Rorschach and Nite Owl: Opposing Forces, Quintessential Allies

Of all the partnerships in Watchmen, one stands out a little bit more than the rest: Rorschach and Nite Owl. While both characters feel like very opposing characters on a personal level (political views, personalities, morality, etc.), they somehow manage to make a partnership and a friendship work. One of the many things I appreciate about this graphic novel is how Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons approach these to character.

I’d like to discuss the more notable reasons on how these characters are opposites. I’ll then discuss what makes them good teammates and friends.

Trust

Trust is not earned, it’s given. Or so the old saying goes. And these two exemplify that. On the one hand you have Rorschach, who has very little trust in people. The other, Dan, who is a lot more trusting. Both are that way to a fault, with Dan being the only person Rorschach is the least suspicious of, while Dan at times shouldn’t be as trusting (i.e. with Twilight Lady).

Rorschach is someone who trusts almost no one. A lot of his issues could be placed back on his childhood. And between his childhood and the present (of Watchmen) there is very little known about what he went through.

Rorschach is someone who trusts almost no one. A lot of his issues could be placed back on his childhood. And between his childhood and the present (of Watchmen) there is very little known about what he went through.

How much or little they trust others balances out. Of course, there may not be a “middle ground” of how much they trust, but I’d say Dan’s trust outweighs Rorschach’s cynicism and vise versa. In essence, they exemplify the need for trust and when not to.

Compromise

‘Never compromise. Not even in the face of Armageddon.’ If that doesn’t exemplify Rorschach’s stubbornness and mindset, I don’t know what does. Rorschach lives by a very strict no compromise rule. While arguably a trait that shows how passionate he can be, it also makes him stubborn and absolute in his decisions. Dan, while obviously having a sense of decisiveness and objectivity, has more lenience when it comes to compromise.

No greater example than during the climax of Watchmen. After Ozymandias (Adrian Veidt) sends the alien squid (or uses Dr. Manhattan’s radiation in the movie) to attack, and kill several million people, everyone is horrified by it. And at first, they do want to tell the world what Ozymandias did. However, after a discussion on the principle of what Adrian did, everyone sees where he was coming from. That he felt he had to do it to prevent an even bigger conflict. Understanding, without condemning or condoning it.

All except for Rorschach. He vehemently opposed the notion, feeling the people must be told. Even if that meant imposing war between the U.S. and Russia. Dan would try to stop him, but Rorschach would say not to compromise, even in the face of Armageddon. In the movie, they took it a little further when Rorschach states that’s the difference between him and Daniel.

The need for compromise is an insightful thought. When to compromise and why has its variables. Whether one agrees with Adrian or Rorschach in this situation is understandable as both bring a certain avenue to the idea of compromise. This situation is one example of how Rorschach and Dan stand in regards to compromising.

Abuse and Mothers

While trauma effects every differently, these to had similar, but opposing trauma in there childhoods. Rorschach’s was more well known up until Before Watchmen, where Before Watchmen: Nite Owl tries to give Dan a little more backstory.

As stated earlier, a lot of Rorschach’s problems can be traced back to two things: his childhood and Blair Roche. In his childhood, Rorschach was subjected to physical and emotional abuse from his mother. There was a point where she even tells him she wished she never had him. His mother wasn’t a good parent to say the least, to the point when it was reveled that she died, he was unbothered by it.

On the flip side, there’s Dan. He was never abused himself, but his mother was. In Before Watchmen: Nite Owl, it is shown that Dan’s father was abusive towards Dan’s mother. His mom cared for him, but there wasn’t much he could do to help her. Dan’s father would later pass awa

Abuse and mothers may sound like an odd observation between these two. And who was abused vs the abuser even stranger. Rorschach’s mother was abusive while Dan’s was abused. Rorschach was abused while Dan was not. It’s a weird case of opposing childhoods that would effect Dan and Rorschach in their later years.

Why it Works: Yin and Yang

A lot of this comes down to the concept of Yin and Yang. And not just because Rorschach fits with the aesthetic (black and white symbolism). They certainly have attributes of both, but I have reason to believe that Rorschach is the Yin to Nite Owl’s Yang.

In concept, Rorschach fits the cold, negative, darkness of Yin. As someone who has been through a lot of trauma, abuse from his mother and the Blair Roche case being prime examples, he certainly has a dark and negative world view. He also comes off as cold. Emotions were never quite his area of expertise. He’s crass, blunt, and aggressive.

On the other hand, there is Dan. He’s a warmer character who has a lighter moral view, and tries to be more positive. Dan certainly has his own issues with confidence, when compared to Rorschach, he is less grim. He’s a lot calmer, friendlier and optimistic.

