HBO’s new Watchmen show has been announced, and it has a lot of people feeling conflicted, and that’s for a very good reason. Because while Watchmen, the seminal graphic novel created by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons, is one of the best comics ever created, it’s also one of the most difficult to bring to the big screen in any meaningful way. The story is deceptively simple – in a world where superheroes have been real and had real world ramifications, one vigilante’s investigation into the murder of a former ally brings on the possible end (or rescue) of the entire world.
It’s an incredibly powerful piece of storytelling, and it’s the kind of narrative that has and will inspire writers and artists for generations to come. And it makes perfect sense why HBO would want to bring the series to television, as they intend to do with Damon Lindelhof. They can bring so much to the comic series and create another fantasy smash hit for the world to fall in love with. But it’s also a very dangerous prospect that could easily fail if the creators repeat previous mistakes and easy potholes while adapting what many think to be the “unadaptable” story. We have to acknowledge that the Watchmen movie from 2009 was a total fail, and we hope the series doesn’t go down that path. Here are seven reasons why the Watchmen series might suck, and eight reasons why it might just manage to be good after all.
15. It Won’t Suck: Watchmen Is Great
Seriously! While it may not be the most personal story Moore ever wrote, or the most enjoyable (stuff like Swamp Thing, Top Ten, and Supreme are much easier reads from him), it’s still easily one of the most impressive comic books ever created. It’s the only graphic novel to appear on the “Top 100 Novels of the 20th Century” list, and it deserves to be there. Even Zack Snyder’s attempt to adapt the story into a film wasn’t without its merits, even for just utilizing the setting and visuals to create compelling imagery. The story of superheroes within the real world is inherently interesting, and the kind of thing that lends itself to other creators taking on the idea – either in the form of inspiring their own choices and stories, or making them want to produce a straight-up adaption of the story itself. Watchmen is fantastic – so it makes sense why it’s being brought back to the screens.
14. It’ll Suck: The Story Is Impossible To Adapt
For years, attempts were made to adapt Watchmen over to a different medium. These were made even in the first years after the release of the book, with audiences dying to see the story in an even broader scope. But as many filmmakers learned, Watchmen might be an impossible story to bring to the screen in its full context. Just the structure of the comic makes it a unique problem for creators to work with, as the comic doesn’t even follow many of the conventions of comic book storytelling. There’s an entirely different comic that appears throughout the book, a story-within-a-story that serves as a parallel to the events of the main plot. Likewise, there are entire sections of the book that switch over to regular writing, in the form of pages from books and biographies to flesh out the world. The story itself is unlike any other kind of comic created, and has been a chief reason why other filmmakers have failed to make a Watchmen adaptation that worked as well as the book – how’s this new attempt any different?
13. It Won’t Suck: Night Owl
While most people gravitate towards Rorscach as the hero of the story, it’s actually Night Owl who goes through the most growth and the arc that most resembles a traditional story structure within the cast of main characters. When the story begins, Night Owl is retired, sad, and reduced to reliving the glory days via his predecessor, Hollis Mason. The beats are sad and purposefully pathetic, until he’s drawn into the super killer mystery by his old partner, Rorschach. Night Owl proves to be stronger than even he expects, and not only finds a way to find himself again as a hero, but also come out of his rut to fall in love with Silk Specter. His growth and development is the main story appeal for Watchmen, or at least should be. He’s the audience POV, a kid who grew up loving superheroes and is trying to come to terms with a world where Superman doesn’t just get to punch out Nazis. And with the expanded space of the series to explore his relationships with Specter and Hollis and Rorschach, he can become the hero that we all need right now. He is someone who sees the horrors of the world, and still goes out to help because damn it, what else can he do?
12. It’ll Suck: Rorschach
If you’ve read Watchmen, especially if you found it as a teenager, it’s incredibly easy to find Rorschach to be the most engaging, interesting character in the story. His brutal tactics and unwavering morality makes for an interesting counterpoint to one another, and he’s easily the most pro-active of the characters that the readers primarily follow in the comic. But here’s the thing: the reader is NOT supposed to relate to him. Rorschach is supposed to almost frighten the audience with his cold rage, and not to be seen as an inspirational figure within the narrative.
