“Watchmen” was originally a groundbreaking graphic novel from 1986, written by Alan Moore. Part of what caused the graphic novel to achieve such acclaim is that it was one of the first major comic books to deconstruct superhero tropes in a dark and mature story. Alan Moore along with Frank Miller, Neil Gaiman and many more influential writers during the 1980s, forever changed the landscape of comics with their work. Before “Watchmen,” comics appealed more to teens, while Moore opened the door for a more adult readership.
Set thirty years after the events of the graphic novel, HBO’s “Watchmen” attempts to both capture and remix what was great about the original story. Damon Lindelof, the producer of hit series like “Lost,” is the creator behind the 2019 series. Going into the series, one should have some familiarity with the graphic novel as Lindelof wastes no time catching the viewer up to speed. It throws you right into the new story in this world without explaining every step, which is both a positive and a negative. On the one hand it is refreshing to have a series not force paragraphs of exposition; however, it also makes things significantly more confusing for viewers going in blind.
The most immediately striking things about HBO’s “Watchmen” are the visuals and production. The series represents the style of the graphic novel quite well, as its color pallete, scene composition and text fonts feel ripped right out of the comic. The soundtrack utilizes original pieces as well as pre-existing songs and, coupled with the visuals, it all comes together to create a unique aesthetic.
It’s clear that Lindelof has major reverence for the graphic novel, as there are so many Easter eggs to all things “Watchmen” to spot. In the background, one can spot references to characters from the graphic novel. There are even some scenes that are filmed in the same style as Zack Snyder’s 2009 “Watchmen” film.
The show expands upon the universe of the comic in very interesting ways. In the world of “Watchmen” the publication of the first Superman comics inspired people to become real superheroes. As a result, history was altered with the United States winning the Vietnam War and making it the 51st state, and Richard Nixon serving as president until the late 1980s. The series makes new additions to the timeline and it is interesting to see how this world has changed in the 30-year gap since the graphic novel. There are a couple of characters from the comic that return in the show, and seeing how these characters evolved is another engaging aspect.
One thing in particular that made the Watchmen graphic novel so unique was that it was also one of the first openly political superhero comics. Moore is an open anarchist, and his worldview can be seen within his writing, as the comic is an open critique of objectivism and Reagan-era conservatism. The new series continues that tradition; however, it also utilizes modern political struggles. There are deliberate analogies to racial politics within the United States with, for example, the opening scene of episode one being the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre. While politics should be an integral part of any “Watchmen” adaptation, in the 2019 series it certainly could be handled a bit better. The show is a little too obvious with what it’s trying to say, while also not having a clear point to make.
HBO’s “Watchmen” is an engaging series to follow as it’s visually captivating, and has interesting characters and world-building. The dialogue can be weak or cheesy at times, however it’s not nearly enough to ruin the show as a whole. With the season almost over, hopefully Lindelof can stick the landing.