Series Genre Adaptation Expands Original Work with Emmys
I remember being ambivalent to the Watchmen comic when it first hit the scene all those years ago. Back then, it was considered subversive, a counterculture commentary. It stood outside of the standard comicbook genre and was proud of it. Alan Moore’s Watchmen implied comics were stupid and I can’t believe you still read them. Moore’s feelings about supers is well-known now, but we were already aware of it back then if you read between the lines. The comic series deconstructed superheroes, their superpowers, their inherent social drama, the costumes, the fractured psychology of being a superhero; all of these things were under fire in Moore’s radical work.
I was a fan of Golden Age comics (didn’t matter who made them) and growing up in the Silver Age, my comics were very much of the four-color, heroic variety; where the good guys were good, the bad guys were awful, and the narrative was easy to follow. Watchmen wasn’t the first deconstruction of the superhero, but I believe it was one of the most popular of the period. When Watchmen came out in 1986, I admit to being disillusioned with comics. The stories had gotten bland, repetitive; this is also the same year that DC Comics decided to destroy their Multiverse with the famed Crisis On Infinite Earths. I have never forgiven DC for this. Ironically, Marvel would later embrace what DC threw away: the concept of the Multiverse and the opportunity to tell stories outside of their prime continuity.
My disgust with comics was complete. DC was destroying their Golden age heroes and erasing them from reality and I was just supposed to accept it.
I was being radicalized. I was ready for Watchmen, I just didn’t know it. A friend of mine who was no fan of comics came to me and said “You need to read this,” and then he handed me a brown paper bag, looking around furtively as if he expected to be gunned down on the street.
He ran off and told me to call him after I’d read the series of comics. You see, I had turned away from reading comics for a while so I hadn’t initially even known Watchmen was out there.
I remember reading it in horror, partially because it still embraced the norms of comics: limited minority character investment, partially because it was ugly. Not artistically, the art itself was a classic depiction adequately delivered by talented artist Dave Gibbons and colorist John Higgins; it was ugly in a way that comics hadn’t been to me before. The themes were dark, the heroes were uninspiring, their pathos and ethos left something to be desired. Their minds had been broken by what they were doing, by being “heroes” they had become something else. Something unexpected. They were too Human. Frail. Breakable. They were psychological portraits in vigilantism – Batman taken to his logical conclusion.
Watchmen has been an evolution in a story whose formats brought something unique each time it changed media. In the comic, there are news clips; entire pages dedicated to backgrounds, events, things that make the story relevant, and these things didn’t translate in the movies or in the television series. This makes the comics a singular experience unlike any of its other formats.
If you wanted to know what that difference was between what Alan Moore wrote, what was in the Watchmen movie, and what became part of the cable experience, it is this running social commentary which is missing from all of the other media that makes the Watchmen comics unique.
When I was reading Watchmen, it put me in mind of another series called THUNDER Agents, which featured another group of more down-to-earth Human protagonists with superhuman abilities, usually unable to technology. I keep hoping to see this series show up one day in a live-action format. I wrote a article about that a few years ago because the rumor mill I promised that they might be one but I don’t think it ever materialized.
The Watchmen movie pretty much tried to keep close to the comics in the overall story arcs, focused more on big budget special effects and the failures of the heroes, which in my mind was exactly where it should have been. The commentary, the social aspects of the Watchmen experience were missing, but I don’t think most readers cared and if you hadn’t read it you didn’t miss it. The movie was about spectacle, a bigger than life transformation of the characters to the silver screen.
While the HBO series is called an adaptation of the Watchmen comics It might be more accurate to call it an extrapolation, based on the original comics and then expanding the story in a completely unexpected direction.
The unexpected direction was its focus and attention being spent on Black characters, which the comic and the movie completely ignore. There are no significant black characters in the comics or the movie, which is why, for me, this adaptation was not only a breath of fresh air but a reaffirmation that comics are for everyone if writers make the effort to be inclusive.
Watchmen spans over thirty years of media, interpretation, analysis and subversion, literally a generation of evolution, creating a masterwork from a piece of a creation considered, in its day, to already be as good as it gets.
From the opening in the Tulsa Massacre to the final scenes, Watchmen is a brilliantly scripted, sensitive analysis of America’s hidden sin and cultural failure: the harassment and murder of the descendants of African held in chattel slavery and the cruel years after it supposedly ended. To meld this into the cultural commentary first associated with Watchmen was certainly beyond any angle I thought the series could take.
Maybe we need to add a bit more Regina King to every story. Sister Night and Hooded Justice transform this story from a condemnation of a cultural genre to a masterful analysis of racial and cultural disparity.
Congratulations on the Emmy nominations and to the Emmys wrest by this complex work of art. To the writers, producers and outstanding performances in this series whose eventual sum was greater than the individual parts, I salute you. I love you, Regina. You earned it.
Who watches the Watchmen?
#SisterNight #HoodedJustice #BlackDrManhattan
Thaddeus Howze is an award-winning writer, editor, podcaster and activist creating speculative fiction, scientific, political and cultural commentary from his office in Hayward, California.
Thaddeus’ speculative fiction has appeared in numerous anthologies and literary journals. He has published two books, ‘Hayward’s Reach’ (2011), a collection of short stories and ‘Broken Glass’ (2013) an urban fantasy novella starring his favorite paranormal investigator, Clifford Engram.