I love Watchmen. It’s one of my very favorite books of all time, despite everything its writer, Alan Moore, has done to retroactively tarnish it. V for Vendetta might have a better story, but Dave Gibbons’ art – which he, thankfully, has not disowned – elevates the revisionist superhero tale. I was old-school enough to read Watchmen in monthly installments, as a serial, when it came out, and I had a passage from Watchmen read allowed at my wedding, as my “science” speech to balance Julia’s “religion” one.
Zack Snyder’s movie is what it is – it could have been better in some ways, but it could have been worse in a lot more, and his casting was pretty spot-on. As a fan of the book, I would have preferred it to have a grittier overall look, but knowing that Snyder was trying to deconstruct the Schumacher Batman movies in the same way Moore had the Charlton comics, I got it. With the extended Black Freighter cut out there, I’m not sure we can ever hope for a better version, even if we imagine one is possible.
And then yesterday came a rumor that Snyder was talking to HBO about a Watchmen TV series – a rumor that was soon confirmed. The irony, of course, is that fans of the comic were calling for an HBO miniseries before there even was a movie, figuring it was the only way to do the full plot justice and keep all the rape and murder bits intact. But now, AFTER we got the movie – and spearheaded by the same guy? I can see a few ways to go with this, and like Old President Nixon in his bunker at DefCon 2, all I feel I can do is sit and wait for the worst.
1. Before Watchmen.
As much as I love Watchmen, I never had any desire to read the prequel comics and learn, apparently, how much Hollis Mason lied in his book, or how Laurie spent time with the hippies, or Jon and his dad escaped the Nazis. I don’t need that – everything important about the characters is there in the originals, from their origins to their greatest moments and final big challenge together.
Making a prequel is a way to include every key character and cast younger, cheaper actors, but unless you do a Gotham-style “preboot” in which you suddenly kill a significant player before they do the main thing they’re supposed to, it’s insanely predictable. But if you do that preboot, you’re saying you can tell the story better – or at least as interestingly – as Alan Moore. And if every cinematic take on his work so far has been any indication…you can’t. Don’t try. Or he’ll conjure a serpent god to eat you and your crew, and you’ll look up to the fans and cry out “Save us!”
If you’re any kind of Watchmen nerd, you know our response to that.
2. Watchmen II.
Maybe worse than the notion of a prequel is a sequel, though it’s an easy pitch. Jon creates human life that finds its way back to Earth in time to save new crimefighters Sam and Sandra Hollis from a conspiracy led by NYC-Event “Truthers” to expose what they believe to be the government’s role in faking the (ugh) Dr. Manhattan attack on New York. Inevitably they’ll turn out to be funded by Veidt himself, via the “Fair and Balanced” Veidt News Channel. It’ll culminate when the new Rorschach, “Inkblot,” hijacks the owl-ship to ram it into the White House, where Ronald Reagan is enjoying his fourth term despite total Alzheimer’s dementia, having run a final campaign that dismissed as “elitist” any notion that a man with a brain disease can’t understand regular folks.
Needless to say, this would be written by Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman. And it wouldn’t be much worse a blasphemy than the movie version of V for Vendetta.
New cast. Lower budget. Just re-adapt the whole book again, but as a 12-hour miniseries that crams in everything. Thee obvious downside is that you won’t likely get anyone who nails it the way Jackie Earle Haley, Billy Crudup and Jeffrey Dean Morgan did. On the plus side, you might find a better Laurie or Adrian. And I’m thinking this might be want Snyder wants to do – after years of hearing “Where’s the squid?” he wants to prove that he can make that cloned, psychic cephalopod work by any means necessary.
Do we have enough distance yet from the movie to make this interesting? I don’t think so. I would feel compelled to take a look, but any casual viewer who felt mystified by the movie probably won’t be swayed to see another take on the same material. Like burgers with borscht, it’s a hypothetical product whose time has not yet come.
4. Watchmen: 9/11.
Back when Paul Greengrass was still attached to make the theatrical movie, there was a script that opened with the original World Trade Center still standing in the present day, as an indication that history had taken another turn. What followed was Watchmen, but it was modernized. It’s hard to imagine such a quintessential Cold War comic being revamped that drastically, but it was under consideration, and could be again. Alan Moore was writing about the present in the original comics, and freeing them from the perception of being a weird retro-futuristic period piece might seem like a way to free the story. And if you could find a screenwriter as smart as Moore to do that, I’d be excited. But you cannot.
For one thing, you’d have to rejigger the big plan again – a world capital being attacked by aliens might unite global powers, but Islamic terrorists would see it as divine vindication, unless it destroyed Mecca. But Mecca won’t resonate so much for our characters unless we set the whole thing in the Middle East, and that’s not gonna happen. And then there’s the whole issue of real life – we know now that a catastrophic attack on New York will earn us the world’s sympathy for a short time, but before too long everything will go to hell again. Watchmen, however “realistic” in its implications relative to other superhero tales, only works in a fictional universe.
5. Watchmen: The Animated Series.
The simplest way to make a Watchmen nobody can object to is to make an animated series that directly imitates the book and uses all its dialogue – you can get creative on how to incorporate the end notes, but that’s about it. However, this has basically been done in motion-comic form already; there’s room for improvement (a female voice reading female lines would be nice), but not enough to justify a costly new investment.
Now, if you want to talk animated shows from within the world of Watchmen, I might be sold. Take Tales of the Black Freighter, or Ozymandias and the Ziggurat of Death, all with undercurrents of fascism. I would probably watch the shit out of those shows.
Or this, of course: