‘Warning: Contains spoilers for the original comic series and movie adaptation.’
“Because there is good and there is evil, and evil must be punished, even in the face of Armageddon I shall not compromise in this” – Rorschach, 1985.
Comics changed inextricably in the 1980’s, they matured into a more complex and intricate form of literature. Now this isn’t to say that previous to the eighties the stories and characters contained within the pages of this popular graphic medium were badly written or simplistic, there are many instances of fantastic character depth and sagacity from earlier decades.
Yet, the 1980’s was a significant time of fundamental change in the way people approached not only the entertainment medium, but also politics and their place in the world itself. Here in the UK the revolutionary, anti-establishment Punk Rock movement, which rose out of the peoples’ inherent distrust of their government and the way the country was being run opened a lot of eyes to what the average person could actually do to show their frustration and disappointment of the direction their lives were being taken. I truly believe that the maturation of comic books themselves began here in Britain, thanks to Punk, and the general feeling that the population had with their governance.
It was the weekly anthology comic 2000 AD that initially led the way, thanks to characters like Judge Dredd, who were directly influenced by politics and social movements of the late seventies and early eighties within the United Kingdom. Both writers and artists began to use the medium to more freely explore their attitudes and perspective on the way the real world was unfolding before them. Arguably the most famous and outspoken was Alan Moore, this literary genius has bestowed upon us such luminary and dissenting works as V for Vendetta (which unreservedly drew upon the 70’s Punk rebellion and previous anti establishment works such as George Orwell’s dystopian “1984”), and of course the seminal Watchmen.
Watchmen originated from the mind of comic-book writer extraordinaire, Alan Moore in 1986 with artwork by Dave Gibbons and John Higgins. Published by DC Comics, the project was originally submitted to them using the Charlton comics characters that they had recently acquired the rights to – Captain Atom, Blue Beetle and the Question amongst others were going to be the basis of the Watchmen themselves, but DC were reluctant to use any of it’s current characters outside of their existing timeline. Instead executive editor at DC at the time, Dick Giordano proposed the creation of new characters for the story and so, Captain Atom became Dr Manhattan, Blue Beetle became Nite- Owl, and the Question gave birth to the ‘paranoid, sociopathic’ masked vigilante… Rorschach.
Rorschach is the lead protagonist of the Watchmen, with the audience following along with him throughout the story through the use of both his monologues and regular diary entries. You could say that of all the Watchmen Rorschach is the true hero of the piece, though at only a cursory glance he seems a very one note character, callous and sociopathic.
Rorschach initially comes across as an unapologetic vigilante who perceives the world around him in very black & white terms, there is only right and wrong, no middle ground, though under the surface he is very much a deeper character. Rorschach is the most relatable and empathetic of the group, the downtrodden everyman who has finally reached the point where he’s had enough of the cruelty, unjust and indifference of society at large, deciding to fight back and adopting a persona that would enable him to do just that.
Rorschach was born Walter Kovacs in 1940, his father was unknown to him and he lived solely with his mother Sylvia. His mother was a prostitute who regularly entertained her ‘clients’ in their run-down home, she was abusive to her son both physically and mentally. At the age of eleven Walter got into a fight with two local neighbourhood bullies, unwilling to tolerate their abuse anymore, Walter fought back for the first time in his life, battering the two older bullies, leaving them hospitalised and in one case permanently scarred. Upon looking into Walter’s home life, the authorities saw the conditions that he was forced to live under and removed him from his mother’s care, and he was resettled in a local boys home.
Walter excelled from a young age at sports and was also a very gifted boxer. He left the boys home at the age of sixteen, and found a job in a dress shop where he would cut and fashion fabric for the clothing, it was here that he came across the unique fabric that would eventually become his famous ink blot mask.
Throughout the 1960’s Walter would fight crime as the masked vigilante Rorschach, and though his methodology was ruthless, he never killed any of the criminals, they would end up most of the time brutally beaten and hospitalised, but very much alive. The incident that changed Rorschach and ultimately sent him down the path of his own destruction was the kidnapping case of Blair Roche. Tracking the killer to an abandoned shop, Rorschach found the the young girl’s charred clothing in a stove and observed the killer’s two dogs chewing on a human bone. This was a turning point for Walter’s fragile psyche, unable to hold in his rage and having no belief in the justice system at large, he killed the girl’s murderer and would from that point on continue to do so to all of the most violent of criminals he encountered.
Rorschach occasionally teamed up with another costumed crime-fighter, Dan Dreiberg, aka Nite-Owl to take down more prolific and dangerous criminals and organisations, and then eventually alongside Nite-Owl he joined the newly formed superhero team- the Crimebusters. This group reintroduced the idea of a team of crime-fighters, the first mass team up since the original Minute-men team from the 1940’s, the Crimebusters consisted of Dr Manhattan, Ozymandias, Captain Metropolis, Silk Spectre, the Comedian, Nite-Owl and of course Rorschach
After a public outcry against masked vigilantes, the government eventually passed the Keene act which outlawed unsanctioned crime-fighters, the Crimebusters disbanded, except, of course, Rorschach himself who refused to give up the mask and retire from crime-fighting, both Dr Manhattan and the Comedian would continue to work covertly as government agents in various conflicts and war zones around the world.
Whilst investigating the murder of Edward Blake, Rorschach discovers that Blake was actually the civilian persona of the Comedian, concluding that he was probably killed in revenge for his role as a member of the Crimebusters. Convinced there is a ‘mask killer’ on the loose, Rorschach decides to warn his ex team-mates and investigate the case further. During this investigation, Rorschach is framed by the killer of the Comedian after an unknown tip places him at the home of murdered reformed Super-Villain, Moloch. Rorschach is captured by the police and incarcerated.
