Alan Moore’s epic Watchmen comic book is arguably the best comic book ever written. A gritty superhero story that shows the corruption of a not-so-distant dystopian future, Watchmen is a metaphor for a heroless future filled with heroes. The story featured a lot of shocking moments, but one of the most shocking ones was definitely the one when Dr. Manhattan killed Rorschach, his former colleague from the Watchmen. That murder was a surprising twist, but it did fit both Dr. Manhattan’s and Rorschach’s characters. Why?
Dr. Manhattan killed Rorschach because he himself wanted it; it was a mercy killing. Namely, Rorschach did not want to compromise his moral stances and would tell the world of Ozymandias’ plan, thereby destroying the newly nascent world peace, which is something Dr. Manhattan could not allow. Since Rorschach wouldn’t give up on his intention, Dr. Mahattan had to kill him.
Now that we’ve given you a short introduction, let us discuss the topic of this article in more detail.
Ozymandias’ plan explained
The focal point of Moore’s narrative is a conspiracy theory discovered by Rorschach after the murder of Edward Blake, the alter ego of the superhero Comedian. Blake’s murder was overly suspicious and Rorschach, at one point, suspects that there is an underlying plot to kill all superheroes (despite their identities being mostly secret), which is seemingly further confirmed when Ozymandias (Adrian Veidt) survives an assassination attempt sometime later. But things weren’t really that simple.
Collaborating with Nite Owl II (Daniel Driberg), Rorschach continues the investigation and discovers clues suggesting Veidt’s involvement in the conspiracy. Rorschach writes all the evidence in his diary, which he then sends to a local right-wing newspaper; Nite Owl II, and he then confronts Ozymandias in his Antarctic retreat.
Ozymandias then admits that he is, indeed, in the center of the conspiracy, but Rorschach was off with his conclusions. Namely, the plot wasn’t to eliminate superheroes but to unite the world against a common, external enemy and avert a grand-scale nuclear war. Ozymandias then created a plan to summon a gigantic, alien squid-like monster to New York which will annihilate the city, thus creating a common threat that will force people to collaborate and establish world peace. Nite Owl II and Rorschach try to stop him, but it’s already too late – Ozymandias has put his plan into action.
Millions of people perish, but surprisingly enough, the people really unite against a common enemy and despite the high price, world peace is established. Meanwhile, Dr. Manhattan and Silk Spectre II have also arrived at Ozymandias’ retreat, where they are informed about Ozymandias’ plan and its success. And this is where things get interesting.
Why did Dr. Manhattan kill Rorschach?
Faced with the truth and its results, Dr. Manhattan and Rorschach, the two protagonists of our article, reacted completely differently.
Dr. Manhattan, who was once human, but ultimately became completely dehumanized after his transformation, saw the greater good of Ozymandias’ plan. Namely, by becoming dehumanized, Dr. Manhattan achieved a certain level of objectivity that allowed him to interpret human behavior more properly, seeing the greater good. For Dr. Manhattan, thing were never really just black or white; Dr. Manhattan was able to see and properly interpret the grey in between.
As for Rorschach, he always represented moral absolutism. He was an anti-hero and a vigilante with a strict, albeit bloody moral code that only saw black or white. For Rorschach, you were either good or bad, there was nothing between those two polar opposites. And this fact, their different perceptions, led to Rorschach’s tragic death.
Namely, after realizing the practicality of Ozymandias’ plan, despite the high number of collateral victims, Dr. Manhattan decided to accept it and let Ozymandias get away with it. This was quite a logical decision from his standpoint, as the consequences of Ozymandias’ plan were better for humanity’s sake. But Rorschach couldn’t really live with that. Being the moral objectivist he is, Rorschach viewed Ozymandias as a villain who killed millions, despite his (relatively) noble reasons. From Rorschach’s point of view, Ozymandias was far from being a hero and the grey elements of his persona were non-existent; he killed millions, ergo he was a villain.
After proclaiming his unchangeable view on the whole situation, Rorschach told his colleagues that he had all the evidence in his diary and that he was going to expose Ozymandias and his plan. He then started to leave but was soon confronted by Dr. Manhattan in one of the most memorable scenes of the whole comic book. When Rorschach confirmed his intention to leave and expose Veidt, Dr. Manhattan told him that he could not let him do that.
Rorschach then stopped and remarked ironically that Manhattan had to protect “Veidt’s new utopia”, a perfect and peaceful world, but built on a horrible lie. He then proclaimed that if Manhattan wished to stop him, he would have to kill him, taking of his iconic mask and showing his angry face, full of tears. Faced with the inevitable, Dr. Manhattan indeed killed Rorschach, disintegrating him in front of the others.
It was really a mercy killing since Rorschach wouldn’t have wanted to live in such a world, a world built on a lie, a world where his personal motto – “never compromise” – was just an empty phrase. And, on the other hand, he could not accept the group’s decision because that would’ve meant that he stomped all over himself and all of his ideals. He would’ve made a compromise, the only thing he always told one shouldn’t do, despite the circumstances.
Rorschach dies because of his ideals, because of the incompatibility of his objectivist world view with the grey of human behaviour; Dr. Manhattan did not want to eliminate him, but both of them knew that it was the only possible solution and so he did. And this is the story of how Rorschach died; alongside the comic book scene, you can check out his death in this clip from Zack Snyder’s Watchmen movie