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Rorschach (Walter Kovacs)

https://static.tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pub/images/rco017_5.jpg
Click here to see him without his mask. 
"You know what I wish? I wish all the scum of the Earth had one throat and I had my hands about it."
Played by: Jackie Earle Haley (film)

"The accumulated filth of all their sex and murder will foam up about their waists and all the whores and politicians will look up and shout 'save us'... and I'll look down and whisper 'no'."

The only non-government superhero still active as of the beginning of the book, Rorschach is a ruthless, disturbed vigilante who believes the world to be falling apart around him. He speaks in fragments and lives like a bum, having devoted his life almost entirely to fighting crime—and it's his devotion that allows him to pick up the trail of a man's mysterious death...


  • Abusive Parents: His mother was certainly a horrible parent. How bad was she? When informed of her death, Walter only had one thing to say: "Good".
  • Adaptational Attractiveness: Jackie Earle Haley as Walter without his mask looks much better than his graphic novel counterpart, who is described in-universe by Dr. Long as "fascinatingly ugly".
  • All of the Other Reindeer: Some bullies show this to Rorschach and he goes berserk on them.
  • Ambiguous Disorder: He has No Social Skills, an extreme dislike of physical contact and bizarre monotone syntax.
  • Anti-Hero: Rorschach is one of the best and most famous examples in comic books.
  • The Anti-Nihilist: Possible, since Rorschach believes that rules and principles are the most important in life because the world has no more meaning than the one we impose on it. Alternatively or overlaps with Übermensch.
  • Asexuality: Finds any acts of sex disgusting.
  • Ax-Crazy: See what he did to the child abductor and his dogs.
  • Badass Boast: Rorschach's boast is the trope image.
    "None of you seem to understand. I'm not locked in here with you. You're locked in here with me."
  • Badass Longcoat: More evocative of pulp heroes.
  • Badass Normal: He is, among other things, more badass than the Antarctic itself, enduring the bitter cold and what had to be some severe wind chill on one of Nite Owl's hoverbikes with no superpowers and no more protective equipment than the same overcoat and hat that he wore around New York. Without even a shiver. And then, after the big reveal but before his death, he starts to walk out into the same Antarctic weather, in the same clothes and with no easy route home, with his intention to reveal Veidt's crime even if he has to walk home to do it. Never compromise, indeed.
  • Bash Brothers: With Nite Owl.
  • Be Careful What You Wish For: His quote above. He feels the complete opposite when New York is destroyed.
  • Becoming the Mask: "NO! MY FACE! GIVE ME BACK MY FACE!" Averted see Dying as Yourself.
  • Black and White Insanity: Rorschach's devotion to his ethos is so strong that it is impossible for him to accept any form of compromise. The fault in his philosophy is shown early on, as his patriotism and admiration for the Comedian's persona and combat record make him accept the attempted rape of Sally Jupiter, who Rorschach considers to be a whore, as a moral lapse of an otherwise upstanding citizen, even though he is later shown to consider rape a perfectly good reason to kill someone.
  • Black and White Morality: Symbolically displayed through his mask, which is described as how he sees the world; through an extreme filter of black and white. Although to the other characters it's more like Black and Gray Morality.
  • The Blank: The whole idea behind his mask.
  • Blood Knight: Rorschach is hinted to be this. Upon seeing a woman about to be mugged and raped, Rorschach had this to say about the assailant:
    Rorschach: The man turned...and there was something rewarding in his eyes. Sometimes the night is generous to me.
  • Bold Inflation: Aside from the ill-fated Crimebusters meeting (which took place long before the 1975 kidnapping case which completely redefined him), the only instances where he spoke like this are when he was unmasked by the police and when he goads Dr. Manhattan into killing him.
  • Break Out Character: He is easily the most popular and influential character in the comics, with some people viewing him as the protagonist. This is especially true for Jackie Earle Haley. Before Doctor Manhattan's role in Rebirth, Rorscharch was the most consistenly used character of Watchmen in DC comics, appearing through cameos on Kingdom Come and The Question trying to imitate him in one of his issues (And calling him a loser for his innefective methods). He is also the protagonist of the licensed game of Watchmen.
