HBO is still developing a Watchmen series, even as Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice director Zack Snyder walks away from the project and is replaced by Lost and The Leftovers mastermind Damon Lindelof.
The Watchmen movie, directed by Snyder in 2009, was a controversial movie in a few ways. One of the things that Snyder was accused of, was being too reverential to the source material and not making appropriate changes to suit the medium of film and the restrictions of a 3-hour movie.
Of course, there were other fans who were irate that he changed too much, particularly in the third act, because as one of the great pieces of the comics literary canon, Watchmen was ostensibly beyond such things in their eyes.
So what will a Watchmen TV series look like? Will it be more or less true to the comic book miniseries? Will they focus just on the death of the Comedian and its immediate fallout, or take a broader, more historical view of the characters in context?
Obviously we won’t know for a while, but there are some obvious places that Lindelof can turn for inspiration, in case HBO expects the series to be a huge hit and wants more than the equivalent of a year-long comic book miniseries to run their show.
There are also some pretty big questions that fans will likely be asking about how the supplemental material that appeared in the original Watchmen might play in…!
DC’s much-debated prequel takes the events referenced in Watchmen and built a story around them.
That’s a little different from what it already had, which was kind of a loose mythology that centered on a very small number of events known to have happened.
In Watchmen, there were a number of events alluded to but not specifically depicted, and a handful that were depicted, often lacking context. That was fine, as the flashbacks in the original Watchmen were largely meant to inform the current-day narrative, so all audiences really needed to understand was how the events of the flashbacks were impacting the events of the present day.
Before Watchmen, then, felt somewhat excessive to a lot of people because it was essentially telling superhero stories: ongoing, open-ended superhero stories like the ones you might see in most mainstream Marvel and DC comics, but doing it tethered to the story of Watchmen and with the kind of knowing winks that Gotham employed in its first season: “Yeah, you know this is important because you know where this character goes in ten years.”
As a stand-alone story, that was largely unfulfilling…and the fact that comic book fans were predisposed to be pretty critical of the stunt didn’t help. As a TV series, one can see how they might weave content from the Before Watchmen stories into the larger narrative, helping to use it to inform the characters’ growth. Certainly breaking away from the main action for an episode or two in order to fill in gaps is something that’s been successfully employed on The Walking Dead.
At one point, there were rumors that a planned Watchmen series would center on the character of Ozymandias, the self-proclaimed “smartest man in the world” and essentially the central antagonist of Watchmen.
That seems on its face like kind of an obvious idea — it’s sometimes difficult to understand what’s motivating him, and he is the player that kicks everything into action, so on some level questions about his motives are questions about the larger plot of Watchmen.
The downside to this approach is that Ozymandias is, ultimately, the bad guy — and he’s a mass murderer. Yes, he’s got shades of gray but he’s still objectively a terrible person and someone who history will likely view poorly…if anybody sees or believes the contents of Rorschach’s journal.
Obviously, the upcoming Doomsday Clock event could paint Adrian Veidt in a different light — and as The Walking Dead‘s series of prose novels centered on the character of The Governor have proven, there’s a certain poetic quality to watching the downfall of a seemingly good man. Still, it’s difficult to imagine a serialized story where you know that in the end, your hero will make terrible decisions that cost millions of lives.
Seeing his fall could be poignant, then, but having him as the point of view character? Probably unwise…!
Years before the Before Watchmen controversy, there was a Moore-approved Watchmen prequel…of sorts.
When Mayfair Games was putting together a popular DC roleplaying game in the ’80s, there was some official material created by the company in cooperation with Moore.
Two modules, “Watching the Watchmen” and “Taking Out the Trash,” along with the “Watchmen Sourcebook,” represent a period in time just before the completion of the original Watchmen series, when Moore’s relationship with DC had not yet completely soured and he was willing to help them market the property outside of the main series — something that in later years would become a sticking point time and time again.
“I was only able to complete the RPG module on time with the extremely generous cooperation from Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons,” writer Dan Greenberg told CBR in 2008. “The tight schedule left little room for error in writing, designing, game testing, coordinating original art with Dave Gibbons, and securing approvals from Alan Moore, DC Comics, and Mayfair Games.”
That tight schedule? The roleplaying game actually came out concurrently with the comic, which meant that this particular look into the world of Watchmen is particularly fascinating because it was crafted before the project became a publishing phenomenon, and when it was still a passion project.
THE BLACK FREIGHTER
This is an obvious question mark left open by the nature of the story: will Tales of the Black Freighter and other ancillary material included in the original Watchmen series, including Hollis Mason’s autobiography, “news” reports about the Minutemen, etc., be included in the long-form adaptation of television?
There’s a verison of the Watchmen movie — the “Ultimate Cut,” a phrase Snyder would use again for Batman v Superman — which includes the Tales of the Black Freighter animated movie, spliced into the film in roughly where it would have appeared in the comics.
Quickly, for the uninitiated: in the world of Watchmen, the arrival of real-life masked mystery men soured the public appetite for superhero comics, leading to the rise in other popular stories. Among those are pirate stories, and Tales of the Black Freighter is one of the most popular of those. It’s read by a young man who sits near a newsstand and listens to the news agent ramble on about the world, poltiics, etc., and usually either the vendor’s monologue, or the larger Watchmen story, or both are somehow paralleled in the events of the comic.
It’s a hefty chunk of the Watchmen comic, and of course didn’t appear as a storytelling device in the theatrical cut of the movie.
A lot of that was chalked up to time, and certainly that was part of it — but Watchmen (or whatever it ends up being called) would likely have to be fairly experimental (think Legion) to pull off incorporating large chunks of the Black Freighter content into its narrative.
Could the world of the Watchmen eventually cross over with the world of DC’s more mainstream, established, less cynical superheroes?
It’s a question that’s doubtless being asked all over fandom this week, as Lindelof’s TV series hits just as Geoff Johns is writing Doomsday Clock, a crossover miniseries that will pit hope against cynicism, optimism against bleak desperation…Superman against Doctor Manhattan.
The series spins out of the events of DC Universe: Rebirth, in which it appears that Doctor Manhattan has been subtly manipulating the timestream in the DC Universe; he apparently “stole” ten years and reshaped the DCU into a more modern, cynical image that has more in common with Watchmen and the stories it inspired than ever before.
It seems wildly unlikely that the Watchmen series would do a Rebirth riff at first glance — certainly, if they did it would seem like a final act for the characters, since there’s no way to say that your lead is objectively a good guy if he’s trying to kill Superman.
…Y’know. Ignoring that whole Dawn of Justice thing, that is….
But what is interesting about the idea is that a Watchmen series would probably be the best/only place that such a story could make sense. Including the world of Watchmen in the DC Extended Universe, for instance, would require extensive backstory that wouldn’t make a lot of sense to people unfamiliar with the multiverse and such.
Will it happen? Who knows. If so, though, it would likely have to be the last season of however long the series runs, and it would be probably the most wild and unpredictable final salvo in TV history.