Comic Book Review – Rorschach

Rorschach (2021)
Reprints Rorschach #1-12
Written by Tom King
Art by Jorge Fornes

I approached this with some trepidation, not because I’m in the camp that thinks Watchmen should be left untouched, but because it’s always hard to see how someone will be able to live up to the original. I also believe Damon Lindeloff’s Watchmen sequel series on HBO has been the best continuation of the material we’ve ever had, and with that being so recent, it felt odd to go back to the well so soon. Yet, Tom King, despite his flubs (see Heroes in Crisis), is still an intriguing comic book writer, and I knew he’d give readers an unexpected twist on something they likely thought they could predict. This isn’t about Rorschach, the character from the original Watchmen comic, but about people trying to further the ideology of someone like him. It’s a dark political story that remains enigmatic even after concluding.

The comic is set in seemingly the same universe as the HBO series, briefly mentioning what happened in Oklahoma. Our protagonist is an unnamed Detective who is assigned a truly bizarre case. At a political rally for presidential candidate Gavin Turley, two would-be assassins are killed before they get a hit off on the man. One of them is a woman dressed in a domino mask and cowboy outfit. The other is dressed exactly as the long-dead vigilante Rorschach. After forensics are completed, Rorschach is revealed to be elderly comics writer Will Myerson. After searching the artist’s apartment, they learn he was doodling violent sentiments towards Turley, but the Detective feels something is missing. Finally, he acquires a genuine fingerprint from Walter Kovacs, the original Rorschach, and finds it matches the dead man. And thus, we are off on a mystery.

I suspect opinions about this one will be spicier than your average Watchmen follow-up or Tom King book. He certainly seems to be leaning into the controversy writing a story about a political assassination rife with conspiracy theory, all while being published during COVID/the 2020 election its fallout. I would argue that you should read Rorschach, and then you should hate this book, and that is okay. Tom King is a self-admitted former CIA operative, working primarily in the Middle East during the height of post-9/11 insanity. He is hugely supportive of the status quo and, therefore, will push centrist narratives that attempt the eye-rollingly “both sides argument.” Right out of the gate, he does this by doing some revisionist history, using the parallel reality of the Watchmen-verse as justification.

You see, Will Myerson is a very obvious analog to Steve Ditko, the co-creator of Spider-Man, among others. Ditko is well-known for holding objectivist beliefs and being an ardent fan of Ayn Rand’s writing. Let’s get this out of the way: Objectivism and Ayn Rand are both terrible things; they operate at a middle school level of thinking. They assume an extremely dangerous black and white viewpoint of the world and are pretty much a rebranding of facets of fascism. Rather than present Myerson holding these beliefs, King goes in a wildly different direction. Myerson idolizes Hannah Arendt, the Jewish refugee of WWII and author of critical texts on fascism. She coined the “banality of evil” phrase you may have heard. Her ideology was centered on looking at the corruptive nature of systems and how individuals so easily get caught up in dangerous movements.

In interviews and throughout the text, King promotes a peculiar line of questions. He says he’s wondering some things about vigilantism stating, “If we go from the idea of ‘it’s obviously bad to kill people without trials’ to ‘Is it bad to kill Nazis without trials?” That is quickly answered by reading Arendt’s work because she believed in a justice system that would prove the guilt. She also, as is widely known and as I stated above, believed in the evil of systems and the damage they do to all parties involved. So King’s entire philosophical premise is flawed to the core from the start. Things get more bizarre the further you get into the story, including Frank Miller, the actual comics creator behind The Dark Knight Returns and others, as an essential supporting character in the mystery.

Frank Miller becomes wrapped up in the conspiracy theories and eventually reaches out to a vet involved in security surrounding presidential campaigns. This vet is used to reveal some interesting differences in the timeline. He was a Navy Seal and was part of an operation in early 2001 that captured Osama bin Laden, meaning 9/11 never happened. Furthermore, Saddam Hussein commits suicide for some unexplained reason. This vet is sent to Iraq as a contractor. Through some of the visual details used, it is evident this vet is Tom King. The revelation doesn’t make a lot of sense because geopolitics in the Watchmen-verse has been divergent from our own for a very long time, so I don’t know how these figures would still come about. But it’s a sign that King has gone off the rails in Rorschach. It’s still an entertaining book, but it’s also completely mad.

Tom King has an obvious neoliberal ideology, and he presents it in his comics time and time again. Mister Miracle’s story is ultimately centered on rejecting personal experience and accepting manufactured narratives to find happiness. His run on Batman was entirely predicated on glorifying growth through trauma, essentially taking the Batman myth to its darkest extremes. Therefore trauma is justified as necessary; thus, being marginalized and stomped by authority is good actually. Rorschach’s argument is essentially both extremes are wrong, such a tired, empty perspective that has been proven wrong countless times. The side that wants to exterminate Black people is objectively worse than the side that wants universal human rights and basic needs provided for everyone. 

Rorschach is one of the strangest, most blatant pieces of propaganda I’ve seen as it was published. It’s a perfect summation of the warped mindset behind those in power who see austerity as the only answer. They’re actually closer to aligning with fascism, yet they have mechanisms to argue why moderates sit in the perfect center spot, above all that petty bickering, divorced from analyzing the actual systemic issues they are responsible for, which lead to demagogues and genocide. I would highly recommend you read this one, however, start from a perspective that you are here to understand the flawed processes of a centrist. It will be an illuminating read for sure.

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