WARNING: The following contains spoilers for the second episode of HBO's Watchmen, "Martial Feats of Comanche Horsemanship," which premiered Sunday.
Much like the original Watchmen, by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons, featured its own in-universe comic, Tales of the Black Freighter, HBO's television sequel boasts its own sensationalized show, American Hero Story: Minutemen. Advertised in the first episode, on a bus, by an airship and in a commercial, it finally premieres in the second, and by all accounts, it's gripping a nation. And it's easy to understand why.
A cross between FX's American Horror Story and an Investigation Discovery crime docudrama, American Hero Story is poised to pull back the curtain on the Minutemen, the team of costumed vigilantes that operated from 1939 until 1946. With an original lineup of Captain Metropolis, Silk Spectre, Hooded Justice, Nite Owl, Silhouette, Dollar Bill, Mothman and The Comedian, there's plenty of potential material to receive the tabloid treatment. However, the opening scenes may provide clues as to which direction the show will take, and from where it draws some of its inspiration.
The Body in the Water
Like Sunset Boulevard, American Hero Story opens with a narration from a purported dead man over footage of police discovering his body floating in water. In this case, it's Rolf Muller, a circus strongman from East Germany, washed up in Boston Harbor. Or is it? The narrator insists it isn't. "I just need people to think it is so they'll stop looking," he rasps. "I'm not ready to tell you who I really am. If I did, you wouldn't watch it 'til the end."
That's true enough, but when American Hero Story cuts to a scene with Hooded Justice foiling the robbery of a grocery store, it sort of tips its hand.
Under the Hood
The Watchmen comic series includes supplemental material in the form of excerpts from Under the Hood, the autobiography Hollis Mason, the costumed adventurer known as the original Nite Owl. The first three issues of the comic boast the first five chapters on the book, in which Mason chronicles his life before donning the mask, the formation and dismantling of the Minutemen, the arrival of Doctor Manhattan, and the ascension of Ozymandias.
In the fifth chapter, Mason speculates about the fate of the mysterious Hooded Justice, and raises the possibility that he was actually Rolf Muller, a prominent circus strongman who quit his job at about the same time the vigilante vanished, only to wash up three months later in Boston, with a bullet to the head. Mason alludes to an article in the New Frontiersman, a right-wing newspaper that has already appeared on the HBO series, that implied Muller, a suspected Communist, had been murdered by his superiors. However, he doubles down on the possibility that Muller was Hooded Justice, noting their similar builds. American Hero Story apparently subscribes to the same theory.
DC's 2012 prequel Before Watchmen took a different route, however. In Before Watchmen: Minutemen, by the late Darwyn Cooke, Mason details his exploits with the team in the 1940s in a miniseries that casts much of the information contained within Under the Hood in a different light. OK, it was outright lies.
Minutemen establishes definitively that Hooded Justice isn't Muller. Instead, the strongman is a serial killer of children who's investigated by Silhouette, with help from Nite Owl and Mothman. While later searching for Hooded Justice, The Comedian pores over Silhouette's casefiles, which leads him to the circus and Muller. He then strangles the strongman, which would seem to, um, shoot a hole in the New Frontiersman's article and Mason's theory that Muller and Hooded Justice are the same person.
Developed by Damon Lindelof, HBO's Watchmen stars Jeremy Irons, Regina King, Don Johnson, Tim Blake Nelson, Louis Gossett Jr., Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, Tom Mison, James Wolk, Adelaide Clemens, Andrew Howard, Frances Fisher, Jacob Ming-Trent, Sara Vickers, Dylan Schombing, Lily Rose Smith and Adelynn Spoon. The series airs Sundays at 9 p.m. ET/PT.