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Watchmen: who will watch the Watchmen, if you've read the Watchmen?


Regina King, Watchmen
Regina King as Det. Angela Abar / Sister Night

There is a clock in Washington D.C. and it reads two minutes to midnight. Two minutes to a darkness so suffocating, it makes Vantablack a blindingly sunny day. A stopwatch one hundred and twenty ticks and tocks from watches, along with everything else, stopping.


The Doomsday Clock, this measurement of how close mankind is to its final goof, has been set at two minutes to midnight since 2018. In 2017 it was moved to two-and-a-half minutes closer to midnight due to what the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists called "reckless approaches" towards nuclear weapons and "careless rhetoric about the use of nuclear weapons and the wanton defiance of scientific truths". This is what happens when a radioactive racist bites a hexed pumpkin and it's elected President, as it pals up with like-minded international bandits for a rootin' tootin' ride towards a glowing mushroom sunset.


This clock was a central feature in Watchmen, the [insert seminal or appropriate synonym] 1986 comic by Alan Moore, which changed the face of comics and the perception of comics. Moore wrote of a 1980s where Nixon still reigned, the emergence of superheroes securing America victory in Vietnam, blue demi-god Dr Manhattan a far greater and more flexible weapon than a rain of ICBMs. Over the course of the comic, which changes history and changed comic book history, the USA and Russia grind towards World War III. These were fears which extended beyond the pages; Frankie Goes to Hollywood's Two Tribes was the 1984 soundtrack to the arms race and finger-hovering-over-button incidents which threatened to open missile silo doors for their ultimate and final purpose.


Those immediate fears have, thanks to the frequencies in David Hasselhoff's voice shattering the Berlin Wall and neutralising nuclear warheads inoperable, dissapated. Today, fears grow over civil wars. This is where Damon Lindelof takes his cue for the TV series of Watchmen (notably not endorsed by Moore in any capacity. No doubt for him it takes place in an alternate reality).



This America is a continuation of the one in the original comic - Watergate was never discovered and Nixon shuffles the Presidency into a dictatorship. Where was Frost to expose him when he was needed the most? In this first episode Nixon's face has been etched on Mount Rushmore and characters from the comic feature in an upcoming TV documentary series, trailers for it running in the background. Echoes of Moore and artist Dave Gibbons' work is sprinkled throughout, a visual motif hammered directly into your eyeball here and an explicit reference foghorned into your ear there.


The conundrum this series faces is that its own identity is better served by having nothing to do with the comic at all. No alternate reality is used in the harrowing eight-minute opening sequence which depicts the 1921 Tulsa massacre, a racist assault on the black residents and businesses in Oklahoma. If you weren't aware of it, you're not alone - this is what Watchmen did to Google:



Google it. Planes dropped bombs on the black population. Planes. This is fact, a lack of which has so troubled the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists.


The series' substantial divergence is that the threat this time is not from a crumbling and desperate empire 50 miles away from Sarah Palin's house, but from within, a new generation of neo-Nazi and descendents of Tulsa's murderers bent on upending society. All the Easter eggs detract from the reflections on a post-Charlottesville America and Regina King's strident presence as an unofficially retired supercop hunting a new breed of right-wing supremacist. There's enough invention of the series' own to not require the lean-in on such a venerated title, meaning the series is almost stuck by not satisfying devotees and deterring others who might not watch men or women being super.


It's hard to say which was the greater fear was for the creatives - presenting its own concepts as a brand new show and be labelled a knock-off, or tying itself to the original and be labelled a knock-off. Perhaps time will tell.


Tick tock.

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