“Who watches the Watchmen?” It’s the question at the core of Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons’ seminal graphic novel Watchmen, one that’s asked again in the first official footage from HBO’s television adaptation, shepherded forward by Lost mastermind Damon Lindelof.
Featuring an all-star cast headlined by Regina King (who previously collaborated with Lindelof as Erika Murphy on HBO’s The Leftovers) and featuring Jeremy Irons (Showtime’s The Borgias) and Jean Smart (FX’s Legion), the new Watchmen drama is set to bow in 2019. It promises to break away from the events of Moore and Gibbons’ source material, previously adapted for film by Zack Snyder. Lindelof has stated his vision of Watchmen will honor and take place within the universe established by the graphic novel, without remaking it outright.
By all accounts, HBO’s Watchmen takes place several decades after the comic, both published and set in the height of 1980s Cold War panic — and along with that escalated timeline, comes new versions of some old favorites from the comic: Ozymandias, Rorschach and even a possible name-drop of the all-powerful Doctor Manhattan.
Watch the teaser for Watchmen below, which includes first looks at HBO’s other 2019 offerings, including the final season of Game of Thrones:
The footage is brief, but packed with goodness for die-hard Watchmen fans. For one, there’s our first look at Irons as Adrian Veidt, better known as Ozymandias, the brilliant superhero-turned-mass murderer who destroyed New York City in a demented plan to save the world. It’s hard to tell exactly what he’s saying in the blink-and-you’ll-miss-it clip, though it sounds an awful lot like “Johnny just begun,” which could be a name-check of John Osterman, better known as the omniscient Doctor Manhattan. (Another possible line-read: “We’ve only just begun,” though the odds of this signaling a Carpenters music cue feel less likely than a shoutout to one of the most iconic characters in the Watchmen pantheon.)
Speaking of iconic Watchmen figures, the teaser also includes a man wearing a dirty white mask with black paint smeared on the front. There’s no fedora in sight, but there’s still no way to mistake the instantly recognizable imagery of Rorschach, the brutal vigilante at the heart of Watchmen. In both the graphic novel and the film on which the show is based, Rorschach dies, obliterated by the aforementioned Dr. Manhattan. It would appear he’s less dead than once believed, based on the HBO teaser, though it’s much more likely that someone else has taken on the Rorschach mantle in the late crime fighter’s stead.
Beyond the returns of some fan-favorite characters, the teaser offers first looks at some new players on the board, one of whom is clad in a golden mask, the other wearing all red. Indeed, masks are all the rage throughout the Watchmen promotional material thus far, with Tulsa Police Department officers dressed in yellow masks that obscure their identity. It’s early days yet, but possible themes are already rising to the surface, such as the nature of identity and the dangers of anonymity in the modern world.
“What we think about superheroes is wrong,” Lindelof said in 2017 about his reasons for adapting Watchmen. “I love the Marvel movies, we saw Justice League, and I’m all for Wonder Woman and Batman and I grew up on these characters, I love these characters. But we should not trust people who put on masks and say that they are looking out for us. If you hide your face, you are up to no good.”
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