He said, She said- Before Watchmen: Rorschach #1

This week, to cover what is one of the year’s most controversial comics, we figured we’d give you not one, but TWO perspectives. And since Liz and Taylor rarely agree on anything comic-wise (Daredevil being the only holy ground), we figured we’d force them to read Rorschach and express themselves. Because we’re mean.

TAYLOR SAID:

I hadn’t really considered that Rorschach kind of won Watchmen. Let’s face it, he was right about the world sucking, and about humans being vermin, but he still tried to do something about it according to his own twisted moral code. But according to the comments of folks in the store prior to Rorschach #1’s release, he also won the Watchmen movie. People have been looking forward to seeing his prequel comic and learning more about him, some even saying it’s the only Before Watchmen they’re interested in.

With Azzarello and Bermejo in charge, we already knew the book would be great-looking and tough, just like Luthor: Man of Steel and Joker were. But to me, this was the problem. In this book, Rorschach is exactly the same dude he is in Watchmen. He’s creepy, solitary, disdaining of humanity, and has a singular focus on the criminal class disrupted only by his occasional flashbacks to poor parenting experiences. He’s capable of getting the crap kicked out of him and surviving, a scrappy guy who’ll survive by tooth and claw if he has to. And he obviously has a little more money at this earlier career point, as he’s typing his journal, rather than hand-writing it as he did in Watchmen.

So far, so familiar, but the main problem for me is twofold. Firstly, the subplot of a serial killer (the Bard, really?) carving words into the silky alabaster flesh of his victims, lavishly portrayed on page one, is clearly going to investigate Rorschach’s Mummy Issues, and I’m guessing will tease us with the question: “Is Rorschach the lady carver?”. If he is, the character is made explicitly bad and the Watchmen is almost entirely compromised as a book, and if he isn’t, then this is a four issue red herring we didn’t need.

Secondly, Bermejo is incapable of rendering Rorschach as non-heroic. If you read the comic slowly and look at the imagery, aside from the first sighting of Rorschach’s face (which is clearly done with detailed reference to Gibbons’ original art), you can watch as Bermejo’s artistic reflexes take over and Rorschach becomes a square-jawed noir dude who fills out his coat nicely, thanks. Even when he’s getting his ass handed to him, the art looks cool, Rorschach looks kind of cool in a beat-up way. But Rorschach isn’t cool. He’s uncomfortable, and eats beans and sugar cubes between “Hrrm”s. He’s the guy you don’t want around because he smells bad, can’t interact with humans, and might say something unsayable about your kid sister. He’s not a gumshoe anti-hero, he’s the crazified result of the negative human experience, infected by a splinter of nobility he can’t dislodge.

Rorschach #1 thrusts murder and contusions in your face to try and shock-hook you into reading. All they really needed to do was let you ride along with Rorschach for an issue, tuned in to his inner monologue, and depict him as the scrawny little mess he is. That would be the addictive creep-out ride worthy of the Before Watchmen banner, that’s the perverse kick anyone picking this up is seeking. You don’t need some recycled serial killer story to please Rorschach fans, you don’t need any kind of story, you just need to be able to get to psychological warp factor 10. But hey, this is Rorschach. So maybe my opinions say more about me than the book.

LIZ SAID:

RORSCHACH’S JOURNAL. (AUGUST 19, 2012):

Hot. Muggy. I hate this summery weather.

Streets festering with the indecently clad rot of humanity, in their putrid, stinking flip-flops. The next gang of youths to walk shirtless in public await my blade.

Ice cream truck approaching. My mother bought me ice cream once. THAT W****E.

Truck now surrounded by filthy souls and their plague of offspring, who mewl and laugh, wallowing in ignorance, unaware that they are damned (we all are). Chew on that, pigtails.

You all made me this way. Somehow or other. I hope you all get a sunburn.

May your ice cream melt in HELL.

So. Rorschach’s an angry guy. You don’t say.

If Before Watchmen: Rorschach #1 is anything to go by, all he seems to do is hang out in sewers, seedy back alleys and dens of ill repute where … stuff’s going on (didn’t need to see that, thanks!) and constantly ranting away in his diary about the ills of the world and what a floozy his mom is. Now wonder he’s in such a bad mood.

As a huge fan of the source material, I’m aware of the fact that Rorschach is a screwed-up, embittered misfit who enjoys the occasional angry journal entry and that his outlook isn’t overwhelmingly cheerful. In Watchmen, it works; his dark rumblings and morally shady actions are a major asset to that story. However, I got that point the first time around, and this… well, this just felt a little bit silly.

How much grim-grey-grittiness can actually fit in the pages of a single comic book? Let’s find out. Start off with some corpse mutilation, throw in some prostitutes, junkies and lengthy violent beatings, add a heaping helping of foul language; stir and you’ve got soup.

Brian Azzarello is usually very good at this sort of thing (100 Bullets does gritty to the hilt and it’s awesome). Same for Bermejo. But this just struck me as incredibly ham-fisted. I also didn’t learn anything I didn’t already know about the character except that Rorschach’s journal entries were really unintentionally funny.

Since I’m considering the unintended comedy to be the high point of my reading experience, my hope is that over the course of this four-issue mini-series, Rorschach will put crime fighting on hold and pursue a career in journalism. The New Yorker probably doesn’t have a ‘Vitriolic Masked Man About Town ’ column, and those journal entries are too good to be going to waste.

DISCLAIMER: In a totally freak twist of fate, Taylor and Liz actually sort-of agree! However, other people may absolutely not agree and think that this issue was appropriately dark, had great art (it did), and just want to watch Rorschach do his thing in grimy 1970’s New York. It wasn’t boring, it was in-character, and there are three issues left that might change the minds of Taylor and Liz about the whole thing. We’ll definitely be reading them!

SECOND DISCLAIMER:There is no scene, sadly, anywhere in this issue where Rorschach hangs around watching kids eat ice cream on a glorious summer day. Fingers crossed for issue #2!