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DCD Watchmen
by yo go re

In 1983, DC Comics acquired the rights to former competitor Charlton Comics' stable of characters. At the same time, Alan Moore was contemplating telling a murder mystery featuring existing but unused superheroes - originally, the Archie/MLJ Mighty Crusaders. Since the story was more important than the people involved in it, the idea was reworked to accommodate the Charlton heroes. Then, when it became apparent that the characters would be pretty much unusable after the miniseries was over, Moore and artist Dave Gibbons created a bunch of ersatz versions. Captain Atom became Dr. Manhattan. Phantom Lady became the Silk Spectre. And the Question became Rorschach.

A complex, multi-layered mystery adventure, Watchmen is set in an alternate 1985 America in which costumed superheroes are part of the fabric of everyday society, and the "Doomsday Clock" - which charts the USA's tension with the Soviet Union - is permanently set at five minutes to midnight. When one of his former colleagues is murdered, the washed up but no less determined masked vigilante Rorschach sets out to uncover a plot to kill and discredit all past and present superheroes. As he reconnects with his former crime-fighting legion - a ragtag group of retired superheroes, only one of whom has true powers, Rorschach glimpses a wide-ranging and disturbing conspiracy with links to their shared past and catastrophic consequences for the future. Their mission is to watch over humanity... but who is watching the Watchmen?

Well, thanks to Fox deciding they're done being a bunch of dicks (for now), we'll all be watching Watchmen on March 6. Well, all of us who can ignore the fanboy bitching about how Zack Snyder is "ruining" Alan Moore's perfect beatific vision, the pinnacle of all that is comicbook-dom. Yeah, yeah, yeah, and Spider-Man's organic webshooters are an insult to the work of Stan Lee, too. Dumbasses.

There were going to be Watchmen toys from DC Direct before, in 2001, in honor of the comic's 15th Anniversary. However, those were cancelled, not (as Wikipedia and people doing research from it seem to think) because of any legal standing on Moore's part, but simply because DC was actually trying to show him some respect for a change. He said he didn't want a big deal made about the 15th Anniversary, so DC didn't make one. In fact, a direct quote from him on the subject: "Legally, DC doesn't need my approval to bring out the toys or anything like that. They own the book, and they have exercised that option in the past 15 years." However, even with two series planned, Rorschach wasn't on the slate for that line, so let's hear it for the movie toys!

Rorschach's "costume" was basically just a trenchcoat and fedora worn over regular clothes, so he hasn't been redesigned as heavily as the others in the film. In fact, other than the lack of clumsy, garish colors (it was the '80s - digital coloring was a far-off fever dream), this figure could be a comic-based Rorschach. His coat is all buttoned up and cinched around the waist, and he seems to be wearing an ascot underneath.

The figure's pose is fairly extreme: he's twisting quite drastically to the side, looking over his left shoulder at... something. Whatever you like. Articulation is just as bad as you'd expect from a DC Direct product, with nothing other than a swivel neck, peg shoulders, hinged elbows and swivel wrists. Pretty pathetic, isn't it? He's got a swivel in each thigh, where they emerge from his otherwise-solid trenchcoat. On the plus side, those can almost function like a waist, straightening out his major twist, but then the comically outdated swivel neck means his head is titled to the side, like a dog hearing a strange sound.

Rorschach's mask is made from a futuristic fabric, which is actually two layers with viscous black and white fluids held between them. The liquids react to heat and pressure, forming symmetrical patterns, but never mixing, never making gray. This "black or white" absolutism suits Rorschach's right-wing Objectvism. Though the mask is always in motion, it does manage to display "expressions" - there are times in the comic when it repeats certain patterns under similar circumstances. The pattern on the toy, while drastically different from the prototype's, does have a parallel in the comics: since it's when he's donning his "face" again in issue #10 after not having it for a while, the expression could be relief... or ecstasy.

There are several pack-ins, but we really only get one accessory: Rorschach's grappling gun. It's a single solid piece, so don't plan on having him actually use it to climb anywhere, but it does look like the one in the movie, and ever has his ЯR logo on the grip. He comes with an extra hand posed to hold the trigger, but switching the hands out is very difficult. There's an unusual display base, a raised metal platform of some sort. The footpegs are separate, and can be placed in any of three spots on the base, poking up from beneath. There's also a small clip, so you can hook multiple bases together.

The packaging is predominantly black and yellow, matching the Watchmen logo. The images of the titular heroes across the top are actually pictures of the actors, not the toys, as evidenced by the fact that they have, you know, "poses." These are the window boxes DC Direct likes so much, and the tray in the back shows a heavily graffitied brick wall, which is a perfect choice for Rorschach.

Alan Moore created Rorschach to be a subversion of a character like Batman - a psychopathic vigilante bent on vengeance with a traumatic childhood and a strict moral code - and while he was meant to be symapthetic, he was certainly never meant to be a role model. But, like Beavis and Butthead and Lobo, the wrong people missed the joke, assuming Rorschach was meant to be taken seriously, and embraced the things they thought he stood for. He was basically the template for the '90s grim-n-gritty anti-hero, a fact that Moore has gone on record as regretting. But the character is open for interpretation and, just like the real Rorschach test, reveals more about the viewer than himself.

This figure is only slightly above "mediocre" by 2009 standards, but he's still the best in this series, by virtue of the fact that the others, in their costumes, should be fully poseable and action-packed: Rorschach isn't heavily articulated, but it's more excusable in his case than in anyone else's. Plus, it's not like we're going to get a Rorschach from Mattel or anything - at least, not until they make a Question and the customizers get to work. If you want the ink blot man, this is your only choice. It's not great, but it certainly isn't as bad as it could have been.

-- 01/29/09

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