First Impressions: Before Watchmen: Rorschach
- August 16th, 2012
- Posted in Comics/Graphic Novels . First Impressions . Reviews
- By Rob
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By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder
Let’s be honest: This is the book we all wanted to see the most. This book on its own was one of the major selling points of a Watchmen revival. Rorschach is the face of Watchmen. He’s the character everybody remembers the most. He was the ultimate antihero that helped define the dark age of comics in the ’80s. His every word resonates with that ultra violent, psychotic noir vibe. His return is something we’ve always wanted to see, but at the same time are incredibly skittish about. I don’t think I can understate how important getting Rorschach right is for Before Watchmen. If you can’t do that, then we might as well go home.
On paper, DC couldn’t have picked a better team for the Rorschach book than Brian Azzarello and Lee Bermejo, the team behind the widely successful Joker graphic novel. Azzarello is one of the modern masters of noir comics, and Bermejo’s glossy, realistic style has made him a superstar. These accolades only add to the disappointing revelation that Rorschach feels rather hollow. It’s gorgeous, but hollow.
Set in New York City circa 1977, this book sees Rorschach try to bust up a drug ring. As one might expect, this takes him to some rather filthy settings. Filthy in more ways than one, as we see him burst in on a man masturbating and apparently preparing to shoot up. His chase later takes him into the sewers, where he has to take on an entire gang by himself. Meanwhile, a killer and mutilator of woman known as The Bard is stalking the streets. undoubtedly on a collision course with our hero.
Bermejo’s art is, as we all expected, a beautiful sight. His colors in particular wonderfully capture that dark, dirty city vibe you’d expect to see in a Rorschach story. And of course, it’s just fun to see him draw the character himself, both as Rorschach and Walter Kovacs. An argument can certainly be made that the women in this issue are overly sexualized, especially the female victim we see when we open the book. But I think you can partially (only partially, mind you) justify that by keeping in mind the character’s obvious discomfort with female sexuality because of his mother, who we know was a prostitute. Still, that doesn’t necessarily justify the needlessly voluptuous form of the first victim, and how it (in addition to other elements we see here) pushes the issue a little bit further into the “torture porn” category. But I’m not necessarily dead set against it given the what we know about Rorschach’s character.
More than any of the other Before Watchmen books, this issue misses Alan Moore. Brian Azzarello writes things that Rorschach might say, has the character do things Rorschach might do, and puts him in places Rorschach would go. But at the risk of sounding like a whiny fanboy…it’s just not the same. Azzarello’s Rorschach comes off more like a one-dimensional sociopath character who loves to punch bad guys, as opposed to someone on his own moral crusade. This book feels surprisingly generic and hollow, considering not only the character but the creators.
There are also a couple of “Huh?” moments. Toward the end of the book the bad guys have a chance to take Rorschach’s mask off, but they opt not to, saying: “You know what’s under that mask? Nothing that matters. In this case, the mask makes the corpse.” Then they beat Rorschach up. But either they didn’t think to make sure he was dead, or they decided to leave him alive for reasons we aren’t told. Because we later see Walter Kovacs walk into a diner with no more than a few bandages and some bruising. Those must have been gentle thugs. Were they using Nerf weapons?
I don’t consider Before Watchmen: Rorschach an utter failure, but it is something of a disappointment despite the dream team attached to it. That’s the problem with a book that has as much to live up to as Rorschach. Watchmen set such impossible standards as a seminal work of comic book literature, that anything that doesn’t equal its value, or isn’t deemed worthy of its name bound to be deemed a waste of time. Rorschach is pretty, but thus far I wouldn’t deem it Watchmen worthy. The only thing that makes it even considerable in that respect is Bermejo’s art. That’s the only reason I’d consider coming back at this point. But I’m not overly optimistic about this book from a storytelling standpoint.
Front page image from fastcocreate.com. Image 1 from blastr.com. Image 2 from retconpunchdotcom.wordpress.com.