DC’s Watchmen is easily one of the most revered and controversial superhero graphic novels in the history of the genre. Taking place in an alternate 1980s New York, the story presents a harsher, darker universe where the superheroes and vigilantes dedicated to protecting society are nowhere near the clean-cut, cookie cutter heroes of comic book lore. Created by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons, the novel was eventually adapted into a film in 2009 by director Zach Snyder and writers David Hayter and Alex Tse, and while the film received mixed reviews, this writer believes it to be one of the best film adaptations of a graphic novel/comic book in existence.
Now, as we approach the premiere of HBO’s upcoming series based on the Moore/Gibbons classic, speculation as to what kind of universe will be presented in the series has arisen. Recently, HBO held a panel at the Television Critics Association for the series creator Damon Lindelof (The Leftovers, Lost) where he shared a few details regarding the alternate 2019 that will be displayed. Here’s what was explained by Lindelof himself:
Former Actor-Turned-President Is Not Reagan.
“Robert Redford is the president of the United States and has been the President in the world of the show since the early ‘90s since they’ve abolished term limits. We’re interested in exploring what would happen if a very well-intentioned liberal white man was President for way too long. Nixon was still president in ‘85. He remained president, was re-elected in ’88. He died in office. Gerald Ford became President as Nixon’s Vice President and then was defeated in ’92 by Robert Redford… Personally speaking as a white man, the idea that systemically our country would ever come to a place where there wasn’t an incredible amount of anger, pushback and vitriol about balancing the power scale between people of color and white people would be ridiculous. Nobody would ever swallow that. We’re trying to reflect where well-intentioned white people are trying to make things better and we’re now dropping the audience into the unintended consequences of that intentionality.”
“We’ve created a world that does not have an internet. People do not have smart phones. Even though it’s set in 2019, the Redford administration saw the writing on the wall and stepped in to make sure we could not troll each other… As a parent of a 12-year-old, the thing we talk about most amongst our peers is what affect is social media and screens having on our culture. That worry is embedded deeply in the thematics of the show.”
The Moore/Gibbons Graphic Novel Is Canon
“We’re not going to mess with it. It’s canon. We re-explore the past but it’s canon. [That’s] one of the rules that we had as storytellers, writers. Even once we got into production, everything that happened in those 12 issues could not be messed with. We were married to it so there’s no rebooting that.”
While the original comic focused heavily on the Cold War and the amount of hysteria surrounding two super powers, the setting of the upcoming HBO series is decades after that point. Lindelof received inspiration for the series topic after learning about the Tulsa Race Riot of 1921, as well as reading the Ta-Nehisi Coates book The Case For Reparations and reading The Burning.
“When I started thinking about what Watchmenwas going to be, in the original source material, the book was highly political. It was about what was happening in American culture at the time, even though presented by two British artists. What in 2019 is the equivalent of the nuclear standoff between the Russians and United States? It felt it was undeniably race and policing in America… That idea started to graft itself into the Watchmen universe and needed to be presented in a responsible way. My hope is over the course of the entire season, the nine episodes we’ve completed, you’ll have a much better sense of that. I think those contradictions were things we were very aware of in storytelling and tried to square to the best of our ability. There are no easy answers. There are no grandiose solutions. In a traditional superhero movie, the bad guys are fighting aliens. When they beat the aliens, the aliens go back to their planet and everybody wins. There’s no defeating white supremacy. It felt like a pretty formidable foe.”
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