Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Noah Berlatsky on why, in spite of Alan Moore's intentions, Rorshach's the actual hero in Watchmen and why the superhero is the supervillain

Rorschach is the character who seeks out the truth, opposes the supervillain Ozymandias, and dies because he is horrified by the deaths of ordinary New Yorkers. "…despite Moore's intent, Rorschach becomes not figure of satire but moral center of book. And ironically reaffirms ideal of superhero," Heer insists.
Rorschach is one of my favorite superheroes in comics. I don't know why Cruz likes him, but I think Polo is wrong in seeing the character as unsympathetic, and Heer is wrong in seeing him as affirming superheroism. Instead, I think Alan Moore and David Gibbons set up Rorschach so that he’s sympathetic because he fails to embody the vigilante archetype that comic book readers, and Rorschach himself, set up as an ideal.

Rorschach sees himself as brutal and without emotion; he wants to be brutal and without emotion. But there are hints throughout the comics that he's not nearly as hard-hearted as he appears. In fact, his entire super-hero career is built on empathy. He decides to become a costumed vigilante after hearing about the Kitty Genovese murder, in which (at least legendarily) a woman was raped and murdered in Queens while apathetic neighbors looked on. He becomes, psychologically, Rorschach, discarding his Kovacs self, after investigating the disappearance of a young girl and finding that she was murdered.
Rorschach wants to be hard; he wants to be unmoved by pain; he wants to be the avenging angel. But he's a softy. And ultimately, when he's faced with the apocalypse for which he prayed at the beginning of the book, he quails. Ozymandias, the liberal one-worlder, is the guy who can look down and whisper "no." Rorschach is horrified at mass murder. He's not the judging uber-father: he's just Kovacs, the kid, who is motivated by empathy for others' pain. And so he takes off his mask and dies, not as Rorschach the superhero, but as ordinary Walter Kovacs.  Contra Heer, Rorschach doesn't validate the awesomeness of superheroes. Instead, he shows that the real superhero (Ozymandias) would be a supervillain, and that empathy, and decency, are only possible when you stop trying to be some sort of psychotic avenger, and take off the mask.

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