Sticking somewhat slavishly to the original narrative structure and page layouts of the original, unbeatable Watchmen series, this fourth issue takes time out to focus on this unofficial sequel’s own Rorschach, and his own backstory. By this point, I don’t think it really matters who Reggie is or isn’t, and with many speculating that he could very well have been a no-body, and thereby emulating Moore’s own take on the original Rorschach (and by tenuous extension, to Ditko’s own arguments over The Green Goblin’s own secret identity being revealed to be a no-body too), I was little disappointed to find out his true origin and how it fits tragically into the world-changing events devised, designed and executed by Adrian Veidt in an attempt to bring about world peace. For such a clever man, Veidt never did take heed to the irony in his namesake’s arrogant, hollow word: “Look on my works, ye mighty, and despair”. Just like the fragility of even the most solid structures, nothing lasts forever. And, Veidt’s peace didn’t last long at all.
Like Rorschach before him, we witness Reggie’s incarceration. Only in this tale of two worlds, we follow his plight in the mental institutions of both worlds. We have a back-and-forth across the dimensions as we learn of Reggie’s early years and his own psychological breakdown that saw him locked up on his earth as a result of his near-death experience in escaping the same plight as the millions of dead Manhattanites wiped out by Veidt’s Lovecraftian fantasy creature made flesh.
It didn’t stop him from going mad though, and like all mental institutions in comics or in films, it’s a hotbed for corrupt and violent guards. Who vets these people anyway? I mean, I can’t think of another industry that’s so full of crooked staff. Well, except the government, I suppose. Geoff Johns may well be doing his best impression of Moore, but he’s not averse to adding in a sloppy stereotype to suit the narrative’s purpose, I’m afraid. This, and the origins of Reggie’s family background were disappointing. But, these are slight grumbles when stacked up against all the good of this issue. But, I can’t vent my frustration at Reggie’s lineage without spilling this issue, really. Put it this way; would have been more than happy for Rorschach to her been a no-body rather than an obvious somebody.
Meanwhile, in the here and now, Reggie gets to live it up with the inmates of Arkham Asylum, who are effortlessly identifiable thanks to the mad skills of Gary Franks (one of those good things that still makes this a ‘must read’ for me). And that’s no mean feat. Allowing readers to instantly recognise the likes of Max Zeus, the Ventriloquist, and the Scarecrow without their more familiar garb ain’t as easy as one imagines. But, it’s to Franks’ credit that he can pull this off as well as create the kind of changing moods needed for such a fragmented issue, in terms of narrative, that is.
Along with the high level of detail we have come to expect from Franks, for anyone even remotely familiar with his work, I’m glad to see the odd symbolic panel or two included, as was included in Watchmen. I remember then that this was an obvious trope to include in such a visual medium. The repetition of the now iconic smiley face button; whether echoed in the night sky, the cover to issue #11, or elsewhere across the maxi-series; I just thought it was a no-brainer of an inclusion. And yet, I am frankly astonished to this day that it is still not a common convention utilised by more writers and artists in comics over the past 3 decades since its original publication.
Mature subject matter and ultra-violence does not a grown up comic make and the lack of symbolism in comics is a lesson I’m surprised hasn’t been learnt. But, maybe Johns and Franks can remind others of the strengths of the medium of comics and how they can speak to the reader in a way a novel cannot. It certainly makes you a more observant reader, I believe. One who may pick up on other clues within this issu,e too. The identity of the female inmate, Jane Doe (teased out in Rebirth #1 and the odd Batman issue since, too), the name of the cargo ship, the Percy Bysshe for which inmate (and another familiar face) Byron, has left a ticket, and the more obvious visual hints too.
It all adds up to a more interactive, enjoyable read as we scour each page for clues as to where this story might be heading, and how it may effect the bigger DCU. Speculation over the return of at least one lamented superhero team from DC’s past will see you speculate even further to who else might be coming back through this transformative series. I just hope this isn’t just a conduit, like so many other big event titles of recent years, used to launch a few new comic books. Not like Dark Nights: Metal turned out to be, ultimately.
It’s another bumper issue, with 30 pages of story to make up for the fact it’s dropped to a bi-monthly fix now. But, I can wait. After all, I’ve waited to see what really happened to Ozymandias’s grand design and the inevitable breakdown of global peace hinted at in the original book’s closing.