(w) Brian Azzarello, (a) Lee Bermejo.
REVIEWED BY THOM OBARSKI AUGUST 16 2012
If there were ever a book one could judge by the cover, “Rorschach #1” may be it. Anyone who has a concept of who or what to expect should not be disappointed from the true watcher of the Watchmen. From modern day prophet to a hard-lined hangman, Rorschach maintains gloriously true to form (yes, even if your only interpretation was presented by the Zack Snyder film). From page one we are painted with the sheer inhumane brutality which Rorschach finds deplorable yet utilizes as his canvas, clever imagery forming blood droplets into the unmistakable test pattern of the same name, an internal monologue uniquely taking the form of Rorschach’s Journal (without which there would be no Watchmen story at all), and a city scape painted with such breathtaking beauty while simultaneously being bathed by contrasting cascades of symmetrical sickness. It is in these first few pages that we instantly recognize that this is not just focused on filling in a backstory of a particular character or a cog in a hole, but rather a noir look thru the eyes that will form the arc of Rorschach the vigilante, Rorschach the harbinger of change, and (hints of) Rorschach the central link-pin of truth around which heroes either thrive or disintegrate.
Even the streets of New York City take on a life of their own, imbued with the ability to foster ones dreams or shatter their soul. These streets are where every one of the Watchman started. To protect and serve, to make a quick buck, or whatever their impetus for fighting crime may have been, none but Rorschach realized that it wasn’t just a street sweeping job, separating the filth from the rest; rather, it was a purge of the city itself, saving humanity from humans deepest and most rooted base aspirations.
What made you this way?
You did….all of you.
Our story begins with a rehash to Rorschach’s youth; a story told with such nonchalance that it could only be one of an infinite amount of similarly horrid hells to be visited upon the poor soul. The narrative, chronicled thru Rorschach’s journals, puts us at July 1977 not months from the riots and subsequent implementation of the Keene act, outlawing non-government affiliated vigilantes. Stylistically the city sparks and buzzes with the neon glow of electric sex only to be dropped off a block away to the sickening fog of sin and regret. Every panel is utilized to great effect not gorgeous, as that’s not what the goal is here. Rather, it is beautiful in its brutality, sickening in its specificity, and painful in its palette. This book is the backbone of the death of everything good and worth fighting for; dear reader, you are meant to feel queasy and Lee Bermejo beyond delivers. Choosing not gloss nor pulp but a photo filtered view bringing out blooming dreamlike glows; almost reminiscent of the existential neo-noir art-grindhouse movies of the same time period. It certainly makes a claim to a style, one that is used to great effect in painting the beginning of the end.
The story elements are near perfect, capturing the tone and character of the original tome. Even the journal entries read like Rorschach’s voice, complete with cross-outs, strikethroughs and abrupt sentences. Truly the stream of consciousness typing of a focused and undetered individual who is afforded neither the time nor luxary for proper elocution in his writing. Brian Azzarello blends Rorschachs humor with his violence as well as his violence with drive. He is not the perfect protector above the criminal to uphold the law; he is the muckraker of society, fighting fire with fire until humanities indiscretions are lit up for all the world to see. He will get his hands dirty when others refuse to. He will punish and push himself till the task is complete. For no matter your perceptions on that Rorschach test, standing at the center of that pyre will be Walter Kovacs carrying a sign reading The End Is Nigh.