Friday, December 13, 2019

HBO's WATCHMEN is Daring and Explosive

Retaining the "deconstruction of the hero" theme from Alan Moore's 1986 graphic novel, originally published as a series of 12 comic book issues titled Watchmen, and with subtle nods to the motion-picture based on the same novel, Damon Lindelof brought back the concept faithfully with a brand new story. Watchmen, in my opinion, is one of the ten best reads -- ever. The 2009 motion-picture was as faithful as it could be from the printed page but I noticed over the years that everyone who read the book loved the movie. Everyone who never read the book, hated the movie. With that in mind... if you never read the graphic novel, the new HBO mini-series will not be your cup of tea. But having watched all nine episodes of this new mini-series, it is fantastic.

Moore initially conceived of the story as a means to reflect contemporary anxieties and satirize the superhero genre, emphasizing that the majority of heroes fighting crime were masked vigilantes -- until the spawn of Doctor Manhattan. Considered one of the 100 greatest reads of the 20th century, the 12 comics were later combined to form a graphic novel which has gone into more than two dozen printings and the estimated sale of more than two million copies. Moore himself was against the 2009 motion-picture, claiming there were certain aspects that could only work in a comic book and never translate to film. DC Comics and Warner Bros., however, have since produced a number of spin-off comics based on the characters from Watchmen, including this new HBO mini-series (consisting of nine episodes).

As a fan of Damon Lindelof, the same man responsible for Lost and The Leftovers, I was excited by the prospect.

This rendition takes place in an alternative 2019, 34 years after the end of events from Alan Moore's Watchmen, now primarily set in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Due to liberal policies set by President Robert Redford to provide reparations to those affected by racial violence, including massive wholesale slaughter in the streets in 1921, white supremacist groups following the writings of Rorschach (a character from Watchmen for whom his story went to print after the climatic cover-up) attack the police that enforce the law, leading to controversial laws requiring police to hide their identity and wear masks. Yes, if the identity of policemen were publicly known, they would become targets for domestic terrorists. This has allowed new masked vigilantes to fight alongside the police to combat the supremacists, with permission from law enforcement, since they were banned from service decades ago. Along the way we have a murder that might have been created to set off a chain of events, using the most deadliest of weapons known to mankind -- fear. 

Moore's love for the Silver Age of comics was dominant in his story, a love of superheroes who fought for truth, justice, and the American way. His heroes, however, presented a darker side of justice where lollypops and rainbows is nothing more than a mask for what happened behind closed doors. They lied, conspired, committed adultery, and beat up bad guys when there was no cause simply because they had to adhere to a code. This HBO mini-series clearly establishes the question of law and order -- not everything is black and white. And yet, the subplot that builds tension in the new America is about black and white. You know that little grey area where law and order involves third-degree methods by police and wholesale slaughter of domestic terrorists that is never questioned by a higher court? Welcome to Watchmen.

Some of the characters from the original comic appear in person such as Silk Spectre, now an official agent for the FBI. Adrian Veidt, a.k.a. Ozymandias, now known as "Lord of a Country Manor," is seen briefly in each episode working on some project that means he is up to his old tricks again. What he is planning now will be revealed at the conclusion, I have no doubt. Doctor Manhattan is due to arrive in some shape or form based on previews, but we will have to wait to see the arrival of the superhero deemed by many as a God. (Not a spoiler but episode eight is entitled "A God Walks Into a Bar.")

HBO reported the premiere of Watchmen was the largest in the network's history. Good news for those hoping for a second season, which would also include an entirely new self-contained story arc. Lindelof reported this season is self-contained and concludes with episode nine. So if you are a fan of Watchmen and were on the fence about watching this, make the effort. Lindelof captured the spirit, feel and content that made Alan Moore's graphic novel a fantastic read.

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