  • Butter Face: A Rare Male Example. Has a very muscular and athletic body but, from the neck up, he's rather unattractive. Plain-looking at best.
  • Byronic Hero: As flawed as he is, Rorschach is a very sympathetic character. An outcast and loner even among his superhero "peers", intelligent, cynical due to his experiences, introspectively brooding, dark, strong personal beliefs, follows his own rules which eventually lead to his death, Rorschach is the exemplar of a Byronic hero in comic books.
  • Bystander Syndrome: Inverted. He beats up thugs who have harmed people he's never met and idealizes people he doesn't know (Kitty Genovese, Harry Truman, etc.) but loathes virtually everyone he does know. Familiarity breeds contempt, indeed.
  • Celibate Hero: He's freaked out beyond all recognition about anything to do with sex, due to child abuse. He has a massive madonna-whore complex and mentions once that he was "offered Swedish love and French love but not American love [by prostitutes]," however you want to interpret that.
  • Civvie Spandex: Being an Expy of The Question and Mr. A.
  • Combat Pragmatist: To an insane degree. Rorschach's solution to the "Gordian Knot problem". When faced with an impossible lock, Rorschach will simply kick the door down.
  • Conspiracy Theorist: He started as an Expy of The Question, who in the DCAU was a saner Expy of Rorschach.
  • Coat, Hat, Mask: He sports the basic outfit, but with a head-covering mask (as opposed to the standard domino) with a shifting black-and-white pattern that initially inspired his moniker.
  • Cool Mask: Made from a failed prototype for a designer dress. Contains black fluids in latex which move from heat and pressure but never mix into grey.
  • Creepy Monotone: In the comic book, and to an extent in the film.
  • Cynicism Catalyst: The kidnapping and death of Blair Roche (see Despair Event Horizon).
  • Deadpan Snarker: Particularly with Big Figure ("Small world"). Also when a therapist attempts to evaluate him with a Rorschach test.
  • Death Seeker: Alan Moore says he is. He finds it.
  • Despair Event Horizon: He crosses it when his investigation into the little girl's kidnapping reveals the kidnapper had butchered her and fed her to the dogs. He kills the dogs and then traps the kidnapper in the building he sets on fire. It was Kovacs that went into that place, it was Rorschach that came out
  • Determinator: Even after he jumps out a window which is at least five stories up, he lies on the ground telling himself to get up while the police kick him unconscious. And then some. Even more impressive in the movie version as he does get up and proceeds to beat down several more cops before he's finally overwhelmed.
  • Does Not Know How to Say "Thanks": Nor how to apologize, as he tries to do so with a handshake.
  • Does Not Like Guns: Nite Owl says that Rorschach didn't shoot Moloch because that way of killing someone is too ordinary. Presumably this is why Rorschach chose to improvise when he is cornered by the police instead of picking up the gun. The gun was also empty, and Rorschach only kills criminals; crazy as he is, he doesn't bear ill will against police officers, and only fights them at all in order to escape.
  • Does Not Like Women: From his poor experiences with his mother.
  • The Dog Was the Mastermind: A rare Anti-Hero version. Rorschach's identity was mostly a secret until it is revealed he was that guy who carried a "THE END IS NIGH" sign.
  • Do Not Call Me "Paul": "You keep calling me Walter. I don't like you." His therapist eventually starts writing "Rorschach" in his notes, a sign that his patient is getting to him.
  • The Dreaded: This was seen in the comic when Rorschach entered the bar and the bartender begged him not to kill anyone today. And in one scene he is dreaded even more than Dr. Manhattan. Where the riot argued with Manhattan, the riot Rorschach dealt with dispersed with his mere presence.
  • Dying Alone: We don't even know how Dreiberg reacted or if he even cared about his ex-partner.
  • Dying as Yourself: Rorschach takes his mask off just before Dr. Manhattan kills him. Confirmed by Alan Moore who believed that it "is not the mask talking, it's not Rorschach, it's the actual human being [Walter Kovacs] that is somewhere under there."
