Before Watchmen: Rorschach #1

"Before Watchmen: Rorschach" #1 is the most enjoyable of the "Before Watchmen" issues I have sampled -- not a surprise, given the titular character's correlation to the Question and my enjoyment of Vic Sage stories. However, what surprised me was the extent to which Rorschach emulates the Question in this issue. Throw a blur on the mask through Photoshop and this very easily could have been an issue of "The Question."

As expected, Brian Azzarello delivers a very gritty street-level tale that does a nice job establishing just how dirty and dangerous the city is. Like many Azzarello-written crime books, there are plenty of crime story cliches pushed just the right way to become original, interesting and compelling. The characters -- good, bad and otherwise -- are well written, filling "Before Watchmen: Rorschach" with fluid dialog to drive this issue along.

If this issue is any indication, the collaboration between Azzarello and artist Lee Bermejo is perfectly suited to this story. Bermejo's work with colorist Barbara Ciardo produces a clean and strong painterly style, favoring realism over expressionism. Through these visuals, Rorschach is deposited into a real world that could be lurking around the corner. I could almost feel the chilly dampness of the city and smell the foul stench of the sewer. However, Bermejo reminds the reader throughout the issue that this is still a comic as he bisects and segments the page with traditional comic book panel gutters.

As with all of the "Before Watchmen" stories to this point, there is a two-page backup tale installment for "The Curse of the Crimson Corsair." It's a fine backup, but doesn't have nearly enough real estate to do much more than tease the ongoing adventures. For readers of the complete collection, this is sure to be an enjoyable opening salvo, but for those merely checking in to this issue or series, it's little more than a two-page backup.

The Watchmen began as analogues for the Charlton heroes, and Azzarello and Bermejo really drive that point home. Sure, Rorschach's mask goes through the trademark metamorphoses, but the essence of the character and the battle he fights rings true to the source material. I'm certain the creative duo will add more distinguishing factors to Rorschach as this story progresses, and given the level I enjoyed "Before Watchmen: Rorschach" #1, I just might be back for more.

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