Watchmen, sequential art’s magnum opus, and, to many, its final word on the superhero genre, is being made into an HBO television series, didn’t you know?
Yes. Casting is already underway.
The ongoing history of the Watchmen publication, created, written and illustrated by industry luminaries Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons, is a long and convoluted one. We’ve written about it here on Biff Bam Pop! many, many times in the past. I’d recommend, of all things, a fairly robust Wikipedia entry that will regale you with the intricacies of Watchmen copyright and how it relates to both business and personal, moral ethics.
Most of the contributors to this site – and probably you – hold the series in very high regard, regardless of whether it was originally read as a monthly comic book in 1986, a direct market trade paperback compilation shortly thereafter, a bookstore version for the larger reading masses, an Absolute hardcover version for those who adore those sorts of over-sized things, or some other printed format.
Watchmen is Watchmen is Watchmen. It was, and remains, a high watermark achievement in visual storytelling in any published version.
Damon Lindelof is the HBO Watchmen series show-runner. Over the last two decades, he’s been responsible or, at least, partly responsible for, some of the most noteworthy pop culture creations on television and in cinemas. From Lost, to Star Trek, to Prometheus to The Leftovers, Lindelof has been a main actor in stirring fandom’s pop culture pot.
But he’s never stirred a pot as furiously boiled over as Watchmen.
Perhaps that’s why Lindelof recently took to Instagram with a five-page letter explaining his thoughts and views on attempting to remake what many regard as the greatest graphic novel series ever published as a television show: pop culture fandom’s boiling over backlash.
You can read that letter directly below:
The fact that Lindelof writes his five-page, self-admonishing, Instagram letter to fans in the style of Watchmen’s brilliant and lovingly poetic fourth issue narrative elegance (if you haven’t read it, you must), doesn’t belie the real reason for his out-of-the-ordinary missive.
Hidden behind his fond memories of reading the series alongside his father, the real reason for the moving testimonial can only be because of weight, the burdensome heaviness, of the television endeavour. It’s a risky undertaking and Lindelof cannot make a creative and financial mistake that would haunt the media writer/producer for the rest of his days. Fandom, his bread and butter, has a long memory, after all. A somewhat guilty conscience, what with the previously mentioned copyright issue, moral and otherwise, inherent in anything remotely resembling Watchmen, must also play a crucial part in Lindelof taking to social media.
After seeing a film, directed by Zach Snyder, slavish to the source material, one must wonder: what, exactly, will this version of Watchmen resemble?
By his own admission, over the years, Lindelof had refused offers of making Watchmen into a television show by men who have no knowledge of the source material or its original creators, on more than one occasion. What outrage that a TV studio and a copyright holder would have no obligation to a creative endeavour other than a perceived bottom line and, just maybe, an Emmy Award.
But in his letter, Lindelof uses that screen as camouflage for attempting the exact same thing with his version of the Watchmen gong show. The only difference being, that he, Lindelof, has a hallowed admiration for the original creation, a sheep’s clothing admiration that fandom must surely respect and emphasize with. Right?
In his letter, Lindelof compares himself to Moore, using the Watchmen characters and the book’s themes under the same auspices as Moore’s other literary works: Marvelman (using a “he’ll never be Miracleman to me” fandom pandering as like-minded cover), Swamp Thing, The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen and Watchmen itself – where Moore has used other people’s creations to tell his own stories in a multitude of resonant ways. The difference being, however, a difference seemingly lost on Lindelof, that those characters’ unencumbered and morally clear copyright holders had either allowed Moore to use them, or they had no copyright holders at all. In the latter case, Moore appropriated them for his own, wholly artistic and wholly original use.
Because the original source material is held in such high regard by Lindelof, in his letter, he tells us that his television version of Watchmen will not be an “adaptation” as the original is “sacred ground”. It will not be prequel or a sequel. No, it’ll be a “remixed” version, contemporary for the days we currently live in.
In his letter, Lindelof compares the original Moore and Gibbons Watchmen to the “Old Testament”, a religious testimony that didn’t disappear or become less important when the “New Testament” came about.
And that might be the only truthful and only meaningful comment Lindelof wrote in his letter to fans.
Biff Bam Pop!, as a pop culture website, always strives to be a place of optimism and positivity in an online world full of the opposite. I’m aware that this particular column has weaved its way down that darker path – but a light!
Everything’s eventual – including Watchmen adaptations, prequels and sequels and movies and toys and cartoons and, and, and. Everything’s eventual – perhaps even the passing of Watchmen copyright. The HBO Watchmen series will get made. Lindelof will do his best to make it an artistic achievement meant to be entertaining and meant to be something he can be proud of. Maybe it’ll make some money. Maybe it’ll win an Emmy.
His five-page explanatory letter to fans, however, is a fraud.
The original Watchmen by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons, first published in 1986, resonates even more strongly today than it did thirty years ago. It doesn’t need updating. It doesn’t need to be “remixed”. That “Old Testament” is timeless.
Watchmen doesn’t need excuses as to why a highly regarded Hollywood-man is attached to replicating it as a television series. The real reasons are availability and interest and opportunity and challenge and hubris and the lure of many forms of gain.
The HBO Watchmen series will get made.
For Lindelof: Make the HBO Watchmen television series. Make it as good as you can possibly make it. Everyone can agree, it won’t affect the importance or meaningfulness of the original Watchmen comic book series. Make the HBO Watchmen television series because you can. Don’t make it with excuses, or alongside the need to explain. The need to explain infers some form of guilt or negative onus or fault. Make the HBO Watchmen television series because that’s what you want to do.
But a light!
It would be nice to see someone of Lindelof’s stature and ability make use of his creative energies and opportunities and pluck something novel and new from the imaginative ether that surrounds each and every one of us. If there’s anything that Watchmen co-creator, Alan Moore should inspire, it’s that, no?
But maybe Watchmen, the upcoming HBO television series, will entice someone to walk into their local comic book shop or book store and pick up Watchmen, that hallowed graphic novel, in one of its many published forms, for the very first time. Maybe that person will be the one to fashion something new for our world, for all time.
How “Old Testament” an idea.