Rorschach was created by Watchmen writer Alan Moore with artist Dave Gibbons but, as with some of the characters in the series, he was derived from Charlton Comics characters, in this case The Question and Mr. A, created by Steve Ditko. Moore has said that the character's real name, Walter Kovacs, was inspired by Ditko's tendency to give his characters names beginning with the letter K. Rorschach was named the sixth greatest comic book character by Wizard Magazine.
Wearing the inkblot-like mask he considers his true face, Rorschach has continued his one-man battle against crime long after superheroes have become both detested and illegal. Rorschach’s actions and journal writings display a belief in moral absolutism and moral objectivism, where good and evil are clearly defined and evil must be violently punished. He has alienated himself from the rest of society to achieve these aims. Politically, he is an anti-communist, anti-liberal, reactionary, and strong nationalist. Rorschach is described by Alan Moore as an extremely right-wing character.
During those high school years, at age 16, Walter was informed of his mother's gruesome murder; her pimp force-fed her a bottle of Drano until she died in agony. Walter's reaction consisted of only a single word: "Good."
At about the same time, he found work as an unskilled garment worker; noting later to psychiatrist Malcolm Long "Job bearable but unpleasant. Had to handle female clothing". Working in this capacity, in 1962 he grew fascinated by a new fabric made possible through technologies developed by Doctor Manhattan. Two viscous liquids, one black and one white, between two layers of latex, continually shifted in response to heat and pressure, forming symmetrical patterns like a Rorschach inkblot test while never mixing to produce a gray color. Kovacs learned of the fabric when a young woman chose not to buy a dress which she had ordered made from it; subsequently Kovacs took the dress home and experimented with the fabric. He learned to cut the fabric and maintain the seal using heated scissors.
The real life 1964 murder of Kitty Genovese (in the context of the story she was slain in front of a building full of tenants who didn't bother to help her) was made part of the Watchmen universe backstory, and is what Kovacs claims to trigger his decision to avenge the powerless victims of crime. Believing that Genovese had been the woman who had ordered the dress ("Customer young girl, Italian name. ... Kitty Genovese. I'm sure that was the woman's name."), Kovacs cut up the dress and made it into a mask -- becoming Rorschach (taking his name from the test). However, Dr. Long believes that Kovacs fabricated the Genovese story to justify his behavior as a vigilante.
Eventually, in 1965 he teamed up with two other superheroes, the second Nite Owl, whose technical skills and resources complemented Kovacs' skills as an investigator, and The Comedian whose ruthlessness exceeded that of Rorschach. During this time, however, he acted as a self-described "soft" vigilante, as he never comited any act of serious violence to the criminals he hunted, leaving them alive for the police.
In 1975, Rorschach took the case of a kidnapped child and, after torturing fifteen criminals for informion, found her captor's vacant hideout. A cursory inspection revealed, to his horror, that the girl had been murdered, butchered, and fed to two German Shepherd Dogs. In the face of this atrocity, Kovacs' mind snapped and assumed the mental identity of Rorschach as a separate personality. He killed the dogs with a meat cleaver and waited for the kidnapper. Kovacs later mentioned, "shock of impact ran along my arm. It was Kovacs who said 'mother' then, muffled under Latex. It was Kovacs who closed his eyes. It was Rorschach who opened them again." When the man returned, Rorschach wordlessly chained him to a pipe, ignoring his claims of innocence (the man telling Rorschach: "Y-you can't prove anything. I mean, wh-where's the evidence", suggesting that he fed the girl to the dogs to get rid of the 'evidence'), then placed a hacksaw near him and set the house on fire. Finally speaking, he told the terrified man that he would not have time to cut through his restraints before the fire killed him (implying that he would have to sever his own arm to escape). Rorschach calmly watched the structure burn from across the street; the suspected kidnapper did not emerge. In an interview ten years later with psychologist Malcolm Long, Rorschach explicitly mentioned the incident as the point after which he became "Rorschach, who sometimes pretends to be Kovacs"; before that, he claims, he was only "Kovacs pretending to be Rorschach." He no longer refers to his "mask"; now he only calls the mask his "face".
After the 1977 Keene Act outlawed costumed vigilantes, demanding his retirement, he grew even more violent, murdering notorious multiple rapist Harvey Charles Furniss and leaving his corpse in front of a police station; a note pinned to his chest read, "Never!" True to his word, Rorschach remained an active superhero in open defiance of the law.
