Chapter 1: At Midnight, All the Agents
go out and round up everyone who knows more than they do.
Bob Dylan note
- Rorschach: 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 Ill look down and whisper No.
Two detectives investigate the murder of Edward Blake, a diplomat who they find shaking hands with Vice President Gerald Ford in a picture. They discuss how Blake seemed to lose a violent fight before being thrown bodily through the window of his high rise apartment despite being so large and muscular, with flashbacks showing blood dripping onto a smiley face pin on his breast. As they leave the scene, they are also worried about Rorschach getting wind of the murder and leaving his own trail of bodies to get to the culprit, passing a homeless man holding up a sign that says The end is nigh. One of them feels an inexplicable shiver as they pass by.
Rorschach, in his full face mask of a constantly shifting ink blot design, finds the bloodstained smiley face pin and scales the apartment building with a carbon dioxide-activated grappling gun. He conducts his own much more thorough investigation, and finds a hidden button in the back of Blakes closet. It opens a secret compartment where Rorschach is shocked to discover the costume and gear of the former mask the Comedian, along with a picture of their old group the Minutemen.
Hollis Mason, the original Nite Owl, reminisces about old times with his successor Dan Dreiberg, as they do every thing in what Dan calls the only thing that keeps him going after he was forced to retire from hero work. Arriving back home, Dan finds his door lock broken and Rorschach waiting inside. He hands the pin over.
- Dan: Is that bean juice, orRorschach: Thats right Human bean juice. Ha ha.
Upon hearing of the Comedians death, Dan takes them down to his basement where he keeps his Nite Owl gear, which Rorschach bitterly notes is covered in dust. He shares his theory that someone is killing former masks, and even makes the reach that Hollis is behind it based on some bad things he said about his time with the Comedian in his memoirs. As he leaves, Dan tries to bring up the good times they used to have and wonders what happened, to which Rorschach just gives a terse You quit.
The next day, Rorschach enters Happy Harrys Bar and Grill, his usual spot to rough up crooks for information. One guy is stupid enough to make a wisecrack about him, which gets some of his fingers broken as an example to the others. But none of them have any information, leaving Rorschach to write in his journal about his depression at how little he can seem to get done these days.
His next stop is Adrian Veidt, formerly Ozymandias, the smartest man in the world. After being filled in, Veidt opines that the Comedian had no shortage of political enemies, calling him practically a Nazi. This sets Rorschach off as he accuses Veidt of prostituting his image for money after the Keene Act passed, rather than keeping up the fight like the Comedian and himself. The meeting ends bitterly as Veidt reminds Rorschach he chose to retire two years before the Keene Act, and Rorschach retorts it seems theres worse things to end up as than dead.
In another journal entry, Rorschach laments how so few of the former masks are alive, healthy, and without personality disorders. He lambasts Dreiberg and Veidt as shadows of their former selves, and still more have been killed. Of the ones left, he only considers two more worth his time, and theyre his last visit.
- Rorschach: I shall tell the indestructible man that someone intends to murder him.
That would be Jon Osterman, aka Dr. Manhattan, the one crimefighter who truly does have superpowers, which leave his appearance as a luminescent blue, compounded by his not seeing any need for clothing. As Rorschach arrives, hes made himself into gigantic size while working on advanced military tech for the government, and responds coldly to the warning, saying life and death are just different states of being with no real advantage over each other. The other person is Jons lover Laurie Juspeczyk, aka Silk Spectre, who is perfectly happy with Blakes death as he tried to rape her mother, the original Silk Spectre, when they were in the Minutemen. Rorschach doesnt endear himself by saying the moral lapse of a dead man doesnt matter, and her anger causes Jon to demand he leave. When he doesnt, Jon simply teleports him outside. The visit also gets Laurie wanting to get back in touch with Dan. Jon appears completely preoccupied with his work as she makes the call, but does give a small smile at her being able to find some happiness.
Rorschach continues ranting in his journal that no one else seems to care about Blakes death, and briefly wonders if Jon was right as he considers the Cold War will likely soon erupt into a nuclear holocaust, so what does one life matter?
- Rorschach: Because there is good, and there is evil, and evil must be punished. Even in the face of Armageddon I shall not compromise in this.
Laurie has dinner with Dan, and talks about how embarrassed she is about her time as a crimefighter, which her mother pushed her into. Shes glad they were forced into retirement, to which Dan awkwardly agrees even though his face shows a very different story. They reminisce about a masochist who went around getting heroes to beat him up, and Dan reveals he finally went to Rorschach, who dropped him down and elevator shaft. Laurie bursts out laughing even as she protests its not funny.
- Laurie: There dont seem to be many laughs around these days.Dan: Well, what do you expect? The Comedian is dead.
Chapter 2: Absent Friends
I should be drinking a toast to absent friends, instead of these comedians.
Elvis Costello note
In a flashback to when the picture of the Minutemen was taken, Blake wants to be able to fight in World War II, to which Hooded Justice reminds him that America hasnt entered the war (yet), and he thinks they should avoid getting involved in politics. The Silhouette pointedly references how bad things are in Poland, speaking directly to Sally who desperately denies she has anything to do with the country. She stays behind to change out of her costume, and Blake walks in on her. Sally tries to fight him off, but he overpowers her and is about to rape her when Hooded Justice walks in. Hes about to kill Blake, but a veiled reference to his own homosexuality freaks him out enough to simply order Blake out.
Sally is shaken out of her memory by Laurie continuing to shout her disgust at the Tijuana Bible. She lashes right back by accusing Laurie of sleeping with an H-Bomb.
Veidt recalls the formation of the Crimebusters, the first organization of masked heroes since the Minutemen disbanded in 1949. Their founder, Minutemen member Captain Metropolis, starts giving an idealistic speech about how they can combat societys evils, but Blake interrupts and accuses him of just wanting to feed his ego again in his old age. Veidt starts to say they can make it work, but Blake goes on that when the nukes start flying none of it will matter. The group breaks up before it even started, with Metropolis pleading that someone has to save the world as Veidt unobtrusively listens.
Next up is Jons flashback, to just after America won the Vietnam War with his help in 1971. As President Nixon arrives to celebrate, Blake rants about how much he hates the country until hes confronted by a local woman he impregnated. When he heartlessly tells her hes leaving her, she slashes his face with a broken bottle. Blake pulls out his gun and kills her, and when Jon protests, he simply points out that with all his powers he could have done anything to stop it but didnt. He accuses Jon of losing all touch with humanity, God help us all.
