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Watchmen: What Happened Between the Comic & the HBO Series

When it comes to comic book adaptations, it's difficult to imagine that there are bigger shoes to fill than Watchmen. the seminal 1986 miniseries by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons. HBO's new television sequel had its work cut out for it in advancing a story many regard as complete, and, yes, sacrosanct. In attempting to do just that, and doing it right, showrunner Damon Lindelof created a series bible that fills in the gaps between the conclusion of the comic and opening of the show. Now HBO has offered a glimpse into that backstory.

Named for the character Agent Dale Petey, who has yet to appear on the series, Peteypedia is a collection of documents that sheds light on how the events of the beloved comic shaped this alternate-history world. Thus far the website consists of four documents: an internal FBI memo; a museum article about the Trust in the Law movie serial; Adrian Veidt's obituary; and an FBI memo by Agent Petey about Veidt.

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But, of course, to understand what happened after the comic, it might be worth recapping where that story left off.

What Happened in the Watchmen Comic?

Watchmen is sent in 1985, in a world on the brink of nuclear annihilation. Although costumed vigilantes were outlawed years earlier, some resume their identities following the mysterious death of their former teammate, the Comedian. Most suspicious of all was the mentally addled Rorschach, who in the course of his investigation uncovered a plot by the genius millionaire Adrian Veidt, aka Ozymandias, to fake an alien invasion that would unite the world's nations against a common enemy.

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Veidt successfully teleported a genetically engineered squid monster into the heart of New York City, where its death released a psychic shockwave that killed millions. Determined to expose the conspiracy, Rorschach died shortly after confronting Vedit, but not before mailing a journal detailing the findings of his investigation to the New Frontiersman, a right-wing newspaper prone to conspiracy theories. At the end of the comic, the planet was abandoned by the omnipotent, super-powered being Doctor Manhattan, Veidt's chief opponent, as he had become discontent with a complicated, earthly existence.

HBO's drama picks up 34 years later. Each of the four documents contained on Peteypedia hold a varying degree of information about what unfolded in those intervening decades, but together they help to form a cohesive-enough picture that they're worth poring over.

Technology in Watchmen's World

The internal memo from the FBI director helps to capture the state of technology in the Watchmen universe following Doctor Manhattan's departure. Part of what prompted Manhattan's discontent with life were the accusations (propagated by Veidt's conspiracy) that his powers created a carcinogenic effect on those around him. Because much of technology's advancement at that point depended on materials provided by Manhattan, the suspicious surrounding the cancer-causing effects of the tech was monumental.

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The memo partially details the Luddite movement in America following the accusations, which accounts for how unpopular computers and many electronics were in the ensuing decades. While computers, digital files and "El-Mail" still see use within the government, they are apparently not technologies available to the public.

'Trust in the Law'

The second document is an academic analysis of the Trust in the Law film serial, seen in the opening scene of Watchmen's premiere. The document helps account for the racial elements integral to the HBO drama's thematic structure, and explains the importance of a film starring a black lawman to African-Americans during a racially charged time. The film apparently debuted just a week before the Tulsa Race Riots, meaning the child seen quoting it in the first episode had watched it several times over the course of the week before the riots brought tragedy to his life.

RIP Ozymandias?

The obituary of Adrian Veidt teases out a mystery that the first episode sets up: the apparent death of Ozymandias. The obituary accounts for much of Veidt's life and public persona, recounting events of the source material, but expands beyond that, to what took place following the "alien invasion" he staged. Veidt was evidently a major source of charitable relief in the aftermath of the attack, but struggled against the Luddite trends that the previous FBI memo detailed.

Evidently, much of Veidt's hope for the future involved humanity tapping into its potential and embracing the fruits of technology, but given America's distrust of anything related to Doctor Manhattan, much of Veidt's ambition was spoiled. The ripple effect was that corporations that once profited from Veidt's ability to predict economic trends began to suffer, so it remains a question whether Veidt accounted for any of that before his apparent death.

And "apparent" is definitely the right word. Jeremy Irons' character, who appears in the premiere episode, is of course Veidt, living in seclusion ... somewhere. But the fourth document on Peteypedia is another internal government memo advising against officially classifying Veidt as "deceased." Without a body, the memo makes it clear that even people in-universe have extreme doubts as to his demise.

The memo, apparently ignored, even mentions how making Veidt's death official would only spur on the conspiracy theorists who so doggedly blame him for the alien-invasion conspiracy. That confirms that not only did Rorschach's journal make it to publication safely, but that those who believe in it are are largely dismissed as radicals and quacks, just as Rorschach himself was. The irony here is clear, as the Seventh Kavalry establishes itself as the series' primary antagonist, the memo may hold the answer to why.

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