Let’s get something straight right now. Watchmen is the greatest graphic novel of all time, I’ll fight you if you tell me otherwise. Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons’ reinvention of the superhero genre, using characters based on material from the old Charlton Comics superhero line, completely subverted the whole superhero genre. There was linear storytelling, there were flashbacks, there were flashforwards, there were asides in ancillary material – in a world where superheroes were being killed, and the last remaining ones have to consider whether to band together or to fight on their own.
So … when Zack Snyder took the source material and made a Watchmen feature film in 2009, I watched it with anticipation … and a bit of dread. There were great moments in the film, but there were also stylistic shortcuts due to the inability to create everything Moore and Gibbons did in the comics and translate it to the film.
And when DC Comics tried to create a prequel comic book series … and then tried to integrate the Watchmen into the DC comics universe with the “Doomsday Clock” comic book series … it didn’t feel right. It felt like a sequel that no one asked for. You know, like that sequel to Gone with the Wind or that sequel to To Kill a Mockingbird.
Last Sunday, HBO premiered a new limited series that is set in the original Watchmen (non-DC) universe. Again, I’m thinking I’m going to see something that has equal levels of anticipation and dread. This is HBO, was I going to see Dr. Manhattan’s big blue penis in a sex scene with Silk Spectre? Was I going to see Rorschach murder about 30 people and then eat a can of kidney beans in Nite Owl’s kitchen?
You know what I did see?
The show started out with a recap of the Tulsa Race Riots of the 1920’s. You know, the real-life event where white terrorists destroyed black-owned businesses and murdered black men and women.
And at that moment … I realized this was not going to be the Watchmen I remembered.
It was going to be so much more.
What we have isn’t a retelling of the graphic novel … it’s a complete offshoot. We’re in an alternate timeline, where Robert Redford has been president for the past 20 years, where police wear yellow face masks to protect themselves, where an armed militia wear Rorschach hoods and plot an overthrow as the Seventh Kavalry. And through it all, we get Regina King as a masked vigilante named Sister Night. And we get police officers who can fly Nite Owl’s old Owlship Archimedes. And we get a man in a sprawling country estate who may or may not be Ozymandias. And we get an FBI agent who may or may not be the second Silk Spectre.
I watched the debut episode on HBO, and it just completely spun my head. You know, like the first time you saw Breaking Bad and thought that you would like to see more episodes. That’s what Watchmen seems to be for me. There’s dozens of Easter eggs in the series, along with some ancillary reading material on HBO’s website that offer clues to where this series is going. You know, like the ancillary reading material that was in the original graphic novel – the “Under the Hood” transcripts, and the “Tales of the Black Freighter” comic book, all that.
So … I’m hooked. I said that before. But the thing with HBO’s genre dramas is that you either get hooked and the payoff is totally unsatisfying (Game of Thrones) or you get hooked and then totally confused (Westworld) or you get hooked and the subsequent seasons are crap (True Detective) or you get hooked and the show gets cancelled too soon (Carnivale).
So there’d better be a decent plan for Watchmen. I mean it. Don’t mess this up.
Trust me, I want this show to succeed to the point where Alan Moore himself says he likes watching it.
And that would be the biggest accomplishment of them all.