Rorschach lives in a slum in the South Medford projects, run by a landlady who has had multiple children by multiple fathers; reminding him of his mother, he pointedly comments on his belief that she cheats on welfare. It is never mentioned whether he continued to work in the garment trade or found some other source of income. During the day, he walks around New York as a vagrant with a sign reading "The End Is Nigh"
In prison, Kovacs is examined by clinical psychologist Malcolm Long and subject to numerous death threats and attacks by vengeful prisoners. When taunted by inmates about being trapped inside with them, his only reply is to say that they have it backwards; they are, in fact, trapped with him. He prevents an attempt on his life in the prison cafeteria by calmly and wordlessly grabbing a pot full of boiling cooking grease and hurling it into the assailant's upper body and face, causing what the psychiatrist later describes as "horrific" burns. The would-be attacker later dies of these injuries and a former organized crime head called The Big Figure uses his death as an excuse to orchestrate a prisoner riot, on Halloween night, as a distraction while he and his flunkies attack Kovacs. He dispatches the would-be assassins before escaping from his cell to pursue and kill The Big Figure (a dwarfish old man) in a prison restroom. During the riot, the current Nite Owl and Silk Spectre attempt to break him out of prison and use the chaos of the prison riot to do so. They seek his help in their investigation into the murders of the former superheroes.
Investigating jointly, Nite Owl and Rorschach learn that the mastermind behind the plot is Adrian Veidt, who has been hailed as the smartest person in the world. Rorschach and Nite Owl travel to his home in Antarctica to confront him; however, they are unable to prevent him from accomplishing his ultimate goal. Before the duo arrives, Veidt teleports an enormous Lovecraftian "alien" that he had manufactured into the heart of New York City, killing millions and psychically traumatizing millions more. Exactly as Veidt predicted, the hoax forces the world's nations to halt their mounting hostilities toward one another and unite against the perceived alien threat, thereby preventing an inevitable nuclear showdown.
Shortly after Veidt confesses his plot to Nite Owl and Rorschach, they are joined by Doctor Manhattan and the Silk Spectre. After a brief struggle, the adventurers realize that by exposing Veidt's act they would manage only to return the world to the brink of nuclear catastrophe. The other heroes agree that they must keep the hoax a secret, but Rorschach refuses to comply and leaves to return to civilization and reveal the secret. Manhattan tells Rorschach that he "cannot allow" him to reveal the truth to the world, but Rorschach maintains his defiance. Enraged and in tears, Walter Kovacs removes his mask and demands that Manhattan kill him if that is what it takes to protect Veidt's murder-founded utopia. Although reluctant and showing emotion again, Manhattan complies with his request.
Prior to departing for Antarctica, Rorschach writes a journal detailing his investigation and sends it to a reactionary right-wing newspaper. While Veidt is confident Kovacs will not be believed by the public, since his mental illness was well known, the question of whether the journal's contents will be printed and his evidence seriously examined is left open-ended in the last panel of the Watchmen comics series.
Rorschach has been described as "tactically brilliant and unpredictable" and has a creative flair for the dramatic to enhance his interrogations such as when he hid a note in Moloch's refrigerator to startle the old convict into compliance. Rorschach differs from the character he is based upon, the Question, in that his neurosis manifests itself in paranoid delusions and logical fallacies which seem to complement his effectiveness as an intimidating tactician, but limit his abilities as an intelligence gatherer, especially later in the story when he fully succumbs to his demented persona.
He also had a gas-powered grappling hook, manufactured for him by Nite-Owl, which he used to climb buildings, and on one occasion as an effective improvised weapon. His mask consists of two layers of latex containing a viscous, heat and pressure sensitive fluid, which results in the distinctive "inkblot" patterns.
Jackie Earle Haley will portray the character in the upcoming film. Prior to Haley's casting, Jude Law, who is a fan of the comic, had expressed great interest in portraying Rorschach (or Ozymandias) if a film of Watchmen was ever made. When Paul Greengrass was slated to direct the film in 2001, Simon Pegg and Daniel Craig met with producers about taking the part. Doug Hutchison also expressed interest in playing the character, and an online Internet fan campaign resulted in him getting a screentest.