A dangerous place for any crime-fighter, especially Rorschach, considering half of the current inmates were interned here through his direct actions, this sequence of events is what elicits Rorschach’s famous and much loved quote – “None of you seem to understand, I’m not locked in here with you, you are locked in here, with me!” When the prison erupts into a violent uprising, Rorschach uses the resulting confusion and chaos to escape, with the help of recently out of retirement Crimebusters, Nite-Owl and Silk Spectre.
Rorschach, reunited with his crime busting partner Nite-Owl, continued his investigation into Blake’s death, which would lead him not only to the shocking truth of who was actually behind the murder, but eventually his own demise. Rorschach left the world as he entered, uncompromising and implacable. A violent, pitiable man, shaped by his unfortunate past who fought for what he perceived was right and just. He is the epitome of the anti-hero archetype, a self righteous persona residing in a morally grey area of vehemence and rage, though through his often inexcusable actions he did manage to offer some hope and aspiration to a world seething in corruption and deceit, and ultimately ended his life… A Hero.
“Suddenly I heard a tapping, as of someone gently rapping, rapping at my chamber door”
What makes a hero? is it their ethos of putting others before themselves, sacrificing all they hold dear to uphold what is right and just?, their ability to rise from the ashes of defeat and fight on, even knowing that it may ultimately be in vain? Hero is a rather broad term overall, is Batman a hero?, technically his primary raison d’etre is revenge, to right the wrongs done unto him as child when his parents were brutally murdered before his innocent young eyes.
So does revenge equal heroic action?, Batman of course has utilised this pent up rage and guilt over his parents untimely passing to help protect the innocent and downtrodden of Gotham from a variety of low level street thugs and malicious SuperVillains. Revenge may have been the basis for his beginning as a costumed crimefighter but his actions since have definitely propelled him to use his uniquely acquired skills for the common good.
Which brings us to the Precinct’s newest series of articles, a look at the darker side of heroics, a series that will present to you, fellow agents, our favourite broodingly sullen and ominously pessimistic characters from comics and beyond. And I can think of no better persona to begin this concatenation than vengeance driven, death cheating wraith, Eric Draven.
Now, unlike most comic book persona, The Crow shares tragedy both on and off the pages of the classic revenge tale, with the character himself emerging from the mind of his creator James O’Barr through a tragic occurrence that happened to his fiancee in 1978. Almost curse like in its nature, this tragic sequence of events followed the story of Eric Draven into the first live action depiction of the character when young and upcoming martial artist/actor Brandon Lee (son of Bruce Lee) was killed on the set of the movie. It’s these decidedly devastating moments that propel The Crow to be the first of our ‘Heroes From The Dark Side’ recipients…
I love the The Crow, both the original comic book and (probably even more so) the first movie. I am a Goth, have been since I was about 12 years of age, and even though I’m no longer 12, I am still a Goth (once a Goth always a Goth, as the old saying goes!) and Eric Draven is the Ultimate Goth, so when I first discovered the character way back in the early 90’s it was a revelation… a Superhero variant of me! so cool. I have also been a massive fan of Brandon Lee since… forever, the man inspired me from a very young age, it was through my admiration of the actor that I initially started practising martial arts (Kenpo Karate) in my mid twenties, and when he was tragically taken away from us, it profoundly affected me, almost as if I had known him on a more personal level than that of just a fan.
Brandon died from a gunshot wound on March 31 1993 at a film studio in North Carolina, an accidental shooting on the film set of The Crow. A .44 magnum revolver that was loaded with blanks was used in the fatal sequence, but the revolver had been used in a previous scene where it was loaded with dummy cartridges, one of these had become lodged in the barrel of the gun, so when the gun was discharged the force of the blank primer forced the dummy cartridge from the barrel, fatally wounding the young actor. Brandon was rushed to hospital, where he underwent six hours of surgery, however the attempt to save his life was unsuccessful. His death on the set of The Crow draws eerie parallels to the Eric Draven character himself, and unfortunately Brandon’s full potential as an actor and martial artist was cut tragically short.
The cult film was based upon the equally cult comic book series by American writer/artist James O’Barr. Debuting in 1989, the classic story follows Eric Draven, an undead vigilante brought back to the land of the living by a mysterious crow, to avenge his murder and also that of his fiancee.
James O’Barr’s creation of the character was for the specific reason of coping with the loss of his fiancee, Beverly, who was killed by a drunken driver in 1978. After the death of Beverly, O’Barr enlisted in the Marines and was stationed in Germany, his talent as an artist was utilised by the military, for whom he illustrated a variety combat manuals. A further inspiration for the characters contained within the series was a story he discovered in a Detroit newspaper, the murder of young couple over a $20 engagement ring.
The initial comic series gave way to the aforementioned Brandon Lee film, some rather terrible sequels (that are best left forgotten… trust me) a television series starring martial arts actor Mark Dacascos which aired in 1998 and ran for 22 episodes. Plus several novels and follow up comic book series, that while good, failed to match up (in my opinion, of course) to O’Barr’s original, lacking the emotional punch of his work. There is talk (ooooh, what a surprise!!) of a Hollywood remake of the first film, though I personally believe the movie is perfection and stands the test of time beautifully, plus I detest soulless remakes of great films from my youth.
If you are in any way shape or form, a comic book fan (you’re reading this so I’m going to assume so) then I heartily recommend the original series by James O’Barr, an emotional and poignant tale of revenge and redemption, plus the Brandon Lee movie is more than worthy of your attention, a dark gothic fairytale, with a groundbreaking performance from its young and talented star.