HBO's upcoming Watchmen TV show, developed by Lost's Damon Lindelof, features a cult of people who all wear masks based on Rorschach's iconic design - but who are they? Set around thirty years after the events of Alan Moore, Dave Gibbons and Dave Higgins' graphic novel, Watchmen will include Adrian Veidt a.k.a. Ozymandias and possibly other characters from the original story as well. However, it will be primarily focused on new characters and a fresh story, even moving the action from New York City to Tulsa, Oklahoma.
Lindelof has insisted that his Watchmen isn't exactly a sequel, but has also said that the events of the graphic novel will remain canon. That means that the Rorschach we see in the TV show can't be Walter Kovacs, the original Rorschach, since he was blown to smithereens by Doctor Manhattan after threatening to reveal Ozymandias' evil scheme to the world. However, it appears that the original Rorschach inspired others to use his mask for their own cause: a war on the police.
Here's what we know so far about HBO's Watchmen, shrouded in mystery though it is, and what we know so far about the people underneath the Rorschach masks.
The New Rorschachs Emerges In A New Era Of Masks
Whereas masked vigilantes were once outlawed in the world of Watchmen, thirty years later it seems that masks have gone mainstream. Prominently featured in the teaser footage and promotional images for HBO's series are these police officers, all of whom wear yellow masks that cover their faces up to just underneath their eyes. When combined with the brims of their hats, it's nearly impossible to discern the identity of the officer under the mask. It's unclear when exactly the police in Tulsa adopted this new uniform, or whether police officers all over America wear similar masks. However, the police appear to be under the command of a mysterious character in a cowboy hat, who also wears a mask.
Also featured in the footage from Watchmen are two characters who also appear working with the man in the cowboy hat - one in a shiny silver mask, and one in a thicker, balaclava-like red mask. It's possible that these are also police officers, perhaps detectives who don't adhere to the same dress code as the beat cops. It's also possible that they're a new breed of vigilante. For now, we still have no idea if they are benevolent, malevolent, or something in between.
The Rorschachs Are At War With the Police
HBO's Watchmen appears to be about a war between masks: masked police officers, and masked vigilantes. The Rorschachs are shown climbing out of a van at night and walking into a building carrying guns, followed by shots from a funeral attended by police and, in voiceover, "They came for everybody. All police." It also seems as though this is a resurgence of the Rorschach gang, since there's mention of them going into hibernation and then returning.
It's unclear who the good guys and bad guys of Watchmen are, and it's unlikely to be that simple anyway, but the Rorschachs do appear to be the antagonists. They are shown reciting the words "tick tock, tick tock, tick tock" while standing in what looks like a run-down church in front of words from Psalm 65:1 - "Praise waiteth for thee, oh God, in Zion." They're also shown committing acts of extreme violence, at one point mounting a machine gun, and apparently bringing chaos to Tulsa.
Set photos have revealed that, after thirty years, the masked heroes from Watchmen have gained a kind of legendary status, and are the subject of a TV show called American Hero Story: Minutemen. With that in mind, it's likely that this cult of Rorschachs was founded by someone who idolized the first Rorschach after seeing him in newspapers and documentaries, and then recruited others to their cause. The original Rorschach was a morally grey character, who responded to the horrors of the world by committing horrors of his own, but the end of Watchmen emphasizes that morality is absolute, rather than flexible. He is murdered because he refuses to keep the secret of what Ozymandias did, even if it means that people will have died for nothing. That kind of moral absolutism is very conducive to forming a cult, and could be used to justify all sorts of violence.
The New Rorschachs Have A Different Kind Of Mask
The original Rorschach's mask was pretty unique. The fabric consisted of two layers with fluid in between, creating black shapes that shifted according to heat and pressure, creating an effect similar to the inkblot test developed by Swiss psychoanalyst Henrik Rorschach. The material was originally designed to be used in a woman's dress, but Walter Kovacs - who came across it while working for a dressmaker - took the leftover fabric home and used it to create a face that he could stand to look at in the mirror.
By contrast, the masks that we see in the teasers for HBO's Watchmen are more like a low-fi imitation of the real thing. Not only do they have eye holes, which the original Rorschach's never did, but they are also made quite out of simple white cloth. The black pattern on the front has simply been spray-painted on and doesn't change its shape (though the different Rorschachs have different patterns). The Rorschach cult also haven't gone so far as to adopt the original's fedora and trench coat look, but are instead wearing regular street clothes. This means that they could potentially launch an attack and then disappear into the crowd simply by removing their masks - something that fits with the declaration, "We are everyone. We are no one. And we are invisible."
Rorschach Is Malcolm Long's Son In Doomsday Clock... But Not On HBO
Since the release of the original Watchmen limited series, there have been two follow-up series published by DC Comics: a prequel series called Before Watchmen, and a sequel series called Doomsday Clock. The latter series, like HBO's Watchmen TV show, featured a successor to the mantle of Rorschach: Reggie Long, son of Malcolm Long, the psychiatrist who evaluated Walter Kovacs during his time in jail. Reggie was institutionalized following the devastation in New York City, but escaped with the help of former vigilante superhero Mothman, who gave Reggie the Rorschach mask as a parting gift. Thereafter, Reggie took up Rorschach's name and signature look.
While it might seem obvious to look for clues to HBO's Watchmen sequel in the other Watchmen sequel, it's safe to say that Reggie Long definitely won't be the leader of the Rorschachs in the TV show. In his open letter outlining his general vision for the series, Damon Lindelof wrote that "this new story must be original. It has to vibrate with the seismic unpredictability of its own tectonic plates." That's an elaborate way of saying that no, the show won't be based on Doomsday Clock - not least because it was in development before Doomsday Clock #4 (which explored Reggie Long's backstory and how he became Rorschach) was even published.