  • Entertainingly Wrong: His investigation of The Comedian's murder is doomed from the start because of his very wrong assumption of a mask killer - an old villain trying to kill superheroes and a conspiracy that will endanger his old gang. Veidt enables this assumption to throw him off his trail and send Rorschach to jail. It's only after he teams up with Dan Dreiberg, who questions his assumptions, that they make real headway.
  • Expy: Of The Question and Mr. A, whom Rorschach was specifically based on. Moore also puts in elements of Batman noting that "he would be considered a nutjob in real life" and in another interview he clarified Rorschach as "Batman without the excuses". There's more than a little of Travis Bickle in his journal entries, too. (Also confirmed by Moore.) When Steve Ditko was asked about Rorschach's similarity to his own heroes he confirmed it as well, saying, he was "Like Mr. A, except insane."
    • Indeed, in the initial draft where the story took place in DC canon, he WAS The Question.
  • Existentialist: Rorschach believes life has no meaning other than the ones we impose on it.
  • Expressive Mask: And how. It does more than cover his face; to Rorschach, it is his face. His actual face, in contrast, is like a mask; his expression almost never changes.The black and white splotches in his mask never mix, representing his morality. For him there is only black and white, never gray.
  • Extreme Mêlée Revenge: Anything he does. A vengeful prisoner get his face burned, a masochistic "villain" is thrown down an elevator shaft...
  • Face Death with Dignity: How he goes out. He does not beg and refuses to compromise.
  • Famous Last Words: DO IT!
  • Fatal Flaw:
    Rorschach: No. Not even in the face of Armageddon. Never compromise.
  • The Fettered: Kovacs' principles are all that matter to him; the good must be protected, and the evil must be punished, no compromise or nuance allowed. When he's finally confronted with his own failure to completely live up to his standards and faced with a dilemma he can't solve just by appealing to his code, he breaks down.
  • Foil: To Ozymandius. Both are ultimately unstable Übermensch who are unflinching in doing what they think is right, no matter what the cost. They just play it in very different ways.
  • Friend to All Children: One thing he won't stand for is someone else hurting a child, even if he isn't necessarily nice to them himself. The murder of Blair Roche pushed him over the edge, driving him to commit his first killing. Later on he doesn't punish his landlady for (falsely) telling the news he made lewd advances at her, because her kids are with her. Also, perhaps, because he saw himself in her son. And unlike his mother, she was holding her kids like she loved them.
  • Freudian Excuse: No one event made him what he is, but his abusive upbringing is the most obvious fit for this trope. The thing that truly tipped him over the edge didn't occur until he was already an adult.
  • Genius Bruiser: Holds his own in a fight, and has decent, albeit not exceptional, detective skills. Dan Dreiberg is the overall better detective, and is the one who actually figures out that Adrian Veidt is behind The Conspiracy.
  • Grappling-Hook Pistol: One of Rorschach's signature tools, until the police take it away after his arrest. It gets turned into an Improvised Weapon at one point. It was originally designed for him by Dan, back when they were partners.
  • Guttural Growler: In the film, at least. In the comic it's mentioned that he speaks in a 'creepy monotone', but growling or lack thereof isn't specified.
  • Hero with an F in Good: Not only he's The Cynic, but his methods are violent to the point of shocking even other heroes.
  • He Who Fights Monsters: Rorschach's chapter even closes with that quote.
    • He wasn't even always the violent unlikeable vigilante he is during the story. It seems that he and Dreiberg were legitimate friends at one point, and though always odd, he was less...off. Then the kidnapping case happened and changed him forever.
  • Homeless Hero: He lives in squalor and has poor personal hygiene.
  • Hypocrite: A few of his beliefs don't seem to line up:
    • He looks up to Harry Truman as a "good man" for dropping the atomic bombs on Japan to prevent even more death, but is horrified when Veidt does the same thing on a larger scale.
    • He hates and kills rapists, but dismisses Edward Blake's Attempted Rape of Sally Jupiter because he is a war hero. He hates lawbreakers and murderers, but is both of those things because he's a vigilante. Bear in mind, there has been speculation that he believes that the Comedian's rape on Silk Spectre was exaggerated or false. And given his very negative experience with women, he most likely thought that she may have lied about it.
