So we don’t talk politics much here on the nerd farm. Seems kind of outside our mission statement. But this past week, a bit of political news hit that seemed more in our line: Republican presidential hopeful Ted Cruz gave reporters a list of his five favorite super heroes. For the most part, it’s a pretty standard list: Spider-Man, Wolverine, Batman and Iron Man are all on it, and that’s just fine. Fun facts, and all that. But at number five on the list is a surprising character:
That is, of course, Rorschach, one of the heroes of Alan Moore & Dave Gibbons’ Watchmen. And he is a fascinating choice. For one thing, I’m mildly stunned that a mainstream political figure actually knows who Rorschach is. Even after a quarter-century on the bestseller list and a major motion picture, Watchmen is not a book I expect to come up in answers to fluffy pop culture softball questions from a national political campaign. But Cruz is a self-avowed comics and sci-fi buff, so I guess he’s proving his bona-fides here. Still, though…
This has caused a bit of a stir in some circles. Some have argued that Rorschach isn’t a hero at all, but a madman. A vigilante driven off the deep end by the horrors he’s seen. And it’s hard to argue against that perspective. This is, after all, a character we’re introduced to with this bit of dark poetry:
Dog carcass in alley this morning,
Tire tread on burst stomach.
This city is afraid of me.
I have seen its true face.
And this, as he marches dispassionately through a pool of human blood, carrying a picket sign that reads “The End is Nigh.”
As we get to know him further, we learn that he often speaks in compact, broken sentences, devoid of extraneous details like definite articles, and that he routinely brutalizes (read: kills and maims) criminal informants.
His responses to the ink blot test from which he takes his name are harrowing enough to drive his psychiatrist into a deep depression.
And he views his mask as his real face.
The guy’s batshit. Completely bonkers. But if you’re arguing that he’s not at the same time a hero, you’re being disingenuous. Rorschach’s filled with heroic qualities. And in a different narrative, one not so hell-bent on examining the dark side of heroism, he would be the clear-cut protagonist. He’s got an epic tenacity about him, an unstoppable drive to serve the greater good, no matter what.
It’s this mono-maniacal drive for truth, justice, and (yes) the American Way that leads him to dig into the Comedian’s death when no one else will. He also goes to great lengths to warn his former allies, lest one of them become the next victim. And, again, in a more traditional heroic narrative, their refusal to listen to him would mark them as fools and villains. But at the heart of it all, even in this story, it’s Rorschach’s unyielding moral center, the quality that drives him to pursue the truth with reckless bravery, that truly makes him a hero.
Of course, it’s also what makes him crazy. Or part of what makes him crazy, at least. That whole “face” thing is a pretty clear indication, as well. But that moral certainty, that utter lack of doubt, marks him just as clearly. Of course, I’m sure that’s also a big part of his appeal to Cruz. “Compromise” has become a dirty word at Cruz’s end of the political right wing, and Rorschach is about as uncompromising a right-wing hero as you could ask for. I mean, he says as much:
But I think his appeal to Cruz goes much deeper. Let’s go back to that first journal entry again, for instance, from the very first page of Watchmen:
Crazy, yes. But there’s a certainty to it, a steadfast belief, that’s got to appeal to a guy like Cruz. Plus, all that stuff about “a day’s work for a day’s pay,” and the blasting of the “liberals and intellectuals” sounds like a crazy person’s version of Cruz’s own platforms. Also, get this:
Snicker. Now, it’s certainly funny to think that Cruz is all about some “American Love.” But it’s also a little unfair. Even considering the man’s stance on gay marriage and a raft of other social/sexual issues, I wouldn’t want to seriously suggest he’s that square. Rorschach, again, is just in the crazy person section of the same ballpark.
I do like the coda to the American Love speech, though. It puts those extreme moral stances in perspective, grounds them. Reminds us that, crazy and oppressive as some of this stuff might sound, it grows out of positive roots. “Nothing is hopeless. Not while there’s life.” That’s a lovely sentiment. Makes me want to call Rorschach one of MY favorite super heroes, too.
Of course, then I remember how and why he dies, and at that point…
…not so much.
It’s not that I think he’s wrong, exactly. He’s not. Veidt’s plan is monstrous. He may have pulled the human race back from the brink of armageddon, but the way he’s done it is morally reprehensible. And there’s a part of me that agrees with Rorschach even as the rest of me understands that it’s too late to do anything but go along with it. Now, that moral quagmire is great stuff. It’s one of the things that makes Watchmen a work of literary merit, and Rorschach a great character. But if we’re talking favorite super heroes…
…we’re talking about pop culture icons that resonate with us personally. Characters we admire or identify with, characters we remember fondly from childhood, or think are really cool. And, not to take this thing too seriously, but… If that’s something Cruz can honestly say about Rorschach?
Well, I wasn’t planning to vote for the guy, anyway…