Nothing ever ends.
Update 11/8: Per /Film, HBO’s upcoming Watchmen series will reportedly see Oscar-winner Jeremy Irons play an older version of Adrian Veidt/Ozymandias. Jean Smart, known for her roles in Legion and Fargo, will possibly join the cast as a mysterious FBI agent.
The critically acclaimed comic series Watchmen is making the transition to live-action again. But this time, it’s being adapted as an HBO series, with Lost’s Damon Lindelof serving as showrunner – on August 17, HBO officially ordered Watchmen to series, to debut at some point in 2019. And while little is known about the series so far, it’s clear that the new project will seek to expand on the Watchmen universe rather than retread ground fans have already seen before.
Read on for everything we know so far about the Watchmen HBO show, along with some possible ideas for what the plot might involve based on how the comic ended and DC’s various offshoots.
HBO’s Watchmen Time Jump
There are only two things we know for sure about the Watchmen series. First, it’s an extension of the original story, not an adaptation of Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons’ beloved work. Second, it’s set in the present day. Showrunner Damon Lindelof described the series as being the New Testament to the original Watchmen’s Old Testament. Lindelof also said that the show will be influenced by contemporary politics and figures like Donald Trump, Theresa May and Vladimir Putin in the same way the original was very much a product of the Cold War.
Basically, it sounds like the new Watchmen will jump ahead from the 1980s and into the present day. Expect the series to focus a great deal on how the world has evolved since Ozymandias carried out his staged attack and tricked the US and Soviet Union into forging peace. How has the world changed since then? Has it followed roughly the same path as our own, or has it diverged in new and unexpected ways? Does the Soviet Union still exist in this world? Is China still an emerging superpower? And how does the US now view the costumed heroes it allowed in the ’70s?
It’ll be interesting to see whether the series draws inspiration from the comic or Zack Snyder’s film adaptation in terms of the original story’s ending. That’s the main area where the two versions diverge. In the comic, Ozymandias creates a fake alien monster, fooling the nations of the world into thinking that an alien invasion is imminent. In the movie, Ozymandias destroys several major cities in attacks made to look like the work of Doctor Manhattan. Either way, humanity is united against a threat it believes is imminent, but the nature of that threat is very different in each version. And depending on which version the series follows, it could have a major impact on the political and social makeup of 21st century humanity.
Rorschach’s journal serves as the biggest loose end in the original Watchmen. Just before his death, Walter Kovacs mailed his journal to the offices of the right-wing publication New Frontiersman, leaving behind a trail of evidence implicating Ozymandias. The final pages leave readers to wonder if the journal will serve its purpose. Will Rorschach achieve victory in death, exposing Ozymandias for his crimes? Or will the journal be dismissed as the ravings of a lunatic? Is world peace more important than the cold, uncompromising truth?
It’s very likely that Rorschach’s journal will serve as a major plot catalyst in the TV series. Perhaps it was ignored when it first arrived at the New Frontiersman, but after several decades some are starting to see the truth behind Ozymandias’ lies. The protagonists of the series may fight their own battle over whether to reveal the truth and risk destroying everything Ozymandias built. The journal could also inspire a new wave of costumed vigilantes who share Rorschach’s philosophy: “Never compromise. Even in the face of Armageddon.”
Descendants of the Minutemen
HBO has already revealed a numbering of casting choices for the new series, including Regina King, Don Johnson, Louis Gossett Jr., Adelaide Clemens, and Andrew Howard, but not which characters these actors will be playing. It’s unclear how much the series will focus on existing characters from the comic versus entirely new creations.
It’s probably safe to assume that the series will feature at least a few familiar faces from the original Watchmen. Rorschach and the Comedian may be dead, but presumably Nite Owl, Silk Spectre and Ozymandias are still alive. We could see the former two characters grappling with old age and the guilt they feel over helping Ozymandias maintain his lie. After 30 years, perhaps they’ll feel it’s time to let the truth be heard?