The graphic novel is very good about mining his personal and mental problems to make him almost a force of nature more than a person, and to have the reader relating to the other characters. But most of the comics community of the late 80s and early 90s didn’t read him that way and instead embraced him as a hero in his own right. The Watchmen movie makes the same mistake, giving him more emotional scenes to make the viewers relate to him. It seems like the show will follow suit, and try to make Rorschach into the hero that he was never meant to be. And in the current political climate, having audiences able to look up at essentially “even crazier Punisher” as a role model is probably not the best idea.
11. It Won’t Suck: Silk Specter
Seriously, if there’s one character who was completely reduced by the Zack Snyder film, it was Silk Specter. In the comics, she’s an incredibly interesting character. She’s living a life that’s expected of her, and she’s not sure how much she cares for it. She uncovers a great deal about her origins and her parents that fundamentally go against everything about her personality and persona. She’s a conflicted character in a world of absolutes (like Rorschach, Dr. Manhattan, and Ozymandias) and easily one of the most interesting in the book. But the movie, more as a time restraint then any creative choice, reduced her to a shrill and aggressive dumdum who pushed the plot forward out of necessity, rather than actual character. The series could give her the chance to really shine, and give the story a truly complicated character.
10. It’ll Suck: Dr. Manhattan
Dr. Manhattan is fascinating. And it’s easy to imagine that he’s Damon Lindelof’s favorite character in the story. A man who finds himself turned into a God and losing his humanity along the way, Dr. Manhattan is the only super-powered character in the series and (next to Rorschach) the most identifiable character from the series. But he only works as well as he does within the series because Alan Moore knew when to utilize him. His attempts to stay connected to humanity ends up being his driving conflict, because there’s no external threat that could even come close to harming him. But in the wrong hands, all that growth cane easily be taken the wrong way. Take the Zack Snyder film, where Dr. Manhattan is transformed into the existential threat that unites the world in the end. It’s turning his internal conflict into the external conflict, which robs it of the personal power it has on the story while also diminishing the other character plots in the process. It shouldn’t all be about Dr. Manhattan, and Damon Lindelof could easily turn the show into that.
9. It Won’t Suck: Room For The Story
At the end of the day, Watchmen is just so incredibly dense that it needs something like an HBO television series to even come close to grasping what makes the original story so special. It offers up one of the most heartbreaking and compelling superhero stories ever, told, managing to combine the optimistic superheroic ideal with a deeply personal and hard-hitting look within the soul of 1980s culture and world views. And by giving that story the kind of platform where it could reach audiences with an entirely new approach, the themes of justice, strength, morals in dark times, and the little sins we allow ourselves to commit for “the greater good” could make for a truly amazing show, especially somewhere like HBO.
8. It’ll Suck: Damon Lindelof (The Guy Who Wrote Prometheus & Lost)
Damon Lindelof is kind of notorious in nerd circles, and it can all be traced back to a single thing: Lost. While J.J. Abrams usually ends up getting the blame for the 2000s sensation going off the rails, it’s important to remember that Abrams really didn’t have much to do with the show following the pretty damn strong first season. Instead, Damon Lindelof became the driving force behind the series, and it’s at his feet that we can lay most of the blame for the weird developments that the series took over the years. No one can deny that Lost became an absolute mess, and he is to blame. His style of “mystery first, answer second” writing seems like a good fit for Watchmen on paper, but his flaws might not do much good for the series either. And there is no way the guy who wrote Prometheus doesn’t go way overboard with his take on Dr. Manhattan and no one wants to see that.
7. It Won’t Suck: The Watchmen World Is Complex
One of the things that makes Watchmen so easy to go back and reread, and is so genuinely impressive about the book in general, is the sheer level of detail that goes into the overall plot. Much of the series is broken up and forgotten in the movie, so seeing the different ideas explored in more depth within the show would be a great addition to the overall plot of the story. People like Rorschach’s psychiatrist or the artist behind the pirate comic-within-the-comic could be fully adapted and lend a lot of power to the series, in a way that any movie just wouldn’t have the time to really examine and explore at all. The series can really tell the full story and take its time with it. And that kind of material is the stuff that really elevates Watchmen above the average story, so getting it included as part of the overall story would be fascinating to see on screen.
