The clock is ticking faster and faster as the world escalates toward destruction in the first teaser for Watchmen, HBO’s forthcoming new miniseries based on the hugely popular graphic novel by Alan Moore and artist Dave Gibbons.
(Some spoilers below for 2009 film and Watchmen and Doomsday Clock comics.)
Watchmen is one of the most critically acclaimed comic book series, widely viewed as a harbinger of the genre reaching full maturity due to its dark vision of flawed superheroes in an alternate timeline who go into hiding when public sentiment turns against them. Set in 1985, the series opens with the murder of a man named Edward Blake, who turns out to be a superhero known as the Comedian. Some former superhero compatriots team up to discover who has begun offing their colleagues, culminating in a confrontation with entrepreneur Adrian Veidt (formerly the superhero known as Ozymandias). Veidt orchestrates a massacre of half of New York City’s population by a giant alien squid in hopes that it will unite warring nations against a common foe.
More recently, DC Comics has published a 12-issue sequel series called Doomsday Clock (written by Geoff Johns) as part of its Rebirth line. [corrected] The first issue debuted in November 2017; #9 was published in March, with the last three issues slated to run later this year. It’s set in November 1992, seven years after the events of Watchmen, with Veidt a fugitive after the publication of fallen superhero Rorschach’s journals revealed his hand in the massacre. And it takes advantage of the multiverse/alternate timeline trope yet again to essentially merge the worlds of Watchmen and the DC Universe.
Watchmen was long considered unfilmable (most notably by Terry Gilliam, who started developing an adaptation in 1991 and then abandoned the project). Director Zack Snyder accepted the gauntlet with his 2009 film of the same name, largely hewing closely to the source material with the exception of the giant squid. Reactions were highly polarized: Snyder’s film is either a masterpiece rivaling the best work of Stanley Kubrick or a boring, overly grandiose mess, although the director’s cut was more favorably received. (Personally, I think it falls somewhere in between: some truly compelling moments and characters that don’t quite hang together as a cohesive narrative.) The film grossed $185 million worldwide.
Snyder was originally in discussions with HBO about producing a TV adaptation of Watchmen in 2015, but by the fall of 2017, Lost showrunner Damon Lindelof had taken over production duties, and Snyder was no longer involved with the project. Lindelof had turned down prior opportunities to adapt the graphic novel for TV, citing Alan Moore’s view that he wrote Watchmen for the comic medium, and trying to translate it into moving images would ruin it. In a five-page letter to fans posted to his Instagram last May, he explained how he came to change his mind.
Lindelof also confirmed that his series would not be a reboot or a sequel, but more of a “remix,” with some new characters joining some of the canonical ones. Per his letter:
We have no desire to ‘adapt’ the twelve issues Mr. Moore and Mr. Gibbons created thirty years ago. Those issues are sacred ground and they will not be retread nor recreated nor reproduced nor rebooted. They will, however, be remixed. Because the bass lines in those familiar tracks are just too good and we’d be fools not to sample them. Those original twelve issues are our Old Testament. When the New Testament came along it did not erase what came before it. Creation. The Garden of Eden. Abraham and Isaac. The Flood. It all happened. And so it will be with Watchmen.
It’s a bold move, and probably a wise one, since nobody wants a retread of the same ground Snyder’s film covered. I guess it’s Lindelof’s way of reconciling his desire to do the series with his respect for Moore’s antipathy toward adapting his graphic novel for film or television. We do know that there are several elements drawn from Doomsday Clock, notably the casting of Jeremy Irons as an older, possibly cancer-stricken Veidt, and the husband/wife criminal team known as Mime and Marionette (played by Tom Mison and Sara Vickers, respectively). Among the new characters is Looking Glass, played by Tim Blake Nelson.
The “tick-tock” theme throughout the teaser certainly evokes the Doomsday Clock sequel, and we get several shots of a small army of Rorschachs. (The original Rorschach died at the end of Watchmen, but in Doomsday Clock, a man named Reginald Long becomes Rorschach II.) “We are no one. We are everyone. And we are invisible,” their leader intones. That countdown seems to be leading to the end of the world, if Don Johnson’s smirking Chief Judd is to be believed—whether via the canonical nuclear showdown between the US and Russia in Doomsday Clock or another threat altogether.
Watchmen is slated to debut on HBO this fall.
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