HBO's Watchmen better give me realism -- and maybe a giant squid
Commentary: I love the comic but barely tolerated Zack Snyder's movie. Please don't let me down, HBO.
Journalist Bonnie Burton writes about movies, TV shows, comics, science and robots. She is the author of the books Live or Die: Survival Hacks, Wizarding World: Movie Magic Amazing Artifacts, The Star Wars Craft Book, Girls Against Girls, Draw Star Wars, Planets in Peril and more! E-mail Bonnie.
I love the original Watchmen graphic novel so much, it's the one comic I always lend to friends -- and never get back. I think I've had to replace my copy of Watchmen 15 times. But I don't mind having to keep buying it, if it means I'm helping spread the Watchmen word.
So I couldn't be more excited for a new chapter of the Watchmen story in the shape of a TV adaptation on HBO, debuting Sunday. Damon Lindelof, the man behind Lost, is in charge, and it could end up being the love letter to the comic fans like me have been waiting for.
Created by writer Alan Moore, artist Dave Gibbons and colorist John Higgins in 1986, the Watchmen comic had a huge impact as part of a wave of grown-up
that changed the idea of what comics could be, and paved the way for today's comics-obsessed era. The beautiful graphics, gritty storyline and engaging characters all add up to the ultimate dark and reflective antihero comic readers weren't used to seeing.
Watchmen tells the tale of costumed heroes who fight injustice in the US during the Cold War, but they're regarded more as outlaws than superheroes. When one of their own is mysteriously murdered, they must work together to find the murderer.
Nowadays, thanks to everything from the quirky
Marvel Cinematic Universe
to DC Comics' darker superhero movies or Amazon's gleefully cynical The Boys, we have a range of nuanced superheroes. But back in the late '80s it felt like superheroes were all condescending goody two-shoes. Even as a kid I was bored with the usual antics of Superman, Spider-Man and Wonder Woman. I wanted comics I could identify with.
During the '90s, I gravitated to alternative comics written by Daniel Clowes (Eightball), the Hernandez brothers (Love and Rockets) and Neil Gaiman (Sandman). Luckily, I discovered writer Alan Moore's Watchmen.
Watchmen gave me not only an escape from the confines of suffocating Colorado suburbia. It piqued my interest in what complex and misunderstood superheroes could be. The Watchmen world was one in which humanity was sick of superheroes, and quite frankly the superheroes were fed up with protecting ungrateful people who never thanked them.
When director Zack Synder'sWatchmen movie came out in 2009, I was ready to be enthralled, though I knew it would take a few liberties. My favorite characters Nite Owl, Rorschach, Ozymandias, Silk Spectre, The Comedian, and Doctor Manhattan were in the film, but their backstories were simplified to save time.
The movie had a problem right from the start. While the film faithfully reproduced many of the comic book's visuals, a single movie just can't do a weighty comics series like this one justice. But it was the movie's ending that really ruined it for me. A giant psychic squid teleported to the center of New York City was a killer ending in the comic book that never made it to the final film. It might sound silly, but I wanted to see that happen in all its CGI glory.
Watchmen series, I'm excited to see a broader tale of what it's like to be a costumed vigilante. I might not end up with a giant squid, but I have a feeling the Watchmen series will deliver in a satisfying way.
Here's what I hope HBO's eight-episode adaptation gives me.
A fresh vision
This will be a different universe than fans know from the comic and movie. One big difference is that the new series is set 30 years after the events of the film, as series showrunner Damon Lindelof made an executive decision not to have all the same characters appear.
A new Watchmen universe means we get brand new characters like Judd Crawford, Tulsa chief of police (played by Don Johnson), and the cryptic character Detective Looking Glass (played by Tim Blake Nelson), who could be a new hero just from the name alone.
References to the comic characters
But as a fan, I'm still happy to hear a few of the original characters will appear in the series. An older version of Ozymandias/Adrien Veidt will be played Jeremy Irons, who seems perfect for the role of a condescending hero who thinks he's better than the rest of humanity. Just watch Irons in the 1988 horror movie Dead Ringers and you'll understand his capacity for creepy.
