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DC FanDome: Tom King breaks down his 'very political' Rorschach book's philosophical influences

By Matthew Jackson
Rorschach Cv1

This fall, the world of Watchmen will get a new story in the form of Rorschach, a 12-issue miniseries from writer Tom King and artist Jorge Fornés that serves as a sequel to the iconic series from writer Alan Moore and artist Dave Gibbons. We've known about the series — which takes a noir approach to solving a political assassination tied to the legacy of the title vigilante — for quite a while, but at a DC FanDome on Saturday King and Fornés shed a little more light on what we can expect from this new story, including the philosophical influences that helped King find the right direction. 

In a conversation with Watchmen TV series creator Damon Lindelof, King and Fornés discussed everything from their own lifelong love of Watchmen — both described reading it as kids and then rereading it every year as adults as a kind of comic book touchstone — to where the story fits in the overall continuity of the franchise. In terms of the book's origins, King noted that he'd actually been offered a Watchmen follow-up by DC Comics earlier, and turned it down because he didn't want to be a "cover band" riffing on Moore and Gibbons. Then, as the American political climate grew more volatile and Lindelof's own Watchmen saga took shape on television, he started to see a way in, inspired by Moore's own political commentary in the original series.

"[Moore] gave us the notes to talk about our current moment, and so I wanted to play in that sandbox to talk about this," King said. "It's a very political work. It tries to be revolutionary the way Watchmen tried to be revolutionary."

Set in the decades following the original 1986 story, Rorschach will follow the canon established by the original comic, and will also draw on the now out-of-print Watchmen tabletop roleplaying game that featured contributions from Moore and Gibbons. Though it's set in the same time period as Lindelof's own series, King noted there will not be direct overlap there, but there also won't be continuity conflict.

"The TV show meant so much to me," King said. "I don't reference it or make it the world, but I make it so nothing contradicts with the TV show."

Visually, while there are certain unavoidable hallmarks that tie it to the original Watchmen series, Fornés noted that he actually tried to steer away from Gibbons' original art at least somewhat, something King also underlined when talking about the story. For Rorschach, writer and artist both fell back on something they both love — film noir — to create a kind of hardboiled mystery story in the middle of the Watchmen universe.

"I have to say that I don't like the sci-fi, so I'm into a deep noir story," Fornés said.

King added, "In the Citizen Kane style, it has a detective sort of going around and asking people what happened, and as they ask them you get flashbacks to what happened. That idea that sort of you find these nodes of knowledge, and the nodes of knowledge take you into the world before as you solve the mystery."

We know the central mystery will involved a political assassination and someone who's chosen to adopt Rorschach's iconic look, but other than that King and Fornés remained rather tight-lipped with regard to what we can actually expect from the book's plot. In terms of how the story took shape, though, King noted that his storytelling is a deliberate attempt to respond and react to not just Moore's writing, but the writing of another comics legend: Steve Ditko. Because Rorschach as a character was conceived as a kind of parody of two Ditko creations — The Question and Mr. A — and Ditko's own Ayn Rand-driven philosophical approach as both a human being and an artist, King decided to take things a step further. His Rorschach will also be deeply rooted in a certain philosophy, one that acts in opposition to Rand and, therefore, Ditko. 

"Instead of it being from an Ayn Rand background, I transitioned it just to sort of respond, and I made [the contemporary Rorschach] obsessed with Hannah Arendt, who is a different philosopher, Ayn Rand's contemporary, another Jewish immigrant from Germany, but on the left, not on the right, who was obsessed with the concept of citizenship," King explained. "She had been in a concentration camp, and how we as a free society stop another Nazi rising was sort of her obsessesion of her whole life. Instead of constructing Rorschach from a Randian point of view, if we construct him from an Arendt point of view, how does that change our conception of superheroes, and our conception of vigilantism? If we go from the idea of 'it's obviously bad to kill people without trials' to 'Is it bad to kill Nazis without trials?' it makes a different moral universe and [asks] different moral questions, or at least the same questions but, you know, turning the ball on its side so you can see it from a different angle."

To craft his approach to Rorschach, King went back and read much of Ditko's work on Mr. A, which might be considered the purest distillation of the artist's personal philosophy in a way that evolved over decades of stories. The writer made it clear that he's definitely not on Ditko's side, and that while he's a fan of Ditko's superhero comics, Rorschach will not be a book Ditko would have enjoyed.

"I worship his art but I think he'd hate everything I wrote," King said. "We're going to pay as much tribute to his beautiful art — and nobody tributes Steve better than Jorge — but he'd totally hate all of this and I apologize to his ghost."

Rorschach #1 arrives October 13.

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