2019 NEW YORK COMIC CON: HBO is a network whose name is synonymous with event television. At this year’s New York Comic Con they showed off what will certainly be their latest appointment TV series, “Watchmen.” The highly anticipated television follow up to Alan Moore and David Gibbons’ legendary graphic novel premiered to a packed house and an eager audience. To start the panel, series creator Damon Lindelof (LOST) provided a brief yet heartfelt introduction of how the comics—which he first received from his father—influenced his career. “The Watchmen changed my life. They taught me how to tell stories, how to build worlds, how to alt histories, how to jump around in time, how to break rules. The writer of this masterpiece asked that I not say his name, but I can say that he’s a genius. And I am forever inspired by, and aspire to his incandescent goods.”
A FAN AT HEART
His appreciation for the original comic book series was evident, but now he has something new, “a very, very, very expensive piece of fan fiction,” Lindelof said with a chuckle. With that setup, the lights dimmed and the excited NYCC audience got what they had been waiting for: the series premiere episode. Based on the thunderous applause as the closing credits began to roll, they ate it up. I know I did.
After the episode screening the fun continued as Lindelof was joined on stage by cast members Regina King (“If Beale Street Could Talk”), Jeremy Irons (“Reversal of Fortune”), Tim Blake Nelson (“The Ballad of Buster Scruggs”), Jean Smart, Louis Gossett Jr., Hong Chau, Yahya Abdul-Mateen II and executive producer, Nicole Kassell. As they all took their seats one chair remained open for a surprise guest. When asked to reveal the identity of the guest, Lindelof nixed any chance of the audience guessing who it would be. “When people guess it and it doesn’t turn out the way they want it to, hasn’t turned out particularly well for me,” Lindelof said playfully (in reference to the backlash he took from fans over his ending to “LOST”).
Turns out, the surprise guest was none other than David Gibbons, co-creator and artist of the original Watchman graphic novel. Gibbons explained what drew him to the series. “What Damon had in mind was not a prequel or sequel, but it was an extrapolation. What Alan and I did with ‘Watchmen’ we initially said, what if superheroes really existed? What would they be like, and what would the world be like? Which is quite a big question, quite bold questions.”
Although quite evident by his introduction, Lindelof declared his reverence for the source material. He didn’t feel right retelling the “Watchmen” story. It had to be something new. “What Dave and Alan did doesn’t need to be rebooted in any way shape or form. Those 12 issues are absolute canon to us. Everything that happened in ‘Watchman’ preceded the events of this show. We wanted to create an on-ramp for audiences that they didn’t feel burdened before they watch it… So, I started to think, ‘Watchmen’ was written in the mid-80s and was about the mid-80s, it was very much of its time. So I asked myself, what happened 30 years later?”
CONTINUING A CLASSIC
The new HBO series serves as a direct continuation of the Alan Moore classic. Set three decades after the events of the original. Little can be said about the actual episode because attendees were asked to keep their lips sealed to preserve the experience for viewers. What I can tell you, though, is the show is set in a gritty, violent, alternate reality version of today which is just as divided as we are now.
Through layered storytelling “Watchmen” stakes out a wide scope with plenty of mysterious characters to explore — many whose faces are obscured by masks. And, although the themes have shifted to social injustice and white supremacy, which are sadly more relevant in today’s world, the series matches the original’s tone. It gets off to a riveting start, feeling both fresh and familiar, which was Lindelof’s goal. This is not a knock off of the graphic novel, it is more of an homage.
KING IS QUEEN
The weight of the premiere’s success rested on the shoulders of Regina King. The actress, whom Lindelof set on, plays the lead character, Angela Abar. She is a caring, supportive mother/wife and a retired police officer. As the world crashes down around her, she shifts into the complete badass mode as her masked alter-ego, Sister Night. Not typically known for such intense roles, King impressed. Her transformation from sweet, nurturing Angela to tough, uncompromising vigilante alias is enthralling. She disappears into the role.
When I spoke to her during the NYCC panel, I addressed her surprising physical and attitudinal assertiveness, asking, “This role feels like a departure from your previous work. Has this been inside of you all along or was it something you had to create to deliver this performance?” King replied, “A combination of both. It has always been inside me. I always wanted to play a superhero. It had to be this combination to make it happen.” Based on her riveting performance in the premiere, she seems like a natural. Welcome to superherodom, Miss King. It fits you well.
The new HBO “Watchmen” series premieres on October 20th.