This book has intricate plotting, clever visual ironies and atypically mature themes of ageing and disillusion. More than this, it is also a deep and subtle telling of man’s search for morality in a morally grey world.
Is there really a hero? The principal character, Rorschach, inspires revulsion rather than empathy. His motives are the best: evil brings suffering and must be punished. To his psychiatrist he sets out a pithy statement of his world view: in this brutal, unthinking world, the only evil comes from man, and the only order comes from what man himself can impose. This insight has made him self-appointed judge, jury and violent executioner, simultaneously outlaw and lawmaker, a sociopathic bringer of order and light (“prometheus”) – and death.
Is there really a villain? For the apparent villain (nameless for this review) has, strangely, the same moral intent: he (or she…) also wants the best for his fellow man, wants order and peace. His vision is higher: it is not individuals, but the world he wishes to save, not merely the good but everyone. Less obviously sociopathic than Rorschach, his means to this end are more dangerous, and more potentially successful. The lesser heros – and the reader – are finally called on to make this moral judgement: if you could save the world by it, would you commit mass murder?
Is there a god? The catalyst for this altered history is a scientist, who dies and brings himself back from the dead. His control of matter is absolute; and so is his disdain for mankind. A supreme being who refrains from setting moral standards, from intervening in human affairs even as they plummet to disaster. But this god too has his duties, and is ultimately obliged to decide between between the hero and villain, to rule their actions either black or white.
The reason for the open questions is that this book deals with the real world, real people, real moral choices, where nothing is black or white but merely the best of the worst of choices. This book merits reading and re-reading. After the first and the second time, try a third asking this question: which character would I feel comfortable being? Or, least uncomfortable….