Rorschach is, without a doubt, one of the most twisted antiheroes. He is violent, filled with rage, and at least somewhat unhinged. And yet, whether or not it was author Alan Moore’s intent, we sympathize with him. Even more, we root for him.
Despite how dark and psychologically disturbed he is, Rorschach remains one of Watchmen’s protagonists, if not a fan favorite. But one must question why. For all intents and purposes, Rorschach’s origin story is more suitable for a villain than a hero. His mother was a prostitute, as well as abusive. Rorschach, or Walter Kovacs, fluctuated between shyness and bouts of violence. As an adult, he is psychopathic. He loathes the majority of humanity, even though he has sworn to protect them. So why do readers still like Rorschach, and are upset when he dies?
The answer is simple: Rorschach is the embodiment of a superhero pushed to their limit, and we’re not used to seeing such a thing, at least not in someone we’re meant to empathize with. When we see Batman unwilling or unable to kill the Joker after he mercilessly beat Jason Todd to death, we’re angry. We may aspire to be like Batman, who has the utmost self-control. But if you put Rorschach in the same situation, the Joker would not live to see the inside of Arkham Asylum. We understand Rorschach because he reacts the way we imagine we might react in such intense situations. When we hear about the rape and murder of a child, instinctively we want revenge on the person who would do such a thing. But Rorschach does more than want revenge. He actively seeks it out, and then executes what he believes to be justice.
Rorschach, like Batman, has a code. It is not the same code, as Batman does his best not to kill, and Rorschach has no problem killing the vile people who surround him. That is not to say that Rorschach does not have a code. He does, but it is one he’s crafted throughout his life.
Rorschach clearly values the lives of children, which is shown when he reacts strongly to the butchering of a little girl in Chapter VI. Later, when facing his landlady and her children, we see a brief moment of vulnerability from Rorschach. Rorschach sees children as innocent victims in an evil world. He may even see himself in them, especially in his landlady’s son. These brief moments of humanity are what keep Rorschach from being absolutely deplorable. However, one can read deeper into his compassion towards children. Rorschach may recognize that children are the only hope for mankind. Everywhere he looks, he sees depravity.
This may also be why he reacts so violently to the gruesome murder of Blair Roche. Prior to her death, Rorschach himself says that he was still just Walter Kovacs. It takes him seeing the brutality and epitome of human ugliness for him to fully transition into Rorschach.
Unlike the other characters in the novel, Rorschach is the only main character who chooses death. Rather than accept what Ozymandias does and keep his head low in order to remain alive, despite every awful thing that he has seen people do, Rorschach still wants what he believes is best for mankind. And if that cannot be achieved, he would rather die. This is why Rorschach is such a memorable character. He never wavers.
In researching for this blog article, I came across an interesting discussion about who would win in a fight; Rorschach or Batman. While it is by no means a professional article, it is fun to see fans discuss who is superior, and it really does break down what each of these “heroes” has going for them. And what makes them simultaneously so similar and different is their moral code.