Vaughan & Chiang's "Paper Girls" Builds a Familiar Yet Disconcerting World
Every week, Chad Nevett and I will be reviewing an issue of Before Watchmen through a discussion of each issue. We continue with Rorschach #2 by Brian Azzarello (writer), Lee Bermejo (art) and Barbara Ciardo (colors).
Brian Cronin: I must say, I was somewhat disappointed with just how much the story just seemed like a typical vigilante-type story. A good chunk of this issue seemed like you could have done it with any sort of “anti-hero.” The saving grace of the issue for me was the clever way that Azzarello presents the waitress as an example of a good person. The fascinating aspect of it, of course, is that Rorschach has already given up on humanity, so he seems like he will do anything he can to keep his view the same, even if that means willfully ignoring the fact that this stranger is invested in his welfare. It’s a clever piece of commentary on the idea of someone who is willing to skew the facts to fit his world view. As Rorschach types about how cold the world is, here we have a woman who is a clear exception to his view of the world. I like the idea of sort of confronting Rorschach on his bullshit (his friendship with Nite Owl also serves to belie his views about the world, which Alan Moore did a nice job with in Watchmen, showing the strong influence that Nite Owl has on Rorschach, even if Nite Owl would never guess it himself).
Bermejo’s art really did not work for me in this issue.
Perhaps it was the colors by Barbara Ciardo? I don’t think that’s fair, though, as Ciardo is clearly coloring it the way they wanted. The coloring style just did not work well for me.
Chad Nevett: Rorschach bending over backwards to ‘prove’ his worldview is interesting to see. It’s one of the few things you can really do with that character that doesn’t fall into an easy cliche. How can you not enjoy the fact the guy who says that welfare is a ‘crime’ is put in a position where he needs someone else to look out for him and make sure that he doesn’t die? He seems aware of it and has to go out of his way to not take further advantage of it. Definitely the best thing about this issue.
Not that there’s a lot of things in it that are great. It seems to switch between Rorschach doing things and trying not to die, while also showing the stereotypical bad guys responding to the fact that he’s not dead yet. Kind of ho-hum. That there’s the serial killer subplot gives me hope that the second half of this series can turn things around. Hopefully, the gang crap will get dispatched with next issue and the final issue will jump to the serial killer. Though, part of me thinks that it will turn out to be the waitress or something, because that would validate Rorschach’s worldview. But, I have more faith in Azzarello than that.
The art didn’t pose any problems for me. It’s not much different than what we saw in the first issue. The colouring is a little off, as you say, but not to the point where it bugged me. I was more bothered by the excessive amount of ‘corrections’ in Rorschach’s journal captions. Were there that many last issue? It was distracting this time out. Most likely there to demonstrate that he doesn’t have the same concentration/focus. A purposeful distraction — but still a distraction.
BC: The more I think about, the more I am impressed with this approach. Rorschach is not your typical anti-hero vigilante like the Punisher. You give the Punisher an innocent, he’ll go crazy trying to protect him or her. However, if you don’t believe there’s such a thing as an “innocent,” then what do you do? How do you deal with the situation? It is a really nice set-up. A really nice set-up that you’ve now almost ruined for me by making me now have to worry if she actually will turn out to be the serial killer. That would be so weak. It will really almost be a test of my faith in Azzarello to see if he will manage to avoid such a turn of events.
But yeah, besides that very clever plot direction, the rest of the story was an extremely typical “hero reacts to bad guys, bad guys reacts to hero, good guy reacts to the bad guy’s reaction, rinse and repeat.” In the first issue, I sort of admired just how Azzarello chose to throw us into a Rorschach case without making the series all about Rorschach’s origins (“In this issue…Rorschach buys his first trenchcoat!”) but it would be a lot more interesting if the case at hand was, you know, interesting.
As for the art, while you and I both noted that Bermejo’s art works well at times and at other times is far too stiff, I think the problem I had with this particular issue is how everything is sort of drenched in the same sort of blanched light. In the first issue, we had contrast between the seedy neon lights of the porn shop and the standard street lights. Here, however, the lighting seemed the same even in places where it didn’t make sense, like the diner and the hospital. I’d like to see some contrast between “normal” places and the seedier places and instead it all seems to be lit the same.
