Before Watchmen Review: Rorschach #1

This is what everybody was waiting to see from DC's controversial project. How did it work out?  Well...

Iann Robinsonby Iann Robinson

Before Watchmen: Rorschach

Rorschach #1, the latest in the unnecessary rash of Before Watchmen comics, basically reduces one of the most bizarre and twisted characters in comic book history to a Punisher knock off. I don’t blame writer Brian Azzarello (100 Bullets), because it’s nothing he’s done. In fact, the story itself here is just fine. It’s a neat little tale about good against evil, the criminal versus the crime fighter. If this had been a Punisher or Batman story, it would have kicked ass. As a Rorschach tale, it absolutely drains the enigma and darkness out of the character.

Azzarello really tries to make this a story specifically for Rorschach. There’s the journal, the stories of his twisted mother, the violent attacks on criminals, Hell, Azzarello even throws in a serial killer for good measure. The problem is that none of this belongs to Rorschach. What made Alan Moore’s creation so perfect was how Moore only painted slight brush strokes to illuminate Rorschach’s past. We knew Rorschach was twisted by his mother, but we never knew why that made him a crime fighter instead of a criminal. Moore gave us a horrific glimpse at what pushed Rorschach over the edge, but he never explained why he was obsessed with the end of days. We, as readers, had to imagine a backstory and give it part of our life.

That’s why Watchmen is so important; it forces us to become involved with the story. Rorschach #1 plugs in more of a backstory than we need and it dulls the characters dark edge. To me, it’s the same as if Steven Spielberg digitally removed the yellow barrels from Jaws and stuck the shark into every scene. It diminishes the primal fear of the shark and it takes away our imagination’s power to build the fish into something supernatural.

Moore played our imagination the same way with Rorschach. He was more than just a nutbag, he was something built of all the horror and filth that ran in the streets and he was completely superhuman. Rorschach #1 turns the dial down on that and with three more issues to go, I dread to think where we’ll end up. While none of the Before Watchmen stuff is necessary, corrupting the shadows and hushed tones of a character like Rorschach is almost criminal.

I also dislike the art, which is shocking to me. I absolutely loved Lee Bermejo’s work on Batman Noel, but here his art is just messy. The overly washed-out colors from Barbara Ciardo don’t help the situation either. Bermejo’s art style, which relies heavily on shadow and heavy inks, works best in dark scenarios. Everything here is too well lit, the colors are so basic and streaked that, against the heavy lines and inks, things just blur together and give a sloppy sheen to the entire book.

There are some solid beats with the art. An opening cityscape is wonderful, as is Bermejo’s rendition of Rorschach. Outside of that, the work on this title is sub-par and comes dangerously close to mimicking Mad Magazine, especially with Rorschach out of costume. Bermejo’s version of Walter Kovacs looks more like Alfred E. Newman’s twin brother.

While a fun story, the lackluster art and indifference towards Alan Moore’s original work makes Rorschach #1 little more than a money shill.


(2 Story, 2 Art)