In 1986, Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons created Watchmen — a dark, foreboding superhero series that transformed comics. Zack Snyder gave us a phenomenal film version of the comic in 2009, and Watchmen's influence pervades his work in the DC Extended Universe . But could Watchmen return — as a TV series?
What Do We Know?
According to Deadline, HBO began discussions about Watchmen last year. They originally opened these discussions with Zack Snyder, but he's not been involved in HBO's plans — presumably because his slate is pretty full with Justice League and Man of Steel 2.
The fact that HBO opened these discussions directly with Snyder is telling, though. It suggests that, for all Watchmen will be retelling the story of the film, the original plan was for something with the same style and tone. Snyder's Watchmen is renowned for its dark symbolism and comic book accuracy — it's easily the most accurate comic-to-film superhero movie to date. It would seem HBO are considering using a similar approach.
There's a sense in which TV series are a better fit for a comic-to-film adaptations. Comics are, by their nature, episodic; they break down into short chunks, usually with a cliffhanger ending. This translates quite effectively into an episodic TV series, whereas a film by necessity has to sacrifice some of that structure — and usually a lot of the subplots.
How Could A Watchmen TV Series Be Different to the Film?
As is naturally the case, the film condensed a lot of the plot of Watchmen — notably, the backstories of the Minutemen were summed up in a stylized credits sequence that was dearly loved by fans. A TV series would have the room to explore those backstories, using those flashbacks to develop character arcs.
Other subplots could actually be developed. Take, for example, Tales of the Black Freighter — a comic-within-a-comic meta-narrative that gave Watchmen some of its style. That subplot was completely scrapped for the theatrical version of Watchmen, although an animated version was released direct-to-video after the film's box office release.
The film broadly abandoned the political aspects of Watchmen, too. The comic presented a fuller explanation for the public's fear of superheroes, which led to the passing of the Keene Act — an act outlawing costumed vigilantes. The movie barely touched upon this, even though a fake Keene Act video was produced as part of the film's advertizing.
As accurate as Snyder's Watchmen may be, it still changed quite a lot. For example, one key scene for Rorschach was changed quite a bit. In the comics, Rorschach's decision to kill a child molester was a character-defining moment, one that truly transformed him into the psychopathic figure so beloved by comic book fans. In a dark scene, he cuffed the villain to his stove and set his house on fire, leaving him with a choice: hack off his own limb or burn to death. The film removed all sense of nuance from the scene, instead showing Rorschach brutally killing him with a meat cleaver.
A Counter-Cultural Move
There are issues with a potential Watchmen TV series, though. Right now, Watchmen's influence pervades the DC Extended Universe; Snyder's Man of Steel and Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice are both strongly shaped by the themes and style of Watchmen. The critical response to those films was hardly positive, and Batman V Superman's poor reception has led to a great deal of course-correction.
Over in the comics, Geoff Johns headed up "Rebirth" - the tremendously successful relaunch of the franchise was has explicitly attempted to move away from the darkness that has pervaded DC comics since Watchmen. In a nice bit of meta-narrative, the villains of "Rebirth" are actually the characters of Watchmen; somehow, in a way yet to be explained, they have stolen all the life and warmth and love out of the DC comics universe. The heroes are now on a quest to get it back, which will set them up in direct opposition to the Watchmen.
#Rebirth has been a tremendous success, with comic book sales breaking a twenty-year record. It's telling that DC Universe - Rebirth #1, which launched the new range, was Geoff Johns's last comic for the foreseeable future. He's been moved on to DC Film, and is likely to exert the same post-Watchmen influence there.
Set against this context, a Watchmen TV series would actually be a smart move. For all the DCEU films have been heavily criticized, they've been blockbuster hits; their tone and style clearly resonates with audiences. DC Film's course-corrections may well leave a gap in the market, one that HBO would be wise to exploit.
- Should Superhero Movies Become More R-Rated?
- How Will DC Comics' "Rebirth" Transform The Future of the DC Extended Universe?
- Two Lessons Comic Book Movies Could Learn From Watchmen Creator Alan Moore!
Still, it's always exciting to see more superhero shows in the works. Whatever your views on darkness and violence in superhero comics, Watchmen is undeniably one of the most important and influential comic books of all time. I'd be tremendously excited to see Watchmen adapted to a new medium!
Would you be excited for Watchmen?
Image: DC Comics