When it comes to adaptations nothing evokes my inner over protective fanboyism quite like Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons ‘Watchmen’. I know it’s not exactly original to hold this legendary graphic novel up as a masterpiece, but to me it’s genuinely one of the best works of fiction ever committed to paper, and I should know, I’ve read all of the ‘Roger Red Hat’ books.
That doesn’t mean I’m overly precious about it though, I really enjoyed the Zack Snyder movie version from 2009 and there’s been a couple of decent comics in recent years that extend the lore. It just means the source material will always hold a special place in my geeky heart (right next to Batman) and I don’t want anything to change that.
So, it’s with some trepidation that I find myself cautiously optimistic about HBO’s Watchmen TV series. Being overseen by Damon Lindelof, whose most notable previous works include writing ‘Lost’, ‘The Leftovers’ and *clears throat* ‘Prometheus’, the first teaser trailer has just been released. It’s short and gives away very little but certainly has me intrigued. It’s left me wondering how all this fits in to the overall ‘Watchmen’ mythos, how it plays with that world and its characters. While it hasn’t been officially stated that this is a sequel it seems to have a contemporary setting rather than the books’ alternate history version of the 80s. The idea of finding out what happened in the aftermath of the book could make for some interesting narrative.
With all that in mind here are a selection of moments from the trailer that I wanted to point out and discuss. Hopefully you might join in the conversation in the comments section but to be honest, I just need to get this out of my obsessive system. Obviously if you haven’t read ‘Watchmen’ there will be plenty of spoilers ahead.
The trailer begins with an imposing gang of Rorschach impersonators collectively staring straight into a camera as they deliver their unsettling message: “We are no one, we are everyone and we are invisible.” While Rorschach is usually everyone’s favourite character from ‘Watchmen’ he is by no means the hero of the story. In fact, there are no real heroes which is one of the central points of this deconstruction of the genre. Even with their various skills and powers they are just as real and damaged as the rest of us. Rorschach is a sociopath who blindly believes in his own moral compass without question or hesitation. To him there is only right and wrong, no compromise or shades of grey. This ultimately leads to his tragic death at the hands of Doctor Manhattan due to his refusal to go along with Adrian Veidt’s plan. But we’ll get to that in a moment.
The way this could tie into the TV show is that after his death, we see Rorschach’s journal turn up at a right-wing newspaper called ‘The New Frontiersman’. The journal contains all his thoughts and suspicions, not least of which is his investigation into the conspiracy behind multiple events throughout the book and how they connect with Veidt. Assuming his journal was published and revealed to the public this could have some serious repercussions. This could be what has inspired this group of individuals to take up the Rorschach mantle in an almost cult like fashion. It’s safe to say that a cult inspired by Rorschach’s unflinching morality and violent vigilantism is an incredibly dangerous proposition in these uncertain times.
Did Ozymandias Succeed?
Later in the trailer we get a small glimpse of Jeremy Irons playing the worlds smartest man, Adrian Veidt AKA Ozymandias. He sits solemnly meditating on his desk in a golden robe. As previously mentioned, his plan is the catalyst for all the events that occur in ‘Watchmen’ as he orchestrates everything from behind the scenes. This includes but is not limited to killing The Comedian, arranging for Doctor Manhattans departure from Earth by manipulating his past associates to falsely accuse him of giving them cancer and framing Rorschach for the murder of an old adversary. While you might think this makes him the villain of the piece nothing is ever that simple in this world.
Veidt’s actions while certainly questionable are necessary in order to conceal his goal; unite the planet against a common enemy and avoid nuclear war. This is where things get even weirder. He does this by manufacturing a monstrous invasion of New York by a giant squid like creature. Yep, that actually happens. The city is devastated and countless are dead but in the end his plan works. He achieves peace and cooperation between all countries and governments.
So where does this all factor into the series? If Rorschachs journal was indeed published this could mean that everything Veidt achieved has been undone. If not, what does the so called ‘smartest man in the world’ do with himself once his meticulous planning has come to fruition? Does he feel any guilt over his actions and what lengths has he had to go to in the subsequent years to uphold the lie?
The Clock Is Ticking
A common recurring motif that can be seen both throughout the original graphic novel and this trailer is that of a ticking clock. With the book this is quite literally demonstrated by the Doomsday Clock, a symbolic representation of how close the world is to nuclear war. This was a very real threat in the original 80s timeline but what could it mean in this more modern setting.
In the trailer you constantly hear the ‘tick, tock’ voiceover throughout which adds a sense of momentum and urgency. This is mirrored in the text that appears on screen as it gradually turns in to place like the hands of a clock. Don Johnson’s character literally says at the end of the trailer when asked what he’s talking about, “Oh nothing, just the end of the world. Tick, tock, tick, tock, tick…”.
There definitely seems to be a new imposing threat looming over everything but perhaps it’s not something on quite such a large scale as nuclear war. Civil unrest seems to be brewing with the emergence of a militaristic police force who feel the need to conceal their identities with bright yellow bandanas. Of course, there's also the re-emergence of costumed vigilantes who were outlawed years earlier and are either dead or in hiding.
Overall there are plenty of directions this new show could go in and lots of questions that remain unanswered. Will any other characters from the book make a return like Nite Owl or Silk Spectre? It remains to be seen what influence Doctor Manhattan will have in this version, as his god like existence on Mars will surely have an impact. I’m definitely interested to find out and sincerely hoping they don’t mess it up.
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