The first full-length trailer for HBO’s Watchmen premiered during Comic-Con and we’ve been exploring every frame, looking for Easter eggs and hints about what the show’s mysterious plot might entail. Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons’ twelve-issue Watchmen series is arguably the greatest comic book story ever told. The collected edition is the only graphic novel that made it onto Time magazine’s list of the 100 best novels since 1923. Since Zack Snyder’s film adaptation hit theaters ten years ago, DC Comics has begun revisiting the world of Watchmen: first with the Before Watchmen line of titles, and more recently with the Doomsday Clock miniseries.
Like Doomsday Clock, showrunner Damon Lindelof’s Watchmen is venturing into “After Watchmen” territory. The show takes place in the same world some years after the original storyline, and judging from the trailer, it will include a fair number of connections and callbacks to the comics. Below, we’ll dive into all of those and more with our Watchmen trailer breakdown.
The trailer opens with an armed robber at a supermarket declaring, “This is a stickup!” His period garb and the old-fashioned decor — with signs advertising baby food specials for thirty-nine cents — suggest we’re not too far removed from the 1930s when the Golden Age of Comic Books began.
Sure enough, a costumed figure comes crashing through the window, rising up in a low-angle shot to reveal himself as Hooded Justice.
In the Watchmen comics backstory, Hooded Justice was the first superhero, a member of the Minutemen. What we’re witnessing, the supermarket robbery in the trailer, is his second public appearance in 1938. His secret identity was never known but Hollis Mason, the original Nite-Owl, suspected that the man under the hood was a renowned circus strongman. This aligns him with Superman’s origins as a hero who first leaped into action in a circus strongman’s tights in 1938.
At the supermarket, the clerk behind the counter asks a simple question that superheroes have been fielding onscreen for at least thirty years: “Who are you?”
Rather than give a pithy reply like Batman, however, Hooded Justice unfurls the long answer of, “Who am I? If I knew the answer to that, I wouldn’t be wearing a mask.”
It’s a wry nod to how complex and soul-searching the superhero genre has become with movies like Logan. In the span of about twelve seconds, the trailer has already given subtle nods to Superman and Batman, the genre’s two biggest pioneers.
As Hooded Justice is giving his answer, we cut to the living room of Looking Glass, the masked cop played by Tim Blake Nelson. Here there’s a direct visual callback to the Watchmen comic, as Looking Glass sits with his mask rolled up over his nose, spooning food (presumably beans) from a can into his mouth.
He’s framed very similar to how artist Dave Gibbons drew Rorschach in the comic panels. It turns out Looking Glass is watching Hooded Justice foil the re-enacted robbery on TV.
The HBO logo appears in yellow with the famous Watchmen smiley face in the middle of the “O.” We soon see blimps and taxicabs advertising, “American Hero Story – Minutemen.” One ad appears to show half of the Comedian’s eye-masked face juxtaposed with that of another Minuteman above the tagline, “Comedy begets tragedy.”
“American Hero Story – Minutemen” sounds like a parody of American Horror Story, but this show-within-a-show could be much more than that. It’s possible we’ll see the Comedian return in re-enactments and that the show-within-a-show could be the HBO equivalent of Tales of the Black Freighter, the comic-within-a-comic that served as a running commentary on the main Watchmen narrative.
The voice of Regina King’s character guides us further into the world of HBO’s Watchmen:
“There are people who believe that this world is fair and good. It’s all lollipops and rainbows. We don’t do lollipops and rainbows. We know those are pretty colors that just hide what the world really is: black and white.”
As she’s espousing this Manichaean philosophy, we see her walking the streets and a succession of images provides more links to the characters from the Watchmen comic. A front-page Tulsa Sun headline (note that we’re in Oklahoma) reads, “Veidt Officially Declared Dead.” This is a reference to Adrien Veidt, AKA Ozymandias, the former superhero whose genocidal conspiracy to unite the world under the fear of alien invasion was revealed in Watchmen’s climax.
There are also glimpses of blue Dr. Manhattan masks and festival decorations. Unless this is “American Hero Story” footage, it would seem to heavily imply that the show is not set in the same timeline as Snyder’s movie, which altered Moore’s ending: leaving Dr. Manhattan scapegoated for the destruction of New York and other cities and the deaths of millions of people. Later in the trailer, we’ll see more clues tying the show to the comics ending over that of Snyder’s film.
Jeremy Irons is playing the older version of Veidt, and no sooner do we see news of his death than we see him blowing out a candle on a cake. Will he really die in the show or will circumstances force him to fake his death and go into hiding? The aforementioned Doomsday Clock comic, a Watchmen sequel that has published ten of twelve issues so far, began with a manhunt for Veidt after Rorschach’s journal helped expose the conspiracy enacted by the world’s smartest man.
When we finally get a good look at King’s character, who is reportedly named Angela Abraham, we see that she’s talking to a little girl. A framed photo on the dresser in the background shows the girl with what looks like her parents—and neither one of them is Abraham.
At first, I thought Abraham might be a teacher or a child psychologist making a house call. We’ll see her in a classroom setting later, but there are other clear indications that she is a policewoman.
When Abraham lands on the phrase “black and white” in her voiceover, we cut to a man in a homemade Rorschach mask. He stares out of the eyeholes at the camera and says, “Soon they will shout, ‘Save us,’ and we will whisper, ‘No.’”
This is a modified version of a line from Rorschach’s journal. The man is delivering it in a video message; we see it playing on an overhead monitor in a room full of policemen.
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