Dans flashback is to an anti-vigilante riot who he and Blake were teamed up to deal with. Dan is uneasy about fighting civilians, but Blake takes sadistic glee in it, saying that until the upcoming Keene Act is passed, the masks need to protect the public from themselves. He also describes himself as the only sane one in the group, for being able to see the world as a joke rather than try to make sense of it.
- Dan: What happened to the American dream?Blake: It came true. Youre lookin at it.
At the funeral, Dan tosses Blakes now clean pin into his grave. A man hiding his face behind a trenchcoat leaves for home, where hes ambushed by Rorschach leaping out of his fridge. Rorschach identifies him as Moloch, a former supervillain whos now retired after a decade in prison. Asked why he was at the funeral, Moloch reveals that a week before his death, Blake came to see him. He was drunk and weeping, and rambling about a joke that caused him to question his whole worldview, saying hed seen Moloch on a list along with the likes of Jons former lover Janey Slater. He also talked about an island full of writers and artists doing something worse than hed ever done, before breaking down completely and begging someone to explain the joke to him. After the story ends, Rorschach also reveals he found some illegal pills, but relents on taking them when Moloch says he has terminal cancer.
Rorschach muses in his journal about the nature of masked heroes, how theyre all doomed to die violently with only their enemies remembering them. Blake was one of the few people who understood the pointlessness of life and chose to become a parody of it. But it still didnt protect him in the end.
- Rorschach: Heard joke once. Man goes to doctor. Says hes depressed. Says life seems harsh and cruel. Says he feels all alone in a threatening world where what lies ahead is vague and uncertain. Doctor says treatment is simple. Great clown Pagliacci is in town tonight. Go and see him. That should pick you up. Man bursts into tears. Says, But doctor, I am Pagliacci. Good joke. Everybody laugh. Roll on snare drum. Curtains.
Rorschach visits Blakes grave late at night, and takes a single rose from the bundle left there, pinning it to his coat.
Chapter 3: The Judge of All the Earth
Genesis chapter 18, verse 25
Jon and Laurie are making love, when Laurie opens her eyes and is freaked out to see Jon has duplicated himself. He says he thought shed like it, and shes just started to accept it when she sees a third copy has been working on his project the whole time, and hes just confused about why this would upset her. This proves the last straw for their whole relationship and she storms out after throwing a mug at him, which passes right through him, and as he asks her to come back, another copy also reassembles it and even puts the liquid back in.
Janey Slater tells Doug Roth, a reporter at left wing and anti-mask tabloid Nova Express, about her relationship with Jon, and how he abruptly left her for Laurie. She hopes one day hell know what that feels like, unaware its happening right now. She also alludes to a new development thats caused her to finally break her silence and tell the world all the dirt about Jon, which everyone will know after a show tonight.
Laurie arrives at Dans apartment, where hes having a new lock fitted after Rorschach broke the last one, and he offers coffee. She asks for two sugars, but he only has one left, which he keeps quiet about. Laurie unloads about how Jon doesnt seem to have any human emotion anymore, looking at things like he cant quite remember what they are, and is probably even now just preparing for his TV appearance rather than mourning their two decade relationship, which shes completely right about. He then teleports straight to the studio. Dan says hes planning to visit Hollis tonight, and Laurie goes with him, saying the coffee is too bitter anyway. On the way theyre ambushed by a top knot gang, but their old skills all come back and they make short work of the thugs, afterwards staring at each other panting and sweaty, followed by looking away and Laurie lighting another smoke like theyve just had sex.
Jons interview is quickly derailed by Roth, who asks him about various people he had close contact with who have since contracted cancer, including Moloch and Janey. Jon gets unusually agitated, and as the crowd becomes riled up the shows staff try to get him out. Finally, he screams for everyone to leave him alone, and teleports them all away. He quickly leaves himself.
The fight has left Laurie wanting to rethink how her life is going and she begs out of visiting Hollis, to Dans dejection. Hollis shows him the news report about Dr. Manhattan, and Dan can only think how Laurie will react.
The next day, the newsstand vendor takes a look at the Nova Express article and says he always knew something like this would happen, while the boy continues reading Tales of the Black Freighter. The sailor now fears the pirates will go on to attack his home town Davidstown, while hes helpless to stop them. The boy asks the vendor for his hat, but is only told he shouldnt need to ever ask anyone for help.
Jon returns to his apartment on the army base, where a soldier is painting radiation warnings. Deciding that he can no longer co-exist with humanity, Jon tells the soldier hes leaving for Arizona and then Mars and instantly vanishes, leaving his clothes behind. In Arizona he goes to the abandoned Gila Flats test base and takes a photograph from behind the bar. It shows Janey and a man bearing a resemblance to him enjoying a date on a pier. He goes back outside and smiles up at Mars before vanishing again.
The next morning, the sign carrier picks up the New Frontiersman and a newspaper, and the vendor points out the world didnt end, to which he replies Are you sure? as the news headline shows Dr. Manhattans departure. Hes also annoyed by the boy coming back to read more of Tales of the Black Freighter, which he still hasnt paid for. In the comic, the sailor buries his crewmates while despairing about the fate awaiting his family.
Laurie returns to the base and is surprised at the news of Jons departure. The man in charge of cleaning up the apartment asks if she put him under special emotional stress, and she lashes out at seemingly being blamed. The man quickly loses patience and lays out that Jon is likely never coming back, which means she serves no use to them and has to leave.
Rorschach wakes Dan up by throwing a newspaper on his bed, again bringing up how it seems someone is getting rid of them. He also chastises Dan for not getting a better lock.
The boy reaches the end of the Tales of the Black Freighter issue, and is upset to find its a cliffhanger with the Freighter heading to Davidstown. The vendor, unlike his attitude before, lets him keep the comic for free and tells him to make sure he gets home safe and takes care of his mother. Hes just gotten a new report that the Russians have invaded Afghanistan, putting the world a step closer to nuclear war.
Richard Nixons military advisors lay out the grim analysis of the losses the west will endure in just the seemingly imminent wars opening salvos. He decides to give it another week in the desperate hope things will get better, saying after that the fate of the world will be in the hands of a higher authority who will hopefully be on their side. Meanwhile, Jon arrives on Mars and sits in isolation, still holding the photograph.
