Forget for a moment that you’re a Watchmen believer. Of course a work of that magnitude should be well left alone, and while the Before Watchmen books weren’t all bad, Doomsday Clock turned out to be proof that, indeed, a big box publisher like DC is very well able to make all the worst decisions in a single production, from over the top storylines and exposition to unreadable, out-of-wack page layouts to the very, very, very worst outcome that you could hope for. But forget that for a moment and listen to me.
Rorschach, one of the comics in DC’s newish adult-but-not-Vertigo Black Label imprint, had every bonafide comics aficionado expect the worst, but I’m here to tell you: Rorschach, Chapter 2 (January, 2021) may well be the best comic I’ve read in years, and Tom King and Jorge Fornés may as well retire.
If you take out all the costumed hero nonsense and simply read the book as the account of a police detective trying to find information on a suspect, and resolve a crime in the process, it is brilliant in its subtlety and layeredness. Two different timelines are intertwined, and this is simply hinted at by cutting up wide scenes and gently tweak the color scheme of the frame.
But if you look closely, you’ll see that each panel also replaces its counterpart in the other timeline. Hints at what happened are strewn acros the pages, in the smallest detail, but you only find out their relevance together with the protagonist. They are not earth-shattering — they are very much the mundane stuff of real policing: broken locks, information you find by chance, noise that turns out to be very much a signal. It is well-paced, intelligent and engaging storytelling of an almost old-fashioned kind.
And on top of that, King and Fornés counterbalance this highly literary framework with a short story (a play within the play, mirroring the main tale) that is at once a Unabomber motivation pamphlet and a hilarious spoof on the earnest comics of the 70s and 80s, when things had to get gritty and be about issues. It’s the (faceless) Citizen vs the (Nazi wolf) Unthinker! The dialogue of this page could have been plucked right out of the conversion scene in V For Vendetta. It’s as if King and Fornés subtly tell the mage that it’s time to move out of the way.
And that, dear reader, is a hell of a thing to accomplish in a comic book. You stand on the shoulders of giants, you get to play with their toys, but you break them if you need to, and then you make something new.
(Rorschach © 2020 DC Comics, cited for review purposes. Buy it here or at your local comic store, if it’s still open)