Comics Watch: 'Rorschach' and the Future of 'Watchmen'

Rorschach announce- Publicity - H 2020
Jorge Fornés/DC
The new comic is set one year after HBO's acclaimed series, and hints that it considers the TV show canon.

“I want to add something meaningful. The world can be so tyrannical, and maybe if you add something good, it’s not as bad, I guess.” Tuesday saw the release of Rorschach No. 2 by Tom King and Jorge Fornes under DC’s Black Label imprint. The 12-issue maxiseries takes place 35 years after Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons' seminal comic, Watchmen. Much like Damon Lindelof’s HBO series, Watchmen, Rorschach examines a world changed in the aftermath of Ozymandias’ attack while also providing commentary on the social and political issues facing our real, contemporary world.

The series opens with an assassination attempt on a conservative presidential candidate, Turley, who’s running on the campaign slogan, “America for the Americans." At this juncture in the series, Turley seems like an obvious stand-in for the guy who will be out of a job on Jan. 20. Borrowing more so from neo-noir and political thrillers like The Conversation (1974) and Three Days of the Condor (1975) than superhero stories, Rorschach follows an unnamed detective as he investigates the deceased would-be assassins, a man dressed as Rorschach and a woman dressed as a rodeo cowgirl, in order to find out if they were part of a larger conspiracy and what it might mean for the future of the presidency, America, and maybe the world.

Of course with a book titled Rorschach there is some expectation that Walter Joseph Kovacs, the original Rorschach who was killed by Doctor Manhattan in Watchmen, will come into play somehow. But King isn’t interested in undoing the past. Rather, the central conceit here seems to be giving Rorschach new meaning. Rorschach’s image was appropriated by the Seventh Calvary in the HBO show, his right-wing politics and black and white morality informing their white supremacy. King takes the HBO show as canon within Rorschach, mentioning the events of Tulsa along with other subtle clues that suggest the book takes place about one year after the events of the series. It’s notable that King chose to set the book 35 years after the graphic novel in that HBO’s series is set 34 years afterwards. So the question becomes, how did Rorschach evolve from a right-wing symbol to one pit against the tyranny associated with right-wing extremism. The answer lies with William Myerson.

Myerson, an aged comic book creator who devised the assassination attempt on Turley, died dressed as Rorschach. Myerson, who’s quote opens the top of the page, sought to shift from writing pirate comics, the predominant and most popular use of the comic book medium in this world, to writing about masked heroes whose fists serve the purpose of creating tranquility. The character Myerson creates in his later years, The Citizen, is a clear tribute to The Question, who in turn inspired Rorschach. And Myerson himself, from his objectivist views and reclusive nature to his dissatisfaction about the stagnant nature of writing characters he believed to be “for kids,” suggests he’s something of an amalgamation between the late, reclusive Spider-Man co-creator Steve Ditko and Alan Moore.

Much like how the original Watchmen was a meditation of superheroes and their place within politics and a quickly changing world, Rorschach, so far, is a mediation on comic creators, forced to reckon with the legacy of what they create and question whether it has a meaningful purpose. So rather than "Who’s watching the Watchmen?" the question, in meta-sense becomes, “Who’s Watching the Creators of Watchmen?” Yet in doing so King and Fornes dispatch with most of the familiar trappings of what a Watchmen sequel would be. There are no clock motifs, no Bob Dylan lyrics, or nine-panel grid layouts, making the whole effort feel just as strange and unfamiliar as Watchmen must have when it first hit the stands.

While there are references to the familiar characters of Doctor Manhattan, Nite Owl II, Silk Spectre II, and Adrian Veidt, whose star shows up on the Hollywood walk of fame, they’ve yet to make an appearance themselves. And it’s possible they never will. And Myerson, it seems, isn’t the titular Rorschach of the series, but his actions may lead the yet unnamed detective investigating his life to eventually don the mask and persona. But to what end?

It seems inevitable, given the success of HBO’s multiple Emmy-winning Watchmen, that WarnerMedia will be looking for means to continue telling stories based in this world. An adaptation of Rorschach seems like the obvious next step, especially considering the fact that it is already taking the series as canon. And much like HBO’s Watchmen, Rorschach has its own unique concerns in terms of its central mystery and the conspiracies secretly shaping the world. And while the most recent issue does go to New York, where it all started, Rorschach seems to primarily be a book set on the West Coast, which much like Tulsa of HBO’s series gives the book its own unique sense of history. It seems HBO’s Watchmen and Tom King’s Rorschach are becoming equally important texts within the grand shadow of Watchmen, and may only be the beginning of a much larger reckoning with of the comic’s legacy. As Doctor Manhattan told Adrian Veidt, “nothing ever ends.”