Chapter 4: Watchmaker
The solution to this problem lies in the heart of mankind.
If only I had known, I should have become a watchmaker.
He remembers being 16 years old in 1945, practicing taking his watchmaker fathers pocketwatch apart so he can go into the business. However, his father shows him a newspaper article about the bombing of Hiroshima and declares he can only have a future by going into atomic science. He then scatters the watch pieces off the balcony, declaring watchmakers have no place in a world where science now says time has no meaning.
Jon enters Princeton in 1948 and achieves a PhD in atomic science a decade later. He takes a job at Gila Flats where he meets Wally Weaver, who shows him the intrinsic field experiments including a radiation-proof vault. They then head to the bar, where Jon meets Janey and is immediately smitten. He also experience a moment of future déjà vu from visiting the place in 1985 to get the photograph.
After a brief flash to the end of their relationship in 1966, Jon and Janey visit Palisades Park, where a photographer mistakes them for a couple and takes the picture. Shortly afterward, Janey loses her watch and a fat man steps on it and breaks it. Jon promises he can fix it, and that night they have sex.
A month later, Jon has fixed the watch, which he has in his lab coat inside the vault. While getting it, the next experiment starts and to everyones horror hes accidentally locked inside, where the radiation rips him apart atom by atom. Janey places the Palisades Park photograph, the only one of Jon anyone has, behind the bar as a memorial, where Jon will later find it.
Over the next few months, Gila Flats seems to be haunted by different partial human bodies, as Jon narrates that just like a watch, its all about putting things together in the correct sequence. Finally, he successfully reforms his entire body in the middle of the crowded cafeteria, appearing as a blue idealized human form.
That Christmas, Jon can only relate to the ring Janey gives him by commenting on its atomic structure with no feeling behind it. Janey worries about how different everything is now, and Jon tells her hell always be with her. Its a lie, as he can now see all his life and knows theyll break up in seven years.
The military seizes on America having an actual superhero after decades of regular people fighting crime in masks, naming him Dr. Manhattan after the Manhattan Project and giving him a costume suggestion. Jon shoots down their idea, instead drawing a picture of a hydrogen atom on his forehead to give himself a symbol he respects.
The flashbacks move faster through Jons life. As his celebrity grows, the Minutemen give their clearly grudging acceptance of him. He meets them at a charity event, and finds Veidt the only one worthy of any interest. He starts his crimefighting career against Moloch, making a henchmans head explode with a gesture. He meets President Kennedy, knowing hell be killed in two years.
In 1962 Hollis retires, and tells Jon with him around, there doesnt seem to be much point to people like the Minutemen. Hes now happy to write his autobiography and fix cars, as theres still a steady career there. Jon carelessly bursts his bubble by revealing his ability to create lithium means all cars will soon be electric, ending the jobs of traditional mechanics.
After Kennedy is killed, Janey wonders why Jon didnt do anything to stop it. He says he only knows the future and cant do anything to change it. He then casually reveals that theyll have sex soon which Janey denies, but then Wally arrives with a pair of earrings Jon ordered, leading to it happening.
In 1966 the abortive Crimebusters meeting occurs, and Jon meets Laurie for the first time, knowing about their relationship in the future. Janey accuses him of staring at her, and asks if shes getting too old for him. He thoughtlessly confirms that shes aging noticeably every day, unlike him. Shortly afterward he helps Laurie out with her first patrol, and they end up having sex. Janey furiously packs up and leaves when she finds out, while Jon can still experience their first meeting.
In 1969 Jons father dies of cancer, never knowing his son was Dr. Manhattan as Jon simply never felt the need to tell him. With no more links to his past around, he reveals his identity to the public. In 1971 hes sent to Vietnam, where he quickly turns the war around for America. Meanwhile, Wally Weaver dies of cancer, as Jon will later be confronted with. Jon meets Blake, finding him interesting for being so deliberately amoral, accepting the inherent cruelty of the war in a way most people refuse to allow themselves. Within two months of his arrival, the Viet Cong surrender with many asking to do it to him personally.
In 1975 Richard Nixon proposes a Constitutional amendment repealing the two term limit for presidents, overshadowing Veidts unmasking and retirement. Jon and Laurie visit his retreat in Antarctica, where Laurie is fascinated by his genetically engineered lynx Bubastis. Veidt thanks Jon for making so much scientific advancement possible, but Jon notes a sad and knowing look in his eyes about where that advancement is likely heading.
In 1977 during the anti-vigilante riots, Jon and Laurie confront a mob outside the White House, where Jon simply teleports everyone back to their homes much to Lauries shock. Shortly afterward the Keene Act is passed, with Jon and Blake being exempt due to continuing to work for the government. Laurie is happy to retire and Dan also goes peacefully, but Rorschach responds by killing a multiple rapist and leaving his body outside police headquarters with a note simply saying Never!
In 1981 Jon and Laurie move into the base in New York, with Laurie worrying about their lack of privacy. Jon considers shed like it on Mars as he sifts sand through his fingers. His sense of time becomes more jumbled than ever, moving between all the major events of the last few decades until he catches up with his departure to Mars.
- Jon: Gone to Mars. Gone to a place without clocks, without seasons, without hourglasses to trap the shifting pink sand. Below me, in the sand, the secret shape of my creation is concealed, buried in the sands future. I rise into the thin air. I am ready to begin. A world grows up around me. Am I shaping it, or do its predetermined contours guide my hand? In 1945, the bombs are falling on Japan, the cogs are falling on Brooklyn, seeds of the future, sown carelessly. Without me, things would have been different. If the fat man hadnt crushed the watch, if I hadnt left it in the test chamber. Am I to blame, then? Or the fat man? Or my father, for choosing my career? Which of us is responsible? Who makes the world? Perhaps the world is not made. Perhaps nothing is made. Perhaps it simply is, has been, will always be there. A clock without a craftsman.
Jon finishes sifting the sand and hardens it to glass, creating a massive palace that rises from the ground. He stands on the balcony and watches a meteor shower just as he always knew he would be, looking eerily like a nuclear attack.
Chapter 5: Fearful Symmetry
In the forests of the night,
What immortal hand or eye
could frame thy fearful symmetry?
William Blake note
The two detectives from the Blake investigation interview a woman whose husband killed their kids and himself, saying it was to spare them from the upcoming war. They discuss whether the media is responsible for encouraging this kind of thing.
