HBO'S WATCHMEN TRAILER: HOW HUMANITAS Trustee DAMON LINDELOF'S SERIES BUILDS ON THE BACKBONE OF THE COMIC
Not a remix, but a true sequel.
HBO has finally debuted the first teaser trailer for the upcoming Watchmen series. Showrunner Damon Lindelof has often described this series as a "remix" of the original Alan Moore/Dave Gibbons comic, making it unclear if the series is meant to be a continuation of that story or a complete reboot and re-imagining. The new trailer seems to answer some of the biggest questions fans have about the series, while also confirming the return of one major Watchmen character.
Sequel or Reboot?
As much as Lindelof has been intent on downplaying the idea of the series being a direct sequel to the original comic, that's exactly what it appears to be. All the signs in this trailer point to the HBO series taking place in the same world (or one very similar), a few decades after the events of the comic. For one thing, Jeremy Irons is clearly playing an older Ozymandias. The shot of Irons wearing a golden robe and meditating seems a direct homage to this art from DC's Before Watchmen: Ozymandias comic:
We're getting a major "Batman in The Dark Knight Rises" vibe from Irons' Adrian Veidt. He seems to be languishing in self-imposed exile, either because his staged alien invasion was exposed to the world or simply because his grand vision for a utopian society failed to come to pass. Veidt looks to be a man in disgrace rather than a triumphant savior of mankind.
Another big clue comes with the line spoken by Don Johnson's character - "We convinced ourselves that they were gone, but they were just hibernating." This seems to be a reference to costumed vigilantes like Rorschach, Nite Owl and Silk Spectre. The Minutemen all died or went into hiding at the end of Watchmen, allowing Ozymandias' plan for engineering world peace to play itself out. But now that a full generation has passed, costumed vigilantes seem to be returning. We can see that much from the images of the militia group wearing Rorschach masks. America may have thought it rid itself of its vigilante problem, but it's returning with a vengeance.
It seems reasonable to assume that the new series will explore the aftermath of Ozymandias' scheme. He clearly saved the world from nuclear annihilation in the '80s, but the cracks in his carefully constructed utopia are beginning to show. Rorschach's journal was probably published at some point after his death. Whether or not his account of events is public knowledge or just the stuff of online conspiracy theories, there's a growing conflict between those trying to maintain order and stability and those who want to tear the system down.
Rorschach's Twisted Legacy
Rorschach himself may be dead, but it's clear his influence lingers in the Watchmen universe. The trailer reveals that Walter Kovacs inspired an entire group of vigilantes who carry on his fight. Their mission is probably the same as his - beat evil to a bloody pulp. Resist tyranny. "Never compromise, even in the face of Armageddon."
Fortunately, the trailer shows that Lindelof and his fellow writers are well aware of the fact that Rorschach was never meant to be a hero. The comic goes out of its way to paint Kovacs as a cruel sociopath who would just as soon torture criminals to death as put them in police custody. Even his insistence on torpedoing Ozymandias' plot is, at best, a morally questionable choice. Rorschach may be the closest thing Watchmen has to a Batman character, but he's not meant to be admired, much less emulated. That's a lesson that, unfortunately, many fans of the comic seemed to miss in the years that followed. Rorschach helped inspire a whole new wave of violent anti-heroes in the late '80s and early '90s comic book scene.
This new Rorschach-inspired group comes across as less a superhero team and more a domestic terrorist cell. Their threat - "We are no one. We are everyone. And we are invisible." - brings to mind online hacktivist groups like Anonymous. These characters don't seem to be heroic vigilantes so much as young, radicalized men rallying around a misunderstood folk hero. That's exactly the sort of following you'd expect a character like Rorschach to attract. And what happens when an entire organization of people put on Rorschach's face and feel emboldened to do the things Kovacs once did?
A Post-Modern Apocalypse
Clock imagery is an essential motif in Watchmen, from Doctor Manhattan's intricate clockwork mechanisms to the image of the Doomsday Clock slowly marching toward midnight. The Doomsday Clock element has definitely carried over to the HBO series. Between the rotating text and the fact that the entire trailer is punctuated by characters saying "Tick tock..." this footage is designed to create the sense that everything is building towards a terrible, destructive end.
Watchmen is very much a product of its late Cold War time period. It's a story about humanity facing its imminent demise in a sadly recognizable form - nuclear annihilation. The story ends with the world being shaken out of its nihilistic reverie by the threat of an even greater doom (an alien invasion in the comics and an all-out attack by Doctor Manhattan in the movie). The HBO series is similarly preoccupied with apocalyptic doom, just in a different form, and one more recognizable to 2019 audiences.
Many Watchmen readers are distressed to learn there is actually such a thing as a Doomsday Clock. It's currently set to 2 minutes to midnight, reflecting the existential threat posed by nuclear war, climate change and all manner of global problems. With the Doomsday Clock closer to midnight than it ever has been, now actually seems like the perfect time for a Watchmen sequel to rear its head.
By all appearances, the HBO series will again explore a world on the brink of total annihilation. Only this time, instead of the US and Soviet Union being locked in a nuclear standoff, we're seeing images of massive, chaotic social unrest. The trailer shows a growing conflict between the Rorschach-worshiping anarchists and a fascistic police force (whose gold bandanas may be worn in tribute to Ozymandias), with the allegiance of Regina King's black-clad vigilante uncertain. (She has a badge, but certainly seems to be operating outside of the law in her own quest for revenge.) The trailer brings to mind the recent surge in hate crimes and mass shootings, violent incidents like the Unite the Right rally and the conflict between the police and the Black Lives Matter movement. The new Watchmen seems determined to speak to the dangerous, upsetting state of the world in a way Watchmen spoke to the world of 1986. The new series probably won't make anyone feel better about how close we are to the end of the world, but it should have little trouble finding something meaningful to say.