25

Is there is any explanation for why Rorschach's iconic black-and-white mask in Watchmen (and likewise the dress that the mask was originally made from) is symmetric about the center line?

*Watchmen* no. 6

The out-of-universe reason is that when Alan Moore was first developing Watchmen, he was originally going to be using the Charlton Comics characters that D.C. had recently purchased, and Rorschach's role in the story was originally going to be filled by The Question.

The Question

The Question was an obsessive crime fighter who wore a blank mask to hide his identity. The facelessness (whether Rorschach's or The Question's) is a key feature of the character, so Moore had to design a new similarly masked character when D.C. decided that they did not want him to use the heroes from the Charlton Comics stable. He hit up on the idea of a character with the Rorschach inkblot test theme — with its black-and-white imagery and suggestions of mental problems.

The Rorschach inkblots were originally created by blotting India ink between the folded pieces of card. Thus, they were bilaterally symmetric.

Rorschach inkblot

However, the explanation in the comic for how the dress material was created does not seem to suggest any reason why the pattern should have an axis of symmetry. Was this addressed somewhere in the original Watchmen series/graphic novel, and I just missed it? And if not, has it been dealt with in any other works set in the Watchmen universe?

  • 8
    What are you asking exactly? Why the pattern is always symmetrical or something else? – A.bakker Mar 17 '20 at 6:44
  • 13
    @A.bakker it is extremely clear that that is what the question is. – Nathaniel Mar 17 '20 at 16:57
  • 10
    @Nathaniel If it were extremely clear then i would not have asked now would i, and seemingly three others also wondered the same. – A.bakker Mar 17 '20 at 17:06
  • 2
    Clearly this is because Rorschach possesses an extremely balanced personality and mental state. – Tim Sparkles Mar 19 '20 at 18:18
59

As the comic states, the material is "heat and pressure sensitive", and this is what determines the black and white portions. This means that the pattern on the mask will be based on the pressure and heat applied by his face.

Faces are, along with the rest of the human body, pretty much symmetrical — so the heat and pressure pattern it produces would be (roughly) symmetrical too. Presumably, if Rorschach were to make an asymmetric expression on his face (more a lopsided grimace than simply raising an eyebrow), then the mask would also not be symmetrical at that point.

This is borne out when watching videos of people who have made working examples for Cosplay purposes


TL;DR? Q: "Why's his mask symmetrical?" A: "Well, so's your face"

  • 13
    There's a panel in which the mask is asymmetric because Rorschach is being punched in the face by a police officer, just before he's captured. The punch is clearly affecting the pattern of black spots. – Mark Dominus Mar 17 '20 at 18:28
  • 2
    This can't be the only reason because in the panel shown by the OP, the dress shows a clearly symmetrical pattern even when simply held in hands, with no body symmetry to act on it. Personally, if I was looking to a physical in-universe answer, I'd consider real life questions: "why are snowflakes symmetrical? how does one hand know about the others?", and adapt the answer. Potential energy minimisation combined with chaotic processes, whatever. However, this would be MY guess, there's no indication that the author thought this way or even felt the need to explain this. – IMil Mar 18 '20 at 0:11
  • 4
    It's being held up in two hands by the straps, and the forces are symmetrical. In the next panel in the question, it is lying flat, and there is not, in fact, symmetry to the pattern that can be seen. – JdeBP Mar 18 '20 at 10:21
  • 1
    @JdeBP you can never have "symmetrical forces" when holding the dress like this. The hands are not at the same level. The creases on the dress, which really are affected by the forces you've mentioned, are asymmetrical. No, there's bound to be some sort of special physics involved. The fabric's produced by Dr Manhattan after all. – IMil Mar 18 '20 at 23:26
  • 1
    Upvote for "so's your face" because that's the answer to everything. – djsmiley2kStaysInside Mar 19 '20 at 17:27
23

Ok trying again but this time differently formulated.

You haven't missed anything. It is just never addressed in the Watchman universe why the pattern is always symmetrical. The reason it is not addressed is because it does not have to be addressed.

The reason why it doesn't have to be addressed is because the characters name is Rorschach named after the famous Rorschach Test.

The Rorschach test is a psychological test in which subjects' perceptions of inkblots are recorded and then analyzed using psychological interpretation, complex algorithms, or both. Some psychologists use this test to examine a person's personality characteristics and emotional functioning. It has been employed to detect underlying thought disorder, especially in cases where patients are reluctant to describe their thinking processes openly.- Carl B. Gacono & J. Reid Meloy 1994 The Rorschach Assessment of Aggressive and Psychopathic Personalities

And a (proper) Rorschach Test is always symmetrical, this is due to the descision of the creator of the test.

"Asymmetric figures are rejected by many subjects; symmetry supplied part of the necessary artistic composition. It has a disadvantage in that it tends to make answers somewhat stereotyped. On the other hand, symmetry makes conditions the same for right and left handed subjects; Furthermore it facilitates interpretation for certain blocked subjects. Finally Symmetry makes possible the interpretation of whole scenes." - Hermann Rorschach in the book "Measurement and Evaluation in Psychology and Education"

So in conclusion, the reason why the pattern is always symmetrical is because that's how a Rorschach Test works...if it wasn't symmetrical it would not be a Rorschach Test and the character would be better off named "Dude with random ink on his mask". So that's why the mask is as it is, so it would fit the characters name/identity.

If you are not asking WHY the pattern has to be symmetrical, but instead asking HOW the changing shapes of his mask are always symmetrical on the other hand... well there is never an explanation given for that either. It just is as it is without ever been given an explanation, perhaps in a purposefully way to add more mystery to the character in a world where most characters are more grounded then in other comics.

  • 3
    I think you caught it first time with 'a (proper) Rorschach Test is always symmetrical'. TBH, IDK why this wasn't obvious to the OP with the least amount of research. – user62584 Mar 17 '20 at 8:10
  • 5
    Please don't ask my opinion on such matters. My opinion is definitely biased and contrary to the principles of StackOverflow's policies this week or any other that they make up and historically retcon. – user62584 Mar 17 '20 at 10:00
  • 4
    This just repeats the out-of-universe reason that's already given in the question. It's clearly asking for an in-universe explanation. – Nathaniel Mar 17 '20 at 16:59
  • 11
    @Nathaniel this answer is 100% in-universe. One might as well ask why Batman puts wings on his stuff. Because he's Batman, and bats have wings. So, Rorschach's mask is symmetrical because Rorschach's tests are symmetrical. – IMil Mar 17 '20 at 23:53
  • 3
    @IMil that only works if it's possible (in universe) for Rorschach to make his mask stay symmetrical. As you noted in the comments, the fabric is inherently symmetrical before it falls into Rorschach's hands. The question is quite clearly asking for an in-universe explanation for the mechanism behind the symmetry of the fabric. Such an explanation may well not exist, but I don't understand how the question could possibly be perceived as asking anything else. – Nathaniel Mar 18 '20 at 11:22

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.