How Did Rorschach Die in the Comics?

“… Rorschach, was perhaps the most disturbing hero ever created for comics. His brutal perception of black-and-white morality reflected writer Alan Moore’s critical deconstruction of the whole notion of heroes—a popular theme recurring in comic books since the 1980s.”

Bradford W. Wright

In his book, Comic Book Nation: The Transformation of Youth Culture in America, Bradford W. Wright used these exact words to describe Rorschach, a character from Alan Moore’s cult-classic comic book Watchmen. Rorschach is a truly majestic and intriguing character in so many ways that I decided to dedicate today’s article to one of Moore’s best characters. 

In the original Watchmen comic book, Rorschach, remaining true to his absolutist ideals, dies at the hands of Dr. Manhattan after refusing to keep Ozymandias’ plan that, albeit fatal for a lot of people, was for the greater good, a secret. Dr. Manhattan concluded that Ozymandias’ plan was the better option and could not allow Rorschach to reveal it, which is why he killed him. 

In today’s article, I am going to talk about Walter Kovacs, better known as the antihero/superhero Rorschach. You are going to find out about his fate in the comics, or, more precisely, whether he died and if he did, why he died. You’re also going to find out in what capacity was Dr. Manhattan involved in the events that sealed Rorschach’s ultimate fate, whatever it was. It’s going to be an interesting text so let’s start immediately!

What happened to Rorschach in the comics?

In 1985, during the events of the Watchmen comic book, Rorschach is the only vigilante remaining active after the adoption of the Keene Act that outlawed masked vigilantes (with the exception of the Comedian and Doctor Manhattan who serve employees of the United States Government). 

Rorschach investigates the murder of a man named Edward Blake, discovering that he is actually the Comedian. Rorschach believes someone is hunting down costumed heroes, a hypothesis he further affirms when Doctor Manhattan is forced into exile and when Adrian Veidt, the former vigilante known as Ozymandias, is targeted in an assassination attempt. 

Rorschach interrogates Moloch, a former villain, who unexpectedly attends Blake’s funeral, but his former adversary knows practically nothing. Later, after reading a note written by Moloch telling him to come to him if he wants more information, Rorschach visits him again, only to find him shot dead in the head. The police, who had been anonymously alerted by phone, came and surrounded the house. 

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Rorschach scolds himself for having fallen into such an obvious trap and is then arrested after a fight with the police, during which Rorschach tries to escape by jumping through the window, only to end up caught and unmasked. Rorschach is sent to a prison where many of the inmates are criminals that he put there himself, including Big Figure, a dwarfed crime boss who wants revenge on Rorschach. 

During his incarceration, Rorschach is questioned by the prison psychologist, Dr. Malcolm Long. Long believes that he can help rehabilitate and resocialize Rorschach. However, Rorschach’s explanation of his life and his justifications for his uncompromising worldview lead Long to question his own point of view. 

One day during lunch, one of the inmates tries to attack Rorschach with a shiv, after which Rorschach throws the boiling oil from a deep fryer in his face in self-defense. As the guards drag him away, Rorschach turns to the other inmates and says: “None of you understand. I am not locked in here with you. You are locked up here with me.” 

After the inmate died of burns, a riot broke out in the prison. Big Figure and two of his partners try to kill Rorschach, but he is smarter and ultimately gets everyone killed. 

Credit DC Comics

Two of Rorschach’s former teammates, Nite Owl II and Silk Spectre II, begin to suspect that there might be something to Rorschach’s theory of a superhero-focused serial killer and go to help him escape from jail during the riot so that they can continue the investigation. Just after Nite Owl II and Silk Spectre II arrive at his rescue, Rorschach finds Big Figure hiding in the men’s room and murders him, after which they escape from jail. 

After the prison riot, Dr. Manhattan returns from his self-exile to transport Silk Spectre II to Mars. After acquiring a replacement suit from his apartment, Rorschach, along with Nite Owl II, enter the bars of the underworld to find out who ordered the assassination attempt on Veidt. They end up getting a name, a company called Pyramid Transports, and then they break into Veidt’s office. 

Nite Owl II correctly deduces Veidt’s password and discovers that he runs Pyramid Transports. Rorschach, who has been writing the journal from the very first panel of the story, realizes that they will be no match for Veidt. He writes his last entry in the diary, stating in it his certainty that Veidt is responsible for what may happen next and puts it in a mailbox. 

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How did Rorschach die in the comics?

Nite Owl II and Rorschach head off to Antarctica, where they learn of the true nature of the conspiracy and Veidt’s motivations: to unite the world against a supposed alien threat and thus stop a possible nuclear holocaust caused by a war between the West and the East. Veidt reveals to them that he had put the plan in motion long before they arrived.

Dr. Manhattan and Silk Spectre II arrive at the base after seeing the massacre that Veidt’s fake alien had caused in New York City, where millions died. Despite their hatred, Nite Owl II, Silk Spectre II, and Doctor Manhattan agree to keep quiet about the true nature of the events as the United States have surprisingly entered into a peace agreement with the Soviet Union. 

Rorschach faces Doctor Manhattan and orders him to kill him or else he would reveal the truth to the world. Dr. Manhattan obeys by vaporizing him in front of everyone. 

In the final panels of the comic, we see Rorschach’s diary arriving at the offices of the New Frontiersman, a right-wing newspaper Rorschach was a fan of. Outraged by the new agreement between the Soviet Union and the United States, the editor discards a two-page story he had planned. He leaves it to his assistant Seymour to decide how to fill the space and Seymour begins searching the filing cabinet for the journal. 

Did Dr. Manhattan really kill Rorschach?

This section is going to be the shortest, as the answer to is it quite straightforward since I’ve already told you everything you needed to know about the circumstances that led to Dr. Manhattan killing Rorschach. 

Dr. Manhattan is, just in short, an omnipotent god-like being that is, by all standards, more powerful than any other fictional character ever created. He can create life but, in the same manner, also destroy it. So, when Dr. Manhattan killed Rorschach by literally disintegrating him from existence, the death was both real and finite. 

Dr. Manhattan’s abilities are on such a level that he can easily do what he wants and he wanted to kill Rorschach, which is what he did. I am going to discuss the reasons for that in the next section, but you have to know that he really did it. It might seem strange for the main hero – regardless of his moral stances – to die in such a brutal way, but Alan Moore is that kind of author and it’s really nothing strange for him to kill off his main man. 

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Now, let us examine the reasons behind Dr. Manhattan’s move. 

Why did Dr. Manhattan kill Rorschach?

To fully understand why Dr. Manhattan killed Rorschach, I have to explain their psychologies in short. 

On one side, we have Dr. Manhattan, a former human scientist who became the most powerful being in existence. He is omnipotent, omnipresent and omniscient and he has completely lost all touch with his former human side. In such a dehumanized state, Dr. Manhattan observes the world from a purely pragmatical perspective. 

On the other hand, Rorschach is a moral absolutist. He is a firm idealist, but he is so firm in enforcing his ideals that he recognizes only black and white – you’re either good or you’re not. There is no in between and everyone who’s not his ally is his enemy. He has proven to be absolutely firm and unshakeable in his beliefs. 

Now, you have to put these two psychologies into perspective, i.e., summarize the facts. Ozymandias, in order to prevent a nuclear holocaust, creates a fake alien threat and sacrifices millions of lives for the benefit of the human race. Lives were lost, but from a long term perspective, Ozymandias could be viewed as a savior. 

Dr. Manhattan’s pragmatic view saw the benefits of Ozymandias’ plan, while Rorschach saw in him a despicable villain that slaughtered millions. Nite Owl II and Silk Spectre II agreed to keep quiet about the truth, as it might endanger the newly-formed peace, but Rorschach, staying true to his values, couldn’t do that. He was also aware that the others wouldn’t reconsider their stances and that he could not fight them. 

That is why he told Dr. Manhattan to kill him, as that was the only way for him to stay true to his own absolutist ideals; in addition to that, he had already sent out his diary to the news, which was a sort of backup plan for him. Dr. Manhattan, aware of the inevitability of Rorschach’s fate and also in keeping with his own ideals, killed him and that is how everything played out.