Ricky Church on HBO’s Watchmen series…
It goes without saying that Watchmen is one of the most celebrated and revered graphic novels ever made. It is constantly cited as a favourite among comic book readers and usually listed as one of the greatest ever written from numerous sources. Zack Snyder directed a feature film in 2009 and in 2012 DC Comics began a series of prequel stories called Before Watchmen, focusing on several characters before the events of the main story.
Now Watchmen is being revived as a HBO series with Lost showrunner Damon Lindelof in charge of the show. Little is known about the series, though HBO president Casey Bloys recently described the pilot script as “amazing”. It has been rumoured to start shooting as soon as March, but we don’t know if this is a true remake of the graphic novel for TV, a prequel or some type of spin-off. What exactly can we expect from the Watchmen TV series?
The original series ran for 12 issues, giving enough material for a 12-episode season of television, making it a prime contender for a series. Even with Snyder’s film, not everything from the book made it into his adaptation as some things were cut or changed for its theatrical release, though much of that material did make its way into his Director’s and later Ultimate Cut. A TV series would benefit Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons’ original work by exploring all the aspects of the graphic novel.
However, Snyder’s adaptation was fairly spot on. He captured the spirit of the graphic novel while alluding to things he couldn’t full expand on in the movie, such as the magnificent opening montage going through the history of the Watchmen universe or doing several shot-for-shot images from the book. Even when he couldn’t put something in the film, he made extra features such as the faux ‘Under the Hood’ documentary detailing the history of the original crime fighters, the Minutemen, and the animated adaptation of the in-universe comic Tales of the Black Freighter, which got stitched into the Ultimate Cut as it was in the graphic novel.
Remaking the graphic novel into a TV series may just end up being repetitive since Snyder covered the majority of the material already. It wouldn’t add anything new that viewers and fans of the book wouldn’t already expect. That’s why it would be better to do something completely different from the source material. Something such as Before Watchmen.
The prequel endeavour wasn’t wholly successful with only a couple of the miniseries standing out from the pack. Dr. Manhattan explored a time where the world’s first superhero travelled back in time to prevent his accident while The Comedian dove into Edward Blake’s service in Vietnam and his role in some of America’s most controversial and tragic moments.
The real standout, though, was Darwyn Cooke’s Minutemen. This series explored the first costumed heroes of Watchmen, with the original Nite Owl and Silk Spectre, Comedian, Hooded Justice, Captain Metropolis and The Silhouette playing large roles. It expanded on some of the material from Hollis Mason’s ‘Under The Hood’ while also showing there was much more to the story than Mason let on. Minutemen really got into how the team functioned and the other factors that led to their break-up. It did retcon a bit from the original story, but Cooke’s examination of what part of a story is real, simply heightened or covered up fits within the narrative and themes of Watchmen. It also added more depth and weight to the history of Mason and his colleagues.
A Minutemen series would be a great opportunity to explore the history and world of Watchmen onscreen. This was a time and group of people we hardly got to see or know in the original comic and only got the barest glimpses of in the film. Mason’s tragic death was even cut from the theatrical release for time, only being placed back in Snyder’s directors cut. Minutemen would be the most ideal subject for a new series on Watchmen that won’t rehash the graphic novel or film too much.
Another area the show could explore is when the main characters of Watchmen actually operated before being outlawed. We could finally see some of the cases Nite Owl and Rorschach teamed up on (as slightly seen in the game Watchmen: The End is Nigh as well), or how Ozymandias began his descent into villainy. Much of this still was revealed in the story, though, so again it wouldn’t be discovering too much new about the characters and their history.
Of course, the show could always take the very unexpected route and offer us a full-fledged sequel to the graphic novel. DC is sort of doing that right now with Doomsday Clock, a crossover between Watchmen and the DC universe set after the original story, where Manhattan has interfered with DC’s history and Superman’s life in particular. A new series could explore the events after the book and how the world reacts to Ozymandias’ plot if the truth were revealed. Rorschach’s journal detailing his actions is in the hands of a newspaper after all and as we’ve seen at the start of Doomsday Clock, the truth has been exposed.
It would be interesting if the show was set after the graphic novel, showing where Manhattan went or if Nite Owl and Silk Spectre ever came out of retirement. There is a lot of potential in a sequel, though its also a huge risk since Watchmen has arguably never warranted one. Whatever the case, HBO’s Watchmen has a lot to live up to. Hopefully we can get a series that honours Moore and Gibbons’ original work while delivering something new for the fans.