Well, it’s that time again–some schmuck is trying to add something to Watchmen. Actually more than one schmuck as it turns out, but we’ll get to that in a minute. I want to open with an opinion (this whole thing is an opinion mind you): Watchmen by Alan Moore and David Gibbons is not in any way shape or form overrated. Say what you will of the movements it influenced, the radical stances its creators have taken, and the philosophy it may or may not espouse, the Graphic Novel remains not only a watershed moment for the medium but a book that is as engrossing and unforgettable as it was when it was first released in 1986. It’s surrounded by the swirling miasma opinions so grand a work is always bound to elicit. Some find it dull (it does have prose chunks), some find the ending odd (or in the opinion of the book’s late editor Len Wein, a ripoff), and others simply think its overhyped. To each and every one of them I say, with no humility, that they are wrong and the book is a masterpiece.
It has been such a masterpiece that in this media landscape where any chunk of unclaimed territory is up for grabs, a number of attempts have been made to cash in on its prowess. There’s the most successful expansion Zach Snyders beautiful but hollow film adaptation. There’s DC Comics ill-received Before Watchmen line of prequel comics which are all but forgotten about despite the ire they raised. And this year, there two more attempts to make something more out of Moore and Gibbons world.
Over at DC Geoff Johns is hard at work on The Doomsday Clock a prestige event book that uses the Dr. Manhattan character as a villain to explain the recent cosmic continuity reboot called Rebirth. Meanwhile, Damon Lindelof, late off of the success of The Leftovers at HBO is making a Watchmen series at selfsame network. Both of these creators are divisive (Geoff Johns is known as an over-enthusiastic continuity nut with a penchant for depicting graphic violence) while Damon Lindelof has somehow mapped out a corner of the internet entirely devoted to treating him poorly. So it goes without saying some reactionary types aren’t happy about these developments. But now it’s my turn to give my two cents worth (in reaction, as a reactionary even). As it turns out, I’m not happy.
I don’t think anything, at this point, can be done to hurt the original work. It’s been in print since it came out (much to Alan Moore’s chagrin) and the various expansions have all quickly faded away leaving the central kernel of Watchmen untouched. So there’s no reason to be all that upset. But being reasonable, there’s also not much to be gained from the developments. In the case of DC comics, Watchmen works so very well as its own separate entity (already indebted to existing DC characters) that adding them onto what will no doubt by a middling, cosmic adventure will only serve to highlight the overreaching that Johns is known for. One could make the argument that the whole event is a statement on the legacy of Watchmen with Dr. Manhattan’s role in perverting the DC Universe as metaphor for Watchmen’s role in making comics gritty in the late 80s and early 90s. But if this is the implied subtext, it’s a bad idea as the over-gritty recent mistakes of DC (in the form of New 52) falls squarely on Johns shoulders and can in no way be tied to Watchmen.
Frankly, adding Watchmen to an existing comics continuity is roughly akin to trying to make Lord of the Flies into a blockbuster action film (somewhere, as I type this, Dough Lyman is getting ready to sign onto and then drop out of the first film in a LotF cinematic universe). Watchmen is a novel–a self-contained, sophisticated, not-at-all superheroic novel. It won’t be fit into DC comics without breaking something Johns won’t be willing to break.
This brings us to Lindelof and HBO’s series. I know nothing about this series (no one does). We don’t know the tone, we don’t know the cast, we don’t know how it will differ from Snyder’s version, and we don’t know what Lindelof sees as his room to make his mark. We know it can’t be more visually faithful than Snyder’s version (if there’s anything that movie was, it was visually faithful). We know it can’t be more rich and daring than Moore’s comic (seriously, read it if you haven’t). It could be more bloody and have more graphic sex (Watchmen has a bit of both, but doesn’t share HBO’s desire to rub your face in it). It could be more drawn out, taking the 12 chapters of the book and turning it into a slow-moving series. And, frankly, it could be a really well-done and faithful recreation of the series. The point is, I don’t want it and don’t really have any interest in it.
Lindelof won a vocal fanbase with The Leftovers (and thank God, the guy really needed a vocal fanbase) which I’ve not seen. I didn’t like his work on Lost or Prometheus but he was just one writer in a larger group on both. Frankly he seems like a nice, hard working guy who probably really likes the comic he’s adapting. But I don’t really have any interest in his vision of the series. It doesn’t stand to improve on the book which is already a visual work. Watchmen isn’t a story that invites different takes on its characters in the way Spider-Man or Batman might. Watchmen is the singular vision of one creator in his prime. It’s a work with a voice, a direction, and a philosophy (a dark, twisted nihilistic philosophy).
It’s already prestige television.
I won’t be up-in-arms when this comes out (and likely garners huge acclaim, if I had to guess, it fits into some theories I have about hype and hype backlash). I won’t be mad if it’s terrible and I definitely won’t be mad if it’s great. But I also won’t watch it. I don’t really see the point.