Last month, one of the greatest comic books of all time, Alan Moore and Dave Gibbon’s Watchmen, concluded two different sequels across two different mediums: The DC Universe & Watchmen crossover comic series, Doomsday Clock and HBO’s Watchmen television series premiered its finale.
The impact of Moore’s 1986 Watchmen has had on comics, let alone fiction, cannot be overstated, evident as it was the only comic listed in Time Magazine’s All-TIME 100 novels. Both Doomsday Clock and HBO’s Watchmen were released thirty years after the original. Both attempted to jettison Moore’s magnum opus in the new millennium via different mediums. Though quite similar in some ways, both the show and comic sequels tackled the original’s threads, themes, and commentary in very different ways.
The comic worlds would begin to collide with Watchmen’s resident naked-blue-god, Dr. Manhattan, swooping into the eventual crossover with hidden (but painfully obvious) nods such as the decimation of the New God, Metron, at the end of Darkseid War by an ominous blue flash, or the similar death of Pandora in DC Rebirth #1 back in 2016. The crossover was finally cemented with the Dark Knight and the Scarlet Speedster discovering the iconic Watchmen button in the Batcave in Batman/The Flash: The Button. It was seeded long, and when Doomsday Clock was finally released, „the Watchmen cometh“ bark had already simmered. Then, due to delays, the 14 issue series took three years to release from 2017 to 2019.
Damon Lindelof’s retooling of the Watchmen mythos was released on HBO in late October 2019 and its 9 episodes finished swiftly between Doomsday Clock’s final two issues. Comparatively, the show wasn’t as hyped as Doomsday Clock, and many Watchmen fans, including creator Alan Moore, side-eyed and grimaced at another film adaptation of the classic comic. This would do little to deter the HBO production. Perhaps all the criticisms and disapproval aided the show’s inventiveness, as the series would go on to wide acclaim for breathing new life into the series.
It’s also worth noting how each sequel deals with time within the context of their stories. Given that Watchmen’s central character Dr. Manhattan is a trans-dimensional and time-traversing being who’s the son of a clockmaker, time has always been a central theme within Watchmen. Doomsday Clock takes place in two different separate universes, both Watchmen’s seven years after the original story, and the present DC comics universe. The plot uses Manhattan’s omnipresence to set in motion major events in DC characters‘ pasts as it does to reset the continuity as a whole. HBO’s Watchmen, in turn, invented new threads to weave a wonderful narrative that explained the story’s own genesis through the experiences of Manhattan and more excitingly, the old Minutemen character Hooded Justice.
It’s fascinating, however, to compare how either lifted off from the original’s ending. The conclusion of Moore’s Watchmen, though leaving some unanswered questions, was a brilliant finale with the world’s smartest man, Adrian Veidt’s Ozymandias, troubling plan to thwart nuclear holocaust by sacrificing millions of lives with a false-flag operation engineered by a monster, psychic squid. Though Veidt’s plan worked, the consequences of that operation are where both sequels‘ stories begin to diverge.
Veidt’s plan to unite the world through tragedy proved successful in the original, but the conspiracy was discovered by Watchmen heroes such as the hard-nosed, yet deranged, vigilante Rorschach as well as the omnipresent and god-like Dr. Manhattan. It was Rorschach who would go on to secretly reveal the conspiracy via his journals leaking to the press, while Manhattan marooned himself on Mars and forgoing humanity altogether at the comic’s end.
Doomsday Clock decided to pick up on these threads with an overall emphasis on the meta themes laid within the original. As previously stated, Doomsday Clock begins seven years after the original Rorschach’s journals revealing Veidt’s original plan to the world. Veidt, dying of cancer, is now on the run and on the hunt for the elusive Dr. Manhattan because there’s another nuclear war on the brink, again, this time with a new Rorschach in tow. Doomsday Clock would prove Veidt’s original plan was for not, and the Watchmen universe at large is suspect of heroes due to Veidt’s dastardly mission reveal. There was always something cynical about the original comic’s universe, but Doomsday Clock seems to lean into it fully as a way to contrast the world with the brighter DC universe, as the Watchmen would become continuity-salvo for the messy DC multi-verse.
In HBO’s Watchmen, Rorschach’s journals did nothing but inspire domestic terrorists, the Seventh Kavalry, while Veidt’s plan continued to work. Though Dr. Manhattan has Veidt in exile as a consequence of his cephalopod plan, the world continues to believe his false-flag as opposed to Doomsday Clock. However, HBO’s Watchmen continued to court the big questions left in a world assembled by Veidt’s lie; a world continually operating as if the Minutemen and The Watchmen themselves had garnered the valor and hero worship as saviors, albeit deceptively. This both gives the original comic’s conclusion full reverence while allowing the show to venture into stranger what-ifs, and it does so while showing the extreme fallout and somewhat successes of Veidt’s plan & Rorschach’s journals.
