before-watchmen-rorschachBEFORE WATCHMEN: RORSCHACH 1
Writer: Brian Azzarello
Artist: Lee Bermejo
Publisher: DC
Reviewer: Optimous Douche (email me, I’m lonely)

I was very worried about the BEFORE WATCHMEN treatment of RORSCHACH. If we take the past lessons of this series to heart, people become CRIMEBUSTERS primarily because of Mommy and Daddy issues. Outside of COMEDIAN, there actually hasn’t been one member of the Silver Age CRIMEBUSTERS that wasn’t a test case for Freud’s theories. And it’s been entertaining, we’ve received deeper insight into the insecurities and motivations of characters like NITE OWL and OZYMANDIAS because of this inch wide mile deep dive into their childhoods.

Here’s the thing though, RORSCHACH’S brain damage because of his mommy issues and revolving door of paying uncles was well documented in the original WATCHMEN. So yes, I seriously worried that RORSCHACH would follow suit with the other titles traversing already well-trodden ground.

My other concern for RORSCHACH was the fact we’ve received a “just the tip prequel” treatment already in NITE OWL. Honestly, I was unimpressed with Dan’s “Oh so Tim Drake” discovery of the original NITE OWL’s secret identity, and I was ready to abandon the book until RORSCHACH showed up in the later half. WATCHMEN has always been a pastiche of our favorite heroes and to truly embody the storied history of the BATMAN mythos you need NITE OWL’s technology and camp to represent the silver age combined with RORSCHACH’s thumb breaking and graveled voice to embody the modern age. Thankfully, DC agrees with me because what we receive in this prequel is a much darker time BEFORE WATCHMEN than any of the other books to date (including COMEDIAN).

RORSCHACH’s early years are explored in this issue, but it’s not spoon fed to us like in the other titles. Basically Azzarello remembered that most of the people reading BEFORE WATCHMEN are fans of the source material and as I said earlier, RORSCHACH and Miss Jupiter’s pasts are fairly well covered there.  So instead of starting in the 50’s or 60’s, we start with a full grown RORSCHACH pounding the streets in Time Square circa 1977. For those not from the tri-state area, Times Square was a very different place than the Disneyfied electric extravaganza you see today.  Back then this area was like the underbelly of Vegas, a modern day Sodom where sodomy was one of the tamer activities one could partake in. The book accurately reflects this debauchery and weaves in the mystery of a killer called The Bard, who is taking ladies of the night and using their fresh corpses as psychotherapy tableaus one carved limb at a time.

Azzarello is completely at home with RORSCHACH – dare I say the two were meant for one another. Azzarello has a distinct…staccato…way of writing. It’s a word play that tends to rub some folks the wrong way and I can see why on certain titles. RORSCHACH’s journal, the narrative thread of WATCHMEN and now this prequel, is equally choppy. He starts a sentence…shifts focus…moves forward…yet dances backwards. I honestly couldn’t imagine anyone else writing this book.

The art hits your senses like a sledge hammer. I fell in love with Bermejo’s hyper realistic, darkened Alex Ross like paintings in BATMAN: NOEL, hoping and waiting for his next project.  RORSCHACH doesn’t disappoint. I grew up outside of New York and I spent a lot of time going to Times Square before Guillani cleaned the streets. Bermejo perfectly captures the frantic strung-out nature of this place and time. It’s hard to imagine people strung out on heroin and John’s getting blow jobs in back alleys as frantic, but when you multiple even the most lethargic of private of activates by tens of thousands of people it will indeed overload the senses. The detail Bermejo put in this book is nothing short of spectacular, every panel draws you into closer examination whether it’s to see the finite Easter-Eggs in the wide shots or simply to be in awe of the meticulous lines and crevices in the close ups.

Prior to RORSCHACH I was starting my reviews by ranking my favorite books to date. It’s a silly activity in light of RORSCHACH. DC is clearly taking a strong open, light middle, and finally a killer close approach to this series. SILK SPECTRE and MINUTEMEN – fantastic (even though I was less than enamored with MINUTEMEN, I did like the art and really seem to be alone in my malaise towards it). NITE OWL, COMEDIAN and even OZYMANDIAS’ glorious art still left a collective “not bad – not great” amongst fans. RORSCHACH though is the real deal, a crime buster whose psychological baggage makes him possibly more dangerous than those he pursues. Then once you add RORSCHACH’s less than favorable feelings on the call girl profession, you can clearly see a moral conundrum in future stories where RORSCHACH will have to decide if the enemy of his enemy is truly his friend and where the lesser of two evils actually lie.

If my theory on the quality of the BEFORE WATCHMEN series is correct, the final entry of DR. MANHATTAN has me ready to go thermonuclear with antici…say it…pation.

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