WARNING: This article contains SPOILERS for Watchmen & Doomsday Clock
The Watchmen are back in DC's Doomsday Clock, which means fans are asking: how could Rorschach be alive after Dr. Manhattan killed him? It's the moment from Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons's acclaimed series that no reader could ever forget, summing up the moral dilemmas at the heart of the story - and perfectly demonstrating the meaning of the title. When the darkest, most morally incorruptible, truth-seeking vigilante is murdered by humanity's 'savior,' the world must wonder "who watches the watchmen?"
But with the arrival of Doomsday Clock, DC's direct sequel to Watchmen, the question is... how is Rorschach back in the story? His iconic mask has been used to advertise the series, and as one of the returning stars of the original series searching for Dr. Manhattan, casual comic fans may cry foul. Surely, this is a case of a major comic publisher erasing the legacy of Watchmen, right?
Wrong. It's a new Rorschach making his mark on the DC Universe, and for one very specific reason, could be Geoff Johns's most direct homage to the world of the first Watchmen.
Not Even Dr. Manhattan Can Kill Rorschach?
Given just how big a role Dr. Manhattan played in DC's Rebirth, fans knew that a Watchmen crossover or explanation would be coming soon. But when the publisher revealed the first six pages of Doomsday Clock #1, the preview ended on a bombshell. The narration from writer Geoff Johns succeeded in capturing the spirit of Rorschach, the grizzled, cynical narrator of Alan Moore's series - before he was murdered in the story's climax. So when the final page showed Rorschach alive and well, and once again commanding the respect and fear of imprisoned criminals, fans didn't know what to think.
Now that the first issue has arrived, there's context that can be added, even if it's just as surprising for fans somewhat hesitant about a certified DC sequel. For starters, Rorschach is still every bit as jaded and fearful of humanity's approaching self-destruction (if he is really fearful of anything). With Ozymandias's genocidal scheme exposed and foiled, nuclear annihilation is all but guaranteed when Rorschach steps onto the scene, seeking out imprisoned criminals who may be a part of mankind's last hope.
One criminal in particular who has a history with Rorschach. Just... not this one.
The Twist: A New Rorschach Now Wears The Mask
That's right, it's Rorschach himself who confirms that he's not the same man who lived a life fighting crime alongside the Minutemen, proving it to his new recruit - Erika Manson, the Marionette - by removing a glove and showing his skin to be decidedly NOT Caucasian. That means the original Rorschach, Walter Kovacs, truly was murdered by Dr. Manhattan to keep Adrian Veidt's plan from unraveling (which it did anyway). That's not the story the world learned, however, as Manson eventually reveals that the most popular myth is that Rorschach killed himself. But not before murdering his former teammates Night Owl and Silk Spectre.
Don't worry, Watchmen fans: once Rorschach reunites with Ozymandias the truth comes out. Fortunately for those who always hoped that Dan Dreiberg and Laurie Juspeczyk really did get their happy ending at the close of Watchmen, the pair are actually "retired." That's left Ozymandias with only this new Rorschach to ally himself, but it appears that 'Rorschach II' has earned his admiration. In the final scenes uniting Ozymandias, Rorschach, Marionette and her husband Mime, the 'smartest man in the world' explains that the man under the mask may be more formidable than his predecessor.
"The first Rorschach was an interesting man. A cruel one in some respects, but someone who held onto his principles. He was predictable. Uncompromising. But this one..." At that point the new Rorschach silences Adrian Veidt, voicing his anger and discomfort with so much talk about another Rorschach, now that he has taken the name. The implication is that this mystery Rorschach is less predictable, adaptable, possibly even uncommitted to any guiding principles. Some would say that subverts what Rorschach was supposed to mean... but you can't deny it makes him potentially more interesting.
Now, the only question is: WHO is under the mask? Knowing Geoff Johns's dedication to honoring the original story, most assume it will be a character of color from Moore and Gibbons's first series. The therapist who spoke with Rorschach firsthand? The young boy reading the 'Tales of the Black Freighter' near ground zero of Veidt's attack? Or, as one Twitter user has theorized, could this be DC's new version of J'onn J'onzz, the Martian Manhunter? When an answer arrives, we'll bring it to you.
Doomsday Clock #1 is available now.