In a more broader sense, their personalities and affiliations fit the Yin and Yang dynamic as well. Rorschach is proud, aggressive and would be considered politically right. Dan is more self conscious and passive, and could potentially be more left leaning politically. Differences of opinion and personalities don’t necessarily mean people can’t get along. Sometimes people need that different point of view in a situation or discussion to understand it. People can also respectfully disagree without it breaking friendships.

In a lot of ways, they are two sides of the the same coin. Opposites that can’t exist without the other. That’s something that I think is neat in a symbolic way. It may not have been an intent on Moore’s part, but having these two being friends and a sort of representation of Yin and Yang works well. It has a nice duality to it.

Why it Works: As Friends

One would think that with how different they are, being friends would be challenging. One is more aggressive and problematic, while the other is more passive and friendlier. One would think that Dan wouldn’t want to be friends with Rorschach because of how difficult he can be. But what I think makes their partnership and friendship work is because they are friends.

Dan puts up with a lot in Watchmen’s present with Rorschach through out Watchmen. Mostly towards his attitude throughout (Dan was a little skeptical about the “Masked Killer” theory, but outside of that, he never showed much sign of being angered by it). That said, Rorschach wasn’t always like that. He wasn’t as obsessive or aggressive as he was in Watchmen. Rorschach was certainly a lot more gruff (as seen in the movie’s flashback and Before Watchmen), but he was less volatile. His childhood and why he became Rorschach certainly didn’t help, but it was the Blair Roche case that really cut any semblance of Walter he had left (being “soft” on crime).

As previously mentioned, Rorschach has a hard time trusting people. He may have respected the Comedian, but he never really connected with the other Crimebusters. He also doesn’t trust women (take that as you will), stemming mostly from his mother.

However, there is one person he can trust. One person he considers a friend. Dan. Their partnership was a simple one. They fought crime, with Dan being more technologically and mechanically intelligent while Rorschach was more interested in action and investigating. In Before Watchmen: Nite Owl, it started off with Rorschach offering to watch Dan’s back, and from there becoming the dynamic duo they were known for.

While from a team perspective, it worked, the lasting effect it had on Rorschach is meaningful. Throughout Watchmen, most of the former Crimebusters see Rorschach as paranoid and obsessive. Dan certainly had his doubts, but was a lot more patient with Rorschach. He’s also the one to decide to spring him out of jail. He does a lot for Rorschach, despite them growing apart, and is one of the only people to go out of his way for Rorschach. It isn’t until Rorschach makes a statement on how Dan “forgot how they did things”, and that he’s “too trusting, especially with women”, or that he was lazing (in the comic) that Dan finally fights back. Dan response with, “Okay, no, listen: I’ve had it with that! God, who do you think you are, Rorschach?! You live off people while insulting them, and nobody complains because they think you’re a goddamn lunatic!” in the movie, with the comic being pretty much the same with the added mention of how hard it

It isn’t until Rorschach makes a statement on how Dan “forgot how they did things”, and that he’s “too trusting, especially with women”, or that he was lazing (in the comic) that Dan finally fights back. Dan response with, “Okay, no, listen: I’ve had it with that! God, who do you think you are, Rorschach?! You live off people while insulting them, and nobody complains because they think you’re a goddamn lunatic!” in the movie, with the comic being pretty much the same with the added mention of how hard it is to be his friend.

This seems to get through to Rorschach. And while Dan apologizes for the outburst, it’s Rorschach, who apologizes for how he acted and commends Dan for being a good friend. Rorschach knows it isn’t easy and knows he can be difficult.

This has a lot of meaning when you read into it. Never before, or since, has really apologized for his behavior. Only in this moment with his only friend. In Rorschach’s forty year life, he had no one there for him. He was unable to connect with a waitress in Before Watchmen: Rorschach, despite kicking it off initially. Dan is the only real friend Rorschach has. The only person he’s truly gotten close to. The only dose of humanity he’ll latch onto.

And then there’s Dan. While he can certainly has an easier time making a connection, I feel Rorschach is what he needs. Someone who can be this other side of him. He’s also the person Rorschach needs. Someone who’s sensitive and open minded. Someone who has the patience to deal with Rorschach’s inner workings.

Friendships come from a number of backgrounds and reasons. For Dan and Rorschach, despite their differences, are the only people who could stand being friends with the either. Their differences balance each other and benefit each other. Rorschach needs a friend who is patient with him, can work with him, and willing to point out where he’s wrong. And Dan needed a friend who could bring out more in him and will watch out for him, despite the aggravation Rorschach may provide at times.

Conclusion

Rorschach and Nite Owl. Walter Kovacs and Dan Dreiberg. Two characters who have very different perspectives and life experiences, who seem to make a friendship and partnership work. Opposing upbringings, trust and compromise are a piece of a bigger picture. A duality exemplified between two characters, who would otherwise be considered as different as different can be.

Published by artistatheart1

She/Her who enjoys fantasy, writing, DC Comics and more

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