Damon Lindelof Follows up the Vital Comic Book Series with a Searing, Masterful Examination of Race and Law Enforcement in America.
CREATED BY DAMON LINDELOF/2019
It takes superhuman confidence and perhaps a degree of hubris to attempt sequel-izing what is perhaps the single most highly acclaimed and highly regarded comic book series of all time. No one knows this better than DC Comics, the publisher of the comic in question, 1985’s twelve-issue limited series, Watchmen. For decades, this boundaries-shattering masterwork of writer Alan Moore and artist Dave Gibbons remained safely perched high above the Table of Ideas to actually pass muster for continuation. Such a thing would be akin to sequel-izing Hamlet. Who would ever dare such a thing??
Enter Damon Lindelof. Being a great fan of superhero comics and whatnot, the boldness of such a pitch was not at all lost on the LOST co-creator. His Watchmen follow-up is, like its source material, set in contemporary times, thirty-four years following the events of the original. Wisely, it is slow to reveal itself as a sequel proper, instead spending the first couple of its nine parts establishing new characters and the ins and outs of its through-the-looking-glass 2019. And most essentially, Lindelof’s follow-up did not originate as a comic book. It debuted in October of 2019 as a prestigious weekly limited series on HBO.
This is no alternate reality, comic book fans- HBO’s Watchmen series has actually been created, aired, and is now available for streaming to subscribers of HBO Max. (For a limited time, in honor of the African American issues and history it so effectively probes, it will be available for free on HBO.com starting June 19th, 2020). Met with sustained acclaim, the meticulously created series managed to accomplish what was previously considered improbable if not outright impossible. It is truly as fine a sequel to Moore’s and Gibbon’s Watchmen as anyone could ever hope for. To its credit, every location, prop, set, story arc and musical cue (right down to a most curious closing credits song for the final episode) is inviting the insatiable obsessiveness of true genre fans.
The specificity of their source material bears explanation: This is not a follow-up to Zack Snyder’s off-point 2009 film adaption. Where-as visual stylist Snyder had difficulty sinking his teeth into the vitality of Moore’s mature Cold War parable and its question-filled examination of the very concept of superheroes, Lindelof and company absolutely get it. And not only do they get it, they actually vindicate the controversial ending of Moore’s story, a surprise giant squid apocalypse engineered by a wealthy narcissist genius in a gravely successful attempt to stop the imminent midnight chiming of Cold War doomsday clock.
Snyder (perhaps understandably) saw fit to change this ending for his film, running with something a bit more in keeping with the narrative flow of the story up to that point. Therefore, it would indeed behoove those only familiar with the Watchmen film to catch up with the book. It’s not mandatory, per se, as the TV series explains its past quite organically. But that book nevertheless deserves a spot on your shelf, and classics always bears re-visitation.
Just as 1985’s Watchmen addressed uneasy issues of its day (the nuclear arms race, unchecked power, the consequences of taking the law into one’s own hands), so too does the HBO series. Starting with an extended flashback to the true-life Tulsa race riots and massacre of 1921, Lindelof and company imbue their narrative with bold thematic currents of modern racism, the deeply uneasy role of law enforcement, and the realities of generational trauma. All of this amid a world wherein the prolonged presidency of Robert Redford (mentioned but never seen) has resulted in an uprising of masked vigilante action by an Oklahoma militia devoted to the late unstable crime fighter Rorschach.
Oscar winner Regina King leads a note-perfect supporting cast (also featuring Jeremy Irons, Jean Smart, Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, Louis Gossett, Jr. and Tim Blake Nelson) as the undercover police operative Sister Night. Though the story is ultimately hers, characters both new and old are given their moments in this yellow sun. The series is a decidedly TV-MA affair, though refreshingly devoid of HBO’s typical propensity for cringe-inducing gratuitousness. And unlike LOST and other early Lindelof projects that wrapped without satisfying closure, Watchmen leaves deftly few threads hanging.
In the spirit of HBO’s Watchmen, the famous marketing tagline of the original comic book bears elaboration: Who watches the Watchmen? If you love intelligent high-end superhero fantasy that is challenging and exceptionally carried out, you should!