty in the world.

You could make an argument that Rorschach’s sympathetic view of human nature--that our choices are made for us more than we make them--might be one of the most prevalent underlying themes in Watchmen. There’s lot of different ways to view morality, but what happens to you, growing up, is more likely to determine which of these ways you adhere to than you yourself are likely to actively decide for yourself which one you believe in. He speaks to you--the reader--when he espouses this stuff.

Even his death scene seems loaded. He comments that he knows the inevitable outcome that’s on the horizon, but also knows that he can’t do anything to stop it because of who he is. He doesn’t fight who he is. He embraces it. And maybe that’s the most heroic thing there is to do in the Watchmen universe…