Alan Moore, Dave Gibbons, and John Higgins' Watchmen is widely considered to be one of the greatest comics of all time. While the plot, themes, and characters are widely praised for their dark tone and departure from the superhero comics of the Silver Age, the art also was a triumph of the medium. Because of the comic's intricate detail, both artistic and literary, it has often been called unadaptable. Zack Snyder himself ran into this problem with his own adaptation, which was, in a word, divisive with fans. So naturally, when HBO announced it was making a television adaptation, helmed by Lost and The Leftovers writer Damon Lindelof, fans reacted with some trepidation.
After all, this was a series that's been through the aforementioned previous adaptation, and DC Comics' attempt at a prequel with Before Watchmen. To top it all off, DC's Rebirth began to tease the integration of Watchmen into the main DC universe, and Doomsday Clock is a miniseries doing just that. Whether Doomsday Clock is successful or not is a matter for another article (or several), so we'll just be dealing with the upcoming Watchmen series. HBO and Lindelof are being pretty tight-lipped about it, but nevertheless, a few things have slipped through the cracks, officially and unofficially. Combine that with some fan theories, some speculation, and more than a little wishful thinking, and you've got yourself a pretty meaty list about all the juicy tidbits concerning the future of Watchmen adaptations.
THERE ARE SOME *POSSIBLE* SPOILERS IN THIS LIST!
After the show was announced, Lindelof made a series of Instagram posts detailing his history with the Watchmen comic, and his intentions for the series. By this point, we'd seen the character breakdowns, which led to some considerable head-scratching from fans.
The head-scratching turned to concern when Lindelof said that the series would not be a direct adaptation, but rather a "remix" of the original material. What this means for the series moving forward is completely up in the air, but fans maybe shouldn't expect something quite as visually similar as Zack Snyder's adaptation. Whether that is a good or bad thing is yet to be determined.
Before Lindelof's series was even a twinkle in HBO's eye, Zack Snyder directed his own film adaptation of Watchmen. While sometimes praised as being visually faithful, it also caught some flak for altering some major plot points and themes. Most of all, Snyder has been accused of misunderstanding large swathes of the plot, despite being so faithful to the look.
After the movie premiered to decent success, it is rumored that Snyder was offered his own Watchmen television series by HBO. What the series would have been about remains a mystery, though. It likely would have been vastly different from whatever Lindelof is cooking up, though.
As part of that multi-part Instagram open letter, Lindelof revealed that he had turned down two different offers from HBO to create a Watchmen series. With the third offer, he finally caved, and the Watchmen series was born.
The letter itself is mildly self-effacing, and mildly self-aggrandizing. After turning down the first two offers due to respect for Alan Moore's wishes that Watchmen not be adapted, Lindelof calls himself a hypocrite for accepting the third offer. Whether Lindelof's "remix" approach finds success where Zack Snyder and DC's own efforts have failed remains to be seen. Whatever happens, it's sure to be interesting.
Jeremy Irons' casting in the pilot has been the subject of much speculation and debate. An HBO and DC alumnus, his casting in Watchmen raised some eyebrows. Then, came his character description.
Now, this might be a bit of a reach, but a character called "The Blond Man," described as "highly intelligent and won’t let you forget it" and "physically fit, he’s never missed a workout in his life" sure sounds like Ozymandias, the mastermind behind the plot of Watchmen. This also lends further credence to the series being less of a direct adaptation, as Irons, at 69, is considerably older than the Ozymandias of the comic.
One of the big things about Watchmen is that a lot of fans consider it to be something of a sacred cow. While DC Comics is plowing ahead with little concern for what the fans think, HBO is being a little more cautious about it, especially after the lukewarm reception to the last adaptation.
For HBO's third offer to Lindelof, they instead offered just a pilot for now, in order to take it slow, as Lindelof tells it. A pilot would certainly be a good gauge of the viability of the series, and possibly a way to measure fan reaction and reception.
When the first tidbits of information about the series were coming out, one of the first things we saw was a list of character descriptions. Fans were immediately baffled, as all of them had nothing to do with Watchmen.
This led to theories and rumors that production was being kept so secret, that even the character descriptions themselves were red herrings, meant to distract from the true series. Maybe "Pirate Jenny" was related to "Tales of the Black Freighter?" Is "Looking Glass" an oblique reference to Rorschach? Once Lindelof posted his open letter, though, fans began wondering just what was going on with the series.
Some of the earliest information we got about the series was, naturally, the cast. We've mentioned Jeremy Irons, but there's also Don Johnson, Louis Gossett, Jr., Tim Blake Nelson, and Regina King, among many others.
One of the most immediately apparent differences between the cast of the show and the cast of the comic is the diversity. While there are a couple of black characters in the comic, the TV cast has a far greater number of black actors than there are characters in the comic, and quite a few more women than one would expect from a Watchmen adaptation.
Because HBO is being so secretive about the series, there has been no outright confirmation that the pilot is filming right now. But there have been a few leaked set photos that seem to confirm that the first stages of filming are in fact happening.
What this means for a potential release date is anyone's guess (like ours, in a later entry). But the pilot, at least, really is happening. And from what we've seen, Lindelof has stayed true to his word that it's not a direct adaptation. It's clearly set in Watchmen's world, but the set photos are a far cry from New York.
While Lindelof is heading up the writing team and showrunning responsibilities, the director of the pilot is just as important. And for those duties, HBO and Lindelof tapped Nicole Kassell. She's worked with Lindelof before on The Leftovers.
