Before Watchmen: Rorschach #1
Unlike the title character of this book I am a merciful man and so even though Brian Azzarello disappointed me immensely with the second issue of his Comedian series I spread the covers of this one wide with an open mind and was rewarded wisely for it. This book is everything that one isn’t; straight, stand-alone, superheroic and built around a story… “a” story, something that few if any of the other books in this binge can really say. It’s also gory, gritty and completely compelling, a comic that I would want to buy if it were released of its own merit and not as part of a marketing blitz. Why then DC waited until now to release it is simply beyond me.
Say what you will about Superhero comics but something about them obviously speaks to the medium – they share strengths and storytelling traits or something, there is a bond there – and so it is strange that this is the first Before Watchmen book to really feel like a superhero story, especially since the original never actually shied away from those elements in its exposition. Regardless, what Azzarello gives readers here is very much a traditional comic story: Rorschach spots a criminal, clashes with him and chases him up the power ladder to find the leader of the gang, a man who calls himself ‘crime’.
Now normally I would bemoan this sort of rote storytelling as too simple, too familiar or some such but none of those criticisms apply here because the way that Brian bashes out the beats in his script is brilliant. The issue is a virtual masterclass, showing us exactly why these types of story became tropes in the first place: yes, there is are frivolous fight scenes but the action is achingly brutal, the story is simple but somehow so sinister that it still draws you in, the characters may be coarse cliches or the issue of another creators nib but Brian still gets inside them and makes them compelling. Then to top it all off he sets it all in a world so perfect for the character that I’m surprised we haven’t seen a cross over.
If you’re going to set a Rorschach story in seventies New York then there is no better style to ape than that of Scorsese’s Taxi Driver and Azzarello implements the relocation with ease. Since so much of the style is left to the visuals to convey this approach would’t work if it wasn’t for the lines of Lee Bermejo and the colors of Barbara Ciardo, both of which capture the dirt, grime and detail potently. The first page after the pre-credit sequence is a single splash of the city, or ‘Damntown’ as the title refers to it, the second shows a prostitute approaching an old Checker Cab under the gaudy neon lights of the strip and the third a pimp, pants down inside a porno booth; you probably couldn’t have a more perfect pastiche.
Just like he does with the character though Azzarello makes the movie’s city his own by the end of the issue; introducing new, more hero appropriate, kinds of crime into circulation, specifically a serial killer known only as ‘The Bard’ and the aforementioned big bad Crime ( who may or may not be one and the same, we shall see). These are two fantastic additions in their own right, but first and foremost it is the focus that Azzarello places on them that I took as a positive; this, to me, suggests that the story started here will flow across the four issues of the series in a straight sequential line, like a good story should.
Because of this I am looking forward to the second with more interest than any other – besides perhaps personal preference Ozymandias. Though because of the strange way that DC are structuring this series it will be a matter of months before it comes, and by then Azzarello may do something deserving of a “hurm”‘ but until he does I must have hope, I must be forgiving, i must buckle up in the backseat and go along for the ride on Rorschach’s revenge quest.