Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Before Watchmen: Rorschach

The final Before Watchmen Wednesday!

We wrap up our Before Watchmen coverage with a look at Brian Azzarello and Lee Bermejo’s take on the gritty, street-level Rorschach. I’ll say this; you certainly have to say that the creators managed to maintain the character tone from the original series.

In one of the better prequels in the series, this limited series has a beginning through an end, a complete narrative, something many of these Before Watchmen comics have lacked. And it covered new ground, too. The story isn’t exactly revolutionary, but this series gives us a solid look at the types of cases that Rorschach dealt with before the events of Watchmen. So basically, this book is exactly what all the BW books should have been.

I consider it high praise to say that I got a real Punisher vibe from this book. Much like Circle of Blood or Return to Big Nothing, this felt like a big, violent chapter in the vigilante career of the NYC-based Rorschach. The villains have enough character to be despicable, and Bermejo does a great job giving them unique looks so that we can recognize and cheer as each one gets taken out by the protagonist.

The story does introduce a bit of supporting cast at the Gunga Diner, and there is a subplot about a serial killer, but the main plot and driving action is Rorschach’s obsession with a certain group of pimps and drug dealers. It is clear where his focus lies.

Lee Bermejo’s artwork is stunning. I can’t overstate the gritty, grimy feel of New York City, and of the cast of characters involved. Everyone has stains, rumples, and imperfections that add both realism and sadness to the proceedings. Bermejo’s work with the ever-changing Rorschach mask is an inspiration, especially when the mask ends up on someone else. There is almost a sheer quality to the mask, something I would have though impossible to express on the drawn page. Bermejo’s fully realized cast and setting make this series possibly the most faithful to the spirit of the original Watchmen. This is the gateway comic you’d give a fan of the movie who wanted more.

Is this story at all essential to the Watchmen reading experience? No, but it reads like a few chapters of a GOOD ongoing Rorschach series that never was. That’s a perfectly acceptable approach for this type of prequel. 

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