HBO’s new made its debut last Sunday to and many, many questions. It’s understandable if you’re puzzled with the first episode, as the original 1986 comic still has fans raising questions. It doesn’t help that showrunner Damon Lindelof is known for shows such as Lost and The Leftovers, which skew toward the mysterious side.
Those who read the Watchmen comic likely recognized references in the show that went over the heads of non-readers. This guide will help explain how the comic and show tie together and answer other questions those new to the Watchmen universe may have.
What is Watchmen?
Comics and written by Alan Moore and drawn by Dave Gibbons. It’s considered one of the greatest comics ever, and in 2005, Time included it as part of its 100 best English-language novels published since 1923. It was the only comic to make the list.was a 12-issue limited series comic released in 1986-1987 by DC
To be a bit cliche about it, Watchmen is the Citizen Kane of comics.
There were numerous attempts to adapt the comic into both a TV show and film, but all failed until 2009’s Watchmen directed by Zack Snyder. It’s considered a faithful adaptation, but fans of the book took issue with parts of the film.
Who is Alan Moore?
Alan Moore is widely considered the greatest comic book writer. His works such as V for Vendetta, From Hell and The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen have been adapted into movies, and he’s been vocal about how much he’s hated those films.
Before writing Watchmen, Moore made a name for himself when DC Comics brought him in to write The Saga of the Swamp Thing in 1983. His successful run led him to write two issues of Superman — For the Man Who Has Everything and Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow? — and to his own comic series. Not long after he finished Watch, Moore wrote another momentous comic in 1987, retired from writing comics in mid-2019 after the release of The League Of Extraordinary Gentlemen, Volume IV: The Tempest.. He officially
So what’s the story of Watchmen?
First, let’s look at the characters:
Rorschach: The de facto “hero” of the book. He’s a vigilante who dresses up like a detective in the ’30s but wears a mask with black paint on it similar to a Rorschach test. His real name is Walter Kovacs and he spends his day unmasked, carrying a sign saying “The End is Nigh,” while at night fighting crime. He has no superpowers, but he does have an unshakeable sense of justice that leads him to cripple, maim and kill any criminal.
Like other characters in the comic, he’s based on previously created comic book characters. Namely two made by comic book legend Steve Ditko: The Question and Mr. A. Both were detectives, with the former known for wearing a mask that makes him look faceless.
Dr. Manhattan: In Watchmen, Dr. Manhattan is the only one of the heroes with actual powers. So much power that he’s practically a god. He was born as Jonathan Ostermann, and an accident caused him to change into a being who could control matter to create or destroy anything. It’s this god-like power that led Dr. Manhattan to become less human and uncaring about other people. Like Rorschach, Dr. Manhattan is based on another Ditko character known as Captain Atom, who could use and manipulate energy.
Nite Owl: Daniel Dreiberg is the second Nite Owl, the first being Hollis T. Mason, a cop during the ’30s who caught criminals at night. Daniel wanted to carry on the name so he sought out Hollis, who allowed him to become Nite Owl II. The second iteration of the hero made more use of technology and even had his own owl-shaped flying vehicle called Archimedes. Once the Keene Act of 1977 made heroes illegal, Daniel lived life as a civilian until Rorschach paid him a visit to talk about the death of the Comedian.
While Nite Owl has many similarities to Batman, especially in the 2009 film, Moore based the character on the Golden Age of Comics hero Blue Beetle.
The Comedian: Edward Blake’s murder starts the events of Watchmen. He’s a cynical hero who’s brash and abusive to both the good guys and bad guys. The Comedian worked extensively with the US government and supposedly is responsible for various black-ops assassinations. In the original Watchmen comics, it’s hinted he assassinated John F. Kennedy, while in the movie it clearly shows he did. However, in the Before Watchmen comics, a series of comics released in 2012 acting as a Watchmen prequel, he’s seen as being friends with the Kennedys and shocked when JFK was killed.
Moore based the Comedian on The Peacemaker, a character for Charlton Comics, which was later acquired by DC. He also gave him a look similar to Marvel Comics’ Nick Fury.
Ozymandias: Adrian Veidt was born into a wealthy family but gave up this fortune at the age of 17 to discover himself. He went to Egypt and learned of Rameses II, who became his hero. He then came to the US and started to train himself physically while also building a fortune. He became a vigilante known as Ozymandias and was known as “The Smartest Man on Earth.” He gave up his alter ego due to the Keene Act and lived his life as a wealthy humanitarian, although things change during the comic.
Silk Spectre: Laurie Juspeczyk is the daughter of Sally Jupiter, the original Silk Spectre. She was forced into the hero business by her mother and eventually met up with the previously mentioned characters. There she struck up a relationship with Dr. Manhattan and the two are living together.
In the comics, a memory of Laurie meeting The Comedian and the ending to the book confirmed that her real father was The Comedian. Sally was almost raped by him when they first met, but at some point in the past, the two were together and she still loved him.
Spoilers for a 33-year-old comic
An aging hero known as The Comedian is killed in his apartment in 1985. A former cohort of his known as Rorshach investigates the scene and figures someone is killing costumed heroes. He goes to find other heroes he worked with: Nite Owl, Dr. Manhattan and Silk Spectre.