I was also distracted by the extra typos, but I thought it was what you mentioned, that Azzarello wants to show how Rorschach’s recent carelessness is bleeding over (pun intended) to sloppy typing even. So I was okay with it, even if it is a bit of a pain in the ass to read (off on a quick tangent – what’s the hardest-to-read captioning you’ve ever seen? I think I recall a Wildstorm comic that had something like a purple background with white or yellow cursive lettering. Soooo difficult to read).
CN: The best thing about a character with a strong worldview is seeing that worldview in action and how it makes him act differently from other superheroes. Years ago, when working on my own comics, I had a racist superhero and found it ‘fun’ to write a hero who would go out of his way to save specific people and not others. So many heroes have the exact same worldview and that’s… dull. The world of Watchmen allows for a variety of worldviews to intersect with only Nite Owl really representing the ‘typical hero’ view. Dr. Manhattan is so distant that he’s just as likely to watch someone die as save them. The Comedian has a specific agenda often and will see it through. Ozymandias will do whatever it takes to accomplish his end goals. And Rorschach sees the whole of society as fallen and corrupt, able to find fault in almost every single person for some ‘crime’ or another. I wish we’d see that play out more fully.
There are few things worse than bad lettering. My pet peeve is cursive handwriting in captions where the pain of trying to decipher whatever handwriting the lettering is based upon far outweighs the effect they’re going for.
BC: Yep, you really have to give it up for that Alan Moore fellow. He really did create some fascinating characters with interesting world views. It is good to see that Azarrello is addressing those views in this series. Azzarello in the Comedian and JMS in Doctor Manhattan are also doing similar stuff in their books. Who do you think is the least interesting of the main Watchmen characters, personality-wise? Silk Spectre or Nite Owl? Over in Silk Spectre, Cooke and Conner seem to be trying to avoid Laurie’s lack of personality by doing interesting plots involving her and showing the effect she has on other people while Nite Owl…well, that’s just a bad comic book.
CN: Both are lacking in their own way, but Dan was purposefully designed to be a bit more ‘bland.’ He’s the regular decent guy who’s doing this because he’s got too much money. It’s something we’ve seen many times before. I’ll give JMS some credit in that he is trying to work around that. He’s doing a poor job, but he’s trying god bless him. Laurie wound up being a little one-note at times in Watchmen, so focused on her own problems that the larger ideas never really seemed to touch her. She seems to go along with Dan because of Dan, not because she has a drive to stop Rorschach’s cape-killer conspiracy. So, Cooke and Conner have kept her story within the personal realm to great effect.
BC: Yeah, that’s an interesting point, that JMS has addressed Dan’s relatively bland persona by trying to add as much over-the-top stuff to his background. Obviously, I don’t think it has worked but it is fair to note that he likely felt that he had to do SOMEthing. Note that with Doctor Manhattan, who had an interesting personality to work with, Straczynski has done better dealing with the character.
CN: However, I wouldn’t say that JMS has done much with Rorschach, who has been almost an equal player in the “Nite Owl and Rorschach Team Up Special” that that series has mostly been. He’s been consistent to a point in portraying Rorschach’s worldview, but it’s been over-the-top and comical in many ways. Unlike Azzarello’s take, which is a bit more nuanced in trying to show just how much Rorschach’s perpective affects the world around him and how he interacts with it.
BC: He’s been doing the kind of story Azzarello has thankfully avoided, which is the “Hey, where did Rorschach get his sign?” Asking questions we didn’t need answers to.
CN: Where does Rorschach buy his beans? That’s what I want to know!
BC: Every day, young Walter would see a young boy eating beans in a window while Walter was getting beat up. He hoped, no DREAMED, that one day he could eat such magical beans. And so when he became an adult, that’s just what he did. Hurm.
Comics Should Be Good accepts review copies. Anything sent to us will (for better or for worse) end up reviewed on the blog. See where to send the review copies.