Moral Hero and Immoral World: A Study of Ethics in "Watchmen"

Term Paper 2011 17 Pages

American Studies - Literature


Table of Contents

1. Introduction

2. Rorschach: Psychotic Killer or Hero in Disguise

3. Veidt: Megalomaniac Genius or Desperate Gambler?

4. Conclusion

5. Works Cited

1. Introduction

Watchmen belongs to the most complex comics ever published by DC Comics and tackles a grand variety of themes on a tectonical level. This paper will particular shed light on the actions and conduct of Veidt and Rorschach. By doing so, it will discuss whether their behavior is – according to our Western system of values - morally and ethically sustainable. Another question this paper will touch upon is to which degree both characters deconstruct our classical notion of the superhero.

2. Rorschach: Psychotic Killer or Hero in Disguise?

Despite adhering to the protagonists in the comic “Watchmen”, Rorschach simultaneously represents one of the most ambiguous and complex characters. His struggle for the good implies the deployment of torture, violent interrogations and other atrocious actions. Hence, the rise of the question whether Rorschach’s unorthodox methods are justified in order to “punish the evil” (Chapter 1, p. 24, fig. 6) and disseminate the good are more than intelligible. But are his actions morally and ethically acceptable or do they actually come into conflict with our notion of morality. And furthermore, do they undermine our “classical conception of the superhero”?

According to the definition of Peter Coogan a superhero is as followed

A heroic character with a selfless, pro-social mission; with superpowers – extraordinary abilities, advanced technology, or highly physical, mental, or mystical skills; who has a superhero identity embodied in a codename and iconic costume, which typically express his biography, character, powers, or origin (transformation from ordinary person to superhero); and who is generically distinct […] by a preponderance of generic conventions (Coogan 77).

“The plot is structured around his [Rorschach’s] investigation of several murders” (Loftis 67). His first station in the process of his investigations leads him to the bar where Rorschach reveals his high potential of aggression by using the provocative man (cf. Chapter 1, p. 15, fig. 7) as “mere mean” (Nuttall 94) to interrogate the audience which he perceives as “cockroaches” (Chapter 1, p. 10, fig. 9). He does not hesitate to use fear and violence as demonstrative instruments of his power and superiority:

illustration not visible in this excerpt

(Chapter 1, p. 16, fig. 4, 6, 9)

Therefore, Rorschach reveals already at this early stage of the plot development a consequentialist attitude since “he believes that [his] actions should be judged by their consequences, implying that the ends will sometimes justify the means” (Loftis 64) – in that case the disclosure of Edward Blake’s murder. Furthermore despite his violent interrogation at the bar, the breach into the apartment of Dreiberg (cf. Chapter 1, p. 10, fig. 4 ff.) and the military residence of Dr. Manhattan (cf. Chapter 1, p. 19, fig. 1 ff.), Rorschach – at least according to Immanuel Kant (cf. Loftis 71) – still remains a moral (anti-) hero since he possesses the “will to do good” (71): warning the others of a masked killer and the arrest of the perpetrator. Rorschach separates good and evil and adheres fervently to this “dichotomous thinking” (72) which simultaneously highlights his “failure to recognize the intrinsic value of persons” (72) and his inability to change stance. When Moloch explains Rorschach that he is “not Moloch anymore” (Chapter 2, p. 21, fig. 4), but a “retired businessman” (Chapter 2, p. 21, fig. 3), Rorschach is not willing and not able to believe him since according to his world conception if one has been once evil, one will always remain evil – and “evil must be punished” (Chapter 1, p. 24, fig. 6). Again, “Rorschach slips into a consequentialist reasoning in order to justify a hyper masculine display of power and violence” (Loftis 72). His struggle for justice is morally marginal since it often appears as if Rorschach’s main focus does not necessarily lay in the well-being of society but rather in the satisfaction of his own psycho-sadistic bloodlust for justice (cf. Chapter 6, p.23, fig. 1 ff.) which contradicts the classical notion of the superhero who acts unselfish, pro-social – and sometimes even altruistic – to preserve law and order (cf. Coogan 77 ff.). In the next vital scene, Rorschach falls into a trap and is arrested by the law enforcement – but not after exorbitant resistance:

illustration not visible in this excerpt

(Chapter 5, p. 26, fig. 4; p. 27, fig. 1, 4)



ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Book)
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Institution / College
Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz – Department of English and Linguistics
Watchmen American Comic Rorschach Veidt Comic Ethics in Comics




Title: Moral Hero and Immoral World: A Study of Ethics in "Watchmen"