Alan Moore's relationship with Watchmen has been rather tumultuous over the last 30-odd years. In an interview with Moore conducted by The Guardian shortly after the release of Zack Snyder's big-screen adaptation of Moore and Dave Gibbons' seminal work, the legendary comic scribe stated: "Things that we did in Watchmen on paper could be frankly horrible or sensationalist or unpleasant if you were to interpret them literally through the medium of cinema." Moore's sentiment is one he didn't always have, of course, but age, artistic integrity and financial disputes have changed that.
While Alan Moore may not be the best person to read the room when it comes to the current climate of comic books, his dismissal of a live-action version of Watchmen isn't an uncommon notion among a certain sect of comic fans. HBO's upcoming television show, which is being touted as a "remixed" version of Watchmen, is looking to muddy the already opaque waters with a story that appears to be a little more than tangentially related to the source material.
HBO's Watchmen has had a rather impressive marketing campaign thus far. The trailers and clips that have been released indicate the show will blend current social climate commentary, superhero iconography and clues to one of those mystery boxes Damon Lindelof loves to bury deep in the heart of his stories. Sure, thematically that sounds a lot like Watchmen: capes, crimes and conspiracies. But is it enough to warrant brandishing the name of one of the most highly regarded works in, not just the graphic medium, but across all of pop culture? Until fans finally consume HBO's offerings, the jury is out.
It's important to note, however, the most popular spinoff of Watchmen, Geoff Johns and Gary Frank's comic book sequel, Doomsday Clock, forgoes the moniker and takes its name from one of the concepts presented in its predecessor. After all, Doomsday Clock has a better ring to it than... oh, let's say Genetically Engineered Space Squid. Even better, it's a title that indicates what's on the page is a story that can stand on its own. It's impossible to tell if HBO's Watchmen will do the same.
From what the general public has seen, the teases of Watchmen's narrative looks to be married to the events of either the source material or the film adaptation, which begs the question, why call it Watchmen in the first place? The obvious reason for doing so is most likely brand recognition (and to vaguely annoy Alan Moore), but beyond a glimpse of Dr. Manhattan and an aged Adrian Veidt (played by the perfectly cast Jeremy Irons), the titular team of misanthropic and sycophantic superheroes is nowhere to be found. And why would it be any other way. If HBO's Watchmen takes place years after the events of the 1986 comic book series, this would mean two of the members are long dead and gone, and the others are either beyond the age of crime-fighting or hanging out on Mars.
HBO's Watchmen well could be a sequel to the cultural impact of the original story's broad strokes more so than a follow-up to what happened on the page or screen. Like the 2018 film Halloween, it asks us to embrace a film title we've seen twice by this point, but isn't a remake. Rather, it is a sequel to the original film and discredits everything that happened between then and now. Perhaps HBO's Watchmen is going to do the same.
Maybe in the show's canon, Doomsday Clock, Before Watchmen and Zack Snyder's adaptation don't count, but the idea of it being a "remixed" version of the world makes us wonder if maybe all of it is canon. Perhaps this will be closer to Sean Murphy's Batman: White Knight, wherein every iteration of the Dark Knight is recognized by the story being told, but is not a direct continuation of any of them.
Ultimately, the question of whether or not HBO's Watchmen should use the same title as the source material is inconsequential to the actual quality of the work once we finally see it. If the show is great, it can call itself whatever it wants. But until then, there's plenty of speculation to be had as to what function this show will serve beyond trying to turn Watchmen into a franchise instead of a standalone work of literary fiction.
Watchmen is important. There's no two ways about it; the title carries the weight of legacy.
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 will premiere Oct. 20.