How HBO’s Watchmen breaks the mold of an already broken construct

Wanna feel like the smartest person in the room when talking about comics? Just bring up Alan Moore’s Watchmen and feel your nerd IQ rise by the minute as you name drop that thing from 30+ years ago that Time put on their best novels list so it’s now become impenetrable to any and all critique. The original Watchmen comic is like the kid that plays volcano in a match of rock-paper-scissors– it’s completely unexpected, yet so genius in both concept and execution that you can’t help but feel more inspired than mad at it. So much so that it’s become one of those properties you just feel awkward making fanart of because the series is just that untouchable. It has reached this special place in pop culture nerdery, transcending any real fan critique and demands reverence more than anything else.
At least that was before DC realized they could make more money off it. Following the sub-par 2009 movie adaptation, the floodgates for additional non-Alan-Moore-approved Watchmen sequels came into light. With prequels and sidestories and a current comic going as far as linking series god stand-in Dr. Manhattan to the creation of DC’s comic universe (just as dumb as it sounds), it felt like Watchmen was catching up with its 80s peers in spawning an endless supply of ungodly spinoffs and unwarranted merch, which in the case of Watchmen feels like that much more of a sin considering how anti-conglomerate the series is. It’s like seeing an again rocker come to accept the establishment that led to their inception and string of greatest hits in the first place– sad, a little bit awkward, yet still small-time enough to barely even make your own personal radar to really care one way or another.
Then… a light. Before its airing, HBO’s Watchmen was set up for so much failure. Alongside what’s become Alan Moore’s standard non-blessing to adapt/continue his original comic, was a rather childish retort from the showrunner in response, claiming “I’m channeling the spirit of Alan Moore to tell Alan Moore, ‘F— you, I’m doing it anyway.'” It was like watching a family argue at the dinner table and you’re not exactly sure if you should tough it out or uber home. Even the trailers themselves were this weird amalgamation of cryptic bullshit that you weren’t sure was high art or pure schlock. Everyone was so prepared to shit on this series and yet the first episode hits and bam, good episode. Next week comes around and “whadufuq, it’s still good.” And again and again every week until it finished and you’re just sitting there like a dumbass in the afterglow of the spectacle you just witnessed.

HBO’s Watchmen is a particularly fascinating beast in that it’s good 100% on it’s own merit, with the fact that it’s a comicbook sequel being a footer note at best. While the series itself is absolutely drenched in throwbacks and Easter eggs and references and other clickbaity subject matters, I would argue that it could survive without all that because its core is just that powerful. You have the built-in pretentiousness of an HBO show working in tandem with the pretentiousness of a highly regarded 30 year old comic and together they work to create this uniquely weird, dramatic, sad masterpiece.
Remember when Amazon streaming started adapting Man in the High Castle and how it was kinda interesting until the premise ended up feeling too painfully real after the election? HBO Watchmen is like the opposite of that. It works on account of it has its pulse on the shittiness that is modern America and it’s able to show you this equally shitty alternate modern reality that’s juuuuust good enough for you to consider wanting to be part of that world instead. Taking absolutely everything the original comic established, the HBO show presents a 2019 world still reeling from the effects of the long line of deceit the original had plotted out back in the 80s. Now in a world averse to technology, we’re stuck in this radio communication era that’s become more focused on bettering the world based on correcting wrongdoings from the past rather than starting anew with technology for the future. What results are white supremacists under a very different world context, and an overarching story that pretty much tricks you into watching what develops into a full-on comicbooky comic book adaptation come its final two episodes.
Where the Watchmen comic has you witness a sole person follows through on a worldwide scale atrocity, the HBO show makes YOU consider the atrocity for yourself alongside the repercussions that world must endure.

About daemoncorps
Gabe (daemoncorps) has been writing about anime and the like since 2005, but has been babysat by it for much longer. He primarily spends his days distracting himself on twitter or writing for Fandom Post until he realizes he has a weekly webcomic (tapastic.com/series/scramblebouquet) to work on. He also just finished writing his first full-length graphic novel about unemployment (https://tapastic.com/episode/293804).

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