Now before I get into this too far, and because some of the things I will say in this review may not seem like it, I think Rorschach #10 is the best issue of the series so far. That’s not to say it’s become a favorite book or anything, just that the last two issues of the series have been much more enjoyable reads than the eight that came before them.
Clayton Cowles (letters), Jorge Fornés (art and cover), Tom King (writer), Dave Stewart (colors)
July 13, 2021
All right, why have I come around a bit on a series that I felt actively insulted by from the first issue? Is it because the story has started making sense? Nah, not really. It’s still your traditional Tom King book where he’s hiding things from the reader to pretend he’s good at telling a mystery. We’ve got a bit more information as the series barrels toward its conclusion, but there’s still a lot left to unravel.
Is it because the series has gotten more respectful to the comics creators who it has bizarrely turned into fictionalized versions of themselves? (The exception being Will Myerson replacing Steve Ditko, but much like King’s ‘homage’ to True Grit, those serial numbers are just ever-so-barely filed off.) No, not at all. If anything, the series has gotten worse on that front, bringing in a fictionalized version of Otto Binder and rewriting his personal tragedy into a catalyst for conspiracy theories and occultism. I want to firmly point out that Otto Binder does not have any living family to fight for his legacy, which is why King was allowed to tarnish it in this way.
No, the reason the last two issues have been more enjoyable for me is that the train has completely jumped the track and is now barreling, on fire, towards the city square. This is going to be an absolutely gruesome ordeal, but you can’t pull your eyes away. Issue #7 introduced us to Myerson’s backstory told through the lens of Frank Miller in a Rorschach mask, which is bizarre enough but just gets even more so as it drags Binder into it.
The next issue unraveled the mysteries a little and involved Frank Miller getting arrested and forcibly unmasked by police. Now, I’ve got no problem with Miller being a character in this book. It’s a bit bizarre since he had nothing to do with Watchmen, but he was part of the same tonal shift to darker, “adult” storytelling, so sure, I guess. I have no problem with him as a character because he’s still alive and presumably gave his permission for his likeness to be used. That’s what makes it different from using Otto Binder, or even from serial-numbers-filed-off Steve Ditko. Miller has an agency the other two don’t have.
Issue #9 is where the story really started speeding along on the disastrous collision course that now lies before it. This issue involved actual investigating and set up the plot point that Robert Redford’s office might be involved in the assassination attempt of his political opponent. It was easily the best and least offensive issue of the series.
And then came Rorschach #10. The body that the detective found in issue #9 gets tied to both Redford and Miller in bizarre ways. See, Miller used his friends in government as references for a “Pontius Pirate” story where the character is brought to the modern-day and goes crazy, trying to kill a presidential candidate. So Miller’s friend gets him in touch with a vet who did some security details on campaigns after retirement.
And here’s where the story just fucking jumps the rails. Because this new character? This man who gets Will Myerson and Laura the Cowgirl into the Republican National Convention? Well, this man had been a
CIA operative Navy Seal. And after he captured Osama Bin Laden in early 2001 and prevented 9/11, he retired and went to work for the State Department as an overseas contractor. Specifically, he worked in Iraq after Saddam Hussein committed suicide for some reason undisclosed in the comic. And included in this origin sequence, is a photo of Jonathan Oates standing under the Swords of Qādisīyah.
The Swords of Qādisīyah play an important role in not only the story, but in the personal history of the writer as well. In January 2019, a Tumblr post circulated that doubted King’s claims of being in the CIA. King’s response to said post, rather than ignore it and let some random person on the internet think what they want, was to post on Twitter a picture of him standing under the Swords of Qādisīyah, with an assault rifle in his hands.
There’s a post going around questioning whether I served in the CIA. Which is odd, cause I did, and there’s a way for employers (like DC) to check. Anyway, here’s a picture of me in Iraq in ‘04 and an email from when I was getting Sheriff reviewed by the agency. pic.twitter.com/agvztmTJrn
— Tom King (@TomKingTK) January 2, 2019
So while the details are changed (Navy Seal instead of CIA Counter-Terrorism unit, contractor for the State Department, a private contractor instead of comic writer) it seems as though Oates is serving as a self-insert character in this comic. One that is glorified, even in death, for stopping 9/11. Sure, he also abetted an assassination attempt, but he did so unknowingly and got murdered for it, so it’s not his fault.
There are also unanswered questions raised by this origin sequence in Rorschach #10. The biggest of these questions is how U.S. foreign policy still played out exactly as if Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush had been president from 1980-1992. It’s weird to consider that things played out similarly in this universe, especially after the squid attack, and with Redford as president. The dominoes that set up both the Iraq War and the 9/11 attacks were the result of specific policies from the two real-world presidents that I don’t see the fictionalized President Redford doing. But these are digressions, and while they did pull me from the story for a moment, they’re not important overall.
And really, neither is King’s self-insert, since he’s now dead, his role in the story over. But as this series careens into its final two issues, it’s become one that I anticipate reading every month. Not because it’s good, but because it’s so fucking wild I can’t turn away. I guess in the end, Tom King’s psy-op worked, as I await the next issue of this series I have no reason to like.