The Rorschach who appears in Geoff Johns’ and Gary Frank’s Doomsday Clock, a spiritual sequel to the character’s Watchmen series, has been a figure shrouded in layers of mystery. But today, with Doomsday Clock #4, we’ve been given his full origin story: Who he is, and how he came to be.
The first time we were introduced to Doomsday Clock’s Rorschach, in a six-page preview for Doomsday Clock #1, it seemed for all the world as if he was Watchmen’s Rorschach, the troubled, amoral vigilante. How could Walter Kovacs, who was famously and dramatically killed in Watchmen, be around for a story that takes place several years after its events? The answer turned out to be something relatively mundane — at least for whatever “mundane” means in a superhero universe.
Doomsday Clock #1 revealed, just pages after its preview ended, that its Rorschach wasn’t a resurrected Kovacs — but a younger man who had taken up his costumed identity. We haven’t learned much about that young man since, except that he appears to be African-American, and is plagued by traumatic visions of the “alien” creature that Adrien “Ozymandias“ Veidt unleashed on New York.
[Warning: This post contains spoilers for Doomsday Clock #4 and Watchmen.]
But Johns and Frank aren’t making a spiritual sequel to Watchmen without observing the structure and form that Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons adhered to for their 1985 masterpiece. After realizing that he only really had about six issues of story to tell, Moore spent every even numbered issue of Watchmen (except for the last) exploring the backstories of the main characters. As the odd issues moved the plot forward, the even ones told Watchmen’s alternate American history in bits and interlocking pieces.
Doomsday Clock #2 showed us a pivotal moment in the criminal career of new characters Marionette and Mime, when they were captured by Doctor Manhattan himself. And in Doomsday Clock #4, we are shown the life of Doomsday Clock’s Rorschach, a young man named Reggie Long, the son of Gloria and Dr. Malcolm Long.
Malcolm Long will be familiar to readers of Watchmen. He appears occasionally throughout the series, but most prominently in Watchmen #6, as the psychiatrist who attempts to boost his own career by delving into the original Rorschach’s psyche. Long and his wife died terribly; Ozymandias unleashed his false alien attack, intending to drive humanity to world peace out of fear of an outside threat. Reggie is Long’s son, invented by Johns, who was driving home to New York from college at that exact moment.
Watchmen describes the extent of Ozymandias’ plan: the creature who was fatally teleported into New York was genetically engineered to project a psychic wave of its own pain and fear at the moment of its death, and also transmit horrifying images of human suffering. Reggie was among the many so traumatized by the attack that they were committed to mental health facilities.
And it’s in the Fitzgerald Mental Home that Reggie met Byron Lewis, aka Mothman. Lewis is a minor player in Watchmen, an easily forgotten member of the Minutemen alongside the Comedian, and the original Silk Spectre and Nite Owl. Of the Minutemen, he had one of the more tragic endings — accidents relating to the perfection of his costume’s working wings left him in chronic pain, which led him to abuse drugs and alcohol. After he was called before the House Un-American Activities Committee, his mental health deteriorated until he broke down and was committed, which was where Watchmen left his story.
Doomsday Clock picks it back up again: Lewis is still in the Fitzgerald Mental Home, but he’s been building and rebuilding his wings, using them to escape for a night or two — for the freedom of visiting a diner or buying some licorice — before being caught and returned. Lewis takes a liking to Reggie, and helps him find his way out of the constant, violent visions that plague him. He even trains Reggie with the skills of the Minutemen:
More than anything else, Reggie wants revenge for what was done to him, his parents and the world. And when it’s publicly revealed that Adrien Veidt manufactured the entire thing, Lewis helps him break out and go looking for the billionaire, in the guise of the man who so fascinated his father — Rorschach.
Reggie finds Veidt, and from there winds up joining him on the central plot hook of Doomsday Clock — that Doctor Manhattan left the Watchmen universe after that story’s events and has been in the the main DC Comics Universe ever since, tweaking its timeline and playing with its heroes and villains. Veidt and Reggie/Rorschach intend to find him and convince him to return to Watchmen’s setting to undo the global war Veidt has ignited.
Though how Viedt is so confident he’ll be able to bend Doctor Manhattan to his will is just another one of Doomsday Clock’s mysteries, yet to be revealed.