That said, expect the series to focus on a wide cast of new characters as well. Are there still costumed vigilantes in this future, or has Ozymandias rendered them obsolete? Have the Minutemen of old inspired newer, younger heroes to take up the cause? Did Dan Dreiberg and Laurie Juspeczyk have children that are now attracted to the superhero lifestyle?
All of the major costumed characters in the original Watchmen were inspired by Charlton Comics characters (Blue Beetle led to Nite Owl, The Question to Rorschach, Captain Atom to Doctor Manhattan, etc.). It’s possible that the new series will dive deeper into the Charlton Comics library to find new sources of inspiration. DC’s current Watchmen sequel, Doomsday Clock, has already done this. That series introduced Mime and Marionette, two villains inspired by classic vaudeville-themed baddies Punch and Jewelee.
Lindelof has made it clear that he has no intention to revisit the events of Watchmen in the new series, preferring instead to focus on new material. But that’s not to say that the series has to take place entirely in the present. The original comic established a rich universe with plenty of history that is only glimpsed over the course of 12 issues. There was an entire generation of heroes and villains before the days of Rorschach and Nite Owl II, all of whom have their own complicated back-stories. That’s to say nothing of the period where the main cast were active as superheroes before the Keene Act outlawed them entirely.
There’s a lot of ground for the series to cover via flashbacks. And luckily, DC has provided new insight into those missing years thanks to a project called Before Watchmen. Published in 2012 in the form of several miniseries, Before Watchmen explored the lives of heroes like Silk Spectre, Rorschach and Nite Owl before the events of Watchmen. DC also devoted an entire series to the original Minutemen. All of these comics could serve as a foundation for the TV series to flesh out the past of this universe and forge stronger bonds between different generations of vigilantes.
Another big question surrounding the series is how much, if any, involvement Doctor Manhattan will have in the plot. This all-powerful hero was instrumental to the plot of the original story, as well as in creating the tense political atmosphere that exists in that world in the first place. But at the end of the story, the being formerly known as Jon Osterman claimed that he was finished with humanity and wished to leave Earth in favor of creating life of his own somewhere else. Readers even got a glimpse of his early attempts in the Before Watchmen: Doctor Manhattan miniseries.
Will Manhattan stick to his promise and remain isolated from the affairs of men? Will the series introduce a threat so dire that even he feels compelled to return? Could Manhattan even become an antagonist in this future setting, as is the case with Doomsday Clock? Any of these outcomes are possible. But at the very least, expect Manhattan to cast a shadow over the series, especially if the world’s first superhuman winds up paving the way for others.
As mentioned, DC is in the midst of publishing a direct sequel to Watchmen called Doomsday Clock. This series offers some indication of where the TV series could be headed, even if a direct adaptation is highly unlikely.
Doomsday Clock is actually a crossover between the Watchmen universe and the traditional DC Universe. It’s come to light that Doctor Manhattan has been using his godlike power to meddle with the timeline of the DC Universe, removing pieces of time and testing whether the world can survive when crucial events and superhero relationships no longer exist. The series will ultimately culminate in a philosophical showdown between Superman and Doctor Manhattan.
Obviously, none of that material is likely to make its way into the TV series. It’s doubtful HBO even has the rights to include any DC characters. But Doomsday Clock does offer one take on how the world of Watchmen progressed after the events of the original comic. It’s established that Adrian Veidt’s fragile peace was destroyed almost immediately once Rorschach’s journal was published in 1992. Veidt, now dying of cancer, is forced to join forces with Mime, Marionette and the new Rorschach (eventually revealed to be the son of prison psychologist Malcolm Long) and find the missing Doctor Manhattan. The four escape to the DC Universe mere moments before renewed hostilities between the US and Russia erupt into all-out nuclear war.
Elements of Doomsday Clock could wind up working their way into the TV series, especially Rorschach II and his back-story. Watchmen just isn’t the same without Rorschach.
Jesse is a mild-mannered writer for IGN. Allow him to lend a machete to your intellectual thicket by following @jschedeen on Twitter, or Kicksplode on MyIGN.