WOOF. Man, I had a low bar for this book, but it managed to limbo right under it. The thing that angers me about Rorschach #1 lies once again in the vast irresponsibility of King’s narrative.
Clayton Cowles (letters), Jorge Fornés (art and cover), Tom King (writer), Dave Stewart (colors)
October 13, 2020
Rorschach #1 comes out in a terrifying time in American history. Just a week before the book came out, a plot to kidnap the governor of Michigan by an armed right-wing militia was brought to light. What makes King’s story so irresponsible and dangerous is that he’s once again playing the “there are bad people on both sides” game. But in reality, we have very real, very dangerous threats from heavily armed right-wing extremists, people that are presenting a clear and present danger to this country and its citizens.Tom King, however, introduces us to “Wil Myerson”, a reclusive comic book creator. At first glance, I took this as a direct insult to Alan Moore, but reading further Myerson fits closer to Steve Ditko. Indeed, King has said in interviews that Myerson is his answer to “What if Steve Ditko idolized a liberal philosopher instead of conservative-libertarian Ayn Rand?” Two big problems arise with this. The first is the aforementioned both sides-ing. I, for one, have not seen a lot of news stories about liberal militias. On the other hand, I have seen quite a few news stories about conservative militias. King is making a villain out of something that doesn’t exist, and in doing so is playing right into the hands of hate groups like C*****Gate. Those hate groups are going to have a field day with this book, especially after the absolute mess that was Jae Lee’s involvement with their little He-Man Women Haters club a few months ago. They will latch on to this and treat King like he was on their side all along and praise him for his tearing down of the liberal elites. This is the exact sort of crowd I expect to pick up Rorschach #1, and rather than use this as a platform to attack extremist right-wing violence, it encourages it.Furthermore, using Steve Ditko as the basis for your villain is extremely insulting in ways I can barely comprehend. It is using a book that is already a slap in the face to the past creators and taking that insult just one step further. The milking of the Watchmen franchise is already extremely tasteless and cruel concerning Alan Moore. So, to do this to Ditko, the creator of the characters on which Watchmen was based is just vile. I am disgusted by this callousness towards men that King claims to respect.
It feels like a critique of Moore’s complaints that his characters continue to be used in ways he didn’t intend, arguing that Moore himself used Ditko’s characters in a way that wasn’t intended. But here’s the thing about that argument: Moore didn’t use Ditko’s creations. Nite Owl isn’t Blue Beetle. Rorschach isn’t the Question. They’re Captain Ersatz’s of them for sure, but Moore actually co-created original characters to tell the story when he realized Ditko’s characters wouldn’t work. If you want to tell a story that draws inspiration from Moore and pays respect to him, you should try to do it without going against his wishes. DC will never stop milking Watchmen because it’s a well of infinite money for them, but individual creators who claim to love the book could stop being willing participants in the violation of Moore’s wishes.
The second problem is in the “philosopher” King chose to replace Ayn Rand as the inspiration for this alternate version of Ditko (who I have to add, for all his faults, was never the violent extremist that King turned Myerson into). Instead of Rand, King has said that Myerson idolized Hannah Arendt. At first glance, this seems like an apt choice. Arendt was a well-known writer, a Jewish refugee from World War II, and wrote a lot on the natures of good and evil. But a closer look at her is enough to make you question if she was the right choice. For one, despite being a German Jew during World War II, she was romantically involved with Martin Heidegger, an avowed member of the Nazi party. She also spoke on behalf of Heidegger at his post-war trial and reported on the trial of Nazi leader Adolf Eichmann. Arendt was the originator of the phrase “the banality of evil,” in which she said that men like Eichmann were motivated more by personal success than by personal ideology and that the Nazi party was to blame for the evils committed during the war, rather than the individuals who committed them.These personal beliefs seem to contradict what King said in interviews on the subject of this book.
“Instead of constructing Rorschach from a Randian point of view, if we construct him from an Arendt point of view, how does that change our conception of superheroes, and our conception of vigilantism? 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?’”
Well, the answer to this question is pretty well covered by Arendt in the book that she wrote about the Eichmann trial, Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil in which she made the previously mentioned argument about the system being culpable and not the men who carried out the actions. So, no Tom, I don’t think Arendt would approve of killing Nazis without a trial, because she didn’t quite approve of killing them with a trial.Looking past the story itself and the poor ideology that built it, the book looks really good. Fornés and Stewart are close enough to the work of Gibbons and Higgins, but different enough to stand out. The style and tone of the art are certainly reminiscent of Watchmen in a way that is much more referential and complimentary than the script that was written for it. Letterer Clayton Cowles delivers fantastic work that makes the poor story at least readable. The lettering trick he uses for the part of an audiotape that is inaudible is both creative and distinct. All the visible parts of this book deliver better than what they were given to work with.
Rorschach #1 is a horrifying display of centrism that is going to embolden the fans of the character who are already terrifying in their treatment of women and minorities online. It serves as a call to arms of the absolute worst parts of fandom, and I am loath to see it get praised by anyone upon its release.