A quick note: In Chapter VI, I identified the character of Rorschach according to how he looked physically within any given scene – whether in his civilian guise of Walter Kovacs or his costumed identity of Rorschach. I had considered identifying him in that chapter according to his psychology within a given scene, as Kovacs related to Dr. Long: for many of the early years of his career he was only Kovacs pretending to be Rorschach. But I felt that would be too confusing.
As I continue with this project, I realize that to call Rorschach anything other than his true name, regardless of the different speech pattern we see from the unmasked Rorschach, is not only confusing, but wrong. So, with this chapter, I will identify him as Rorschach, despite the fact that he is without his mask. This may seem a little thing, but I do not wish there to be any confusion for those who have been reading along as I have been writing these notes on Watchmen. Eventually, I expect to go back and revise the notes for Chapter VI to better reflect a continuity of thought that must be present within such an endeavor. But for now, I will keep them as is.
The main theme for Chapter VIII is liberation. After the calm before the storm that was the previous chapter, we now see that storm bearing down on our heroes, and our heroes must unshackle themselves in order to confront it. Derf’s misremembered comment, “like the spirit of ’76,” on the recent return of these outlawed adventurers sums things up nicely. It is a reaction to these heroes while it also evokes a sense of patriotism that is also appropriate to these vigilantes coming out of the shadows.
On its surface, this chapter concerns the liberation of Rorschach from prison – a plan put forth by Dan Dreiberg at the end of Chapter VII. Over the course of this chapter, the main narrative moves back and forth between Dan and Laurie’s preparations and Rorschach’s own actions to effect his personal independence and survival. These threads come together in the latter half of the chapter, resulting in Rorschach’s liberation, which is the first step in this final act of Watchmen.
Less obvious, but equally important, is the liberation of Dan and Laurie from their self-imposed shackles. For too long, these two have denied their “true” identities – their heroic identities – a result of the Keene Act of 1977. Despite arguments to the contrary – that Laurie’s mother, the first Silk Spectre, forced her into costumed adventuring or that all of Dan’s gadgets seem childish, in retrospect – both are more comfortable, and more alive, when in their costumes, helping others. With the previous chapter’s tenement fire rescue, Dan and Laurie finally tested those waters. But it seemed Laurie only saw that as a one-time thing, not a return to adventuring. Dan’s point of view was decidedly different, born from the confidence and relative ease he felt after finally putting the costume back on. And, with this chapter, Dan and Laurie release those shackles and embark upon a new age of costumed adventuring.
And finally, the saddest part of this chapter acts as an exclamation point for its theme of liberation. Hollis Mason – known for being Nite Owl and mistakenly believed to have saved the residents in the tenement fire last chapter – is beaten to death by a small group of Knot-Tops. Thrown into a fury by the sense of impending doom, emphasized by Russia’s march into Pakistan, these young punks race to Mason’s home with an unreasonable rage in their hearts. The leader, Derf, is beyond reason and uses the statue given to Mason in 1962, as a commemoration of his service as Nite Owl, to kill this kind, old man. In a sense, Derf “liberates” Mason from this mortal coil, leaving a pall hanging over the story that parallels that which hangs over the citizenry of this alternate Earth.