One of the most revered books out there, comic or otherwise, Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons’ Watchmen is the inspirational touchstone for HBO’s newest TV drama from The Leftovers’ Damon Lindelof.
The Watchmen TV show is a current-day sequel to the original tale, though taking place in a different location and centering on mostly different characters. Regardless of the differences, a plethora of comic-friendly references and easter eggs were infused throughout Watchmen’s premiere as plot-setting connective tissue.
Below is a list of all the big Watchmen comic references that showed up in the TV show’s premiere episode, titled “It’s Summer and We’re Running Out of Ice.” From follow-up weirdness to the main story’s shock ending to the appearance of a certain blue superhero, Watchmen was a smorgasbord of “Wait, did you catch that?” moments that deserve quick rewinds. And without further ado, here’s a mostly sequential order of the biggest comic-inspired highlights. (Check here if you need a new copy).
The Blood On The Boy’s Face
Once the orphaned boy wakes up in the field, following that harrowing opening, he has a splotch of blood on his head that definitely feels like a reference to the blood on The Comedian’s button that kicks off Watchmen and serves as one of its most identifiable symbols. This particular reference comes up very obviously at the end of the episode, but it’s worth pointing out that Damon Lindelof also found a way to work a bloodied face into the start of his story. Metaphors abound.
The millionth reason Watchmen remains a celebrated and respected work is because Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons were so meticulous about filling the comics with reflected and repeated art, dialogue and situations; examples include Chapter 5’s palindromic nature, Doctor Manhattan’s photograph obsession, the somewhat prescient Black Freighter text and much more.
Beyond all of the Rorschach masks that don’t move, HBO’s Watchmen already made some use of this narrative style in its opening episode. The biggest example, of course, would be the episode starting off with a celebratory film strip of a heroic black man roping up a foul white dude, and then ending with a potentially wicked black man looking very much like he hung a white lawman from a tree. To top it off, the guy in the wheelchair was holding the same note as the kid from the beginning, indicating that this is either a near-impossibly old version of that kid, or perhaps his son. Who’s the hero here?
Within the alternate world of Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons’ Watchmen, it would appear that all vehicles are powered electrically, with zero reliance on gasoline for fuel. Though the TV premiere doesn’t take viewers into an assortment of planes, trains and automobiles, it looks like the world help steady with electric car power since the main narrative’s timeline, without the need to revert back to cruder forms.
Rorschach Mask And Journal
Yes, this is one of the most obvious entries on this list, and it won’t be the last one. It’s still worth mentioning that the Seventh Cavalry was founded on the basis of Rorschach’s worldview, and the white supremacist cult uses his signature mask as a unifying symbol (and disguise). Is his journal their Bible, or more of a manifesto?
Masks As “Faces”
Throughout Watchmen’s comic story, Rorschach refers to his mask only as his “face,” particularly whenever he gets arrested and has it taken from him. On the Watchmen TV series, Don Johnson’s Judd tells Tim Blake Nelson’s Looking Glass, “Pull your face down,” in reference to the latter slipping his reflective mask back on. It’s interesting that Damon Lindelof has the authorities using that wording, as opposed to only the Seventh Cavalry adopting it.
Doctor Manhattan Appears
Watchmen’s mystery-laden build-up kept fans in the dark on how many original characters would appear on the HBO show, and thankfully, the pilot doesn’t get too far before dropping some concrete proof that Doctor Manhattan is still on Mars, and has been for the past 30+ years.
Doctor Manhattan showed up on a news program via satellite footage, in which he could be seen destroying a large and elaborate castle he’d created. (Find out more about that from my interview with director and EP Nicole Kassell.) In general, the situation echoed the blue being’s Mars structure in the comic, although in the TV show, Manhattan’s castle appeared to be a mock-up of the dwelling that Jeremy Irons’ character (almost definitely Adrian Veidt) lives in. Very interesting.
Vietnam, Robert Redford And More
It would have been strange had HBO’s Watchmen changed things up here, but it was confirmed early on that Vietnam is still the 51st state in the U.S., and the American flag represents that with an alternate look. Regina King’s Angela was born outside of Saigon, which is a somewhat deeper connection to the country than the brutal scene in the source material with The Comedian and Doctor Manhattan.
Robert Redford (currently sorta retired in our world) is still the President of the U.S. in Watchmen’s universe after a slew of successive terms, and his predecessor Richard Nixon is part of Mouth Rushmore’s quartet. Redford has his detractors for sure, earning him the name “Sundance-in-Chief.”
As mentioned already, The smiley face button is an iconic symbol within Watchmen’s pages, with The Comedian’s yellow button echoed in a variety of ways. The same goes for HBO’s Watchmen, of course. Beyond a few arguable examples, the most overt visual smiley reference occurred when Regina King’s Angela showed her class how to make moon cakes. With the camera below a glass mixing bowl, Angela cracked a bunch of eggs, and after the yolks initially resembled a yellow Rorschach design, they quickly settled into the smiley face layout. Notice that “bloodied eye,” too.
The Doomsday Clock is another one of Watchmen’s central visual anchors, and the TV show picks up where the comic book left off. Nine times out of ten, if a clock appears on the screen, it’s going to be set between 11:00 and 12:00, in reference to the atomic age catastrophe monitor. In the school, for instance, It looked as if the clock was somewhere around 11:25 a.m. Everyone should be probably be worried when we start seeing times much closer to 12:00.
It’s also no coincidence that the Seventh Cavalry uses adopted a clock’s sounds as its troubling chant: “Tick. Tock. Tick. Tock.” (Though I do wonder why maybe-Veidt’s pocketwatch didn’t follow suit.)
Squids Are Everywhere
Watchmen’s comic book conclusion remains bizarrely surreal all these years later, and Damon Lindelof addresses the Veidt’s squid catastrophe in a big and mysterious way. Though it was one gigantic squid creature that Veidt transported to New York, the TV show’s characters dealt with a temporary rain storm, only with tiny living squids serving as the raindrops.
A squid storms seems like one of the most hilariously disturbing events that could happen in any given day, but Watchmen’s characters are clearly used to it. Angela is quick to get out and wipe the windshield, and there are city cleaning vehicles that were created specifically for removing squids from the streets. But how did things get to this point?
Within the Watchmen mythos, the first team of vigilante heroes was called the Minutemen, which is with whom The Comedian made a name for himself, both as a hero and as a rapist. (The first versions of Nite Owl and Silk Spectre were also involved.) Much controversy swirled around the various Minutemen members, and within HBO’s Watchmen, those more sordid stories are being showcased through the dramatized TV anthology American Hero Story, a distinctly different AHS than the one airing on FX.
One of the more curiously unexplained details within Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons’ Watchmen is the pronounced use of skybound dirigibles, often with ads emblazoned. The transportation method made an appearance in HBO’s Watchmen, too, promoting the American Hero Story series.
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