The showrunner of the HBO pilot inspired by the iconic comic book says the potential series will not be an adaptation.
Damon Lindelof, usually among the more secretive showrunners in the industry, opens up about his planned take on Watchmen in a lengthy five-page letter on Instagram. In the post, he asks for patience and understanding from fans of the comic book series and promises that his upcoming take on Alan Moore's beloved work is not an adaptation but instead a “remix” of the original material.
“First and foremost, if you are angry that I’m working on Watchmen, I am sorry,” he writes at one point in the letter, which explains both his history with the comic book series and his ambivalence in bringing it to the small screen. “I have an immense amount of respect for [Watchmen co-creator] Alan Moore. He is an extraordinary talent of mythic proportion. I wrote him a letter, parts of which are not dissimilar to this one, because I owed him an explanation as to why I’m defying his wishes [in working on the series].”
Moore has long expressed his dissatisfaction with DC Entertainment and Warner Bros.’ continued use of the Watchmen property — whether releasing merchandise based on the title, adapting the story into a movie in 2009 or creating comic book prequels or sequels to the original series. In a 2010 interview with Bleeding Cool, he likened DC and Warners' treatment of Watchmen to rape, and described the comic as a “spent and exhausted carcass” as the result of such behavior. Dave Gibbons, Moore’s co-creator of the comic, has a far more charitable view, having consulted on a number of Watchmen material created subsequent to the conclusion of the original comic’s run.
Key to Moore’s unhappiness is the notion that DC and Warner Bros. reneged on the original Watchmen contract by keeping the successful book continuously in print since its initial collected edition, thereby bypassing a promised reversion of rights to the material once the book had been out of print for longer than a year. This contributed to the writer's decision to cut ties with DC and Warners after fulfilling his contractual obligations. Later attempts at reconciliation failed.
Lindelof himself comments on the franchise's troubled history in his letter, noting that his father explained that a new edition of the collected edition of the original series was “the publisher’s way of retaining the rights to the characters."
"He tells me that [Watchmen characters] Dan and Adrian and Jon and Walter and Laurie are all serfs, working the land for a Feudal Lord that will never grant them freedom," Lindeloff continues. "My father is more than a little drunk.… More so, he is a hypocrite for buying me the new edition.”
Later in the letter, Lindelof adds that, by agreeing to work on the Watchmen show, “now I’m a hypocrite too.”
“There are a million ways to rationalize unethical behavior,” he continues. “I could argue that Mr. Moore’s partner, the brilliant artist, Dave Gibbons, is equally entitled to authorize access to his masterwork and that he has been kind enough to offer us his blessing to do so. Or I could offer that Mr. Moore cut his veined teeth on the creations of others; Batman, Superman, Captain Britain, Marvelman (he’ll never be ‘Miracleman’ to me), Swamp Thing and the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, not to mention The Charlton characters upon whom his Watchmen characters are based.… So am I not allowed to do the same? No. I am not. I am not allowed. And yet… I am compelled.”
That compulsion, he suggests, comes in spite of the knowledge that he and the series will face “inevitable pushback and hatred” from “the true fans” of the original comic. Lindelof adds that he himself is a true fan, and that he — along with a writing staff that “is as diverse and combative as any I’ve ever been a part of” — is seeking to “disrupt” Watchmen in addition to adoring it.
What that means, he suggests, is that the show will not be a direct translation of the comic. (“Those issues are sacred ground and they will not be retread nor [re-created] nor reproduced nor rebooted,” he promises.) Instead, the comic will be “remixed” into something new.
“Those original twelve issues are our Old Testament. When the New Testament came along, it did not erase what came before it. Creation. The Garden of Eden. Abraham and Isaac. The Flood. It all happened. And so it will be with Watchmen. The Comedian died. Dan and Laurie fell in love. Ozymandias saved the world and Dr. Manhattan left it just after blowing Rorschach to pieces in the bitter cold of Antarctica. To be clear. Watchmen is canon.”
If that makes it sound as if Lindelof and team are working on a narrative continuation to the original, he puts that idea to rest almost immediately afterward: “We are not making a ‘sequel’ either,” he writes. “This story will be set in the world its creators painstakingly built.… But in the tradition of the work that inspired it, this new story must be original.” Later, he adds, “Some of the characters will be unknown. New faces. New masks to cover them.”
In this respect, Lindelof’s ambitions sound like DC Entertainment’s current Doomsday Clock comic book series, which is both a thematic and narrative sequel to Watchmen, yet takes place for the most part outside of the Watchmen universe featuring, as yet, only two characters from the original series, choosing instead to create new characters inspired by Moore and Gibbons’ legacy. (Whether or not Doomsday Clock will interact with Lindelof’s Watchmen show remains a mystery.)
As Lindelof notes, part of the letter itself follows the recognizable structure and, to an extent, language of the fourth issue of the original Watchmen comic book series, “Watchmaker." In that issue, Dr. Manhattan recounts his life story to that point in a nonlinear fashion, instead jumping from memory to memory in such a manner that simultaneously emphasizes both the inhuman vantage point of someone who experiences all of time simultaneously and the importance of small human moments. Lindelof calls his use of the mode “a device appropriated from Mr. Moore.”
A sign of things to come?
Read the full letter: