Writer: Tom King
Artist: Jorge Fornés
Color Artist: Dave Stewart
Letterer: Clayton Cowles
Reviewed by: Steve J. Ray
Watchmen is, without a doubt, one of the most important series ever published. Even now, 35 years after the first issue hit the stands, the characters, situations, and ideas the book brought into focus are still affecting the titles of today. This leads me to this review, and the Rorschach collected edition.
This is the synopsis from the Penguin Random House website:
It’s been 35 years since Ozymandias dropped a giant interdimensional squid on New York City, killing thousands and destroying the public’s trust in heroes once and for all. Since that time, one figure in a fedora, mask, and trench coat has become a divisive cultural icon. So, what does it mean when Rorschach reappears as an assassin trying to kill a candidate running against President Robert Redford?
Who is the man behind the mask, and why is he acting this way? It’s up to one detective to uncover the true identity of this would-be killer. The quest will take him into a web of conspiracies involving alien invasions, disgraced do-gooders, mystic visions, and yes… comic books.
Writer Tom King joins forces with artist Jorge Fornés for a new story that explores the mythic qualities of one of the most compelling characters from the bestselling graphic novel of all time, Watchmen.
Tom King is an incredibly divisive writer. Some find his work complicated, or too cerebral. This book is a prime example, as it’s textured, requires thought, re-reading, and is the epitome of a slow burn story. Personally, this is the type of rich layered material that I enjoy and, in many ways, it evokes the same emotions I first felt when reading Watchmen on its initial release.
I can understand why people may not have enjoyed this series when it was released monthly, as it works far better in book form. This can actually be said of most of King’s work, even his Batman run. As a writer, he leaves lots of clues that need to be looked back on, both in his dialogue and in what his scripts ask the artist to put on the page. Receiving this information in monthly chunks can often mean that many clues can be missed, or forgotten, and lose their intended impact. Having the whole story in one volume is a huge plus… and what a volume it is!
The Rorschach collected edition is a gorgeous book. The dust jacket is heavy and features the main cover from issue #1 of the series. Underneath is a canvas-bound hardcover, which looks and feels like it could’ve been made from Rorschach’s mask. Not only do we get the whole 12-issue run, but the collection also features all the main and variant covers, and a gallery of some truly excellent prep, design, and sketch art by the incredible Jorge Fornés.
Fornés is incredible. The art in this book is second to none; it’s gritty, deceptively deep in its simplicity, and clearly the work of a true master of his craft. I’ve admired Jorge as an artist, and as a person, for years… and his work just seems to be getting better and better.
Of course, the fact that this book is colored by Dave Stewart, one of the most respected and sought-after talents in the business, doesn’t hurt either. This could easily have been given the full, bright, cosmic, super-realistic, computer-color treatment, but the subdued, earthy tones that Stewart provides not only fit the story better, they also harken back to what we’ve previously seen in the original Watchmen and the multiple Before Watchmen prequel series.
Where this story differs greatly from the original is in the fact that we get sound effects… and I like that. The opening sequence is shocking, as it appears that Rorschach, the title character is killed on the very first page. Every bang, blam, and slam that the brilliant Clayton Cowles gives us in this book is necessary, and they all add to the all-too-real feelings of threat and violence we’re reading about.
The story deals with an investigator learning who the Rorschach that met his demise as the book began was, and why he was killed. What follows is a detective story like no other. We meet real-life comics creators placed in a world as vastly unreal as you can get, yet one that feels so close to our own that it can send chills down the spine, or place knots in stomachs. We see just what can happen when someone who makes comics actually becomes a character in one, with all the psychological questions that specific transition raises.
The storytelling techniques that King, Fornés, and Stewart use in this book work brilliantly. The instantaneous, panel-by-panel time-switches between past and present are masterfully handled, in the script, line-art, and mild changes in the color pallet. We can really feel the present-day protagonist, quite literally, walking in Rorschach’s footsteps as he pieces together the clues and solves the mystery.
I’m not going to give anything away, but a famous quote from history, which was used amazingly well in the original Watchmen, works every bit as well when describing Rorschach, and the characters in this book:
If you gaze long into an abyss, the abyss also gazes into you.”
– Friedrich Nietzsche.
Personally, I love this book, though I have heard some people criticize the fact that Walter Kovacs, the original Rorschach, isn’t the one we read about in its pages. While comics are known for consistently bringing characters back from the dead, the Watchmen universe has always been a lot more grounded in reality than most. If we had seen a resurrected Kovacs, I personally, would’ve felt cheated. We’ve already met an all-new Rorschach in Doomsday Clock, and what we get in the pages of the Rorschach collected edition takes the whole process one, hugely disturbing, step further.
Every person to put on the mask is affected by it. Once it’s in place it feels like whoever’s wearing it is consumed, and taken over by Rorschach. Even Kovacs himself stated that when he started his crime-fighting career he was just Kovacs, pretending to be Rorschach. The world, and all its unspeakable cruelty, violence, and random horror created the man that Kovacs ultimately became. The same can most definitely be said about Reggie Long in Doomsday Clock, and William Myerson (and others?) in this volume.
Laura Cummings, William Myerson, and the unnamed detective following their trail are brilliantly written and drawn characters. They have flaws, lives, and real personalities. They’re honestly some of the most painfully real comic characters I’ve ever read about. While I enjoyed reading this story episodically, having the collected edition and being able to consume it all in one sitting was a far more rewarding experience.
This is a human story that features horror, black humor, and political intrigue. The fictional tale it tells really shines a grim light on the all-too-real world that we all live in today. If you want a comic that looks, reads, and feels different from everything else out there, I highly recommend you pick this up. No, you won’t have to have read Watchmen, or Doomsday Clock to know what’s going on (though you may want to afterward), as this story stands up perfectly on its own.
Rorschach is about people trying to do what’s right. Whether their motivations are misguided or based on paranoid delusion is down to the reader to decide. The main takeaway I got from this tale was; while not just anyone can be Rorschach, Rorschach could be almost anybody…
I dare you to get that thought out of your heads now.
Review Copy Courtesy of Penguin Random House. Images Courtesy of DC Entertainment.
The Rorschach collected edition will be available in bookstores from December 14th but can be pre-ordered from Penguin, Barnes & Noble, Amazon, and all good book retailers now: ISBN: 978-1-77951-204-8