'Watchmen': How the HBO Series Hid the Graphic Novel's Original Characters in Plain Sight
Based on the iconic 1986 DC Comics graphic novel from writer Alan Moore, artist Dave Gibbons and colorist John Higgins, Watchmen is the riveting new TV series created by Damon Lindelof, whose previous work includes ABC's Lost and The Leftovers on HBO.
Taking place 30 years after the events in the book, Watchmen further explores an alternate history where masked vigilantes are treated as outlaws. The original concept has been “remixed,” as the creator puts it, with the introduction of new characters -- such as Looking Glass (Tim Blake Nelson) -- that live in the same world as Doctor Manhattan, Silk Spectre, Ozymandias and other key figures from the original text.
Set in 2019, Oscar winner Regina King plays Angela Abar, a lead detective in the Tulsa, Oklahoma Police who goes by Sister Knight after she’s forced to wear a mask to protect her identity from Rorschach's followers. Despite the peace created by the Defense of Police Act, which allows uniformed officers to don yellow masks and detectives to take on hero-like personas, the balance is shattered when a key figure in the community is murdered.
Over the course of season one, Lindelof has revealed just how each of the original characters factors into the lives and world of his new ones -- and just how many of them were hidden in plain sight. As Dr. Manhattan put it at the end of the graphic novel, “nothing ever ends.” And the series proved that but bringing him and others back into the fold.
Warning: Spoilers for the first nine episodes of the series below.
Hooded Justice / Will Reeves
Sometimes referred to as “H.J.” by his fellow Minutemen, Hooded Justice remains the only truly anonymous masked hero of the past. While he never actually gets to tell his story, it’s widely known that he shared a romantic relationship with Captain Metropolis and shared a deep-seated rivalry with the Comedian, whom he stopped during his assault on Jupiter. He eventually disappears during the 1950s after refusing to abide by new laws and regulations over masked crusaders.
On the series, Hooded Justice appears in two forms. The first being an actor (Cheyenne Jackson) who portrays the mythologized hero in the ongoing series within a series, American Hero Story, which seems determined on revealing his identity. (The series seems to be watched mostly by the Tulsa police, one of which thinks Dr. Manhattan traveled back in time to masquerade as H.J.) In actuality, it’s revealed that Hooded Justice is none other than Will Reeves (Louis Gossett Jr.), a child survivor of the 1921 Tulsa race riot and grandfather to Abar. With his past unknown to Abar, as well as his reasons for killing the chief of police or his connections to Lady Trieu, Abar’s world soon turns upside down. She eventually learns his entire backstory -- and their shared lifestyles behind the mask -- after she takes a bottle of Nostalgia pills, which contains Reeves’ memories.
After escaping Tulsa, Reeves -- a surname he took from his idol Bass Reeves -- moves to New York City where he’s grown up to become one of the city’s few black police officers. Not long after he’s deputized, he’s harassed by white cops and beaten within inches of his life after he attempts to arrest a white man with connections to the KKK. Reeves survives the lynching and soon starts donning the hood and rope used to hang him while fighting back white supremacists and uncovering a conspiracy to make African Americans riot and fight amongst each other.
He’s soon engaged by Captain Metropolis (aka Nelson Gardner played by Jake McDorman), who invites him to join the Minutemen. Their relationship quickly turns sexual, despite Reeves being married to the woman who survived the Tulsa race riot with him. When she thinks he's taken his vigilantism too far, she and their son move back to Tulsa.
“It’s a character that I've always dreamt about playing,” Gossett tells ET.
Adrian Veidt / Ozymandias
Believed to be “the smartest person on the planet,” Veidt parlayed his fame as a hero into successful businesses and life as a revered humanitarian. After becoming disenfranchised with the notion of heroes, he comes up with a scheme to deceive the world into uniting together while putting an end to growing international tensions of threat of nuclear war. On Nov. 2, 1985, a squid-like creature created in Veidt’s laboratories, materialized in the middle of New York City, killing millions. While it’s discovered that Veidt is behind the attack, Dr. Manhattan realizes that exposing him will only undo the world peace that will inevitably follow. The remaining heroes -- Silk Spectre II, Nite Owl II -- maintain his secret, while Manhattan banishes himself from Earth.
