Doomsday Clock #4 reveals the origin of the new Rorschach, so IGN talked to writer Geoff Johns and artist Gary Frank about how they created the second version of this beloved Watchmen character.
Be sure to check out our review of Doomsday Clock #4.
Warning: Full spoilers for Doomsday Clock #4 ahead!
It turns out that the new Rorschach is Reggie Long, the son of Malcolm Long, the criminal psychologist who attempted to treat the original Rorschach, Walter Kovacs, during his time in prison. When the genetically engineered creature attacked at the end of Watchmen, Reggie was caught in the psychic blast and was driven insane. He was sent to an asylum where he made friends with Byron Lewis, who was once the superhero Mothman, one of the Minutemen.
Byron trained Reggie to fight like each member of the Minutemen. He also gave Reggie the first part of his father’s notes on Walter, and it’s from reading those pages that Reggie was able to better understand Walter’s mindset.
Eventually the pair started a fire and used the distraction to escape. However, Byron chose to walk into the inferno like a moth to the flame while Reggie went on to track down Ozymandias’ hidden antarctic base. While camping out one night on his journey in the snowy wasteland, Reggie put on Rorschach’s mask that Byron had left him, and when he eventually came upon Adrian Veidt in the base, he began to speak like Rorschach, too.
Reggie had planned on killing Adrian, but when he saw that Adrian was sick with a brain tumor and heard him admit that he was wrong and wanted to fix the world, he let him live and joined him in his mission.
For Johns and Frank, bringing the original Rorschach back was never an option, so they got to work on creating a new version that picked up the mantle of the original. Heroes picking up mantles from the previous generation is a strong theme in Watchmen, after all. They wanted this new Rorschach to embrace the concept of the original character.
“If you’ve read the original Watchmen series and you read this issue of Doomsday Clock, Reggie’s perspective on things is a little bit askew. The whole issue is about perspective, and what you see and what you believe, and where’s the truth in it all. And Rorschach represents personal perspective. When you look at his face, you see what you wanna see or what you think you see, and someone will see something different. That’s really what this issue is about in a lot of ways, perspective, and how your personal journey can cloud your perspective,” Johns explained.
Creating the moment where Reggie truly becomes Rorschach was key to completing the character’s transformation.
“When you put on that mask, you change,” Johns said. “If you look at [Reggie] through the issue, his speech patterns start to devolve, but it’s really when the mask comes on and he’s fully consumed by it, and he’s researched and read him. But it’s putting on the mask that really completes that transformation.”
Byron, who had become an addict and was locked away, was integral to Reggie’s journey, and while Byron was using Reggie in part for his own interests, he also came to care for him, and perhaps saved him from the worst of what Rorschach could be.
“There’s a moment where Reggie says, my father’s interviews, there’s only the first few pages, who would take the rest? And [Byron] says, I don’t know, who would? Implying that Byron read those and saw that his father was devolving into something that Reggie didn’t think he was, and so he’s protecting Reggie in a weird way,” Johns pointed out.
However, like a moth to the flame, Byron couldn’t resist his impulses. We see this sentiment echoed when, twice during the issue, a mosquito is shown flying into a bug zapper. Frank elaborated on the thematic importance of that imagery.
“One of the things that Geoff kept talking about all the way through was the idea of being drawn to knowledge, and to revelation, and to light. This reflects the idea that all the characters are somehow trying to find something, some truth. And the insects work as a metaphor for that. The fact that Mothman is just the perfect vehicle; he molds Reggie, helps Reggie move towards that light, move towards that understanding, that revelation,” Frank said.
Another element to that imagery is how it reminds the reader that, as Doctor Manhattan once said to Adrian, humans are nothing but bugs dealing with their own miniscule problems, all while larger forces are at work.
“The question of scale and the question of having a character in the background, this godlike figure of Doctor Manhattan. We start out really, really close on an insect and it fills the panel, this tiny mosquito. And as we come out and we see his little, tiny life snuffed out, it’s a reminder that there’s something relative going on here in terms of scale and in terms what’s going on in the universe,” Frank said. “There are these small people going about their lives, and they don’t really know why they’re doing something, but they’re moving towards their own personal enlightenment. There’s this kind of constant reminder that, at some point, these characters that fill a page and fill a story and are these hugely important things as we turn the page, we’re eventually moving towards a moment where these things are encountering something much, much bigger than them, and then the whole scale of the situation, it changes.”
Johns hinted that this issue is especially important because it foretells what Doctor Manhattan is up to and, more importantly, why he’s doing what he’s doing.
“If you look at the origin story of Walter Kovacs in Watchmen, it ended with him gaining … an understanding of darkness. And this is about the other side of that. What can light do, and where are the detriments of reaching for the light, because there are some. And the quote itself at the end of the book kind of speaks to that, and it speaks to Doctor Manhattan and what he’s up to and why he’s here,” Johns said.
The metaphors explored in the issue come to a head when Reggie finally confronts Adrian, the flame to his moth.
“Reggie has an idea of what Adrian is. And it’s a distorted idea, but it’s what’s moving him forward. And then he gets there, and then all of a sudden he’s confronted by this idea that this thing that he was moving towards isn’t that at all. And it isn’t so much mercy, it’s just the shock, and the collapse,” Frank explained. “And the words which Adrian uses at that point, which go right to the heart of what Reggie’s seeking, what Reggie’s been looking for, and what Reggie has come to think of as his goal, and then all of a sudden he finds that this character mirroring that, and saying these words back to him.”