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Old 05-05-2022, 01:24 PM   #2 (permalink)
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Chapter I: “At midnight, all the agents...”

(A quote from Bob Dylan: "At midnight all the agents and superhuman crew go out and round up all those who know more than they do".)

We open on an extract from the journal of one of the principal characters, one of the superheroes who goes only by the name of Rorschach (yeah, like the psychology test) which plays out as cops investigate what appears to be a murder. A guy called Blake has been hurled from the top window of his apartment; the cops can see the door, which was chained up, has been broken, as has the window through which the unfortunate Blake made his last exit. The cops become interested though when they see a photograph of the deceased shaking hands with Vice President Ford, and realise he must have been someone important. They're prepared to let it lie however, alluding to the unwanted interference of “masked avengers” and “vigilantes”, and mentioning the name Rorschach for the first time. They remember that the object of their conversation is wanted for two counts of murder and has gone into hiding somewhere, but fear the worst if he should surface and get involved in this with “his other buddies”.

Once the cops have gone out of sight, a shadowy figure emerges, hunkers down and picks up a “happy face” badge that was on the pavement, near the blood that is all that remains to mark the passing of the man known as Edward Blake. The badge is almost ready to be washed down the drain but has remained on the ground. The figure, wearing a trenchcoat, hat and a mask that makes him look completely faceless, notes that the badge is stained with a splash of blood. He then uses a grapple hook to scale the side of the building and enters the room through the broken window from which the previous occupant so fatally exited. He quickly sets about searching the place, methodically, as if he is looking for something specific, something he knows he will find, something that must be there. We note that he is careful, using a straightened clothes hanger to push open the door, as if he expects a booby trap to be set. Having located what he has been looking for, a small push button on the side of one of the walls of the wardrobe, he pushes it and reveals a hidden panel.

Behind the panel is a suit of some sort, a costume as well as weapons, and, looking a little further, an old photograph of what appears to be some friends, all dressed in costumes of some sort, looking very happy. The scene switches to a garage, where two people, one old and one not so old, are reminiscing over old times. Each appear to be the alter-ego of someone or thing called Nite Owl, as the younger advises the older he was the better of the two, but when the younger one, who is named as Danny, leaves and heads back to his own apartment he finds he has an uninvited visitor. It is the man we saw climb into the apartment of the dead man earlier, he with the odd mask on his face. He is sitting eating a can of beans and seems to know Danny, as he addresses him without turning around. We now learn this man is called Rorschach, the same one whose journal was quoted at the beginning and whom the police are hunting for murder.

Now details begin to get filled in a little. Rorschach hands Danny the smiley face badge he picked up off the ground, and tells him it belongs to someone called “The Comedian”. It seems this person's identity was, up to now, a secret, as Rorschach tells him without real interest that it seems Edward Blake was the Comedian. On hearing that the guy is dead - Danny says “THE Comedian?” so he obviously at least knows of him - he leads Rorschach down into the basement where they can talk more privately. Rorschach reveals - to us anyway, through his journal writings; it's unclear as to whether or not Danny knows - that the Comedian had been working for the government for the last ten years or so, helping to effect regime change where the US wanted it effected, and he points out too that Hollis Mason, the original Nite Owl, wrote a book in which he said some unkind things about the Comedian. Danny does not like the implication that Mason might have been involved in the Comedian's murder, but Rorschach shrugs and says he's not implying anything, just making an observation.

As they talk, it becomes clear that Rorschach and Danny (Nite Owl) were once heroes or vigilantes of some sort, as was the Comedian. They obviously partnered up at some point, as when Danny asks what happened to those days, Rorschach snaps “You quit”. It's pretty clear that he, at any rate, is still continuing on in his own special way as some sort of vigilante, even if not one sanctioned by the government, and the final panel before he leaves Danny in the tunnel depicts a man ashamed of himself, and alone.

Having failed to get any information on Blake's death via his usual sources - breaking a man's fingers (a man he doesn't even know and certainly doesn't care about) in a local seedy dive he frequents - Rorschach goes to see Adrian Veidt, a billionaire technology tycoon and said to the the most intelligent man in the world. He theorises that the killing may have been politically motivated - as has already been established, the Comedian was working for the government and had surely stacked up a lot of enemies - but Rorschach discounts this, saying the US has “Doctor Manhattan” and the Soviets are scared of that. Is this a reference, perhaps, to the atomic bomb? Has that really not been used yet in this world? Rorschach seems to think the “Reds” are terrified of it anyway. Rorschach's own theory is that they have a “mask killer” on their hands. He doesn't say what that is, but we can take a guess.

Given that at least three of the people we've met so far (four, including the late Comedian, five if you assume Veidt was also involved) have spoken of heroic deeds, villains and the old days, I think we can put it together. We've already heard of Nite Owl, and Rorschach appears to be another superhero, perhaps part of an “Avengers” or “X-Men”-style group who defended America against crime in maybe the forties or fifties. Most appear to be retired (or dead) now, but it looks like Rorschach is still operating, if independently and alone. He seems disgusted that his former comrades have all given up, and determined to carry on a personal, solo fight against the tide of crime and corruption, as revealed in scathing prose through the entries in his diary.

He goes to see Doctor Manhattan, whom we find out is a person, if such a thing can be said of a blue giant who stands about forty feet high and has no pupils in his eyes. He is in the company of Laurie Jupiter, who does not shed a tear when she hears of the Comedian's death. She tells Rorschach hotly that he tried to rape her mother, back when Blake and she were both Minutemen. Seems this is the older equivalent of the superheroes that Rorschach, Nite Owl and Veidt became; their earlier ancestors, so to speak. Rorschach is not impressed with Jupiter's histrionics; the idea of rape does not seem to impact upon him the way it does us. Doctor Manhattan tells Rorschach that he was informed of the death of the Comedian, as now he is the only agent left working for the government. It's hard to see though, how anyone could even hurt the blue giant, let alone kill him!

The meeting does not go as planned though. When Rorschach shrugs off the idea that Blake raped Laurie's mother - he does not necessarily deny it, but makes it clear he does not care about the event - Doctor Manhattan tells him to go. When he refuses, he finds himself teleported out of the building. One of the many powers of the titan we will come to learn about. Laurie, chafing in her role of being the one to keep Doctor Manhattan happy, as she tells Danny when she meets him later for dinner, reminisces about the old days and wonders what happened to them. The final line is perfect: she says “There don't seem to be so many laughs around these days” and Danny replies sombrely “What do you expect? The Comedian is dead.”
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