The newspaper vendor discusses the impending war with a customer, and how his grandfather fled Germany before World War II, but now theres nowhere to run to. The boy has gotten the next issue of Tales of the Black Freighter, in which the sailor becomes desperate enough to dig up the bodies of his crewmates and make a raft as the gas building up inside lets them float. On the way home, he snatches a seagull out of the air and eats it raw, giving him the strength to press on.
At a diner Laurie tells Dan about the military kicking her out, and how she refuses to go to her mother for help. Dan offers to let her stay with him, struggling to articulate their similarities until Laurie finishes for him Were both leftovers.
Rorschach prowls the streets without his mask, allowing him to go completely unnoticed. He spots Dan and Laurie leaving the diner and immediately cooks up a theory that Laurie was behind everything to cover her affair. He enters the diner himself to watch his mail drop, absently making a symmetrical Rorschach test pattern on his menu.
As the newspapers wonder if the Soviets will invade Pakistan next, the vendor is back to ranting about how no one seems to care about whats really happening as they escape into fiction. Proving his point, the boy continues reading Tales of the Black Freighter, in which the sailor is shocked by his haggard reflection in the water after all hes done to get this far.
Veidt is attacked by a gunman, but dodges as his secretary is hit instead. He violently subdues the man, and announces theres a poison capsule in his mouth. He reaches in yelling that he needs to know whos behind this, but the man drops dead. Veidt sits dejected as he orders his next meeting cancelled.
The vendor reads about the attack on Veidt and sighs at the increasing violence of the world, which he cant make any sense of. In Tales of the Black Freighter, the sailor barely sustains himself with the ocean water, but then the raft is harshly bumped and he sees shark fins all around him.
Rorschach is pleased to have his mask killer theory seemingly proved by the attack on Veidt. He gets a message from Moloch requesting a meeting and retrieves his outfit, or his true self as he calls it. With some time to kill before the meeting, he finds a man trying to rape a woman, and is greatly satisfied by the fear that comes over the attacker upon seeing him approaching.
Dan shows Laurie to her room and pathetically tries to hide his attraction to her. Laurie doesnt notice and unknowingly crushes him by saying hes like a big brother. He goes to sleep alone, reaching out for a nonexistent bedfellow in his sleep.
In Tales of the Black Freighter, a shark tears the raft to pieces, but the sailor manages to stab it in the eye with a piece of the wreckage. He desperately clings on as it swims away furiously. Eventually the shark dies, and the sailor starts eating it. The vendor sells a Hustler to lesbian cab driver Joey, who in turn gives him a poster to put up for her group Gays and Lesbians Against Rape. He very grudgingly does so at the threat of violence.
The detectives are discussing how there seems to be a pattern they cant figure out to recent events, when they get an anonymous tip about Rorschachs whereabouts and eagerly head out.
Rorschach arrives at Molochs apartment, only to find him shot in the forehead. The police soon arrive and demand he come out. He briefly panics and berates himself for walking into the trap, but then grabs a spray can and lighter and starts fighting his way through the army of cops. He manages to get all the way out of the building, but is ambushed by the detectives, who with the assistance of more cops hold him down and rip off his mask, revealing him to be the sign carrier as he begs to be given his "face" back. The detectives gleefully look forward to sending him to prison.
Chapter 6: The Abyss Gazes Also
aind if you gaze into the abyss, the abyss gazes also into you.
Fredrich Wilhelm Nietzsche note
Another card causes a flashback to a young Walter walking in on his prostitute mother Sylvia with a customer. The man promptly breaks it off and gives her just five dollars, for which she slaps Walter and says she should have listened to her friends and had an abortion. In the present, he says he sees flowers and again totally fools Long.
As Rorschach is led back to his cell, the other prisoners shout insults and threats, leading to another flashback of him running into a group of bullies on the street. They insult his mother and shove a fruit in his face, resulting in the juice looking like his future mask. Walter grabs the cigarette out of one bullys mouth and jabs it in his eye, then jumps on another and bites his cheek before others pull him off.
Longs notes reveal that after this incident Walters home life was investigated and he was put into foster care, where he bloomed into a very bright student. When informed that his mother had been brutally murdered several years later, he simply said Good. Longs wife Gloria comes in and asks if he really thinks hes safe with Rorschach, and he again says hes confident he can succeed.
In the next session, Rorschach objects to Long always calling him Walter, and says he thinks he understands pain, so Rorschach doesnt like him. He reveals his full backstory: as a teenager he was sent to work making womens clothing, to his discomfort. He received an order from Kitty Genovese for a dress using new technology from Dr. Manhattan featuring a shifting black and white pattern. Genovese rejected the dress as ugly, but Walter was fascinated by it and took it home. Two years later, he read about Genoveses murder while all her neighbors refused to help.
- Rorschach: I knew what people were, then. Behind all the evasions, all the self-deception. Ashamed for humanity, I went home. I took the remains of her unwanted dress and made a face that I could bear to look at in the mirror.
Rorschach again turns the session back on Long, accusing him of only taking this case for the fame when there are others in the prison who could use his help more. As he leaves, he promises Long will learn what he wants in time. Long declares hes solved the case, saying the Kitty Genovese story is just an excuse for Rorschachs own self-loathing, but still wonders what that promise meant.
In the cafeteria, another prisoner tries to shank Rorschach, who grabs a pan of hot cooking oil and throws it in the mans face.
- Rorschach: None of you understand. Im not locked up in here with you. Youre locked up in here with me.
After the incident, Long admits he was wrong about solving the problem, and is disturbed to find himself referring to Rorschach by that name instead of Kovacs in his notes. Gloria asks when hes coming to bed, clearly growing impatient with all the time Long is devoting to Rorschach.
Rorschach continues his story in the next session, saying that just after the Genovese murder he was still young and naïve, and wasnt yet actually Rorschach. Up until 1975 he simply delivered criminals alive to the police rather than killing them, and every other crime fighter was the same way, except the Comedian, which he admired. He concludes that they all did it because they were compelled by something.
Long grows frustrated by his inability to crack what is compelling Rorschach, and on his way home stops by the newspaper vendor, who is now pointing out to everyone that Rorschach was a regular customer. The front page article shows that the Soviets have indeed invaded Pakistan. Longs journal entries have started including more sentence fragments like Rorschach, and he also throws out the pills hes been taking.
