SDCC 2019: Who watches the Watchmen? HBO's attempt to set Alan Moore's masterpiece in contemporary America
'Watchmen' fans may not like the idea of someone toying with their Bible, but at the end of the day, this has a slim chance of taking this already legendary comic to the next level. Certainly, there is no denying HBO will be adding to individual story arcs, a sore spot for many.
It's four minutes to midnight on the Doomsday Clock as the San Diego Comic-Con 2019 witnessed the trailer of HBO's next massive show, 'Watchmen', and there is a lot to break down. A description of the occurrences in the trailer is available here.
It seemingly looks like we will be getting a sequel to the comic and the 2009 movie, with the omnipotent Dr. Manhattan living on Mars. If you remember correctly he departed to another galaxy for good after sharing one last kiss with Laurie Jupiter (Silk Spectre II) at the end of the original.
Given it looks like contemporary America, an older Jupiter who now goes by the name Laurie Blake - an FBI agent - and a headline claiming Ozymandiaz is dead, it makes for a strong argument this is a sequel, but creator Damon Lindelof has categorically denounced this.
Via Instagram, Lindelof said: "We are not making a 'sequel' either. This story will be set in the world its creators painstakingly built... but in the tradition of the work that inspired it, this new story must be original. It has to vibrate with the seismic unpredictability of its own tectonic plates. It must ask new questions and explore the world through a fresh lens. Most importantly, it must be contemporary."
So, no. It's not a sequel. It will be its own original although heavily inspired and set in the same world as the original if that makes any sense. In the trailer, we hear Rorshach's words from his iconic prologue, "Will look up and shout 'SAVE US!'...and I'll look down and whisper 'No,'” chanted religiously by armed men in Rorschach masks, leaving carnage in their wake.
We can assume these radicalized vigilantes have taken it upon themselves to fulfill Walter Joseph Kovacs's prophecy, and the gutter flooded streets are now full of blood and the drains have finally scabbed over and the vermin drowning. The accumulated filth of all the whores and politicians' sex and murder has foamed up about their waists. The city is afraid of them and they have seen its true face.
With a recent increase in almost militant style groups in protests like the 'Unite the Right' rally in Charlottesville, we can see how things are already becoming more contemporary in HBO's version. This is reflective of a conversation Nite Owl II has with the Comedian, when he asks what happened to the American dream in a country now disintegrating. The reply, in true Comedian style, is, "It came true. You're lookin' at it.”
In his appeal to fans' expected hostile reactions for messing with something sacred, Lindelof wrote: "The Old Testament was specific to Eighties of Reagon and Thatcher and Gorbachev... ours needs to resonate with the frequency of Trump and May and Putin and horse that he rides around on, shirtless." Noteworthy here is the fact that a poster in a classroom in the trailer depicts Robert Redford as the present U.S. president.
The new show will also be more diverse, with Regina King coming in. And, in that sense, it will be more inclusive of minorities, reflective of contemporary America, not just in society, but on screen too. "I have the pleasure of sitting in a Writers Room each and every day that is as diverse and combative as any I've ever been a part of. In that room, Hetero White Men like myself are in the minority and as 'Watchmen' is (incorrectly) assumed to be solely in our domain, understanding its potential through the perspectives of women, people of color and the LGBTQ community has been as eye-opening as it has been exhilarating. We've committed to do the same in front of and behind the camera. And every single person involved with this show absolutely adores 'Watchmen'," Lindelof added.
Arguably the biggest way Lindelof is bringing contemporary society into the 'Watchmen' world is through the part anonymity today plays in our lives. From online trolls to apps and online relations, today we can engage with society and our communities anonymously. Once the mask is on, few people stay the same as when they are able to be identified.
Anonymous internet users say things they would never have, if their identity was exposed, masked protestors do things they never would have without their masks. And this has a cyclic consequence on others and society at large. It becomes too much of a disadvantage to engage, compete and be part of the societal discourse and shape its story, without resorting to the same.
This aspect of today is seen in the trailer as it is brought into the 'Watchmen' ethos with what seems to be a reactionary movement of the police, against masked vigilantes, who themselves are reacting to police crackdown. In the trailer, Agent Blake says "Is there really a difference between a masked cop and a vigilante."
It is this aspect of modern society and the internet culture that Lindelof will probably use to lead us into the most important message of the original 'Watchmen' - Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?' 'Who watches the watchmen?' A Latin phrase found in the work of the Roman poet Juvenal from his 'Satires' which inspired Alan Moore while creating the original no doubt.
It is relatively clear Lindelof does not intend to remake the original story, nor for that matter continue it. It is in some ways a homage, the trailer is packed with imagery from the comic book, we see a figure eating baked beans, cold from a can. A logical theory would be that he intends to set it in the same world, but with an alternative story with the same characters, and bring that into a more contemporary context; oddly ironic for a piece of art about alternative history.
'Watchmen' fans may not like the idea of someone toying with their Bible, but at the end of the day, this has a slim outside chance of taking this already legendary comic to the next level. Certainly, there is no denying he will be adding to individual story arcs. And that will be a sore spot for many. But hey, all we ever see of stars are their old photographs, right? As Dr. Manhattan tells Adrian Veidt (Ozymandias), in keeping with the pure nihilism of the story, "In the end? Nothing ends, Adrian. Nothing ever ends."