Playing an older Silk Spectre is Jean Smart, who's already proven herself playing a hero in the recent FX mutant superhero series Legion, where she's the character Dr. Melanie Bird. I'm looking forward to seeing her give extra depth to Silk Spectre's character.
Louis Gossett Jr. plays a character called Will Reeves, which could end up being an alternative version of the character Doctor Manhattan. But that's just fun fan speculation right now.
Unlike the movie, where the characters had super-strength, the comic features regular people who don't have superpowers, but wear costumes to bravely fight crime even if it means they might be mortally wounded. Only Doctor Manhattan had superpowers. So it will be exciting to see if the new characters are human terrorists or superheroes with powers who have an ax to grind.
I have to admit, though, that I'll miss seeing what happened to the Watchmen characters not included in this series. Seeing what elderly Nite Owl is like 30 years later would have been interesting, to say the least.
It's reassuring that the HBO series already has more female characters than both the original comic and the movie combined. Sometimes women aren't given a chance to be added to a superhero series as main characters -- instead appearing as love interests or victims. This Watchmen series has women in the police, as vigilantes and maybe even as villains, which is refreshing.
While the series does boast the return of Silk Spectre, there are a few brand-new female characters worth noting.
Angela Abar (played by Regina King) is a mom and lead detective of the Tulsa police force who could end up playing a new version of the comic's hero Hooded Justice. Other new female characters include Ms. Crookshanks (Sara Vickers) and Jane Crawford (Frances Fisher). Then there's the mysterious trillionaire Lady Trieu (Hong Chau).
There are also quite a few people of color in the cast. I'm already liking the diversity.
The Watchmen movie wasn't very diverse, but then again neither was the comic. But in this day and age, with fictional characters gender-swapped and recast as people of color, it's satisfying to see this series' casting choices reflect the times a bit more.
Considering the original Watchman film and comic heroes were all white, this will be a big change for some hardcore Watchmen fans -- especially since fans these days tend to like movies to directly represent the comics they love. But change is good, and it will be exciting to see which direction these talented actors take the new series.
Approved by the creators
Watchmen comic artist Dave Gibbons appears to approve of the new series, which feels like a good sign.
"I found Damon's approach to be really refreshing and exciting and unexpected," Gibbons told Entertainment Weekly in September 2018. "While it's very reverential and true to the source material (by which I mean the Watchmen graphic novel that Alan and I did), it's not retreading the same ground, it's not a reinterpretation of it."
Another good sign? Lindelof is such a fan of the original comic -- which he considers
-- that he posted a five-page open letter to fans about his intentions: "We have no desire to adapt the 12 issues Mr. Moore and Mr. Gibbons created 30 years ago," he wrote. "Those issues are sacred ground and they will not be retread nor recreated nor reproduced nor rebooted... they will however be remixed."
Just don't expect Alan Moore to be watching. Apparently, Moore (who isn't involved in the series) isn't thrilled with the new take on his original Watchmen comic.
Regardless, Lindelof seems fine with the fact Moore isn't excited about the new Watchmen. Lindelof still thinks Moore is "a genius" and appreciates Moore's "punk rock spirit, rebellious spirit," according to TV Line in July. Lindelof added that "if someone had told Moore what he could or couldn't do, Moore would say, 'F–k you. I'm doing it anyway… so I'm channeling the spirit of Alan Moore to tell Alan Moore, 'F–k you. I'm doing it anyway.'"
The Watchmen trailer hints that the vigilantes wearing Rorschach-like masks might not be heroes at all, but members of a white supremacist group that calls itself the 7th Calvary. And it's not just the vigilantes wearing masks. The new series also has the police covering their faces to protect their identities to avoid reprisals.
I'm already excited to see what Lindelof does with his version of Watchmen. And as the famous line in the series goes -- "Who watches the Watchmen?" I know I will.