If asked what I wanted to see next from Damon Lindelof, one of the most inventive TV creators (as evidenced by the just-ended, gracefully crazy The Leftovers), it certainly wouldn’t be “superheroes! That’s really unexplored terrain!” So, my eyes rolled a bit when I saw yet another name of a comic (and one that was already made into a movie less than a decade ago) in an announcement of something “new” coming to our screens. Lindelof is currently in talks, as announced in The Hollywood Reporter, to develop a series based on DC Comics’ Watchmen for HBO, though it’s not yet been made official. For diehard Lindelof fans, perhaps his involvement in this project won’t come as so much of a surprise: Lindelof actually told the New York Observer in 2009 that he’s completely “obsessed” with the limited 1986 comic series by Alan Moore, artist Dave Gibbons, and colorist John Higgins.
Following the not-another-comic-adaptation-eye-roll you’re doing as we speak, you may recall that Watchmen is, itself, something of a peculiar, innovative comic. In a similar vein as The Man in the High Castle, Watchmen imagines various historical events having played out differently: America won the Vietnam War, Nixon never resigned because Watergate never became a scandal, and now (in the 80s, where Nixon is still president) WWIII may be coming — with (wait for the relevancy that’ll almost surely be played up in this newest edition) the Soviet Union!
Its structure bears other hints as to why this would have grabbed Lindelof’s attention — and seemingly even informed his own storytelling tactics. The story pinballs between time and perspectives, and is notoriously complex and confusing to those who prefer their comics to be straightforward and full of wild superpowers. (Most of the characters are just…extra-talented people in lycra and masks.) The costumed heroes are to thank/blame for the alternating of history, and in the present day of the stories, they’ve become controversial figures, and have been forced into retirement, or to work clandestinely for the government; but it seems like they’re also in danger of being assassinated in a huge conspiracy. And when they have to go into hiding (one of them even goes so far as to hide away on Mars), the world starts to crumble. In 2010, Time released their list of the 100 best novels to come out since the magazine’s inception in 1923. Watchmen was among their picks, with Lev Grossman writing of the graphic novel:
Told with ruthless psychological realism, in fugal, overlapping plotlines and gorgeous, cinematic panels rich with repeating motifs, Watchmen is a heart-pounding, heartbreaking read and a watershed in the evolution of a young medium.
Partially because of the darkness and total denseness of the plot, the 2009 version by Zack Snyder received very mixed critical responses. By comic book movie standards, that film was a bust, grossing only $107.5 million domestically on a $130 million budget. That said, Snyder was initially attached to the TV series project when it was first announced back in 2015. THR says he’s now no longer involved.
Lending this twisting narrative, with its gaggle of characters and their individual gaggles of back stories, a TV series-length format might be just what it needs. (Even if more superhero stuff doesn’t sound exactly like what any TV viewer needs.) Giving it the space to spread out over hours and hours might make it more engaging in live-action form than the film. If The Leftovers or Lost taught us anything, it’s that Lindelof can certainly turn outlandish, winding works into emotionally gripping storytelling.