Watchmen: DC should tread carefully with new Rorschach spinoff

Watchmen. Image Courtesy Warner Bros., DC Universe
Watchmen. Image Courtesy Warner Bros., DC Universe /

The Watchmen universe is set to expand in the form of a Rorschach spinoff, which has divided audiences. Right now, in this climate especially, is Rorshach the right character to adapt and if so, how lightly must DC tread in their approach to this character?

Yesterday, it was announced by DC Comics that the company will soon be delivering a new Watchmen spinoff. This time, centered entirely around the character of Rorschach. Understandably, fans of Watchmen are divided on this development.

Some are rejoicing merely at the thought of new Watchmen material or at the expanded look at such a controversial character. Others wonder if Rorschach is the right character to get the heroic protagonist treatment. Trepidation in the latter case is understandable, especially given how recently HBO’s Watchmen was released.

The series hit the network last fall and many of us rewatched it in its entirety a couple of weeks ago to commemorate the 99-year anniversary of the Tulsa race massacre, an event covered extensively in the show’s plot.

Although the show’s overall plot takes place decades after the events of the original Watchmen comic, Rorschach presence dominates the events of every episode.

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For those unaware, fans may recall Watchmen ending with New Frontiersman – the universe’s far right weekly newspaper – getting ahold of Rorschach’s journal, with the implication being they went on to release his findings to the public. Well, in the HBO series, these findings indirectly birthed The Cyclops, the show’s Big Bad; a modernized KKK.

Those familiar with the Rorschach character in the original comic mini-series don’t need to scratch their heads for too long to figure out how his words could have given life to a new Ku Klux Klan, sans the hoods. Alan Moore never intended for Rorschach to be a quote-on-quote “hero,” but created him to be, in Moore’s own words, a “bad example.” Moore used Rorschach as commentary on the idea of a violent “vigilante” doing problematic things in the name of radical justice.

And what does radical justice look like? The human equivalent of openly misogynist, homophobic, racist ideologies that spawns a white supremacist group of racist misogynists inspired by the angry, out of context ramblings of a masochist’s journal.

Speaking of angry, in yesterday’s DC press release, Tom King – the writer hired to pen Rorschach – promises that this spinoff is going to be “a very political” and “angry work”, dding:

"“We’re so angry all the time now. We have to do something with that anger. It’s called Rorschach not because of the character Rorschach, but because what you see in these characters tells you more about yourself than about them.”"

King’s right. We live in an angry time right now. There’s a lot to be rightfully angry about in the world and it appears as if King wants to capitalize – perhaps exploit may be a more appropriate term – on the world’s collective fumes by adding to the fire via one of the angriest characters in comic book history.

The problem comes when there is so much potential anger in this work that there’s no room for self-awareness or even analysis. Excusing Rorschach’s inappropriate behavior and way of thinking under the guise of anti-heroism goes exactly against what Moore intended for the character.

Even worse, such a portrayal would come at a time where the series’ “angry” audience will see right through it for what it really is and be far too tired and angry to want to put up with it.

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As much as this writer has a gut feeling telling him that a story pitting Rorschach as the sole protagonist is a bad idea, he doesn’t want to dismiss this new work before it even hits the stands. Not entirely, at least.

HBO’s Watchmen proves that characterizing someone like Rorschach can work. Hell, Alan Moore showed us several years ago how it can work. But the writer must not only truly understand what they’re dealing with in handling a character when their thoughts are fueled by hatred, said writer must be blunt in calling out that same hatred.

This can work if the writer acknowledges each and every flaw in Rorschach’s approach to life and highlights why he’s ultimately not a good person, rather than paint some idealistic picture that he’s a hero or anti-hero to be admired.

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We’ll have to wait and see where King goes with this, but I sincerely hope that he doesn’t shoot for the latter in this story.