Before Watchmen: Rorschach #1 Comic Review (Mania.com)

By:Mania Staff
Review Date: Sunday, August 19, 2012
Source: Mania.com

When DC Comics announced that they were going to produce more Watchmen stories without Alan Moore, it created a huge controversy. Issues such as creator’s rights and touching the holy bible of comics being the two biggest. We decided to not just give you one opinion on the first issues, but several. With a subject as broad and diverse as the comic, its characters, and the controversy behind it, we thought this was only fair. This week we look at Rorschach issue #1. 

By Jarrett Kruse, Mania TV Critic GRADE: A
As the new #1 issues of BEFORE WATCHMEN roll out, it was with great enthusiasm that I dove into Azzarello & Bermejo’s take on the Watchmen’s flagship character Rorschach. First of all, what a dynamic artist/writer combo on this gem of a first issue that left me wishing this was a full trade paperback. Bermejo’s artwork is top-notch as usual painting the late 70’s New York City scene as a zeitgeist of desperation and debauchery. Times Square sits as the centerpiece of a city run amuck with the neon lights not so bright anymore. A world that is still stuck in the 60’s but certainly not ready for the 80’s.
 
Azzarello spins a yarn right out of the Travis Bickle playbook having Rorschach in an eerily similar tale (in style) to a Batman: Year One type tale—without all of the fancy gadgets. Like Bats, Rorschach is myth on the streets of Manhattan; a boogeyman who is heard about but never really seen. When the ink-blotted mask is exposed to a cadre of drug lords; the little guy has the snot kicked out of him and is left for dead. But one beating does not put the “hurm”-inator down and like everything else in his life he survives. Through all struggles, Rorschach finds a way to endure which makes this glimpse into his solo crime-fighting days so damn interesting. After all these years, he is still my favorite DC sociopath. The umbrella of the story hovers around a serial killer known as “The Bard” that is sure to become a bigger factor in later issues. Rorschach’s taste for revenge, justice & righteousness is not even close to being satiated. Cleaning up the streets has never been so dirty. 
 
By Tim Janson Level, Up! and Tuesday Terrors Columnist Grade C+
Rorschach # 1 was the Before Watchmen title I was looking forward to most…and least.  I know, I know, nothing like playing both sides of the fence.  On one hand, Rorschach is the Watchmen’s most intriguing character, having no super powers and utilizing no special gadgets other than his own fists and rage.  Yet by his very nature he is a true man of mystery and revealing too much about him threatens to dissolve that air of mystery into vapor.  Luckily Brian Azzarello does not and that’s both good and bad.

Azzarello spins a yarn right out of the Travis Bickle playbook having Rorschach in an eerily similar tale (in style) to a Batman: Year One type book—without all of the fancy gadgets. Azzarello doesn’t reveal anything we didn’t know about Rorschach already…He cements the characters horrible upbringing by an abusive and neglectful mother with a short narration by the character at the beginning of the book.  From there it’s on to a somewhat pedestrian tale of Rorschach trying to hunt down a drug supplier in the sewers beneath New York and biting off more than he can chew.

There’s no mention of the Watchmen in the story and the year is unspecified although you can assume mid 1970s to early 1980s based on the style of the cars and since it takes place before the events in The Watchmen.  It was hardly the big splash story I was expecting.  Not bad but nothing special either.  The art of Lee Bermejo helped bring the grade up a notch.  Rorschach is one title I will likely follow to its conclusion but I want to see much more as the story evolves.

Joel Rickenbach, Comicscape Columnist Grade: A-
I have to give credit where credit is due- despite varying degrees of quality, each Before Watchmen series absolutely has its own identity, and Rorschach's is a glorious street level odyssey. The book takes place in 1977, and it feels like the 70's. The sleaze trade of 42nd street is captured perfectly by Lee Bermejo, Barbara Ciardo and John Higgins. The art is colorful, yet muted, and detailed almost to a fault. Peep shows and posters for adult films stretch as far as the eye can see, and a local theatre marquee promises a double feature of Make Them Die Slowly (AKA Cannibal Ferox) and Demonoid. The references are so welcome we can easily forgive the fact that both films didn't come out until 1981. It's as if someone decided to turn William Lustig's Maniac into a comic book.
 
Brian Azzarello (100 Bullets) is a master of crime fiction, and the perfect choice to give us a look into Rorschach's world. I can hear his croak of a voice in my head as I read his journal entries full of disdain for the city and its inhabitants. Rorschach is fearless and brutal; he doesn't mince words, and the ones he does utter are perfectly sharp and clipped. Azzarello captures Rorschach's personal, and self destructive, war on crime to wonderful effect. He gets as good as he gives in this issue, and true to form- finds a way to band-aid the pain and keep stalking the streets on his never ending quest. We're treading somewhere between The Question and The Punisher, and I can definitely dig it.
 
Chuck Francisco, Shock-O-Rama Columnist Grade: B
 
Rorschach's journal. August 19, 2012.

The stink of unwashed neck beards strikes me like a prostitute pounded against a brick wall.
Moving among immense fanboys, invisible in disguise. 
The filth of Cheetos clings to everything; an orange scourge in mist form. 
They argue about the inconsequential while the world burns around them.
Spinning hypotheticals; they are so many liars, trying to put out their burning house with words.
Choosing the book we came for, only incites anger from them.
They spew insults as crippling blows are returned in kind.
While they mew on the ground, in disgustingly unashamed pain, they continue to spout gibberish about selling out, cash grabs and made up moral stances.
Irony: they secretly read these books while simultaneously loathing themselves for enjoying it.
They'll yell out that this book has no right to exist;
Shouting that only good comics should be read. 
And I'll whisper back: It's awesome. 

 

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Mania Grade: B+
Issue: Rorschach #1 (of 6)
Written By: Brian Azzarello
Art By: Lee Bermejo, Barbara Ciardo and John Higgins
Publisher: DC Comics
Price: $3.99
Digital Copy: $3.99
Series: