Trent Reznor is what hooked me. And the battle against racism reeled me in. As most of you know here, I am NOT a fan of superhero movies. Of really any stripe (Though I couldn’t stop fawning over the recent Joker movie which I adored. Absolutely loved!) or variety. But when Lisa told me I should take a look at it – and I saw that Trent and Atticus Ross did the soundtrack, that was enough to hook me. (You did see Vietnam? Have you heard the soundtrack for that? So good.) So today, the world of HBO’s Watchmen recommendation will be our topic du jour.
So yeah, I watched episode 1, and was totally blown away with where the show is going. Kind of reminded me of a superhero version of the Handmaid’s Tale. Which, you all know that I adored. What is funny about my not loving superhero movies is that I was an enormous comic book dweeb back in the day. I sort of eluded to it over on my Joker post – but yeah, I spent all kinds of time at my local book shop. Heck, I remember being the last guy in line to get his quota of the new Death of Superman book – and turning around and selling one of them to the guy behind me for $100. Seriously. I have buddies still around that can corroborate that this happened. Which, was a brilliant life choice because today it’s not worth but like $30 mint. (OH SHOOT! hahaha. My CGC 9.8 black bag Death Of is worth $300?!? When did that happen?!)
Regardless, (I digress) I have a tip for everyone out there wanting to get in on the Watchmen HBO fad. HBO’s Watchmen is set 30 years AFTER the original Watchmen comic books. I really don’t want to spoil the original Watchmen comics – and if you’d like to read them, you can do so right here. I believe that is a legit link. If not, let me know and I’ll take it down and send you individualized address locations to your nearest comic book stores. SUPPORT LOCAL COMIC STORES!!! I’m such a dweeb.
The Backstory of HBO’s Watchmen
One of the most delicious elements that really makes this world so good is the marinated universe episode one starts off in. The world of Watchmen is so good. Even if you have never read the books you will realize that really important things have happened in this alternate universe that has fragmented from our own. The world most resembles the eighties, but that is due to a divergence that occurred in 1938. It was the Watchmen’s appearance that seemed to dramatically affect the outcome of our past historical events. I.e., – Vietnam becomes a state, and Nixon’s presidency isn’t cut short – in fact, he’s still president in 1985 even. And one of the main reasons that I love the series is because although there are “superheroes” none of them have superpowers per se. Well, minus Manhattan, and he is seclusion, on Mars, for HBO’s series it would appear.
When the original Watchmen story begins, Manhattan actually provided the United States with a fantastic advantage against the Soviet Union, which dialed the cold war to an eleven. And it is due to Manhattan, and the Watchmen, that superheroes become very unpopular and are eventually outlawed. This sends most of the “superheroes” into hiding or retirement (yes, yes, this is the story of Incredibles…it’s a fairly well used trope in comic books, deal with it.) but Manhattan, Rorschach and The Comedian continued to operate outside the law.
Quick Original Watchmen Spoilers – avert your eyes if you want to remain untainted wrt the original comic. The critical details you need to understand is that Veidt had enacted a plan to save all of planet earth from global thermonuclear war (“SHALL WE PLAY A GAME?!?”) by creating a false attack by aliens in New York. He figured the fake attack would annihilate half of New York, but would ultimately bring together the world (and by extension, all the superheroes) against the assumed common enemy. But when Veidt reveals he had murdered The Comedian, caused other friends of the Watchmen to get cancer, killed Moloch, and had staged a fake attempt on his own life in order to place himself above reproach, Nite OWl and Rorschach are none too pleased. But with the plan already launched – whachoo gonna do? Right. When other superheroes confront Veidt he shows them news broadcasts proving that his plan is working!! The World is peacefully working together! One round of Hark the Herald everyone!! But Rorschach isn’t having any of that. He’s going to reveal the truth. So he is confronted by Manhattan, and declares that Manhattan is going to have to kill him in order to keep him from loosing the truth…and so he does. Hahah. And with that the world is saved from the truth. EXCEPT! Back in New York, the editor of the New Frontiersman is out looking for material for the paper. And as the books end, the editor finds Rorschach’s journal detailing the entirety of the plan and chaos that happened. – End of the Watchmen Spoilers.
HBO’s Watchmen Sequel Explained
Detail number one you need to understand is that Damon Lindelof, the co-creator of LOST with J.J. Abrams, is the creator behind the magic that is HBO’s sequelized series from the original. The show begins with the Tulsa race riots of 1921 – which, were a suppressed uprising against the richest black neighborhood in America after a black shoe shiner was lynched. Want to dive deeper, dive here. This ultimately led Robert Redford, the president of the United States (think of him as a stand in Trump role maybe?) to roll out reparations for racial violence in the United States. (Which are universally called Redfordations.) Three years prior to the beginning of the show, the Seventh Kavalry (who wear Rorschach masks from the original series to protect their identity and pay homage to the KKK) attack cops, which starts cops protecting their identities by wearing masks as well. And Veidt, the world’s smartest man? He’s back, played by Jeremy Irons, and lives the life of a recluse…but I’m sure he will be up to no good soon enough.
But it is the brilliantly done racial tensions that glued me to the screen from the start. Superheroes don’t do it for me (I’ve spent enough ink on this topic) but race relations and civil rights? Yes, please, may I have another. Which is why I have said that the show is similarly positioned to that of the Handmaid’s Tale. Handmaid’s (the book as well as the show…have any of you read the new sequel to her brilliant novel? Oh, so much Offred goodness. But that is a different topic for a different day.) And so we have a war brewing between the Tulsa police and the right winged Seventh Kavalry. And all of it surrounded by trappings of authoritarian presidentialism that is intent on weakening the police and strengthening those already in power.
This is a comic book based television show that I could watch all day long. Especially seeing as though all ‘real’ superheroes are gone. I’m sure Manhattan will make an appearance, but I’m doubtful that he will tip the balance like he did in the original series. But, this is a safe way to discuss racism in our world today, by talking about this “alternate reality.” Which, could just be a discussion about where we are mentally – where our hearts are. If that makes sense. It’s almost as if Watchmen is investigating the conditions of the hatreds and predilections of our hearts. There isn’t much grey area in Watchmen. You are either a full blown racist working for the Seventh Kalvary, or you are fighting them. Handmaid’s sort of worked the same way…either you are for women’s rights, or you are trying to reproduce with one who is imprisoned in your house. It’s a stark conversation. A conversation that is all the more poignant as a result of the political world we live in of “protectionism” today. That’s all I’ll say on that front.
So yeah – I’m really digging the show so far. No idea where Lindelof is going to take it. And I’m even 100% OK with his breaking from the past books and going his own way. As long as it stays true to the first episode and the issues it has told us it wants to tackle, I’m all in. But that’s just me, what did you think of the first episode and where this thing might be going?
Edited by: CY
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