  • Hypocritical Humor: We have this bit of humor from him.
    Rorschach: Why are so few of us left active, healthy, and without personality disorders?
    • Then again, he might not necessarily include himself in that category...
  • I Let Gwen Stacy Die: Went over the edge after failing to save little Blaire.
  • Improvised Weapon: Can turn just about anything deadly, whether it's hairspray into a flamethrower or throwing cooking fat into an attacker's face.
  • It Is Pronounced Tropay: Logically "Rorschach" is pronounced with a German "ch", but in-universe, most pronounce it as "Rorschack", probably to better make him standout.
  • Jerk with a Heart of Gold: A possibly insane, borderline sociopathic, ruthless vigilante who nevertheless has good intentions, saves civilians, cares for children, tries to be a hero, and genuinely appreciates his friendship with Daniel.
  • Knight Templar: A rare Anti-Hero example.
  • Little "No": What Rorschach fantasizes about doing when the world eventually destroys itself, as seen in the page quote. He eventually changes his mind.
  • Meaningful Name: Rorschach turned out to be one on a meta level, to Moore's chagrin, though plenty of fans do see him for the disturbed sociopath he is.
  • Mercy Kill: One way of interpreting his request that Dr. Manhattan kill him near the end.
  • Nice Hat: In the movie, he keeps picking it up even when Ozymandias keeps kicking his butt. It's also the only part of his outfit that doesn't get vaporized.
  • '90s Anti-Hero: He and The Comedian are considered the prototypes, or Ur-Examples, for these type of anti-heroes, despite not strictly embodying this trope themselves.
  • Noble Bigot with a Badge: Is among other things a misogynist and homophobe. But unlike many examples, instead of white washing his behavior, it only serves to further showcase how unpleasant a person he is.
  • No-Sell: His Combat Pragmatist street-fighting approach is no match for Adrian Veidt, who outclasses him while continuing his Expo Speak to him and Dreiberg without missing a breath.
  • No Social Skills: He never bathes, he thinks it's socially acceptable to break into people's houses and steal their stuff and has the nerve to tell Laurie that her mother almost getting raped by the Comedian could have been a moral lapse. Even Dan has problems dealing with him to the point where he finally lashes out at Rorschach. This leads to a handshake that Rorschach finds very awkward. The only time Rorschach feels at ease with anyone is when he's breaking people's fingers. He at least has the decency to try to avoid doing that in front of children (probably because of his own past experiences with Abusive Parents). It's made clear to the reader that while Rorschach is ultimately a good person and genuinely wants to help others, his total lack of proper social skills and his abundance of disorders will probably end up destroying him and they very much do so.
  • Obfuscating Insanity: Granted, he is pretty crazy as it is, but he typically adopts the identity of a loopy prophet of doom as a civilian disguise.
  • Odd Friendship: With Nite Owl, who used to be his partner in crime-fighting. Its telling that when he suspects a Mask Killer, Dan is the first one he warns.
  • Ominous Walk: Uses this to great effect.
  • Only Sane Man: He paints himself as one in a Crapsack World. However, he is also batshit insane, asocial and generally incapable of self-reflection and irony. Ultimately it's left ambiguous. It's clear that his approach to crimefighting is flawed, that he doesn't quite latch on to Veidt's conspiracy, and is not as competent a fighter as he thinks he is. But he's also the only one who refuses to become complicit in Adrian's twisted lie on which he plans to base his future utopia. Whether this makes him insane or the only one who's not is a major point in the story at large. Crazy though he may be, he's a man of uncompromising conviction and the only main superhero in the story who never truly betrays what he believes to be right, no matter how limited his actual agency to act on his beliefs really is.
  • Pay Evil unto Evil: His modus operandi.
  • Pet the Dog: Rorschach may be batshit insane, Ax-Crazy and treat even his team-mates with suspicion and abuse, but he does make it very clear that he does value his friendship with Nite Owl and apologizes when Nite Owl calls him out on his behaviour.
    • When Dan is upset to the point of tears over Hollis Mason's death, Rorschach actually attempts to comfort him. It doesn't come out in the traditional way, being Rorschach, but Dan appreciates the effort.
