Rorschach’s Fate Was Sealed in the Watchmen Comics. But His Image Lingers in the New HBO Series.

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Fans of the original comics were surprised to see Rorschach’s iconic ink blot mask appear in the early trailers for HBO’s upcoming Watchmen series. That’s because, in the climactic ending of the original comics, Rorschach is vaporized into oblivion. Yet, the psychotic vigilante’s likeness appears on the faces of a group of white supremacists in Damon Lindelof’s continuation of the series, which picks up 30 years after the original comics end.

Here’s what you need to remember about Rorschach from the original comics, and what role he plays in the new HBO series.

Who was Rorschach in the original comics?

Well, love him or hate him, Rorschach was the main protagonist of the original comics. When all other masked vigilantes have gone into hiding, been killed, or retired, Rorschach is still active, relentlessly fighting crime. But he’s not exactly a hero—he’s a far right fascist who believes he’s the judge, the jury and the executioner. He’s briefly detained and imprisoned during the comics and revealed to be a deeply disturbed man named Walter Kovacs, who was abused as a child and took to vigilantism with a skewed sense of justice.

What happened to Rorschach at the end of the comics?

The short version is that he’s vaporized by Doctor Manhattan, but it’s a little bit more complicated than that. Throughout the comics, Rorschach believes that someone is trying to kill off former heroes when there’s an assassination attempt on Adrian Veidt, a former masked adventurer called Ozymandias, who revealed his own identity and turned himself into a titan of industry. Rorschach ends up enlisting retired superheroes Dan Dreiberg (Nite Owl) and Laurie Juspeczyk (Silk Spectre) to help his investigation. In the end, Nite Owl, Silk Spectre, and Rorschach learn that Veidt is behind these assassinations as part of a plan to prevent nuclear war. Unfortunately, his plan involves teleporting a massive squid-like alien into the middle of New York City, where it will emit telepathic energy and kill millions, and trick the U.S. and Soviet Union into thinking Earth is under attack by aliens. The two global forces, believing the threat of humanity is at stake, will join forces to fight a common enemy.

The heroes are unable to stop Veidt from carrying out his plan, and he succeeds in killing millions in New York City. Nite Owl, Silk Spectre, and Doctor Manhattan know that exposing Veidt would only bring a nuclear disaster, that all those lives lost would be for nothing. But Rorschach believes the truth must be told. In order to stop him from ruining the global balance of power, Doctor Manhattan is forced to vaporize Rorschach. Veidt is left to wonder if he did the right thing, while Doctor Manhattan leaves our galaxy for a less complicated one. Dreiberg and Juspeczyk develop new identities and start a life together. But, before he died, Rorschach sent his journal to a far right publication for them to expose the truth.

WATCHMEN, Rorschach, as drawn by co-creator Dave Gibbons, 2009. ©Warner Bros./courtesy Everett Colle

Warner Bros./courtesy Everett Collection

What’s the deal with the journal?

This is the key here. Because Rorschach sends his journal to a far right publication, we would assume that at least some people believe the truth that Adrian Veidt was behind the massacre in New York. “I think that he’s well intentioned,” Lindelof told me of Rorschach in the original comics. “But I think that it’s possible that his journal could be misunderstood if it fell into the wrong hands, and that was maybe the germ of something that took root two or three decades later.”

Why is Rorschach in the new HBO series?

As far as we know right now, Rorschach’s likeness has been co-opted by a fringe white supremacist terrorist group known as the 7th Kalvalry. While nothing points to Rorschach being a white supremacist himself, we do know that he was a far right radical, who expressed a disdain for homosexuals and non-white, non-Christians, and immigrants. Obviously, these opinions would have appeared in his journal, and could very well have been exposed and exaggerated over the years to turn him into something of a far-right white supremacist hero of sorts.

Culture Editor Matt is the Culture Editor at Esquire where he covers music, movies, books, and TV—with an emphasis on all things Star Wars, Marvel, and Game of Thrones.