They ultimately discover that another former teammate, Ozymandias, was behind an elaborate plot to save the world by his own terms. He had a team of scientists create a giant squid-like creature that was transported to New York City, killing millions. His plan was that the strange monster would convince the US and Soviet Union to announce a peace treaty to fight off what would be considered aliens, thus saving the world from possible nuclear armageddon between the two superpowers.
Ozymandias had to keep his plan a secret and thus had to personally kill The Comedian, who had stumbled across an island where he saw parts of the ultimate plan being worked on.
Rorschach, Nite Owl and Silk Spectre tried to stop Ozymandias and failed. Dr. Manhattan eventually appeared, but he saw the benefits of the plan thus didn’t see a reason to interfere. Rorschach, with his sense of justice, wanted to tell the world of the crime but was killed by Dr. Manhattan. Nite Owl and Silk Spectre were at a loss over the whole ordeal and fell in love. The two went on their own to be regular civilians with new names. Dr. Manhattan left Earth permanently and a written account of the whole plan by Rorshach was sent to a news outlet although it was never answered on whether it would be published for the public to see.
That plot summary, of course, doesn’t portray the sheer amount of character development, themes and nuances Moore included in 12 issues. However, it does give a bite-size synopsis to better understand the show.
The difference between the movie and comics
Watchmen was one of those properties that always seemed impossible to make but Zack Snyder gave it a shot in 2009, and depending on your devotion to the comic, it was either incredibly faithful or a complete hack job. The film was incredibly faithful to its source material with much of the dialogue and scenes taken directly from the comic, but there was one big change made to the ending.
Instead of a squid-like creature created and sent to New York, Ozymandias planned for several attacks across the globe to appear to have come from Dr. Manhattan. Snyder says the reach for this change was how long it would require to explain the plan.
“The reason that the squid got taken out of the movie was so there’d be more Rorschach and a little bit more Manhattan,” the director told MTV in 2009. “Because we did the math, and we figured it took about 15 minutes to explain [the squid’s appearance] correctly; otherwise, it’s pretty crazy.”
Because of this change, however, the movie is not canon in regards to the Watchmen series. In the first episode, there was a sudden downpour of small squids that was considered more of annoyance by the characters rather than something to be concerned about. This implies that since the squid attack of 1985, there has been some sort of ongoing operation to fool the people into thinking squid-like aliens are still attacking the planet.
Where the TV show picks up
HBO’s Watchmen takes place in 2019, 34 years after the squid attack now referred to as D.I.E. or the Dimensional Incursion Event. To help flesh out the Watchmen world in the comics, Moore added additional readings at the end of each comic in the form of memos, newspaper articles and book excerpts. Lindelof did something similar for the show with a page called Peteypedia named after FBI Agent Dale Petey of the Anti-Vigilante Task Force. After the first episode, the site had four links to additional content to read, and we could see more in the future.
Here’s a rundown of what’s available:
Memo: The Computer and You — Viewers noticed in the first episode some old technology used for a show taking place in 2019. This memo explains a new computer FBI agents would have access to, an IBM NetVista X41, and how they’ll be able to use El-Mail, a shortened version of electronic mail. More importantly, the memo mentions how after the squid attack in 1985, there was an immediate stoppage of tech use as it was deemed a possible cause for the attack. It wasn’t until 1993 when the Tech Recall and Reintroduction Act was passed that the government began reincorporating technology.
Research: “Trust the Law” — Some viewers had questions about the black-and-white movie at the beginning of episode 1. In this article credited to a Marcus Long, lead art curator of the Greenwood Center for Cultural Heritage in Tulsa, the film, Trust the Law, was a retort to the notorious pro-KKK film Birth of a Nation. The hero of the film, Bass Reeves, was a former slave who escaped during the Civil War and became a farmer who interacted with Native American tribes. His knowledge of several languages led him to be deputized and become a famous marshall who caught more than 3,000 criminals.
While Reeves was a real person and so was the director of the film, Oscar Micheaux, the movie wasn’t real. However, this article does reference the irony that the film about a black hero of the 1800s was playing in Tulsa during the violent riot shown at the start of the episode.
Clipping: “Veidt Declared Dead” — A newspaper article written by a Ben Woodward for WPI Content Network dated Sept. 9, 2019 says the FBI officially declared Andrian Veidt to be dead. The former hero turned villain went missing in 2012, which caused a huge phenomenon called “Where’s Veidt” that had people searching for him. This piece gives a mini-bio of Veidt and explains how after he executed his master plan, he was still held in high regard across the globe.
Memo: Rorschach’s Journal — At the end of the Watchmen comic, Rorschach sent a journal explaining Veidt’s grand plan before leaving for Antarctica and eventually dying. The final page of the comic shows an editor berating an editorial assistant while also discussing how things have radically changed since the attack as the assistant’s hand hovers above the journal, thus posing the question of whether the world would know about what happened. This memo explains that the journal was published in an extreme right-wing tabloid called the New Frontiersman. It was ultimately dismissed as non-factual and looked at as entertainment following the squid attack. Vedit is quoted as saying the journal was “fake news.”
Still, there were people who took the writing as truth, hence the formation of the Seventh Kavalry. This memo helps fill in the gap from the end of the comics to the show. It even mentions how Nite Owl and Silk Spectre II, who changed her named to the Comedienne in honor of her father, were arrested. The memo also sets up how Veidt is declared dead, but that if he returned, it would put the bureau in a precarious situation.
This post originally published on Oct. 27 and we’ll update it regularly when new content from the show referencing the comic appears.