Long shows Rorschach the first ink blot again, now casually calling him by that name. Rorschach tells the truth about the dog with its head split in half. He starts telling the full story of how he became Rorschach, bringing up the 1975 kidnaping of Blaire Roche. After promising her parents hed bring her back alive, he went through underworld bars until he got the kidnappers address.
In flashback, Rorschach enters the building past two dogs fighting over a bone. Inside he finds a burned piece of Blaires clothing, and then various saws. Upon seeing a cutting board full of deep gouges, he takes a closer look at the dogs and their bone and realizes the horrible truth. He flies into a rage and kills them both with a cleaver, then waits for the kidnapper Gerald Grice to return. He throws both dogs bodies at Grice, then handcuffs him to a pipe and leaves a saw before setting the building on fire, leaving cutting off his hand as the only way Grice can survive.
- Rorschach: Stood in street. Watched it burn. Imagined limbless felt torsos inside; breasts blacking; bellies smoldering; busting into flame one by one. Watched for an hour. Nobody got out. Stood in firelight, sweltering. Bloodstain on chest like map of violent new continent. Felt cleansed. Felt dark planet turn under my feet and knew what cats know that makes them scream like babies in night. Looked at sky through smoke heavy with human fat and God was not there. The cold, suffocating dark goes on forever, and we are alone. Live our lives, lacking anything better to do. Devise reason later. Born from oblivion; bear children, hellbound as ourselves; go into oblivion. There is nothing else. Existence is random. Has no pattern save what we imagine after staring at it for too long. No meaning save what we choose to impose. This rudderless world is not shaped by vague metaphysical forces. It is not God who kills the children. Not fate that butchers them or destiny that feeds them to the dogs. Its us. Only us. Streets stank of fire. The void breathed hard on my heart, turning its illusions to ice, shattering them. Was reborn then, free to scrawl own design on this morally blank world. Was Rorschach. Does that answer your questions, doctor?
Rorschach is led back to his cell as Long sits stunned by the speech. In his notes he sounds even more like Rorschach as he discusses the continuing ramping up to nuclear war. When Glorias dinner guests thoughtlessly want to know about his work with Rorschach, he bluntly tells them about Blaire, quickly driving them out. Gloria is furious and leaves the house. Alone, he looks at the ink blot himself and sees a dead cat he once found, and admits even that is avoiding the truth that its just meaningless blackness, just like the rest of the world.
Chapter 7: A Brother to Dragons
My skin is black upon me, and my bones are burned with heat.
Job Chapter 30, Verses 29-30
As they head upstairs, Dan brings up Rorschachs mask killer theory, saying the Moloch murder seems unusual for him. Laurie reveals a package arrived for her with her belongings from the base, including her old costume. They turn on the news and see a report on Rorschach, including New Frontiersman editor Arthur Godfrey saying its time he was reevaluated as a hero. The news also reports that the search for Max Shea, the author of Tales of the Black Frieghter, has been called off after his disappearance two years ago. Dan and Laurie bond over a story about escalating war tensions, and she calls him ravishing when he takes his glasses off to clean them. This leads to them trying to consummate their relationship as a suspiciously appropriate gymnastic performance by Veidt advertising his scent Nostalgia plays on the TV, but things quickly get horribly awkward and Dan finds he cant perform.
Dan has a dream about kissing the Twilight Lady, only for them both to peel off their skin and reveal himself and Laurie in costume. The kiss is interrupted by a nuclear explosion that incinerates them, and he jolts awake. He heads back to the basement and puts his old goggles on, when Laurie arrives. He says the state of the world is whats making him feel impotent, and he felt like he needed to get his suit back on to clear his head and maybe even take the ship out. Laurie quickly agrees to come with him, and gets her own old suit back on.
Dan quickly picks up all his old memories of how the ship works, and they spot a fire in a tenement building for the insurance money. Numerous tenants are trapped inside, so Dan and Laurie fully become heroes again as they evacuate the building, even if Laurie is more brusque than usual while getting people on the ship. After getting them all to safety, the two of them are driven to have sex properly in the ship, complete with sending out a flamethrower blast.
Afterwards, Dan admits the costumes are what made the night good for him, and Laurie tries to get him to keep up the pillow talk. But shes quite dismayed by what he actually says next: they need to break Rorschach out of prison.
Chapter 8: Old Ghosts
Hallowe'en, Eleanor Farjean
In Tales of the Black Freighter, the sailor is consumed with thoughts of his family being slaughtered, and finally gives in to the madness it drives him to. Dr. Long buys a paper after his final session with Rorschach as described in his notes, as the vendor notes its his wedding anniversary, and hes glad his wife isnt alive to see how badly the world turned out.
Laurie complains that they should be enjoying themselves in the time they have left rather than breaking Rorschach out. Dan shows his research so far with all the cancer victims having connections in a corporate conglomerate that he needs Rorschachs help to make sense of. They fall back into joking about their new relationship, and Dan notes they shouldnt bring Veidt in just yet as he might feel obliged to stop them.
Diminutive crime boss Big Figure approaches Rorschach in his cell, gloating about the revenge hell soon have for Rorschach putting him in prison twenty years ago. When the prisoner he threw the oil on dies, the whole place will riot, and no one will care about helping Rorschach as even Long resigned that day. Rorschach is completely unconcerned and just tosses back puns about Big Figures height.
Stephen Fine, one of the detectives on the Blake case, comes to Dans apartment as hes getting a new lock installed. Fine drops numerous hints that he knows Dan is Nite Owl and about what he did at the fire, but Dan keeps his cool until the man leaves. Fine gets in one last shot that Rorschach had the same sugar cubes in his pocket at the arrest that Dan has, and Dan tells Laurie they need to move fast.
At the New Frontiersman office, Arthur Godfrey is putting together a front page article praising Rorscach, and berates his dimwitted assistant Seymour to get some filler material from the "crank file." They also start working on an article about Max Shea.
Shea himself is on an island, discussing the movie job hes doing with numerous other artists that requires them to be completely out of contact with the mainland. One of his collaborators, Hira Manish, finishes a drawing of a giant squid monster, with the real thing stored under a tarp nearby.
Hollis carves a jack-o-lantern for Halloween, as a news show interviews Doug Roth, who refutes the New Frontiersmans recent attack on him. The news also says the police cant find any evidence of vigilantes in the fire rescue, and the man Rorschach burned just died.