    • When Daniel and Rorschach go to retrieve Rorschach's spare mask, and he calls his landlady a whore to her face, but doesn't press further after seeing her kids.
  • Pintsized Powerhouse: The guy's 5'6". He wore elevated heels as a part of his outfit.
  • Power of Friendship: The Power of Friendship is apparently the only thing that can counter his Knight Templar attitude about everything. The only time we see him display a more-or-less human reaction (outside of flashbacks) is when Daniel bursts out and spells it out for him just how difficult exactly "being his friend" is.
  • Pragmatic Hero: Initially, Rorschach was this during the early days of his career. He was in better health mentally, being a vigilante was still legal, and he would leave criminals to be arrested by the police, instead of murdering them. But the Keene Act and mentally snapping after the brutal murder of a girl caused him to lose it.
  • Principles Zealot: Most people easily see him as this. There is however one time where he could be viewed as straying from his principles. A former criminal, Edgar Jacobi, previously known as Moloch the Mystic, had cancer and in his desperation to save his life he took illegal drugs that probably wouldn't save him anyway. Rorschach let this offense slide, for Edgar. He did however take the name of the company that sold the drug down, so in this case he might be viewing Edgar as a scam victim instead of a criminal.
  • Properly Paranoid: After an attempt is made on Ozymandias's life, it seems he was right to suspect that the Comedian's murder was the beginning of a plot to kill off superheroes. Or not. Ozymandias himself had killed the Comedian then faked his own assassination attempt so Rorschach would believe his own theory and thus miss the real plot.
  • Psychological Projection:
    • Rorscharch has a talent for this, projecting those characteristics on to others that he unknowingly possesses himself.
      Rorscharch: Why are so few of us left active, healthy, and without personality disorders?
      • Although he may not necessarily count himself in the above category, but regardless, still notable.
    • There's also his frequent insinuations about how All Women Are Lustful, and how Ozymandias as a Sell-Out is similar to a prostitute, solely out of his own bitterness about his mother being a prostitute.
    • Rorschach also mocks other heroes for not being able to be as tough as he is, either because they are too comfortable (Veidt), too pampered (Sally) or that they have retired (Dan Dreiberg), when in most cases Rorschach merely fights low-level thugs who he intimidates by breaking their fingers and other bullying acts, in addition to interrogating an old man suffering from cancer (Moloch). Likewise he's the only hero who ends up being captured by the police and having his identity exposed (something that didn't happen to Dan, Laurie or Adrian), and he pretty much suffers a Curb-Stomp Battle against the only one who is equally matched, to Ozymandias, simply because he's not as good a fighter as he thinks he is.
    • Likewise his hilarious comment near the end about how he must not let the Egyptian decor at Veidt's office overpower his logic, unaware that his own logic was coloured by his mask-killer theory simply because Eddie Blake at the time of his death happened to be The Comedian.
  • "Reason You Suck" Speech: In the film, he gives a downplayed (but still powerful) one to Dr. Manhattan.
    Rorschach: Out of my way, people need to be told!
    Dr. Manhattan: You know I can't let you do that.
    Rorschach: Suddenly you discover humanity? Convenient. [Removes mask] If you had cared from the start, none of this would have happened.
  • Red-Headed Stepchild: Right from childhood, though his mother has as much influence in the mockery as the hair color.
  • Red Oni: He is the intense and impulsive Red Oni to the calm and rational Blue Oni of Nite Owl.
  • Running Gag: He keeps breaking into Dan's house throughout the novel, forcing Dan to call the locksmith. Even more ironic when you notice the locksmith is the "Gordian Knot Lock Company". Sick of this, Dan finally buys the toughest lock they sell, only to wind up teaming up with Rorschach shortly after. The stronger lock winds up buying them time to escape when the police try kicking down the door.
  • Serial-Killer Killer: It could be argued that he fits in this trope, though he is more commonly placed as He Who Fights Monsters.
  • Snow Means Death: Dies alone in Antarctica.
  • Sociopathic Hero: He is one of the better-known examples of this, being more than willing to torture and kill if he believes good will come of it. He also shows a Lack of Empathy towards the criminals he kills, even hinting that he enjoys killing them.
