"I took the remains of her unwanted dress
and made a face I could bear to look at in the mirror."
The midpoint of the Watchmen saga is probably the darkest issue of the series. (And considering some of the things we've seen... yikes.) How could it not be, being Rorschach's origin story? As was the case with Doctor Manhattan in issue #4 or Ozymandias in issue #11, the whole story flips between Rorschach in the present -
and the experiences in his past that brought him to this point.
It's difficult to gauge how influential this issue truly was. The idea of a serial killer/ vigilante having sexual hang-ups sublimated into reactionary violence was not startlingly original in 1986, though not nearly as ubiquitous as it would become by the 90s, nor the idea of a doctor's world slowly coming apart the more he peers into his patient's diseased mind. Both were new as-applied-to-comics, of course. Suffice it to say, no (or very very few) heroes or villains (or doctors examining them) ever got the working over Moore and the gang give Rorschach in Watchmen #6.
It's told from the viewpoint of Dr. Malcolm Long, the prison psychologist who sees Rorschach as his ticket to criminal psychology fame. But as the title warns, peeling away the layers of a mind like Rorschach's comes at a terrible price.
The story begins with Dr. Long showing Rorschach - now just "Walter Kovacs" - a series of ink-blots and asking him what he sees in them. Rorschach is less than forthcoming.
When the taunts of his fellow prisoners overwhelm Rorschach as he's led back to his cell, they change into the taunts of children who bullied him as a boy.
Dr. Long fleshes out the subsequent events of Rorschach's life: after blinding one of the bullies and putting the other one in the hospital, the subsequent home investigation results in his becoming a ward of the state. (The name of his boarding school? "The Charlton House." Wink wink, nudge nudge.)
|Relics of his time in juvy comprise the back-pages material of this issue.|
But it isn't until Rorschach begins telling him what he really sees in the ink blots that the doctor - and we-the-reader - get a true idea of what made Rorschach into the vengeance-meting sociopath he is.
|Years ago (we're told) there was a kidnap case...|
When he discovers a tattered pair of undies in the furnace and evidence of a body being butchered, he puts together the sickening truth...
|- and lays in wait for the butcher to return home. (Fantastic colors, Mr. Higgins)|
After handcuffing him to the furnace, Rorschach spills kerosene everywhere -
and hangs around outside for an hour to watch it burn. ("No one got out.")
This was changed in the movie to Rorschach murdering him with a meat cleaver. ("Men get arrested; dogs get put down.") It's still an intense scene, but the sequence of events and how it changes him in the comic is much better. This is, as the character says, the moment when Walter Kovacs closed his eyes, and Rorschach opened them.
Overall, I'm net-positive about the film and the changes it made. Most of them worked, I felt. The film wasn't perfect, and I know some folks absolutely loathed it. Not me, though. And as far as adaptations that honor - and grok - the source material, you have to tip your cap to Zack Snyder and the gang.
Rorschach's lapse into murderous vengeance has at least one comic book precedent: Michael Fleischer's and Jim Aparo's Wrath of the Spectre. That was seen as a real aberration when it appeared, though as with most things shocking-for-its-era, it's probably a little quaint now.
Besides learning what makes Rorschach so much fun at parties, the story documents Dr. Long's discovery that he can't just close the file on Rorschach when he leaves the office. He becomes increasingly estranged from his wife in an unconscious imitation of Rorschach's withdrawal from all women and rejection of sex, as symbolized by the butterfly-blot that is the story's main motif -
|as well as the Hiroshima lovers that he keeps seeing.|
And even though the entire issue is basically one long "Hangin' with Mr. Rorschach," nevertheless, let's end by showcasing some of our disturbing friend's more meme-worthy moments:
Rorschach sounds a little like Cohle from True Detective Season 1, doesn't he? I wouldn't be surprised if he - or Thomas Ligotti, whose work is typically cited as the TD character's inspiration - are big Watchmen fans.
Until next time!