More costume caped crusaders on your screen? Think twice as HBO’s Watchmen straddles the superhero genre with gripping dark hard-hitting political drama.
Watchmen is considered one of the all-time greatest comic books. Originally published by DC in the mid 1980s, writer Alan Moore and artist Dave Gibbons created an alternate reality where America won the Vietnam War, the Watergate scandal wasn’t exposed, mobile phones do not exist and the world is on the verge of World War III. There’s also a ban on superheroes who are referred to as “masked vigilantes”, the story subverts the moral compass in that (spoiler!) the bad guy actually wins and the only one true super-powered being (Dr Manhattan, who is essentially a God) gets so bored with humans he leaves Earth to live on Mars instead. Which in 2019 seems pretty appealing.
Now, Damon Lindelof (co-creator of Lost and The Leftovers) is bringing us a remixed version of the comic book that explores the underbelly of society. Don’t worry, though – you do not necessarily need to be a fan of the original book to enjoy this series. But, while the HBO show is newbie friendly, why retread what the 2009 Zack Synder film version has already accomplished?
Speaking to RadioTimes.com, Lindelof says, “We inherited from the original Watchmen and made the choice to adopt everything that happened in that history as canon, we couldn’t change it! And so that history ends in 1986. So the first thing that we did in the writers room, and it took us around 10 weeks, was to construct a history from 1986 to 2019.
“We took the original 12 issues, and we said, ‘What are the adjectives that we would use to describe these 12 issues?’ And people would say ‘Oh, I think it’s mysterious, sci-fi, absurd, funny, cynical, hopeful’… some things that were in direct opposition with one another. And so we said, ‘Okay, so we’re going to start writing, then we’re going to we’re to keep this list of adjectives to make this our recipe’.
“These are the things that go into the stew. We can’t replicate exactly how the original Watchmen was made, because that was magic. It was alchemy. But if we use the same ingredients, we may be able to cook a dish that tastes like it was made by the same chef, but it’s going to be a new dish.”
Setting the new series in 2019, 30 years after the events of the original story/comic book, Lindelof aims for Watchmen to compliment yet stand out against the over-saturation of superhero material currently around.
“The thing that distinguishes Watchmen from that genre is these are just people who play dress up, they don’t have any powers. And so I didn’t want the costumes to look too good, like in Marvel or in [Amazon series] The Boys where they’re kind of sculpted onto peoples bodies. I want to feel like these people made their costumes themselves. They’re a little ill fitting, maybe even like a little dirty.
“There’s something kind of silly about dressing up like a superhero, and I wanted people to take the show seriously. But I think one of the really cool things about the original Watchmen is there was a small character called Moth-Man and his wings didn’t really work that well that he kept crashing. So as a result, he got addicted to painkillers. So I thought ‘It’s kind of got to be that’. Nothing really works the way that it’s supposed to. Watchmen has a reverence for superheroes but it’s also simultaneously trolling them!”
Knowing how sacred the comic book was in ‘geekdom’, Lindeolf had originally turned down the adaption before finally accepting, but with great trepidation.
“My relationship with Watchmen is very personal and very emotional. And so I had to acknowledge that if that’s the way that I feel about this thing, that many others feel that way about this, too. And they’re going to look at anybody coming in and doing any version of Watchmen, as some degree of sacrilege. And so that creates worry and anxiety and responsibility at the same time!”
Fans at New York Comic Con had the first episode screened to them on Friday 4th October, 16 days ahead of transmission, and they were able to see Regina King’s character, retired-Detective Angela Abar, AKA the masked vigilante Sister Night.
We first see Angela with her husband Cal (played by Yahya Abdul-Mateen II) and her children in Tulsa, Oaklahoma, which is a state enforcing masked police officers while tackling a white supremacy issue. A very different setting to New York City that Watchmen fans may be used to, but extremely relevant. Like the comic book, the series commits to commenting on the social and political tropes of today, swapping the Cold War for themes like racial tension and immigration that dominate the news headlines in 2019.
King says of her character Angela, “I’ve never seen this woman before on TV. Someone that is wearing so many different masks. A cop, a mother, a wife, a hero. We’ve just recently gotten to the place where we’re seeing multiple female characters that are complex. Usually you’ve got one happening in a decade! With my character Angela in particular, not only is she complex, but she’s complex in a space that has multiple genres happening at the same time. And I’ve never seen that before. And if someone has seen it, they definitely haven’t seen a woman of colour being that.”
The character of Angela Abar is new to the franchise whereas actors Jeremy Irons and Jean Smart bring back two characters from the original book.
Irons brings to life the now older Adrian Veidt, now an isolated figure following the events of the original Watchmen.
“I thought of him a little bit as an ex-US President, you know, someone who had been in the thick of it and making important decisions and doing important things. But is now just playing golf on some Texas ranch. So a little bit bored but planning for his future,” Irons says.
Smart, meanwhile, plays Laurie Blake, who fans know as the daughter of two of the Watchmen heroes, The Comedian and Silver Spectre. Jean’s character also was romantically involved with the blue, naked, super-powered Doctor Manhattan.
“I love her sense of humour!” Smart says. “But that’s also kind of a defence mechanism for Laurie. You do get to to finally see some private moments where you see through the veneer.”
Fingers crossed for a Laurie and Dr Manhattan spin-off, on Mars.