Played by Jeremy Irons on the HBO series, Veidt is first presented as the lord of an English manor before it’s slowly revealed that this genetically-enhanced world that he’s lived in for the past four years in is not a grand estate, but rather a prison on Europa, a moon of Jupiter. He’s flanked by human clones, Mr. Phillips (Tom Mison) and Ms. Crookshanks (Sara Vickers), who serve him unquestionably and is monitored by a game warden, who’s quick to keep him in line with prison rules. “It’s difficult because he did have a social position of power in life and he seems to have been removed from this a bit, like an ex-president,” Irons tells ET, adding that after being stuck in that sort of situation, “he’s wanting life to get more exciting again.”
No longer content with just riding horses or shooting buffalo, Veidt spends his time building a catapult in order to hatch an escape, proving that prison may actually be some sort of an elaborate escape room. “I kind of felt like, if we’re going to lock this guy up somewhere -- and by episode five we still don’t know who locked him up and why -- it’s gonna have to be quite an overwhelming challenge for him to escape, so that felt like this was a good place to put him and throw away the key,” Lindelof tells Collider. It turns out that Veidt asked Manhattan to take him to this place. But what started out as paradise turned into a prison that only his daughter could rescue him from.
Meanwhile, back on Earth, Veidt was deemed missing after his companies were purchased by Lady Trieu (Hong Chau) -- who was revealed to be his biological daughter -- in 2012. In September 2019, he’s officially declared dead, having not been seen publicly since 2007. That same month, detectives in Tulsa, Oklahoma, begin hunting down the Seventh Kalvary after another catastrophic threat emerges. Soon, Looking Glass discovers that Veidt was behind the events of 11/2 that have altered his life and the course of America in the 30 years since after watching the former hero’s recorded video message to President Robert Redford explaining how to maintain the alien hoax.
After being rescued by Trieu, Vedit was flash frozen in carbon in order for him to survive the journey back to Earth. However, he remained in that form -- visible to everyone as a statue -- until his daughter unveiled her true intentions for the Millennium Clock and her hopes to become a new version of Manhattan.
Laurie Juspeczyk / Silk Spectre II
Juspeczyk is the daughter of the original Silk Spectre, Sally Jupiter, and the Comedian, Edward Blake -- both members of the original Minutemen. She eventually follows in her mother’s crime-fighting footsteps, becoming a key member of a new generation of heroes. A young Silk Spectre II quickly became involved with Dr. Manhattan. But after 20 years together, their relationship becomes strained as Manhattan grows increasingly disconnected from humanity. After leaving him, Juspeczyk is reunited with Daniel Dreiberg (Nite Owl II), and the two briefly start fighting crime before getting wrapped up in Veidt’s cataclysmic plans for world peace. Unable to do anything, Juspeczyk and Dreiberg leave their masked lives -- and any connection to Veidt -- behind them for a domesticated life.
Thirty years after the events of 11/2, Juspeczyk -- an FBI agent now going by Laurie Blake played by Jean Smart -- finds herself surrounded by masked heroes, whom she now considers vigilantes. Hellbent on upkeeping the Keene Act of 1977, which forced heroes into retirement, her job is to sniff out crusaders who are not abiding by the law. “She thinks she’s so on top of it, and that she’s three steps ahead of everybody, and that she’s got everything figured out,” Smart tells ET of Blake. (While her path to becoming an agent is not made explicitly clear, it’s revealed that she and Dreiberg were apprehended by the FBI after they stopped the Oklahoma City bombing and killed Timothy McVeigh.)
