Movies & TV / Columns

Does HBO’s Watchmen Honor the Comic Book Properly?

October 26, 2019 | Posted by Steve Gustafson
Watchmen Series

The first episode of HBO’s Watchmen has arrived and its premiere set off a nice debate among viewers. Even people who didn’t watch it felt the need ti chime in on what they heard.

One thing is certain, Damon Lindelof and crew have a strong take on how they believe the source material, from Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons, would play out.  

The original Watchmen comic is everything its hype says it is. A stunning commercial and critical success, Watchmen is hailed as a high mark for the industry and considered by most to be comics’ greatest series and graphic novel.

As you can imagine, this makes any attempt to bring it to life on other media platforms a difficult task. 

The 2009 Watchmen movie from director Zack Snyder was a polarizing finished product with critics and fans. While his stylistic choices and tone were generally like, many felt the movie missed the books complexity and depth. Watchmen finished with $185,258,983 worldwide total at the box office. 

Fast forward and HBO gets Damon Lindelof to develop a Watchmen TV series. Lindelof, an admitted fan of the source material, has done a number of interviews where he calls the show a “remix” of the comic, labeling it a sequel with new characters in a story that respects the comic series. 

Without spoiling it, HBO’s Watchmen takes place in 2019, 34 years after the end of the limited series, and mainly set in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Due to liberal policies set by President Robert Redford to provide reparations to those affected by racial violence, white supremacists groups following the writings of Rorschach attack the police that enforce these, leading to laws requiring police to hide their identity and wear masks. This has allowed new masked vigilantes to fight alongside the police to combat the supremacists.

Like everything else in today’s social climate, it has its fans and its detractors. The original book was ground breaking in its use of mature themes, storytelling, and political overview. The show carries that tone, with a strong lean on social and political aspects. It’s powerful and though provoking. 

We don’t have to guess what Alan Moore thinks of the series. “There is no version of Watchmen I could make that would please him,” Lindelof told told Quartz in an interview. “Not only that, but there’s no version of Watchmen I could make that he would ever watch.”

He gave an interview with Vulture recently and shared an interesting perspective that sums up things nicely:

What are the ethical ramifications of this even existing at all when I completely and totally side with the creator? Acknowledge that the creator has been exploited by a corporation? Now that very same corporation is basically compensating me to continue this thing.

I ask, “Is it even hypocrisy?” Then I say, as a fan, “Where would I come down on this thing if someone else was doing it? If I heard someone else was doing an HBO series called Watchmen that was not a strict adaptation of the book?” I felt that I’d be really angry about it and then I’d watch it. [Laughs.] I wonder how many of the angry people who don’t think it should exist will actually have the discipline to not even watch it. Those are the people that I really admire. The ones who are like, “This shouldn’t exist and I’m literally not watching it.” That’s an admirable position.

With that in mind, does HBO’s Watchmen succeed in furthering the comics story in an honest way?