“Rorschach’s journal – 2019, ten years ago I starred in one of the greatest cinematic triumphs of all time. In it the streets were extended gutters, and the gutters were full of critics, and when the drains finally scabbed over, the fans looked up and shouted save us… and Zack Snyder whispered “Yes”
A decade ago, the greatest piece of comic book fiction ever wrought was finally released on film by visual auteur Zack Snyder. His triumphant cinematic reworking of the supposedly un-filmable comic series from the eighties was hailed by the fans as a masterpiece of modern dystopian Superhero cinema, but received tepid reviews from critics (Mmmm, now this seems familiar)
(Warning: Spoilers ahoy)
The Watchmen limited comic series was released by DC Comics in 1986, it was a collaborative effort of three superstar British comic book creators, Writer Alan Moore, Artist Dave Gibbons and Artist/Colourist John Higgins. Moore originally posited to DC that he wanted to use their acquired Charlton Comics characters as the basis for the story (Blue Beetle, The Question, amongst others), but DC’s managing editor of the time Dick Giordano, persuaded Moore to create new characters instead, as the usage of DC’s now integrated (into the DC universe) Charlton heroes would have rendered them almost unusable in future timelines because of the direction they would have taken as a result of Moore’s suggested storyline.
Alan Moore is widely regarded as one of the greatest comic book authors of all time, aside from Watchmen, Moore has also introduced us to V for Vendetta, Batman: The Killing Joke and The League Of Extraordinary Gentlemen, but it is Watchmen that propelled Moore to the rank of numero uno in the highly competitive comic book market
Alan Moore’s writing often takes a dark and dystopian route through pre-existing tropes, subverting and twisting characters to fit into his alternate timelines. Watchmen is a satirical look at superheroes, that reflects the era it was written, be it through the politics of the time (80’s Britain was a particularly political hot-bed) or emerging trends and people’s apprehension of the future.
Watchmen is set in an alternate 1985, and follows masked vigilante Rorschach as he and other retired members of the Superteam – The Crimebusters, investigate the murder of one of their former colleagues – The Comedian. In Moore’s universe, costumed heroes first appeared in the 1940’s, and were a collection of former Police officers and disgruntled citizens who ‘masked up’ to take down an increasing number of criminals who had taken to wearing costumes to disguise themselves from recognition.
In the early eighties with the world on the brink of a nuclear holocaust, and with an outcry by the general populace against masked vigilantes, costumed heroes were outlawed, and most faded into retirement or (in the case of the Comedian and Dr Manhattan) went to work covertly for the Government. Rorschach though continued to fight crime unsanctioned, wanted by the Police he refused to abandon his principles and castigated his former team-mates for their cowardice in the face of the costumed vigilante ban.
After the murder of The Comedian, Rorschach manages to convince former team-mates, Nite-Owl II and Silk Spectre II to come out of retirement and help investigate what he believes is a conspiracy to kill masked heroes. Moore’s take on Superheroes is not for the faint of heart, it is a mature and sometimes shocking take on a popular medium, set in a totalitarian, regressive society consumed with fear and anxiety
Unto this premise comes visual mastermind director Zack Snyder, riding high on his successful conversion of Frank Miller’s “300” graphic novel, he set his sights on DC’s Watchmen, and in 2009 presented us with perfection in comic book to film form. His film mirrored its source material beautifully, condensing the story somewhat, but still supplying every nuance and important depth of plot that the original comic series conveyed.
His choice of actors were astonishingly close to their fictional selves, especially the casting of Jackie Earle-Haley as titular protagonist Rorschach. This film has ultimately become the cornerstone of Zack Snyder’s career, only equalled (in our humble opinion) by his take on DC’s Trinity in Batman v Superman: Dawn Of Justice, which shares many similarities to Watchmen in both tone and visual style.
Ten years on and Watchmen is now more highly regarded amongst its former critics, still loved by the fans and is one of the first ‘R’ rated (18 rated here in the UK) Superhero movies, long before characters like Deadpool were ever conceived for the big screen. Snyder’s film is visually enthralling, deep and concise in its portrayal of the original classic series, as much a must watch now as it ever was, not only one of the greatest comic book movies of all time… but literally one of the greatest movies of all time!
Who Watches The Watchmen?… You Should!
‘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.
To an interminably die-hard Watchmen fan like myself, there can be no greater news than the live action return of Alan Moore’s fabled comic characters, and you know what, it’s looking like we are one step closer to seeing just that. Zack Snyder, director of the fantastic 2009 film adaptation of Moore’s groundbreaking graphic novel, has approached studio HBO with the (really rather marvellous) idea of a weekly Watchmen television series.
As to what form the series may take, it’s rather early to predict at this time, but considering we have already been treated to the original 80’s tale, the series would more than likely take inspiration from the 2012 comic prequel series “Before Watchmen.” These consisted of eight separate mini-series each following one of the main characters from the Watchmen and served as a forerunner to the original Moore series. Of course it could go the other way and create a wholly original story involving our volatile team of heroes, whatever form the show may take however, it is still exciting news. More Rorschach?… oh hell yes!
Watchmen Copyright: DC Comics