Seemingly content with leaving her life as Silk Spectre behind her, Blake’s past resurfaces when she’s assigned to investigate the death of Tulsa’s chief of police. Not only are detectives allowed to don masks -- a reaction to the events of the White Night -- but she’s paired with a young agent who is nothing short of a Minutemen scholar. Soon, it’s confirmed by Dale Petey (Dustin Ingram), that she’s the product of rape after the Comedian assaulted her mother. It’s not a healthy foundation to her character, Smart offers. And after initially thinking her assignment “is going to be sort of a slam dunk,” Smart says that as soon as she meets Abar, “she realizes fairly quickly that she’s kind of met her match and that maybe this is a lot more complicated than she thought.”
Dr. Jon Osterman / Doctor Manhattan
A nuclear physicist, Dr. Osterman becomes Dr. Manhattan after a freak accident in a research facility makes him the world’s first true superhero among the Minutemen. His presence helps the United States tip the balance in the Cold War, secures a victory in the Vietnam War, and greatly advances science and technology. Decades later, after Rorschach reaches out to him after the Comedian is murdered, setting off the events leading up to 11/2, when a squid-like creature created in Veidt’s laboratories materialized in the middle of New York City, killing millions. After becoming disenchanted with humanity, Manhattan leaves Earth for Mars, where he remains in a self-imposed asylum.
On the series, decades after he’s left, it’s believed that Manhattan is still on Mars. There are even paid phone booths, in which fans or the like can leave him messages, which are sent to the red planet. After Blake arrives in Tulsa, she uses one of the phone booths to exposit an elaborate brick joke about three heroes making their case to God about who should be allowed in heaven. At the end of her message, when suggesting that he’s not out there listening, she’s nearly hit by Abar’s car, which falls from the sky. Elsewhere, his likeness and backstory are recreated in a play written by Veidt, who remains trapped on Europa. He makes Mr. Phillips perform as Manhattan opposite Ms. Crookshanks as his fellow researcher and partner at the time, Janey Slater.
By episode seven, it is revealed that Manhattan has been living with humans on Earth this entire time -- just in the form of Abar’s husband, Cal Abar (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II). Despite multiple claims that he could not take on human form or even the suggestion that he was Hooded Justice in a past life, it seems that Manhattan’s abilities go beyond what people previously knew was he was capable of. And it looks like taking human form was possible due to the metal ring -- shaped like a hydrogen atom similar to Manhattan’s symbol -- that was inside Cal’s skull.
Of course, what we knew about Manhattan and his powers have been realigned. Not only can he take human form, but it also seems possible to transfer his energy into another person. That's what both Trieu and Keene believe as each attempts to absorb his energy into their bodies. While, they're both unsuccessful, Abar may have found a way -- which was unknowingly revealed to her the night she met Manhattan:
"I suppose I could transfer my atomic components into some sort of organic material, if someone were to consume it they would inherit my powers," Manhattan says.
"So you can put them in this egg and if I ate it I could walk on water?" Angela asks.
"Theoretically yes," Manhattan says.
After Manhattan is destroyed by Trieu, Abar returns home to find an unbroken egg on the kitchen floor. She swallows the contents whole before attempting to step on the water in her pool in her backyard. While it's not officially confirmed or revealed that Abar successfully inherited his powers, it's not wrong to assume she did. It seems HBO was hinting at it the entire time with this poster of Abar cascaded in blue light:
Daniel Dreiberg / Nite Owl II
After Dreiberg seeks out Hollis T. Mason’s permission to use his Nite Owl persona, he uses his tech wizardry to owl-themed gadgets and even a flying vehicle dubbed Archie that enhance his skills as a crimefighter. In his early days, he partners with Rorschach but eventually retires after the passing of the Keene Act. Years later, he reunites with Silk Spectre II to get his former partner out of prison before learning of Veidt’s plan for humanity. After the events of 11/2, he seemingly settles into domesticated life with Juspeczyk before it’s later revealed on the show that the two didn’t stay unmasked for long, stopping the Oklahoma City bombing and killing Timothy McVeigh.
