Tom King seems angry. He’s been angry since at least 2017, when the comics writer talked to Inverse about a then-upcoming project that would become his Eisner Award-winning series with Mitch Gerads, Mister Miracle.
“I know we’re all waking up every day at the news and we’re just saying, ‘What the fuck just happened?’ The world does not make sense anymore,” King told Inverse at New York Comic Con 2017. “I wanted to write about that paranoia and the responsibility of an artist in a crazy time like this is to bring that shit out, so we can deal with it a little bit.”
Three long years later and still the world makes little sense. And still, Tom King is writing about it. In the midst of a pandemic as the United States barrels towards economic collapse, King is entering Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons’ influential universe of Watchmen with his own twelve-issue series, Rorschach. Like a perfect director hired for the perfect script, the prospect of Tom King on a Watchmen comic — specifically a Rorschach comic — means fans should strap in for something big. Though it’s still three months away, Rorschach has the potential to be one of the biggest superhero events of 2020.
Announced Tuesday by DC Comics, Rorschach is a continuation of the original 1988 classic. Set to debut on October 13, King will reunite with artist Jorge Fornés, with whom he’s worked before on Batman and Heroes in Crisis. Set 35 years after Ozymandias dropped a psychic squid monster in New York City, Rorschach — now a folk hero for exposing secrets on the world’s so-called superheroes — is thrust into the center of a new story, despite his death at the hands of Dr. Manhattan in the Arctic at the end of Watchmen.
The specifics of the new story are unclear, but in a press release, DC Comics teases that Rorschach inexplicably returns as part of a plot to kill the first candidate to oppose Robert Redford for President of the United States. “One determined detective” traces the clues, leading to new unmasked identities, motives, and conspiracies.
It is unknown which of the many branching Watchmen timelines Tom King will follow. In recent years DC has returned to the Watchmen well several times. There was the Before Watchmen prequel in 2012, followed by Geoff Johns’ DC crossover series Doomsday Clock in 2017. And then there was the HBO show from producer Damon Lindelof, which took place decades after the original comic in the same continuity and extrapolated its ideas, themes, and urgency in a new story haunted by the ghosts of America’s systemic racism.
It isn’t clear if King’s Rorschach will account for any of these Watchmen timelines, though getting into the specifics is not the point of Watchmen. The point of Watchmen has been to expose the superhero story as a kind of fallacy, a lie we willingly sell to ourselves. In Watchmen, the existence of superheroes in the real world only leads to (even more) catastrophe, chaos, and unrest.
Watchmen is not a celebratory text like Star Wars. It is not a baroque depiction of good fighting evil. It is grimy, weary, and difficult. Which is why King is an exciting voice for Rorschach.
In the HBO series, Rorschach became a folk figure for white supremacists who appropriated his mask in a crusade against a liberal establishment. That’s an extension of the original comic, in which Rorschach appeared to dwell in the libertarian-right wing and donated his journals to a far-right newspaper.
Alan Moore was decidedly not a fan of the character. King, meanwhile, has publicly and vocally opposed Donald Trump and Republican performative politics. Given Rorschach’s coarse edges and deeply ingrained suspicion of anybody, it’s unclear what Rorschach would have thought of President Trump.
King has been a star in the comics world for years. He soared to fame through his surreal suburban satire in Marvel’s The Vision, and in late 2016 became a DC talent when he was given the keys to the dopest car in the comics garage: Batman. In a stark change to his predecessor Scott Snyder (whose Batman played like a tightly-plotted Saturday morning cartoon), King’s Batman was a semi-erotic deconstruction of the World’s Greatest Detective. That’s a… unique take from the writer of The Sheriff of Babylon and an ex-counter-terrorism officer for the CIA.
Rather than write what one might expect from a Tom King Batman comic — i.e., international espionage with cutting-edge gadgets that have a touch of realism — King instead wrote Batman as an epic romance, dominated by Bruce Wayne’s passionate affections for Catwoman. In the disguise of bimonthly superhero comics, King gave Batman fans a masculine romance novel. It was at times meandering and other times insightful.
The series had King’s best and worst traits as a storyteller. He has an uncanny ability to re-imagine epic heroes into relatable, awkward humans. He also has a bad habit of writing dialogue that resembles an Aaron Sorkin script.
But whether Tom King is at his best or his worst with Rorschach, it’s a comic that is sure to be a must-read in 2020. As King said it himself, it’s going to be “an angry work” and 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.”
Rorschach #1 will hit shelves on October 13.