6. It’ll Suck: The Show Is Going To Reach For Plots
The thing about the world of Watchmen is that it’s been completely and deliberately plotted out. The background structure of the world is well-defined, but the series might end up trying to explore new plots that don’t belong in this story. This includes the material that was only introduced in the highly controversial Before Watchmen series of comics, which came out despite the heavy misgivings of Alan Moore. Those elements of the story would help broaden it out into a full series instead of the rather self-contained series that the comics actually present, and it would be hard to keep the story from veering off into unnecessary and ill-advised directions (such as softening the Comedian or trying to over-explain Ozymandias). The story is very self-contained, all things considered, and it’s important that the show remember that – which it probably won’t.
5. It Won’t Suck: Time To Explore The Characters
One of the problems with adapting Watchmen has always been giving the cast of characters all a chance to shine. The main characters from the graphic novel are so richly detailed and well-written that it’s a shame to lose any of them in the shuffle, and it forces them into tighter corners than they should be. Look at the Zack Snyder adaptation from 2009, which may have gotten the aesthetic but failed to grasp the characters at all. Expanding the run time and putting the series on a platform like HBO that will give the people behind the series the room and opportunity to explore the characters more might just give the series the gravitas that it’s looking for. It’ll all be worth it if Silk Specter manages to be translated right for the screen.
4. It’ll Suck: The Slow Pace Of Everything
Here’s the thing with Alan Moore, as a writer: he’s not exactly the most exciting comics writer in the world. Take someone like Grant Morrison, who will drop just as many concepts into their story but also brings a fair amount of action into the proceedings to make sure the visual element of the story is still going strong. That’s not what Moore does. Moore can create a world that’s so completely three-dimensional, that every newspaper article or book excerpt from inside the story feels as natural as any other character plot point. So much of the power that Watchmen has comes from the immersive power of the original story. That works in book form. And in any adaptation, the plot about a superhero murder mystery is going to overtake all that and force precedence in the run time and attention. The story is done in such a deliberate way that it’s difficult to imagine how anyone could adapt it to the screen well.
3. It Won’t Suck: Damon Lindelof (The Guy Who Made The Leftovers)
But Damon Lindelof has also done some of the most impressive television work in recent years, and he might be able to keep that same kind of momentum going within Watchmen. Just look at The Leftovers, his series with HBO. The three-season show explored a world where an event akin to the Rapture had taken place without any reason or explanation, and 2% of the world population (140 million people) suddenly disappeared from the face of the earth. That show was able to take an hour-long episodic format and turn out beautiful explorations of characters that were better written than almost anything else on television. And having that Lindelof behind the scenes for the inevitable episode about Dr. Manhattan’s origin sounds positively amazing.
2. It’ll Suck: Comic Book Game Of Thrones (In The Worst Way)
And this is meant in every negative connotation of the word. Watchmen, despite all the talent that people like Alan Moore, Dave Gibbons, and Len Wein brought to the original series, wasn’t recognized for the artistry on display. Instead, they were seen and remembered more for the frank depiction of heavy material like violence and s*xuality within a universe that didn’t usually confront topics like that. There’s no way that HBO isn’t looking at this series without considering the way this show could replace Game of Thrones in terms of s*xuality and gore. Even the creators of the comic (who’ve had a troublesome and problematic relationship with DC Comics over this story and it’s ensuing longevity) hated the impact it had on comics, leading to a rise in fundamentally flawed characters who took the look of Rorschach without looking into the motivation behind the look. And that’s what this show could be – everything wrong with Game of Thrones, but with superheroes.
1. It Won’t Suck: Comic Book Game Of Thrones (In The Best Way)
The thing that makes Game of Thrones so engaging isn’t necessarily the cool fight scenes and the interesting characters. Those are the things that keep us, the audience, enraptured from episode to episode. But that’s not what makes the show really work. Instead, it’s the devotion to character development and depth that really helps the story really stand out. It’s a fantasy story with realistic character development, which is never the element of the story that’s usually explored in those kind of narratives. The same thing could be said for superheroes, even in the golden age of superheroes exploring different genres and styles in the movies. But seeing a series willing to dive headlong into the psychology of its characters that also happen to be people in spandex kicking dudes in the face would be refreshing and, frankly, welcome in this current age of blockbuster films. This is the kind of story that could elevate superheroes in the way Game of Thrones has done for fantasy, and that’s an exciting prospect.