Watchmen – The TV series

At the time I’m writing this, the Watchmen HBO TV series is available on Hulu, and possibly other streaming platforms.

That first sentence was for the web-link summary. Let’s step back a bit.

I stated in an 2009 blog post that I felt that Watchmen was the finest comic I ever read. Part of the reason I got out of reading comics on a regular basis was I didn’t think I’d find anything better. It’s 11 years later, and I stand by that statement.

When I first heard that a sequel to Watchmen was being made for HBO, I was skeptical. The graphic novel told its story and was done. What more could be said? The answer, it turns out, was plenty.

The main theme of the Watchmen graphic novel was what might happen if people in our “real” world put on costumes to fight crime. It explored that idea and many practical consequences, including the reality of public reaction, government intervention, and the fact that underneath the costume there were still human beings. But the story was basically a self-critique of the “costumed superhero” concept, using and abusing the tropes of comic books to tell human stories.

The theme of the Watchmen TV series is racism. It’s clear why HBO has made the series available outside of its normal channels so that a wider audience can see it. Though the story involves costumed crime-fighters to some degree, this is definitely not a series for children, no more than the Watchmen was.

In particular, the series begins with a harrowing depiction of the Tulsa race massacre. I knew about the incident before I watched the series, but only because a friend had mentioned it at one time on his web site. It’s not a comforting sequence. Like the Watchmen comic, the TV series is not meant to make people comfortable.

As a fan of the comic, I have a few caveats:

– If you’ve never read Watchmen comic or seen the Zack Snyder movie, some of the plot points will seem opaque: Why is everyone so obsessed with “Dr. Manhattan”? Why are the Rorschach masks significant? Why should anyone care about the old guy in the manor?

– This is a sequel to the Watchmen comic, not the Watchmen movie directed by Zack Snyder. If you’ve only seen the movie, then you may have to get around the differences: Why do people keep talking about squids?

– The series has clever visual cues that readers of the comic will get, but will just slide past everyone else. These details are not critical.

I claim that the Watchmen comic is the best I’ve ever read. I won’t say that the Watchmen TV series was the best one I’ve seen. However, it does make a timely statement about the long-term effects of racism; the Tulsa massacre reverberates throughout the series.

This must be said: The series drops the ball on how law enforcement reacts to racial issues. In particular, the show only gives lip service criticism of suspending rights and due process when you’re the “good guy” and you’re fighting the “bad guys.” In that way, the Watchmen TV series is no better than the old pulp comic books that the Watchmen graphic novel condemned.

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