Joey approaches the vendor wanting to look up rentals after breaking up with her girlfriend Aline. A top knot named Derf also rants about costumed heroes, and how he wants to kill all of them. Just then, he gets a new paper reporting on a riot at the prison. He says "The balloons gone up," just as Dan and Laurie finish their preparations and take off in Archie.
Big Figure and his men approach Rorschach as the riot heats up, and he baits one of them into reaching through the cell bars toward him. He promptly grabs the mans hands and breaks his pinkies, then ties them together so he blocks access to the cell door. Big Figure orders the man killed, and then sets to cutting his body away from the door.
Dan and Laurie arrive and the guards start shooting at them. Dan responds with a powerful sonic attack that deafens them all, and they head inside. Another of Big Figures men approaches Rorschach with a welding torch, to which he kicks his toilet off the wall so the water electrocutes the man when it makes contact with the welder's cable.
- Rorschach: Hrmm. Never disposed of sewage with toilet before. Obvious, really. Two-nothing. Your move.
Big Figure runs away in terror, and Dan and Laurie fight through the rioting prisoners as the power goes out, aided by Dans night vision goggles. They catch up to Rorschach just as hes cornered Big Figure in the bathroom, and he insists on finishing his old enemy off before coming with them. He quickly gets on Lauries bad side again by saying he never liked her costume, and obliquely accusing her of being the mask killer as the only one who hasnt been attacked. Laurie gets upset enough to say she wishes Jon was there, and quickly apologizes. They all hop into Archie and fly away.
Back in Dans apartment, Jon suddenly appears to Laurie and says its time for their conversation about saving the world. Dan tries to talk her out of it, but suddenly they both vanish. Fine suddenly kicks in the door, leading a squad of cops, and Dan and Rorschach escape in Archie as the cops stare in awe at his basement, Fines partner warning the chief isnt going to like this.
In Tales of the Black Freighter, the sailor gives in to his despair and leaps into the sea, only to discover he stops up to his ankles, having reached the shore. Hes reborn as a vengeful specter against the pirates. Meanwhile Derf hears about Nite Owl breaking Rorschach out and assumes its Hollis. The gang heads to his house and attacks him among flashbacks to his hero career, finally killing him with his own award for heroism. After they leave, a group of trick-or-treaters arrive and find Hollis body.
Chapter 9: The Darkness of Mere Being
C. G. Jung, MEMORIES, DREAMS, REFLECTIONS
Jon asks about Lauries earliest memory, which is a vague image of a snow globe around the time her parents split up. Jon encourages her to fully draw it out, and she remembers sneaking downstairs late at night at five years old, overhearing a strange argument between Sally and her father Larry about Sally having just met someone she used to be angry at, but cant be anymore. Laurie doesnt pay it any mind and heads for the snow globe, briefly admiring her mothers costume along the way. Then Larry catches her and it drops and breaks. Laurie notes he was always yelling, likely because he knew he wasnt Lauries biological father, who she suspects was Hooded Justice.
Laurie casually mentions sleeping with Dan again, to which Jon acts like this is the first hes heard of it. He then says this means his last link to Earth is severed, so its pointless asking him to save it. He lifts the castle up to show her how much better Mars is, saying that it would be better for life on Earth to be over so there would be no more pain and suffering.
A flashback shows a thirteen year old Laurie working out as Sally grooms her to be the new Silk Spectre. She interrupts a meeting with Hollis and Captain Metropolis, at which Hollis asks about the copy of his memoir he left for her. Sally insists she shouldnt read it yet, and Hollis strangely seems to suddenly agree, saying he wasnt thinking, all to Lauries confusion.
Laurie argues to Jon that life in itself is worth saving, but Jon rebuts that Mars has all kinds of beauty with no life at all, and in fact life would probably just interfere with it like in Earths own environment. This sends Laurie talking about how her own life is a complicated environment, shaped from childhood to be her mothers successor regardless of what she wanted. She brings up the Crimebusters meeting, seen in flashback. After the meeting breaks up she meets Blake, who starts amiably talking with her and asks if Sally ever mentioned him. Sally quickly runs up and shouts to Blake to get away, implying that he wants to sleep with her too. Blake is shocked at the accusation, hesitating as he asks if he cant just talk to his friends daughter. As they drive away, Sally breaks down and unloads about all her fears in life.
Jon is unmoved by her argument, and Laurie asks if he can just tell her how the conversation ends. Jon says it ends with her in tears, then admits his view of the near future is strangely vague, with him only seeing himself walking through streets full of corpses and then killing someone in the snow. The only thing he can think of to cause it is the electromagnetism of a nuclear attack. He ignores Lauries horror at the thought and keeps going on about the Mars scenery.
Laurie next brings up a banquet honoring Blake after the Vietnam War, where she gets drunk and accosts him. Blake is cordial at first, bringing up how shes using the name Juspeczyk rather than her fathers, but then Laurie brings up the attempted rape. Blake simply responds that he only did it once, to which Laurie throws her drink in his face.
Laurie finishes the story that Jon teleported her back home, and in despair throws all her mothers old press clippings into the canyon theyre flying over, ranting about how shes just proved Jons point about the ugliness of humanity. She demands he land the castle and take her back home to die with everyone else, also pointing out shes not crying like he predicted.
Jon asks Laurie to try to see things from his own perspective, looking at the big picture, and adds that it will let her see something shes been refusing to let herself see. Laurie flashes back to all the previous scenes, her parents argument over Sally not being angry at someone anymore, her not wanting Laurie to read Hollis memoir, Blake hesitating when calling Laurie his friends daughter, and finally realizes the truth: Blake was her father. In a rage, she throws the Veidt bottle thats been seen floating between each scene and destroys the castle, and falls to her knees weeping. Jon helps her up and says hes changed his mind about life being meaningless.
