It's often regarded as the ultimate graphic novel, so it shouldn't be a surprise that DC's detective noir classic Watchmen by Alan Moore is still being eyed as a TV series by #HBO. This week the news broke that the controversial Lost writer Damon Lindelof is the man who'll be charged with re-adapting a story already made into a highly polarizing movie by Zack Snyder, and that alone feels like enough to strike fear into the hearts of millions of comic book and sci-fi fans.
Lindelof, in case you've forgotten, not only co-created Lost (and wrote countless episodes including that finale), but was responsible for rewriting Prometheus, as well as Cowboys & Aliens, Star Trek: Into Darkness and World War Z. The common theme of those projects is controversy — as a writer, Lindelof is prone to the kinds of wild excesses which often divide a fanbase right down the middle.
To give him his credit, Lost is still beloved by many, and his work on HBO's The Leftovers, now in its third and final season, has received massive critical acclaim. The man is undeniably talented, but after Snyder's #Watchmen delivered a strange hybrid of gorgeous visuals and dense, confused storytelling which left many cold, the world could probably do without another stab at the story (described by Alan Moore as unfilmable) which is anything less than a resounding success.
Is Watchmen The Right Choice?
So HBO are taking a major gamble on both Lindelof and their choice of DC project — and sure, it could pay off, but there are countless other #DC comic book sagas and graphic novels which feel potentially more ripe for adaptation.
Take The Killing Joke, for instance, another graphic novel written by Moore and a game-changer for DC. It's the definitive Joker story, getting deep into the mind of Gotham's Clown Prince and deconstructing him as somebody who is unable to survive without the thrill of his constant cat-and-mouse game with Batman. In the story's rain-soaked climax, the Joker achieves the unthinkable — he makes Batman laugh.
There's a heavy degree of ambiguity to the final page, some choosing to believe that Batman breaks the Joker's neck (hence the title), others interpreting the way the final panel mirrors the first to mean nothing has changed — both men are still tormented, stuck in a game that will never end. DC Animation's terrible 2016 adaptation (in which Batgirl and Batman make a disturbing pair of lovers) only adds to the sense that the source material needs a proper adaptation.
The problem with that idea is that the #DCEU and the TV universe would have to double up on big-name characters — right now only Barry Allen and Superman exist on both the big screen and in peoples' homes. Given that Ben Affleck's Batman is the central hero of the DCEU and leader of the Justice League, would a series on HBO convincingly sell another actor as Batman? Watchmen, with its cast of lesser-known anti-heroes, doesn't have that problem.
Doug Liman recently stepped down as director of Justice League Dark, meaning that movie is currently in limbo. The team, as lead by chain-smoking Englishman John Constantine, leans heavily into the world of the occult, something so-far unexplored in the DCEU, and that could make it the perfect source material for HBO to develop into an R-rated, violent, explicit DC series with the potential to run for years (whereas Watchmen could only last one or two seasons without being massively expanded).
Another option would be for HBO to create a series focused on Arkham Asylum and Batman's enormous gallery of rogues. Classic Batman villains like Black Mask, Hush, the Riddler, Scarecrow and Penguin are all defined by the fact that they're fucking insane, and throwing them together into a melting pot of depravity would be a lot of fun. It wouldn't even need the Bat himself to be anything more than a periphery character. Think of Arkham Asylum as a kind of darkly twisted, Gotham-themed twist on Penny Dreadful, and you're more or less there. With an original idea, there's far less room to go wrong, as Watchmen easily could, and more freedom to sketch a new story within an established universe.
But that's not the series HBO are (thinking of) making. Three decades later, Watchmen remains the pinnacle of superhero fiction on the page, so it's inevitable that another attempt will be made to bottle that formula and transfer it to the screen. Here's hoping they, and Lindelof, get it right — or Watchmen might be lost forever.
Are you stoked for HBO's Watchmen series, or would you rather a different DC Comics saga was adapted?