HBO’s Watchmen cleverly showed how Veidt kept up the deceit with consistently showering the stratosphere with lab-engineered squid to keep the fear of another invasion afoot. This unique and altogether harmless gesture of raining the squid as reminder bred a beautiful subplot with common folks seeking group meetings to help curb their PTSD from the New York Squid Attack. This allowed for a more nuanced look into the consequences of everyday humanity with Tim Blake Nelson’s Looking Glass, a brilliant new addition to the pantheon and a wonderfully human touchstone for this sprawling epic, grappling of the infamous „attack“ in an all-too-human way: PTSD. Looking Glass is a perfect factotum representing the paranoia of the world at large, the strength to survive and the ability to move within grief.
Lindelof elevated the social commentary to a hilt within the main protagonist of his series, Looking Glass‘ partner, Angel Abar a.k.a. Sister Night. Abar wonderfully weaves the series‘ web, not only as general badass but through a powerful perspective via the eyes of a black, female main protagonist. Her grandfather is revealed to be the seemingly white hero, Hooded Justice. If the original Watchmen broke molds when it came to superhero tropes, Sister Night is helping to headbutt that vision even further. It weaves in political themes heavily like the original, as we are introduced to clever world-building with revisionist history and emphasis on minority plights with the fictional 1921 Tulsa Massacre in the show’s premiere. The Seventh Kalvary, much like the KKK, becomes the menacing cabal mired in white supremacy that anchors the overall story and it’s prescient to say the very least.
Doomsday Clock had little to no ability to show quiet moments or sinew bigger ideas as it jumped more into the fantastical elements of the original epic. Johns banked fully on the gods vs. gods trope, with admittedly little time to show much resonance within the human realm. The audience is subjected to Superman’s perspective as this story unfolds, and although there are many fine moments between Superman and Lois, especially, Doomsday Clock still amounts to spectacle over substance. Sure, „The Superman Theory,“ a conspiracy theory that accused the federal government of creating metahumans, is also a prescient tidbit concerning the paranoia abound in the original. However, it still only revels in what DC had already deconstructed long ago.
Lindelof’s show finds Dr. Manhattan moonlighting on earth while costumed heroes now make up the law and order. Manhattan continues to be an omnipotent force, but isn’t played for much spectacle as with Doomsday Clock – he’s hidden, his intentions are unknown, and there’s a genuine focus on the people affected by him most. Though, the continuation of his development into supreme being and the transferring of his powers are what HBO’s Watchmen and Doomsday Clock have most in common.
In Doomsday Clock, it is revealed that Dr. Manhattan created The New 52, and it was the cause of the continuity of Rebirth altogether. It’s a bit too on-the-nose and seems more of a company save-face than a revolutionary comic concept. In the end, the three-year-long journey spiraled into an all-to-familiar superpower punch up between Superman and Dr. Manhattan to clean up continuity while finally crossing over both behemoth IPs. Doomsday Clock’s resolve to mix is at its most obvious when Dr. Manhattan’s powers transfer to the already OP Superman in the end. What everyone always wanted, right? Super-Manhattan?
In HBO’s Watchmen’s, it is revealed that the mysterious Lady Trieu was actually Veidt’s daughter and her entire plan revolved around transferring Manhattan’s powers to herself. Manhattan is revealed to be hiding in plain sight as Angela’s husband, Cal (Aquaman’s Yahya Abdul-Mateen II) knew of the events about to transpire and allowed the plan to follow through. Manhattan knowingly sacrifices himself while finding his humanity within his relationship with Angela. In the episode’s coda, it is revealed that Manhattan/Cal set the stage for Angela to retain Manhattan’s powers. It’s earned and refreshing as audiences grew to witness this new altogether new character, Angela Abar, churn and burn through failures, joys and strengths over the season take Manhattan’s powers for herself after Manhattan is seemingly decimated and Trieu and the Kalvary crumble. It’s inspired and spiritually in line with Moore’s classic.
Geoff Johns‘ Doomsday Clock shows his sandbox was made for superheroes to play at their most static of characterizations as deconstruction is not quite a trait Johns has a knack for. Through all the world colliding, convoluted plots and splash-page punch ups, Johns constructed a very milquetoast crossover: Dr. Manhattan, in all of his omnipotence, became aware of the DC Universe and would collide the two worlds, later revealing to be the cause of the maligned The New 52 continuity shift amounting to simply bringing the Watchmen world into proper DC comics continuity full-stop.
However, the powerful medium of TV proved to be a wonderful asset to the continuation of Moore’s original concept. HBO’s Watchmen was a thrilling look behind revisionist histories, small character moments and ultimately, a well packed and neatly tied ending. It has been speculated that the show will continue in anthology form, keeping fresh with world-building and fallout of its finale. The show is that of Watchmen’s true legacy, one that is as anarchic and irreverent as Moore’s original. HBO’s Watchmen simply had more to say and said it loud with a wonderful Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross score to punctuate its spectacle. HBO’s Watchmen wasn’t just a business move as Doomsday Clock seemingly was, and ultimately, it proved to be a better story.
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