Most of “Before Watchmen: Rorschach” #1 involves, simply, the title character beating up bad guys and bad guys beating up him. Which isn’t necessarily a bad thing.
Taking place in the graffiti-stained, peepshow-ridden New York of the 1970s, the comic has the gritty, sepia-filtered feel of a movie made in that time period; reference Joe Carnahan’s sizzle reel for the now-squashed “Daredevil” movie for more visual reference.
Of course, Rorschach could never be a “superhero” like Daredevil, because he has much too dysfunction to really be in the same ballpark (and considering Matt Murdock’s checkered lovelife, that’s saying a lot). And yet, for all the “adult” themes in this comic — the two-bit street hustler pleasuring himself in said peepshow, Walter Kovacs’ delightful anecdotes about his whore mother (I like to call it “S**t My Mom Says”), and the nude, dead, face-down body of a female victim in the issue’s opening scene (which seems to be a running theme in Brian Azzarello’s “Before Watchmen” books) — I can’t help but feel the character is presented as “just another action hero.” A “franchise” character. Like Punisher or Wolverine or Deathstroke or Daredevil or take your pick — just add a touch of resentment towards women, deep sexual issues, and body odor and voila!
This is not to say that the comic doesn’t work, or that Rorschach doesn’t make a compelling “superhero.” The action in this issue comes by the bucketful, Kovacs gets some good lines in (“Serious smack…SMACK!”), and Lee Bermejo’s art is dead-gorgeous.
But I would be remiss to not note how strange it is to see one of the most complex and memorable characters in comic book history slide into the aforementioned pantheon of established mass-marketed “gritty heroes.” Doing so, I am willing to bet that a lot of the irony surrounding Rorschach gets lost on some of his new generations of fans. Fans who relate to him outside of the context of the original “Watchmen” and not only take his misogyny, homophobia, generalized paranoia and emotional problems at face-value, but think that it’s part of his charm — personality flaws and ink blots that are roughly equivalent to repeated catch-phrases and iconic accessories included in his action-figure packaging (included: can of beans, journal, removable hat and cravat).
Rorschach action figure, by Mattel
In a strange bit of timing, “Watchmen” scribe Alan Moore recently noted in an interview that the character he most related to in the original series was Rorschach; presumably, not the one in the “BW” version. Spoilers: the original Rorschach met his fate at the hands of fellow Watchman Doctor Manhattan, blasted into a bloody “snow-angel.” He was just too “dangerous” and out-of-control to let live, his single-minded dedication to unearthing the truth threatening to ruin all of Adrian Veidt’s carefully-laid plans for world peace and societal order. But what “Before Watchmen” shows us is that in our reality — our era — the very best way to tame a dangerous mind like Walter Kovacs is to simply buy him outright, give him his own series, and make him a superstar.
“Before Watchmen: Rorschach” #1 hits stores today