  • Son of a Whore: He developed a number of sexual hangups thanks to growing up around his mother's work. Well, that and being beaten and verbally abused by his mother, and bullied by other kids for being a Son of a Whore.
  • The Southpaw: He's left-handed in the comic only.
  • Terror Hero: Rorschach's well-earned reputation for brutality means even civilians are terrified to be around him.
  • Terse Talker: He's always like this when talking, but his journal and internal monologue switches between this and outbreaks of fluency. Still skips articles and pronouns in journal.
    "Stood in firelight sweltering. Blood spreading on chest like map of violent new continent."
  • That Man Is Dead: After failing to save Blair Roche, he no longer responds to the name "Walter Kovacs". In his mind, Walter Kovacs entered that house. It was Rorschach that left it.
  • Trademark Favorite Food: The guy sure loves his sugar cubes.
  • Tragic Bromance: With Nite Owl. In the movie, Dan yells in frustration and horror once Rorschach dies.
  • Tragic Hero: A man who grew up in a hellish childhood and tried so hard to uphold some a strong set of moral standards guided by a twisted perception of integrity and driven by a growing list of tragedies and failures before ultimately being destroyed by it.
  • Tranquil Fury:
    • Unlike the other characters, who express fury through violent outbursts (The Comedian particularly), Rorschach is almost always calm and quiet in his violence. Even when pushed to his very limit in 1975, he didn't yell or lash out, he retained his quiet demeanor. He is emotionally withdrawn and during his adulthood he only makes a facial expression twice in the book (Panel 8 of Page 7 of Chapter 6, when he remembers a childhood incident, and when he orders Manhattan to kill him. For the rest of the story his face is either covered by his mask or a blank stare.
    • This is changed in the movie, however. His blank stare is replaced by a Clint Squint, and he is prone to fits of eye-twitchery. In 1975, when pushed to his limitations, instead of breaking down into the calm psycho he breaks up into an aggressive animal.
  • Übermensch: In addition to creating his own meaning and morality, Rorschach's view of life is largely misanthropic. That said, he does follow his own rules to try to make the world a better place.
  • Unbuilt Trope: Despite his status as a mascot and an iconic Badass Normal, fans on coming to Watchmen will be surprised that he's frequently shown to be incompetent and ineffective.
    • He utterly fails to decipher Ozymandias' scheme, merely coming across a few important clues which he filters with a very wrong assumption that Nite Owl shoots down with basic detective work. Unlike Batman, who can fight hundreds of mooks as a One-Man Army and an entire swat team in Frank Miller's Batman: Year One, Rorscharch gets easily ganged up by the police, has his identity exposed and sent to prison where he more or less is confined, without any possibility of escape, until Nite Owl and Silk Spectre bust him from prison.
    • Similarly, Rorscharch, while a powerful fighter and physically skilled and adept, primarily fights criminals who are physically weaker than he, bullying them by breaking their fingers and other means of intimidation. He loses a fight against any opponent who is his equal or superior, be it the police or Veidt. Indeed, for all that Rorscharch mocked Veidt for being a spoiled namby-pamby liberal who has not been in a real fight for decades, he is unable to land a single punch on the Charles Atlas Superpower and Veidt more or less ignores him and fights him one-handed.
  • Uncleanliness Is Next to Ungodliness: Or in Rorschach's case, uncleanliness is next to a severely warped mind.
  • Unscrupulous Hero: What he currently is and what he is well-known for. Rorschach is far from an ideal hero. He is absolutely ruthless towards criminals, killing them when he could easily beat them and leave them for the police. That said, most of the criminals Rorschach encounters are either killers or rapists so killing them might seem a proper punishment. However, he does have genuinely good intentions and sincerely wants to make the world a safer place. To this end, he still saves civilians and actually cares a lot for kids.
  • Verbal Tic: 'Hurm' and 'Ennk'.
  • Vigilante Man: A deconstruction of this trope, as well as the Anti-Hero in general. He is not presented as a good person and the police disdain him — in fact, they hate him almost as much as the criminals do.

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