Along with a couple feature films (The Woodsman and A Little Bit of Heaven), she's also got a pretty extensive television resume. Episodes for The Americans, Better Call Saul, Westworld, and American Crime all provide plenty of evidence that she's no stranger to the sort of high-brow drama that Watchmen will inevitably be. Although hopefully it's more like Better Call Saul than the second season of Westworld.
The Watchmen series has been swirling around for several years at this point. Lindelof and HBO finally got it off the ground, and it entered pre-production in September of last year, and filming began this year.
With the pilot filming, the series is certainly a lot closer than it was a year ago. We still don't have an exact release date, but based on average turnaround times for other series, most speculation points to the full series coming in late 2019 or 2020. The latter makes the most sense, as HBO will have finally put Game of Thrones to rest in 2019.
One part of Lindelof's Instagram open letter was the promise that the series would be "contemporary." This naturally raised a whole lot of eyebrows, as the comic is very rooted in the Cold War. With a story so steeped in fear of nuclear war, Watchmen is very much a story of its time, despite its apparent timelessness.
Removing it from that setting and transplanting it to a more modern-day relatable context seems, to a lot of fans, to kind of miss the point of Watchmen. On the other hand, Lindelof might be seeing a lot of parallels between the state of the world in 1986 and the state of the world in 2018.
Oklahomans rejoice! While the series is still, at this point, just a pilot, from what information we have, it sure seems like the story will take place in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Characters are described as living in Oklahoma, and a leaked set photo shows a Tulsa newspaper (with a major spoiler).
Tulsa is pretty far removed from New York of the comics. What stories there are to tell so far from the center of the Watchmen universe are problems Lindelof is probably facing right now, and questions he'll have to answer pretty well for fans to be on board with the series.
One of the biggest changes going into the series is the lead role. With the casting of Regina King (The Leftovers, The Boondocks, American Crime), she was also announced to be a lead role.
Now, one of the immediate things you might notice about Regina King is that she is a black woman. Another little thing you might notice about Watchmen is that it most definitively does not have a black woman as a main character. Whether King is playing an existing character (the psychiatrist's wife being the only available option) or a new character of course remains to be seen.
While Lindelof and HBO are keeping their lips sealed on their Watchmen, DC Comics is blazing ahead full steam with their own Watchmen followup. In Doomsday Clock, Geoff Johns and Gary Frank are merging the Watchmen universe with the mainline DC Universe, bringing characters like Ozymandias and the Comedian into contact with Superman and Batman.
Whether Doomsday Clock is succeeding or failing is a matter for another article. But one rumor that abounds is the comic being a stealth marketing tactic for the HBO series. After some somewhat egregious delays, Doomsday Clock won't be wrapping up until July 2019, assuming there are no more delays. This, in turn, puts it pretty well in line to build hype for a late 2019 release for Watchmen.
Among much of the comic reading world, Watchmen the comic is near sacrosanct. To adapt is one thing, but to add, expand, and recontextualize, that's quite another. Undeterred by his own alleged standards, Lindelof is doing the supposedly unthinkable and adding to the story.
Among those additions, he tells us in his open letter, are new characters. Already from the cast and character lists we see new characters that could not possibly be directly from the comic. Who these new characters are, what their connection to the original story is, and what their role in the story will be, remains a mystery.
Remember way back in the intro, we mentioned possible spoilers? Well at this point, it's probably too late, but here we are. As with any hotly anticipated series or film, there are going to be leaked set photos. And one of those leaked set photos reveals a possible plot point in Lindelof's "remixing." If the photo is true, it's a pretty stunning turn.
A Tulsa newspaper announces: VEIDT OFFICIALLY DECLARED DEAD. Adrian Veidt, Ozymandias' real name, was the villain and mastermind of Watchmen. Whether Ozymandias is actually dead or not is of course not down to this newspaper, but it certainly points to the series being set at least partially in Watchmen's future.
When the character breakdowns were first revealed, fans started scratching their heads. Nearly all of the characters were described as cops. The head scratching comes from the comic, and its lack of major police characters. It was the first indication that the series might be a major departure from the comic.
Lindelof certainly seems to be taking inspiration from the Fargo television series, if his open letter is anything to go by. After all, the comic opens with two detectives investigating Comedian's murder. We'll just have to see how well a more police-focused story will work in the Watchmen universe.
While the series is still, at this point, just a pilot, there are still rumors abounding that the series will be an anthology, like American Horror Story or American Crime, set in the Watchmen universe, with various stories set before, during, and after the events of the comic.
After all, Lindelof has stated that the events of the comic won't really be directly adapted. And there's the rumors of an older Ozymandias, but also rumors of Hollis Mason. But at this point, just what exactly the series will be will likely remain rumors until we finally get to see it.
The very first set photos to leak showed Don Johnson as a police officer. Reportedly, the set he was filming on was a 1930s-esque New York. We know from the comic that Hollis Mason, the first Nite Owl, served as a police officer in the 1930s.
These set photos sparked the rumors that Johnson would play Mason. There's also a character breakdown describing the Old Man, "a former cop who is still an imposing figure despite his age." There's absolutely no confirmation of this, but it does lend credence to the anthology rumor. It certainly backs up Lindelof's promise of a remix.
Back to that Instagram open letter one last time. In it, Lindelof promises that the series is not a sequel or a prequel. In keeping with, or perhaps despite, this claim, everything we've seen and heard rumored thus far seem to point to it being both, somehow.
An announcement of Ozymandias' death, and Jeremy Irons possibly playing an aging Ozymandias, points to it being a sequel. But an older Hollis Mason as a police chief points to it being a prequel. The only honest thing we can say that we absolutely know about the Watchmen television series is that we have no idea what's going on.