WARNING: The following contains major spoilers for the latest episode of Watchmen, "This Extraordinary Being," which aired Sunday on HBO.
Much like Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons’ original comic book, HBO’s Watchmen began with a murder mystery. At the end of the first episode, Tulsa, Oklahoma, police Chief Judd Crawford (Don Johnson) was found hanging from tree. All we know was that, somehow, the old man found next to the body was involved. Subsequent episodes revealed that man, Will Reeves (Louis Gossett Jr.), is the grandfather of series protagonist Angela Abar, played by Regina King.
As the mystery of Crawford’s killer deepened, we learned more about Will, from his connection with eccentric billionaire Lady Trieu (Hong Chau) to a childhood tragedy that shaped not only his own long life but also the backdrop of the television sequel. However, it was clear there was more to Reeves’ past, and in this week's episode, “This Extraordinary Being,” we learn who Will Reeves actually was: Hooded Justice, the first costumed vigilante in the world of Watchmen.
Hooded Justice was introduced in 1986 in Watchmen #1. A founding member of the Minutemen, a group of costumed vigilantes that operated from the late 1930s well into the 1940s, Hooded Justice was the hero whose actions inspired those who came after him. As established in that issue's supplemental material -- a chapter from Under the Hood, the memoir of Hollis Mason, the original Nite Owl -- Hooded Justice launched his career in 1938 in New York City, when he rescued a couple during a mugging. Despite being active for years, the secret identity of Hooded Justice was never revealed. While Mason speculated the vigilante might have been the alter ego of German circus strongman Rolf Müller, that was never confirmed.
The mystery of the Hooded Justice's identity has been a continuous thread of HBO's Watchmen, running in the background as part of the sensationalized television series America Hero Story, which, as FBI Agent Dale Petey insists, is trash, and filled with historical inaccuracies. But “This Extraordinary Hero” sets the record straight.
Will Reeves, the boy orphaned by the 1921 Tulsa race massacre, became a New York City police officer in 1938. After arresting arresting a white man who fire-bombed a Jewish deli, Reeves discovered a white-supremacist group known as the Cyclops was operating not only in the city, but within the police department. His fellow officers beat him, placed a hood bag his head and hanged him from a tree, only to cut him down; it was a warning to stay out of their affairs. Reeves walked home that night, the noose still dangling from his neck and the bag clutched in his hands. When he encountered the couple being attacked in an alley, he tore eye holes in the bag, slipped it over his head to conceal his identity, and stopped the attackers. Thus, Hooded Justice was born.
Upon the advice of his wife, Reeves wore makeup around his eyes to make him appear Caucasian beneath the hood (the belief that Hooded Justice was white persisted into the modern era, as scenes from American Hero Story can attest). The revelation is massive, given that it changes what little Watchmen fans have known about the character for decades. However, it also helps to bring the HBO sequel's themes of race, injustice and duality into focus.
"This Extraordinary Being" underscores the drama's Superman metaphor when, in its nearly episode-long flashback, Reeves talks briefly with a newsagent reading Action Comics #1, the debut of the Man of Steel. Saved by his parents from certain death in the Tulsa massacre, Will Reeves grows up to become his world's first costumed hero, and the inspiration for his colleagues in the Minutemen. Among them, only Captain Metropolis knew Hooded Justice was black -- and then only because they were lovers. Secrets within secrets.
Developed by Damon Lindelof, HBO's Watchmenstars Jeremy Irons, Regina King, Don Johnson, Tim Blake Nelson, Jean Smart, 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.