WARNING: This article contains major spoilers for DC's Doomsday Clock #1, by Geoff Johns and Gary Frank, in stores now.
When DC Comics released the six-page preview of Doomsday Clock in early September, it presented fans of Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons’ Watchmen with a tantalizing mystery: How is Rorschach alive four years after the conclusion of the original story?
As we saw in the closing chapter of Watchmen , Doctor Manhattan made quick work of the masked vigilante after Rorschach refused to go along with the cover up of Ozymandias' actions in New York City. If he isn’t dead, Walter Kovacs is certainly far away from NYC; after splattering Rorschach’s blood all over Ozymandias’ Antarctic layer, Manhattan told Veidt that he “strongly doubted” Rorschach would ever “reach civilization.”
The typically blunt Manhattan was uncharacteristically coy about what he did to Rorschach. Could his newfound love for human life have led to him to teleport Kovacs away rather than disintegrating him as it appeared? Did he leave a trail of blood, then, as a feint? Though our eyes told us otherwise, Manhattan's words hint that he may not have blown up the sociopathic vigilante.
Doomsday Clock #1 partially answers the question by revealing that whether Kovacs survived or not, we aren't dealing with the original Rorschach. When a terrified Erika Manson (Marionette) asks him to prove that he is not the same man who once threatened to throw her down an elevator shaft, he removes a glove to reveal that he is, in fact, a person of color.
The new Rorschach isn’t the first legacy character in the Watchmen universe. Dan Dreiberg was the second Night Owl, replacing his hero, Hollis Mason, who ended up becoming a friend. Sally Jupiter, the original Silk Spectre, trained her daughter, Laurie as a replacement.
Although little is revealed about the new Rorschach in this debut issue, the color of his skin provides a clue about his identity. Johns and Frank drop a couple of other hints to point us in the right direction, as well, but what we believe to be the confirmation of the vigilante's new alter ego is found in the pages of Moore and Gibbons’ original.
If we look back at Watchmen, there are two characters of color who are immediately connected to Rorschach. The first is Doctor Malcolm Long, the prison psychiatrist who treated the deranged vigilante. The second is Bernie, the cigarette smoking kid who spent all his time mooching copies of Marooned -- a comic-book-within-a-comic-book that mirrors the story of Watchmen -- at the newsstand where the sign-wielding Kovacs bought his newspapers.
There’s only one problem with either of these characters assuming the mantle of Rorschach. Both are dead.
Bernie is vaporized at the end of Watchmen #11, and we see the corpse of Doctor Long amongst the bodies and wreckage in the vicinity of Fortieth and Seventh, where Veidt’s telepathic squid materialized.
Of course, people don’t always stay dead in comics. It wouldn’t be surprising if Johns and Frank have retconned the deaths of these two characters, and there are a couple of hints that the may have done just that in Doomsday Clock #1.
The first is on page 18. As Rorschach leads the freed Marionette and Mime to Nite-Owl’s lair in the midst of the evacuation of Manhattan, a file folder falls out of the back seat of his car. This "non-essential possession" comprises a stack of documents, including an inkblot like those used by Long when he administered a Rorschach Test to the imprisoned Kovacs.
The second is rather meta-fictional. The final inked ad promoting Doomsday Clock at the end of the issue shows Rorschach walking away from a burning building. This is perhaps a reference to his first murder, as detailed in Watchmen #6. However, it is not the image that gives the game away. Like all the other ads promoting the new series, the concluding image is accompanied by a quote from the original.
It reads “Go on. Tell me what you really see,” and is attributed to Dr. Long.
These two clues point directly to Kovacs’ psychiatrist. However, unless the good doctor went on a crash diet after Watchmen, he is unlikely to have stepped into the shoes of his former patient. Also, Johns and Frank show us the ungloved hand of what appears to be a young man.
If it isn’t Malcolm Long, could it be a random New Yorker “driven mad by the sudden flood of grotesque sensation” inflicted by Veidt’s creature? Is this new Rorschach part of Ozymandias’ orchestrated collateral damage? Is he a once-innocent bystander who has become obsessed with the masked vigilante?
Doomsday Clock #1 sheds no further light on the question of the new Rorschach’s identity. The answer, we believe, is to be found elsewhere, in a minor detail on page 8 of Watchmen #6. As Long’s wife ushers him away from his work for a night of lovemaking, we see see his desk in the foreground. Sitting next to Kovacs’ file is a coffee mug inscribed with a single word: DAD.
This is the kind of thing that even the most astute readers might miss, But it looks like Johns -- or somebody at DC with mad research skills -- caught it. This throwaway panel, meant to add some subliminal context to Long’s biography, may have provided the seed that blossomed into the new Rorschach.
If we are right, Kovacs' replacement is his psychiatrist's son.