HBO and Lost’s Damon Lindelof are making a Watchmen TV show, but it’s going to be very different from Alan Moore’s iconic comic. Quite what the show - which is currently in the pilot stage - is has been the subject of much discussion, but from cryptic clues and set photos we can get an idea of what's going on.
Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons' Watchmen remains one of the most iconic and influential comics in the history of the medium. For years, some of the world's top directors tried to take on the lofty task of adapting it for the big screen: 20th Century Fox acquired the film rights way back in 1986; Terry Gilliam was attached to the project in 1991 but he and producer Joel Silver were only able to raise a quarter of the budget; a decade later, David Hayter took over and produced a screenplay that Alan Moore himself said was the closest he could imagine anyone getting to a true adaptation of the comic, but he left due to creative differences; Darren Aronofsky flirted with the project, as did Paul Greengrass, but it took Zack Snyder to bring the film to fruition. 2009's Watchmen was warmly received but as with any adaptation this ambitious, things were left out. Terry Gilliam believed the only way the comic could be adapted properly was by a mini-series. Clearly, HBO agree, and so last year, a TV series was announced.
Rumors swirled and fan casting went into overdrive with the news that Damon Lindelof of Lost and The Leftovers would be the showrunner for HBO's take on Watchmen. But this isn't that show Gilliam attempted nor a bid to redo Snyder. This is something completely different.
- This Page: What We Know The Watchmen TV Show ISN'T
- Page 2: Will Watchmen Even Feature Masked Heroes?
The Watchmen TV Show Isn't an Adaptation or a Sequel
In an Instagram post, Lindelof shared some background on his relationship with Watchmen as well as some brief details on what shape his version would take, saying that it won't be an adaptation of the comic. The wording he used was certainly confusing: "they will not be retread nor recreated nor reproduced nor rebooted. They will, however, be remixed." The accepted understanding from this is that Lindelof's Watchmen will be inspired by the continuity of the comic books, but it won't be depicting those events in the series itself.
It also seems likely that the project will not be adapted from either the prequel comics Before Watchmen or the official sequel, Doomsday Clock. Whether either of these projects will be official canon in the TV show remains to be seen; neither of these was written with the involvement of Alan Moore, who has done everything in his power to distance himself from adaptations of his own work, so may be dismissed because of that. Including Doomsday Clock in the series would probably be beyond HBO’s reach given how it connects the characters with the rest of the DC multiverse.
The Watchmen TV Show Won't Feature The Classic Heroes
Lindelof's has also teased that there will be "new faces. New masks to cover them", but that the series will also explore the past, through "surprising, yet familiar sets of eyes." Much of the post is cryptic and deliberately avoids giving away specific details (fitting of one of the key brains behind Lost). Still, the vague platitudes he shares suggest a show that will primarily be new in content and character but still familiarly Watchmen. The note about "surprising, yet familiar sets of eyes" hints at the possible inclusion of characters we know from the comics. As for who, that's unclear, but those eyes are likely coming from an outside presence.
Recently, set photos of the Watchmen pilot have provided a lot of information and confirmed long-whispered details. While the series' working title is reportedly Brooklyn, the downtown Macon, Georgia area has been redressed to stand in for Tulsa, Oklahoma. It had already been hinted that the series would not take place in the 1980s, per the comics, and the set images seem to confirm that; one image shows a poster for a TV series titled American Hero Story: Minutemen, a cheeky riff on Ryan Murphy's anthologies, suggesting that this alternate universe has begun to dramatize the stories of its most famous heroes (the Minutemen was the name of both generations of superhero groups in the comics). That detail is important as it also suggests we're somewhat removed from masked heroes.
Page 2 of 2: Will Watchmen Even Feature Masked Heroes?
Will The Watchmen TV Show Be About Everyday People?
Moving the setting outside of New York, which is almost as much a character in Watchmen as the heroes themselves, is a contentious one, but presents new storytelling opportunities. Superhero stories don't tend to take place outside the major coastal cities, fictional or otherwise, so this could be a unique vision for an iconic story. Character details revealed the ensemble, which seems to mostly be a group of Oklahoma cops.
In the comics, it is told that many police officers went on strike because they feared their jobs would be put at risk due to the influx of heroes taking over all the crime-fighting work, something that directly led to the Keene Act of the same year, outlawing vigilantism by costumed adventurers except for those in the employment of the United States Government. Could the series be more focused on the normal citizens of America and how their lives are impacted by the rise and fall of the vigilantes - and later the threat of Ozymandias' plan? That would certainly be a new angle, both for Watchmen and the superhero adaptation.
At whatever point in the continuity this story takes place in, it would work to see a narrative centered on the regular people who are either influenced by the heroes of the day or politically opposed to them. The historical, cultural and political backdrop that the comics create is richly detailed but remained mostly unexplored in the Snyder film, mostly due to lack of time. Any mini-series adaptation would give such elements room to breathe and offer an expansive alternate universe piece of speculative fiction.
Will The Watchmen TV Show Even Focus On Masked Heroes?
In a world of heroes, where do the masks come in? Chiming with Lindelof's words, if we're dealing with a modern-day story that treats Watchmen as some form of canon, a lot of the key characters are gone: the Comedian and Rorschach are dead, Doctor Manhattan has left the Solar System, and Adrian Veidt, Nite Owl and Silk Spectre will be considerably older and likely retired. That said, there's a lot more to the Watchmen mythos than the Minutemen, with a rich pantheon of masked crimefighters existing throughout the 20th century, mostly teased in extra materials written by Moore.
This opens up a lot of potential avenues: what’s it like being a masked crime-fighter in Atlanta or Helena or Austin or Tulsa? How do cultural perceptions of heroes shift when you move south of the Mason-Dixon line? What happens when masked vigilantes clash with the civil rights or LGBTQ+ rights movements of the 1960s and ‘70s? How does it change when technology becomes more advanced? And, if this is following-up the comic, how does a purported alien invasion alter the world makeup? However, that would still hit timeline barriers - by the 1980s, few heroes were left, and the status quo Watchmen left the world not in the need for supers - which points towards a proper down-to-Earth show.
Of course, there is always the possibility that the character descriptions of Oklahoma cops are totally fake, existing just for audition purposes or to keep fans speculating away from the truth. That's doubly true given we're dealing with a series this high-profile; HBO will want to retain the ability to surprise audiences, especially as it's still in the pilot stage.
HBO and Lindelof have a rare opportunity to take one of the comic book world’s most beloved properties, enshrined in near untouchable glory and influence, and build upon its legacy in a new, daring manner. For fans of Watchmen, it is certainly something of a disappointment that we won’t see the comics fully adapted in a format that best suits it, but the opportunity to be truly surprised by the story is one we simply can’t turn down.