It really goes without saying that when Before Watchmen was announced there was one character in particular that we all knew was going to sell the best, regardless of the content, and that is Rorschach. What is it about Rorschach that makes him the chosen icon of the Watchmen mythos? Is it his unrelenting quest for justice? Righting the wrongs? Is it perhaps his snappy one liners? Or is it his penchant for excessive violence?
DC picked the super star team of Brian Azzarello and Lee Bermejo to tackle the world of Watchmen‘s Rorschach. As I’ve said before, I know that Azzarello is a good writer but his other Before Watchmen title left me dissatisfied, which in turn could have lowered my expectations for this series, but I doubt it. Bermejo’s work is great, as most probably know him from the Joker graphic novel he did with Azzarello a few years ago. This pair is well known for working together on villain-centric stories, showing us despicable people in human situations that will create empathy and make us appreciate them in a different light. That in mind, Rorschach is a good place for them to fit into the Watchmen world.
Azzarello has a good grasp on writing Rorschach’s voice. This might not seem like a hard task to some of you, but if you go read the Nite Owl book by Straczynski you can see what bad Rorschach writing looks like. The creation of the transformation from Walter Kovacs to Rorschach is the path Azzarello has chosen for his run on the character. At first glance this seems like a waste of time since the origin of the character is explained in the original text, but Azzarello manages to take a story we’ve already heard, sprinkle in some new elements, and make it a worthwhile read.
As I said above, Bermejo’s art is wonderful. He has an ability to create worlds and characters that fit into the comic book medium but don’t look like conventional comic book art. One thing that he does very well in Rorschach is creating the mood and setting of the scenes. Like a Director of Photography in film, he uses the various sources of light, the amount they produce, and the shadowed areas they don’t reach to help enhance his story. Like a stark German expressionist movie, this comic has some of the best uses of shadows and darkness, the kind that you expect in a comic like Batman but seldom get.
As far as ruthless crime fighters go, Rorschach is the book you were expecting. It also manages to offer some of the best art that manages to convey realism and depth, something none of the other Before Watchmen books have really done. It could be that Bermejo’s art style lends itself so well to the bleak and dank version of the world that Rorschach sees, but that’s not something he can really help. Before Watchmen: Rorschach is a terrific dark, noir comic and the fact that this style of comic book was published by one of the big two is something we should celebrate, even if it isn’t a wholly original work.
Before Watchmen: Rorschach is one of the best first issues of the entire run, and with next week’s Dr. Manhattan series being the last to debut, it will be a while before you read anything on SuperHeroHype about the prequel series, but rest assured we’ve got more to say. While you wait though, go read this Rorschach book, it’s damn good.
Rating: 9 / 10