Watchmen’s Rorschach – The Antihero’s Antihero

The man in the ink-blot mask, raincoat and tattered hat may look like the most unlikely superhero around, but this grizzled lunatic is one of the comic book industry’s most revered characters. With a fine line in extreme violence and a catalogue of vocal oddities, Rorschach is the hard-as-nails central character in the Watchmen graphic novel and hit feature film adaptation, but with such a battered appearance, murderous personality and unpredictable nature, what is it that makes him to loved by comics and film fans?

It is perhaps Rorschach’s unpredictable nature that is the key to his appeal. Aside from the constantly changing nature of his mask, along with its impossible physical properties, he cuts a strange, thin figure and is a million miles away from the traditional superhero mould. He is so far away from being Superman or Spider-Man that he seems almost believable. Rorschach’s brand of justice is brutal, immediate and swift, also keeping him seem more real. Behind the mask lies a madman, that much is certain, but despite his deranged brutality and the almost callous nature of his work, he is still a hero, bringing justice to an unjust world.

Jackie Earle Hayley plays Rorschach in Zack Snyder’s massively elaborate feature film adaptation of the legendary Watchmen graphic novel, and it is this inspired casting that gave many fans hope that the movie version would do the story and the character justice. He has the perfect build for Rorschach and the perfect mannerisms, as well as a voice that is about as close to many people’s idea of Rorschach as it is possible to get. It is the casting of the Watchmen film that gave the naysayers food for thought, as Zack Snyder had gone for the right people for each character instead of big names that would satisfy studio bosses.

Here is a comic book character who gives a killer the option to saw off his own hand in order to live, after throwing a dog (with it’s head split in half) through a window at the felon. This is a man who breaks bones and intimidates and threatens. A man whose mind is so twisted and scarred that he drives a noted psychiatrist to question himself. He is the ultimate comics antihero.

So with the Watchmen film, a whole new avenue of debate has been opened up for fans- is this the definitive Rorschach? Has Snyder brought us as close a representation of the character as it is possible to get on a cinema screen? While there are inevitably lines and shots that have been omitted from the finished product, it does seem that the Rorschach we see on the big screen is very much the character we have loved for so many years on the printed page. That is no small achievement, but as we all know, the best we would get out of Rorschach himself on the matter would be a brief ‘Hurm’.