Here’s How the Watchmen Comic Sets up the HBO Show

HBO’s Watchmen made its triumphant debut tonight, adding a whole new kind of story to the world of DC Comics adaptations. The live-action television series serves as a sequel of sorts to the graphic novel of the same name, as it updates its epic and bizarre world for a whole new generation. Even though there’s a thirty-year gap between the original story and the television series, the pilot provided some very interesting hints about how the two connect, ranging from epic moments to incredibly-small Easter eggs. Major spoilers for the series premiere of Watchmen below! Only look if you want to know!

The pilot followed the lives of Angela Abar (Regina King) and Judd Crawford (Don Johnson) a detective and police chief in an alternate present-day version of Oklahoma City. As the two of them began to investigate a murder of their own — who was killed by a member of a white supremacist gang known as the Seventh Kavalry. While elements of the series certainly echo our present-day reality, there are a pretty significant number of elements that could only have been set in motion by Watchmen‘s original text. Here’s what you need to know about the various Easter eggs and plot threads that Watchmen carries over from its predecessor.

Slide 1 of 5Politics

It’s hard to deny that the original Watchmen has some aggressively-political undertones, as the series establishes an alternate history with regard to the major events of Richard Nixon’s presidency. Thirty years later, the world of Watchmen showcases how those changes in events impacted American democracy — albeit in a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it kind of way.

When addressing the other police officers, Crawford mentions that the Seventh Kavalry are hiding out in “Nixonville”, which subtly showcases the legacy that the President established for himself in that universe. In the original graphic novel, Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein were suspiciously assassinated, leading to the Watergate scandal never getting exposed and Nixon becoming publicly disgraced. Because of this, Nixon is able to do away with the restrictions on Presidental term limits and serves as the Commander in Chief for five terms. 

There’s also the scene with Angela addressing her young son’s classroom, which subtly includes multiple references to the President that came after Nixon — Robert Redford. The actor can be seen on a poster of Presidents in the wall of the classroom, and a student questions if Angela benefited from “Redfordations”, which appear to be some sort of updated version of the Reparations paid to the descendants of slaves. Later on in the episode, a radio broadcast proclaims that Redford has been President for thirty years.

In the tail end of the comics, Redford is cited as a potential successor to Nixon’s administration, as a sort of tongue-in-cheek take on Ronald Reagan’s real path as actor-turned-president.


Slide 2 of 5Rorschach
(Photo: HBO)

One of the most prominent aspects of the episode is the Seventh Kavalry, which clearly draws inspiration from the enigmatic Rorschach. While the original version of the character was seemingly killed in the graphic novel, he spent some of his final moments making a last note in his journal, before sending it off to a right-wing newspaper called the New Frontiersman.

While the details of what happened in the thirty years since are still a mystery, it seems as if the New Frontiersman might have published Rorschach’s journal, and his words have been mutated into the teachings of the Kavalry.

Slide 3 of 5Ozymandias

Another prominent figure from the original series makes their way into the pilot, albeit in a rather esoteric way. While it still has yet to be officially confirmed, the pilot certainly seems to agree with the speculation that Jeremy Irons was playing none other than Adrian Veidt/Ozymandias.

Early on in the episode, when Angela is walking to her bakery, a nearby piece of newspaper proclaims that “Veidt [is] officially dead” — but that doesn’t appear to be the case. Irons’ character is later seen at an idyllic castle, where he rides a horse, sits naked, and celebrates his birthday with his two loyal servants. He then remarks that he’s writing a play, and wants the two of them to play the starring roles.

In the graphic novel, Veidt sets out to save humanity from itself by unleashing a massive telepathic creature (more on that in a minute) onto New York City. In his mind, this would unite the countries of the world against the fear of extraterrestrial threats, and stop them from going to war with each other.

In the comics, Veidt succeeds in his efforts, but is uncertain exactly how long the achieved peace will last. Whether or not Irons’ character actually is Veidt (the preview for the rest of the season seems to suggest as much), it will be interesting to see how the series explores it.

Slide 4 of 5Squid
watchmen squid

Of course, there’s the bizarre and memorable scene midway through the episode, when Angela and her son encounter a legion of raining squid while driving home from school. This moment seems to serve as a long-term effect of Ozymandias’ original Watchmen plan, which is to drop a gigantic telepathic squid onto Manhattan. The actual attack killed more than three million people as a result of it, and caused people to believe that extraterrestrial and inter-dimensional attacks were real.

The small squids, when juxtaposed with the soundtrack of “Don’t Worry, Be Happy”, feel like more of an adorable annoyance than the tragic consequences of Veidt’s original attack. They also serve as a pretty strong reminder that the series takes place in a world wildly different from our own.

Slide 5 of 5Dr. Manhattan

And of course, there’s the most ominous and heartbreaking through-line of the entire episode — the apparent return of Dr. Manhattan. Early on in the episode, a TV news report shows that Manhattan has resurfaced on Mars in his iconic glowing blue form. Angela then runs into an old man who begins to ask her questions about her bakery — only for him to call her with an ominous message later in the episode. She arrives to find the old man glowing blue – much like Dr. Manhattan – and sitting in front of the corpse of Crawford, who had been hung from a tree.

In the end of the original graphic novel, Manhattan used his extraordinary superpowers to leave Earth, seemingly because he was upset with how humanity was showing their true colors. This attitude certainly seems to be evident in the television adaptation as well — although it will be interesting to see where things go from there.


Watchmen airs Sundays at 9/8c on HBO.


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