...The Question!
Banner: Rorschach by Dave Gibbons

Extreme Question

Rorschach from Alan Moore's Watchmen

Sentinels of Justice art by Eric Newsom after Dave Gibbons
What might have been...
Art by Eric Newsom
after Dave Gibbons

To attempt to tackle Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons' Watchmen is a feat, no matter how you slice it. Even in attempting to analyze the character Rorschach, one finds that the amount of information that could be gathered pvoes to be too much for a simple webpage.

So instead, we'll present information on Rorschach as he relates to the Question, Mr. A and Steve Ditko, and we'll leave the interpretations, the literary criticism, the psychoanalysis and declarations of "Rorschach is teh kewlest" for other sites (some of the best of which we'll link below).

Moore was working on developing a pitch for DC Comics and was running into trouble attempting to find characters that other writers at the company didn't already have dibs on. He told Comic Book Artist magazine in a 2000 interview, "At this point, I came up with this idea regarding the MLJ/Archie characters, and it was the sort of idea that could be applied to any pre-existing group of super-heroes. If it had been the Tower charactersó-the T. H. U. N. D. E. R. Agentsó-I could've done the same thing. The story was about super-heroes, and it didn't matter which super-heroes it was about, as long as the characters had some kind of emotional resonance, that people would recognize them, so it would have the shock and surprise value when you saw what the reality of these characters was."

Moore had done previous work re-energizing old properties for the British anthology Warrior, where he'd revived a golden age character named Marvelman (later renamed Miracleman in the U.S.). Marvelman was a popular feature in England, and reportedly one of the stories that caught writer/editor Len Wein's eye that led to Moore working for DC. Soon the MLJ/Archie proposal shifted gears as DC bought the Charlton action hero line. Moore and Gibbons pitched the idea to former Charlton editor Dick Giordano, then editor-in-chief at DC, and it was well received.

However, the problem was that DC had just shelled out a good bit of money for the Charlton characters, and, as Moore presented his pitch, it became apparent that many of the characters would be dead or unusable by the end of the series. As Moore told Blather.net in 2003, "They didn't fancy the idea of a series where at the end of it a couple of them would be dead and a couple of them would be too messed up to really work with any more, so they said "Why don't you come up with your own characters?" So we said okay and then just took the Charlton characters as a starting point and in a way it was a perfect solution because Captain Atom was a nuclear superhero but he's nowhere near as interesting as Doctor Manhattan!"

The replacement character for the Question turned out to be Rorschach. Moore came to view the character as a sort of extreme version of Ditko. As he told Blather, "Steve Ditko's Question/Mister A, Rorschach is a kind of logical extension of that character but I'm sure it's not one that Steve Ditko himself ever imagined, in fact I did hear that someone was interviewing Steve Ditko and asked him whether he'd seen Watchmen and this character in it called Rorschach and he said "Oh yes, I know that, he's the one who's like Mister A, except Rorschach is insane." [Laughs] I thought, well yeah, that's about what I'd expect! Well, Mister A wasn't, presumably. Yeah so it was just taking these ordinary characters and just taking them a step to the left or right, just twisting them a little bit."

Moore had been familiar with the Question and Mr. A before, of course, as well as their philosophies. As Moore told Comic Book Artist, he had a healthy respect for Ditko despite having different views politically: "With Steve Ditko, I at least felt that though Steve Ditko's political agenda was very different to mine, Steve Ditko had a political agenda, and that in some ways set him above most of his contemporaries....Steve Ditko did have a very right-wing agenda (which of course, he's completely entitled to), but at the time, it was quite interesting, and that probably led to me portraying Rorschach as an extremely right-wing character."

And thus was born, from the almost-ashes of the Question, one of the most memorable comic book characters of all time.

Watchmen Sources

Fishbaugh, Brent (1998) "Moore and Gibbons's Watchmen: Exact Personifications of Science," Extrapolation, 39(3): 189-198.

Hughes, Jamie A. 'Who Watches the Watchmen?': Ideology and 'Real World' Superheroes." Journal of Popular Culture (JPC) 2006 Aug; 39 (4): 546-57.

Thompson, David. "No Laughing Matter." New Statesman; 01/15/2001, Vol. 130 Issue 4520, p40

Wolf-Meyer, Matthew. "The World Ozymandias Made: Utopias in the Superhero Comic, Subculture, and the Conservation of Difference." Journal of Popular Culture, Winter2003, Vol. 36 Issue 3, p497

Watching the Detectives - Stuart Moulthrop

Watchmen Annotations - Ralf Hildebrandt

Watchmen Observations - Steven Blatt

Watchmen Annotations - Doug Atkinson

For Mature Readers: The Adult Audience and Superhero Comic Books - Steven John Padnick (PDF)