Comics Features Film

What’s In The Wardrobe: Watchmen, Part 1

From billowing capes to skin-tight latex to iconic symbols, no superhero (or villain!) would be complete without their costume: that one outfit that tells us who they are and what they stand for.

What’s In The Wardrobe is a brand new column that will explore all aspects of costume from the earliest designs to translations between comic book and film. We start this week with the characters of Watchmen – a 1986/7 comic by Alan Moore, artist Dave Gibbons and colourist John Higgins, which was released as a feature film in 2009 by Zack Snyder.

Watchmen is famed for its gritty, dark and realistic world. Only Doctor Manhattan has “super powers”; the rest rely on their extraordinary skills, wit and training. The costumes are perhaps a reflection of this: they continue to explore the question “how would superheroes behave/look/be received if they existed in our very real world?”




Rorschach is a realist. A closed book with an iron-strong (if somewhat twisted) morality of his own. He follows the rules he believes in, right through to the bitter end. He doesn’t care for being a superhero, not in the showing-off, “god amongst men” kind of way. Rorschach wants to blend into the background whenever it suits him to do so.

His position as crime solver (and, in the film, narrator) echoes that of a gritty gumshoe in a 1940’s Hollywood film noir. He is the Humphrey Bogart everyman of the story – and what could better reflect that than a battered old fedora and a belted mac? As can be seen in the image, Rorschach’s look was virtually unchanged for the film: the simple yet elegant design conveyed the character so well that it was deemed unnecessary to alter it.

Unlike the more flamboyant members of the group, Rorschach makes only one concession to theatricality: his mask. Based on the psychologist Hermann Rorschach‘s famous test which asks subjects to interpret the meaning of various inkblots, the mask continually shifts and changes. Visual-effects supervisor John Des Jardin has explained that the movement of the blots depends on what Rorschach is feeling – excitement speeds them up while thoughtfulness slows them down: “Zach would call me out if he thought we were over-animating it!” states Des Jardin.

Des Jardin also comments that the comic’s version of the mask is explained as being made from “two plastic membranes with fluid between them, and the fluid moves like a lava lamp”. In the film the look was achieved by giving actor Jackie Earle Haley a fabric mask with large eyeholes with 30 embedded tracking dots which relayed the precise angle and movement of Rorschach’s head. This allowed the blots to be added in in post-production.

The film version of Rorschach’s mask also contains shades of grey rather than the stark blacks and whites of the comic – something which was originally intended to be a nod to Rorschach’s own clear cut black and white way of viewing good and evil. And the purpose of the mask? Although it would seem to be preventing the audience from seeing the anti-hero’s visage, Rorschach himself stated that he considers the mask to be his true face.


About the author

Grace Davis