- Jon: Thermodynamic miracles. Events with odds against so astronomical theyre effectively impossible Like oxygen spontaneously becoming gold. I long to observe such a thing. And yet, in each human coupling, a thousand million sperm vie for a single egg. Multiply those odds by countless generations, against the odds of your ancestors being alive; meeting; siring this precise son; that exact daughter. Until your mother loves a man she has every reason to hate. And of that union, of the thousand million children competing for fertilization, it was you, only you, that emerged. To distill so specific a form from that chaos of improbability, like turning air to gold, that is the crowning unlikelihood. The thermodynamic miracle.Laurie: But if me, my birth, if thats a thermodynamic miracle I mean, you could say that about anybody in the world!Jon: Yes. Anybody in the world. But the world is so full of people, so crowded with these miracles that they become commonplace and we forget. I forget. We gaze continually at the world and it grows dull in our perceptions. Yet seen from anothers vantage point, as if new, it may still take the breath away. Come dry your eyes, for you are life, rarer than a quark and unpredictable beyond the dreams of Heisenberg; the clay in which the forces that shape all things leave their fingerprints the most clearly. Dry your eyes, and lets go home.
Chapter 10: Two Riders Were Approaching...
two riders were approaching, the wind began to howl.
Bob Dylan note
After hours hiding in the Hudson River, Dan takes a very impatient Rorschach back to the surface to collect his spare uniform and journal from his apartment. Along the way they consider contacting Veidt, and Dan wonders if theres even any point to all this since is looks like the war will start any day. At the apartment, Rorschachs landlady walks in and he confronts her about lying that hed propositioned her, calling her a whore. The landlady begs him not to say that, as her children dont know. Rorschach looks at them and is reminded of his own childhood, causing him to let it go and leave.
Veidt arrives at his Antarctic base, and greets Bubastis and his three servants. They tell him theyve followed all orders in his absence, and he observes a random sampling of television channels, decrying their juvenile imagery which is part of what is leading to war. The servants leave him alone with the programs, as he prefers.
Dan takes Archie back under the river, to which Rorschach again complains that they should be interrogating criminals for information rather than his computer research. Dan suggests there actually is no mask killer, with everything thats happened being a cover for something else. He admits the attack on Veidt doesnt fit the theory, to which Rorschach insults him directly, saying hes been lazing around since retiring. Dan finally loses his temper and lets Rorschach have it about his childish behavior, which actually gets to Rorschach and causes him to sincerely apologize. When Dan accepts it, his mask forms a smile. Dan also agrees its time to do things his way.
In Tales of the Black Freighter, the sailor reaches Davidstown, sure that the pirates have already killed everyone by now and all thats left to him is revenge. He sees the towns moneylender and his lover, and becomes convinced they could only be alive if theyd collaborated. When they discover his raft he kills them both before they can raise an alarm. He then puts on the moneylenders clothes and ties the woman to her horse, so he can enter the town without suspicion. The vendor is confronted by a pair of evangelists who say the world is about to end, and chases them off.
Dan and Rorschach enter Happy Harry's, and the man who hired Veidt's attacker quickly reveals himself. He says his boss at Pyramid Industries simply gave him a sealed envelope with instructions for the hitman, and fell under a subway train shortly afterward. Everyone else involved in the scheme is also dying suspiciously, and he begs for protection. Dan notices a top knot looking uneasy, and on questioning him finds out about Hollis murder. He flies into a rage and beats the man up so violently that even Rorschach has to convince him to stop, and tries to comfort him in his own way by saying hell likely get revenge by the end of this. They head off to see Veidt.
Shea and the other artists celebrate on the ship taking them away from the island. He takes Hira to the boiler room for a tryst, only to discover a bomb about to go off. He calmly accepts his fate and embraces her as the ship is destroyed. The sketch of the squid washes up on the islands shore.
Dan and Rorschach find Veidt's building deserted, and in his office is a graph showing various aspects of human culture reaching a crisis point in the next decade, which Rorschach notes looks quite optimistic now. As Rorschach rambles aimlessly about his inability to figure out the mystery, Dan easily gets onto Veidt's computer and is horrified to discover Veidt himself runs the maze of corporations behind all the attacks. They see in his appointment book that hes at Karnak and head off in Archie, taking all the information to study.
Rorschach makes a final journal entry, pessimistic about their chances if Veidt really is the mastermind of the whole scheme. He says hes mailing it to the only people he trusts to tell the story if he doesnt come back, and thanks the reader for their recent support, adding that he has no regrets about his life if this truly is the end.
In Tales of the Black Freighter, the sailor enters Davidstown and sees what he takes as a pirate sentry, not realizing its actually just a scarecrow, and prays he can have his revenge and then die. The vendor picks up the latest newspaper whose headline simply reads War? as Joey talks about how shes meeting her ex-girlfriend tonight.
Rorschachs journal is delivered to the New Frontiersman, where Godfrey is unimpressed with the overwrought first entry and consigns it to the crank file, to be burned in the new year.
Dan and Rorschach arrive in Antarctica, where the cold severely affects Archie and leads to Dan barely being able to get it down in one piece. Dan puts on his special snow owlsuit, while Rorschach insists hes fine in his usual clothes. Veidt watches their approach on his monitors, dressed in his Ozymandias outfit, and calmly tells Bubastis everything is fine.
Chapter 11: Look on My Works, Ye Mighty...
Look on my works, ye mighty, and despair!
Ozymandias, Percy Bysshe Shelley
The vendor is approached by Aline, checking that the poster is up. She declines to talk about her break-up with Joey and leaves to meet her. In Tales of the Black Freighter, the sailor reaches his home and brutally beats a sentry in his bedroom. Suddenly his daughters rush in, and to his horror he realizes the truth: Davidstown was never attacked, and hes been killing innocent people, including just now his own wife.
Drinking with his servants, Veidt tells them theyre celebrating the achievement of a dream centuries old. He narrates his life story: incredibly intelligent from childhood, his wealthy parents left him a potential life wanting nothing, but he was consumed with a desire to help the world. The only person he felt any kinship to was Alexander the Great, who so nearly united the entire known world before his early death. Veidt gave away his entire fortune and followed the path of Alexanders conquests, finally realizing the mans key flaw in neglecting to build an empire that could survive his own death. On the last day of the trip, he took some hashish and had a vision of all the great conquerors of history, causing him to decide to make his own conquest of the evils of the world. During the speech, its become increasingly clear that the servants wine was poisoned, and Veidt opens the rooms roof to allow the Antarctic snow in, burying them just as Alexander did to those who knew his secrets.
Joey and Aline quickly fall back to arguing, with Joey eventually weeping that she wants to be straight, and dead. Gloria Long asks the vendor if hes seen Malcolm, but then spots him and runs over. In Tales of the Black Freighter, the sailor returns to the beach as a lynch mob begins forming behind him. The Black Freighter finally appears and he swims out to it, realizing it was him alone the pirates had wanted all the time.
