We live in a world where cinematic universes are in vogue, comic book shows are more prevalent than ever, and the Avengers roster are household names. We’ve even had a Watchmen adaptation, much as we might prefer to forget about it. It was as faithful as any movie adaptation could be, but seemed to lack the essence of the graphic novel’s themes. DC’s various prequel series, Before Watchmen, also seemed like a squandered opportunity if not one that was sacrilegious. Aside from two or three of the mini series, most were OK and the rest were flat out awful. It’s this legacy that pushed the property out of my mind since.
Like the title says, “What else is there to say about Watchmen?” It’s one of the most important books in comics, its likely never to be topped, and in a sense, it ruined the superhero genre for Alan Moore. It was thought to be an unfilmable story, until Zack Snyder filmed a movie that was 85-90% accurate so someone else wouldn’t “ruin it” (even if he unintentionally ruined it himself). Of course there is always something to reexamine from the book, like reinterpretations of characters’ sexuality, or the metaphysical understanding of the universe by Dr.Manhatten, even what the story would’ve been like if Moore had used the Charleton Comics characters that the Watchmen were based on.
Next week, DC Comics and Geoff Johns will (hopefully) tie-up the in-universe explanation for the New 52 that was somehow caused by Watchmen teased in DC Rebirth #1 and the Batman/Flash: The Button crossover. It’s audacious, but a twist that almost no reader would’ve seen coming up to that point. DC has always swung for the fences in “fixing” continuity since Crisis on Infinite Earths, doing massive stories to justify undoing or retconning troublesome blights on the shared universe. These usually only act as stop-gaps, as they’re overall success is based on the quality of the story to buy time before the next continuity fix. This is the nature of the DCU; its vast, complicated, and necessitates a creative interpretation of continuity on the part of the readers. The idea that we need a narrative bridge from the New 52 to Rebirth is silly, like drawing a map route after you’ve arrived at your destination to where you started from. Especially when you consider how much more successful DC Rebirth has been compared to Marvel’s own similar initiative, the whole affair seems to court trouble.
When I ask whether there’s anything worth discussing about Watchmen, that doesn’t mean its not relevant anymore. Geoff Johns makes a compelling case for it in the trailer (since when did comic books need trailers?). We have an extremely polarizing man in the White House, the Russians are making power plays near their borders and here in our nation, the cost of energy is a constant discussion, and nuclear war is a daily concern for the first time in roughly sixty years.
In Watchmen, the year is 1985 and Richard Nixon has served four terms as POTUS. Superheroes were a fact of life for decades during and after World War II, and were outlawed six years previously. The world is at the brink of nuclear annihilation from Russia, held at bay by the only superhuman in existence who can manipulate matter itself. Despite not needing fossil fuels in the story, the world seems poised for conflict regardless out of tension and mistrust. Appropriately, the “hero” of the story is a lone neoconservative who holds proudly to his principals, even at the cost of world peace. Its alittle unfair to call anyone in Watchmen heroic in any traditional sense, indifference and impotency are recurring themes for the cast.
Take out superheroes and Richard Nixon, a lot of that material applies to today. That’s less a coincidence and more just human nature, “those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it”- George Santayana. History could be defined in terms of cyclical progressions playing out over the centuries, but that’s neither here nor there.
On the live-action front, Damon Lindelof is producing a tv-series based on Watchmen for HBO. While its at least a year away from premiering, its timing is curious. There’s enough material for the show to run as long as Game of Thrones, and that’s without including the prequel material (much of which could be ignored to the ire of no one). But since Zack Snyder’s movie already adapted most of the core plot, with little impact to general audiences, is there enough demand to merit a show? The quest for new comic properties is quantifiable, but in the case of superhero IP’s, the demand isn’t necessarily there.
Watchmen the film should’ve been as groundbreaking to cinema as its source material was to the Comics medium, yet it came and went unceremoniously. A TV show, though brimming with narrative potential, just doesn’t feel necessary. The fallout from the DC heroes interacting with the Watchmen universe is the only real wild card here, it could be a one-off event or be an annual tradition if the readers receive it well.
The risk of that is robbing the original series of what made it so special in the first place; it ended. It didn’t have several pointless sequels, or become part of the fifty-two Earths, even part of Multiversity other than as a homage. The world won’t end if Watchmen becomes less special, but it won’t automatically save the comics industry or DC either. Instead, we have one more bridge that has been crossed. One of the greatest comics becomes less unique as its characters get mined for a sales pitch for other more popular characters. All that’s left to do is continue to watch the clock and wait for midnight…