The man behind the popular mask from Watchmen may be dead, but he’s still making an impact in the world, 35 years later, in Tom King’s latest miniseries.
Written by Tom King
Pencils and Inks by Jorge Fornes
Colors by Dave Stewart
With his STRANGE ADVENTURES miniseries building a pretty compelling mystery about what happened to Adam Strange, Tom King isn’t letting up. Moving to another Earth in the multiverse entirely, King’s latest plants him firmly in the future of the world Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons established in Watchmen.
This isn’t the world of Watchmen that Geoff Johns explored in DOOMSDAY CLOCK, though. While I would call that series more of an homage than a sequel to the story, King’s new Rorschach book is establishing a direct lineage, creating an enigma involving the masked vigilante who was atomized by Doctor Manhattan at the end of Moore’s series.
The first issue of the miniseries begins with an assassination attempt of the challenger to President Robert Redford, by a man dressed as Rorschach. King’s opener examines the identity of the man in the costume. Was he a famed comic book artist from the 1960s, as the police originally theorize? The artist was a recluse, with very few photographs taken of him over the decades, and he seemed to be a political leftist, complaining about Redford’s conservative opponent.
Or is he someone else entirely?
The final pages of the issue seem to suggest the failed assassin had the same fingerprints of one Walter Kovacs, the man who was originally under the Rorschach mask.
Considering the original Rorschach’s clearly-right wing ideology, that would be pretty surprising. I imagine King has some twists and turns coming. This is just the first issue, after all.
While the mystery may have me intrigued, I’m much more interested in what King has to say about Rorschach. The character may have been put up on a pedestal since his creation by Alan Moore in the 1980s – a cool costume plus a focus on him in Zack Snyder’s 2009 movie helped a great deal – but Walter Kovacs wasn’t exactly someone who should be idolized. He was a crank-case conspiracy theorist and a right-wing nutjob who attacked people as a way of dealing with his own childhood trauma. The character should probably be pitied. But instead, a cult of personality has grown around him over the years.
Geoff Johns tried to rehabilitate the character of Rorschach in DOOMSDAY CLOCK, putting a traumatized Black man under the mask in the miniseries, but it did nothing to wipe away the terrible things the original did under the guise of being a heroic mystery man.
Is King’s Rorschach another attempt at character rehabilitation? Will it be an examination of what Rorschach stood for and what his symbol means 35 years later?
When playing in his own sandbox, within the confines of a limited series, King is a capable writer whose every issue builds to a finer point later on. The opening chapter of Rorschach introduces us to a future point of a familiar world, which used to be filled with fantastic characters. Is it still?
After the amazing HBO series from last year, there’s a high bar for stories that are adjacent to the one Alan Moore told back in 1986. I hope King can reach it, and issue one is a good first step.