Dan and Rorschach reach the base and sneak in, but their attempt to surprise Veidt fails and he easily subdues them both. He explains about his early forays into hero work, where his ideas of morality were quickly undone when he confronted Blake over possibly killing Hooded Justice, and lost the fight. He continues to effortlessly fight off Rorschach while describing how his eyes were opened at the Crimebusters meeting, both by Blakes prediction of nuclear war and Captain Metropolis plea for someone to do something.
Gloria tells Long she misses him, but just cant stand how he lets his work affect his home life. Long is soon distracted when Joey and Aline start fighting, and despite Glorias protests declares he cant stand by and runs over to stop them.
Veidt continues his story, as he watched the Cold War tensions rise until total human extinction seemed inevitable, rendering all of human history pointless.
Tales of the Black Freighter ends with the sailor climbing aboard the titular ship, which is not just a normal pirate ship but a crew of damned souls, who eagerly accept him as one of their own. The vendor grumbles about the loss of human connection in the world and for the first time asks the boy his name. They discover theyre both named Bernard, but then quickly notice the fight. Detective Fine also arrives and stops to help, despite his partners warning that hes just been suspended.
Veidt describes how he planned to unite the entire world through historys greatest practical joke. First came removing Jon due to the inability to predict how hed react, exposing his associates to radiation. Then Blake stumbled onto the island where hed gathered so many unwitting artists, and though horrified at the plan itself, he also knew stopping it would result in humanitys death, leaving him with nothing to do but tearfully rant to Moloch, whose apartment was bugged. Finally he reveals the true plan: to fake an attack by aliens, who would be able to conquer Earth unless all its governments unite against them. Thus, the artists have created a gigantic squid creature which will be teleported to New York and then explode, creating a psychic shockwave that will kill half the city.
- Dan: Adrian, Im sorry. You need help. I know this half New York stuff is bullshit, but Im still glad we got here before you got deeper into this mess. Christ, you seriously planned all this mad scientist stuff? I mean, when was this hopeless black fantasy supposed to happen? When were you planning to do it?Veidt: Do it? Dan, Im not a Republic Serial villain. Do you seriously think Id explain my masterstroke if there remained the slightest chance of you affecting its outcome? I did it thirty-five minutes ago.
As Dan and Rorschach react in horror, the various people now involved in Joey and Alines fight are all suddenly stopped as the squid is teleported directly onto their location. As everyone stares uncomprehendingly, the two Bernards embrace as a white light envelops everything.
Chapter 12: A Stronger, Loving World
John Cale note
Dan is still having trouble believing Veidts story, and points out that the assassin he hired against himself could have shot him first. Veidt simply says hed have had to catch the bullet, leaving Dan desperately denying he could do it. He goes on that everyone involved in the plan is dead with no way of anyone else finding out. Dan points out theres still him and Rorschach, and Veidt admits hes still making up his mind on that.
Jon and Laurie arrive, having followed the tachyon signal. Being so close to its source causes Jons sense of time to be jumbled and he switches between explaining Veidts plot to Laurie and talking to Rorschach in the near future. He teleports inside despite Laurie begging him not to leave her, and as Veidt flees with Bubastis, Jon catches up to his conversation with Rorschach before following. As Laurie enters the building unnoticed, Jon is distracted by Bubastis. Behind a protective wall, Veidt activates the same effect that discorporated him the first time, regretfully sacrificing his pet. Just then, Laurie arrives and simply says Youre an asshole before shooting him with Fines gun. However, Veidt does manage to catch the bullet, and starts a new speech about how all their heroics are useless in the new world hes created. But hes soon interrupted by Jon breaking back into the base in giant form, reminding everyone that restructuring himself was the first power he learned. Veidt turns to his last ultimate weapon, a TV remote that turns on news stations from around the world. The reports gradually turn from shock at the devastation to the world governments declaring they have to end their hostility. Veidt is overjoyed at his success, and points out if the others expose him now, theyll put humanity right back on the inevitable path to destruction. Jon, Laurie, and Dan all grudgingly agree that they have to keep quiet about it, but Rorschach insists that he will never compromise even in the face of Armageddon, and walks out. Veidt is unconcerned hell be any threat, and retires upstairs.
Dan and Laurie discover that Jon has also disappeared, leaving them alone. Laurie brings up how Jon knows about the two of them, much to Dans worry, but she pessimistically says none of it matters anymore. However, she soon turns it around, saying it just feels good to be alive after everything, and takes Dans hand as she asks him to love her. They kiss with their shadows projected large on the wall.
Jon catches up to Rorschach outside, who still insists hes heading back to civilization to reveal the entire scheme. He accepts that Jon cant let that happen and takes off his mask, revealing tears covering his face. He screams at Jon Do it!, and is vaporized.
Jon walks back through the building, discovering a nude Dan and Laurie sleeping cuddled together. He silently smiles and keeps walking to Veidt, who insists hes made himself feel all those innocent deaths, and in his dreams finds himself swimming to a damned fate much like the sailor from Tales of the Black Freighter. For his part, Jon says that without condoning or condemning, he understands why Veidt did it, and that hell be leaving humanity again, planning to create his own.
- Veidt: I did the right thing, didnt I? It all worked out in the end.Jon: "In the end?" Nothing ends, Adrian. Nothing ever ends.
With that Jon disappears, leaving Veidt to contemplate his actions with a deeply troubled expression.
Two months later, Sally is preparing for Christmas when shes visited by Dan and Laurie, now living incognito under the name Hollis. Laurie tells her mother she knows the truth about her father and Sally begs her forgiveness, but Laurie hugs her and says she understands that people can do strange things in their lives they cant explain. Dan has found the Tijuana Bible, and privately admits to Sally he owned a copy in his youth. As they leave, Laurie looks forward to being a hero again, though she wants to make her own identity apart from her mothers, and suggests a costume more like the Comedians. Sally tearfully watches them go and kisses a picture of Blake.
The newsstand is running again, with the new front page headline revealing that Robert Redford is considering running for President in 1988. Seymour returns to the New Frontiersman office, where Godfrey is furious that they cant run fearmongering articles about the Soviet Union anymore. To fill the space, Seymour suggests something from the crank file. Godfrey agrees in frustration, letting him pick which one, and he reaches toward the basket of stories, Rorschachs journal among them.