WARNING: The following contains spoilers for Rorschach #12, available now from DC Comics.
For the past eleven issues, an investigator was tasked with solving the mystery of the apparent return of Rorschach. Someone wearing the vigilante’s costume attempted to kill presidential candidate Turley, and it was up to this detective to figure out who was under the mask. In Rorschach #11, all the pieces of the puzzle came into place, and the investigator was faced with a choice: to do what his benefactors expected him to, or to continue the mission of “Rorschach” and kill Governor Turley. The investigator set out to visit Turley, but we didn’t yet know what he planned to do.
Now, the Black Label series comes to a shocking end with Rorschach #12 by Tom King, Jorge Fornés, Dave Stewart and Clayton Cowles. And as the investigator makes his choice, the final issue delivers the perfect callbacks to Alan Moore, Dave Gibbons and John Higgins’ Watchmen.
At the end of Rorschach #11, the investigator delivered a signature Rorschach growl, which made it seem like he would indeed follow through with the murder of Governor Turley. Now, in Rorschach #12, the detective walks into the Governor’s office, in order to present the findings of his investigation. The men share a celebratory beer as they sit down but, much to the surprise of Turley, his assistant and the readers, the investigator smashes his beer bottle and uses it to brutally kill the two men.
Once the act is done, all that’s left for the investigator is to walk out of the office and avoid capture from Turley’s security. As he gets ready to leave, blood drips down on Turley’s political pin in an extremely familiar pattern. This cleverly mirrors the iconic smiley-face button of the original Watchmen. The yellow button, covered in a single drip of red blood, is the most recognized piece of imagery from Watchmen — it served as the cover for the first issue of the series, as the cover of future collected editions, posters for the 2009 movie and the button itself returned in DC’s 2016 line-wide relaunch Rebirth, and in 2017’s Doomsday Clock event.
The events of Watchmen began with the murder of the Comedian. As he was killed, one of his signature smiley face pins was covered with his blood, and it became a symbol for everything that would follow — a mystery, an investigation and a dark deconstruction of the American superhero. It all began with blood on a pin, and now, in Rorschach #12, it all ends with blood once again dripping on a pin. This particular nod works as a bookend of sorts, given that the ending is more or less finite. In Watchmen, it was Rorschach who found the pin, and now, it’s the man who carries the Rorschach legacy who creates it. There’s a rhythmic poetry to this ending, one that enforces the cyclical nature of Watchmen and all its repeated imagery.
That’s not where the issue’s Watchmen nods end though. After the investigator escape Turley’s building, he catches a midnight showing of the latest Pontius Pirate movie. The time of the showing, midnight, is also a nod to Watchmen, whose story unfolded against the backdrop of the Doomsday Clock. When the investigator then reaches the counter to buy a ticket, he is informed that he is late. In fact, the film already started “35 minutes ago.” This is yet another nod to Watchmen, in which Ozymandias famously declared that his nefarious plan had been enacted “35 minutes ago.”
These nods continue to weave a thematic connection to Watchmen that goes beyond the Rorschach identity. It makes the Black Label series not just a modern day sequel to Watchmen but its spiritual successor. And it makes the ending of Rorschach, truly, perfect.
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