When the series picks up with Juspeczyk, who is now going under her father’s surname, Blake, Dreiberg is nowhere to be seen. It’s hinted that Dreiberg is now behind bars after being uncooperative with the FBI, when Senator Joe Keene Jr. (James Wolk) is trying to convince Blake to investigate the murder of the Tulsa chief of police. He suggests that if she’s able to solve the case, he might be able to win his election bid against President Redford and pardon Dreiberg when he assumes office.
Meanwhile, the cops fly owlships, which are equipped by MerlinCorp, a company secretly owned by Dreiberg. While the one used by the Tulsa police doesn't last long, the original Archie resurfaces by the end of the series. But alas, Dreiberg is nowhere to be seen.
United States Senator John David Keene
Keene is the politician responsible for the Keene Act of 1977, which forces all masked heroes and/or vigilantes, save the ones employed by the U.S. government, to retire. His policy looms large over the politics in the United States in the decades to follow 11/2.
On the series, his son, Oklahoma Senator Keene Jr., spearheads the Defense of Police Act (DOPA) after the White Night leaves several policemen slaughtered on Christmas Eve. Under the law in Oklahoma, all law enforcement wears yellow masks, while detectives are allowed to take on hero-like personas, such as Sister Night, Looking Glass, Red Scare and Pirate Jenny working in the Tulsa department.
The policy, which is growing in popularity with cities like Atlanta and New Orleans wanting to adopt it, sets up Keene’s White House bid. He hopes to beat Redford, who has been president since 1992. What it seems no one knows, save for a few key members of the Seventh Kalvary and Looking Glass, is that Keene is encouraging the latest threat against peace in Tulsa, and possibly elsewhere.
When Keene's master plan is finally revealed, his father makes a brief appearance -- proving that he's been alive this entire time despite not being present onscreen.
Captain Metropolis / Nelson Gardner
Gardner is a former Marine who becomes a leader of the Minutemen after taking on the persona of Captain Metropolis. While little is known about Gardner’s personal life, it was known that he had a sexual relationship with Hooded Justice.
On the series, he’s embodied by McDorman, who brings Gardner’s charm and sex appeal to life. After recruiting Reeves, he invites him into bed. But he stops short of letting it become anything more outside the bedroom. At one point, he even tells Hooded Justice that he can never take off his mask since everyone believes it’s a white man doing his job -- in the same way that slave owners believed Harriet Tubman was a white man named Moses -- and even disregards his desire to take down a conspiracy network causing riots within the African-American community.
Walter Joseph Kovacs / Rorschach
Rorschach is a masked persona created by Kovacs, who is constantly at odds with his crime-fighting partners’ morals and views on morality. After the Keene Act forces most to retire, Kovacs continues his vigilantism and slowly brings his former partners back into the fold after he begins investigating the Comedian’s murder. When the investigation leads to Veidt, who is behind the events of 11/2, Kovacs is killed. Before dying, he left behind a journal of his accounts, which he sends to a newspaper in hopes that everything is revealed. It’s dismissed, however, as largely conspiracy and never taken seriously. Decades later, Rorschach is long dead, but his anarchist behavior is very much alive in the form of the Seventh Kalvary, which adopts his iconic mask as their own.
Edward Blake / The Comedian
A longtime masked vigilante, the Comedian lives a conflicted life that involves war crimes in Vietnam, assaulting Jupiter, who gives birth to his daughter, Juspeczyk, and a murder that sets off the events leading up to 11/2. On the series, Juspeczyk changes her surname, going by Blake, further complicating her character.
While far from confirmed, an entry on Peteypedia -- the series’ supplemental site -- offers up another possible connection to the show by claiming “Lady Trieu’s father was the Comedian.” While the entry quickly debunks the theory -- also refer back to above -- it goes on to explain that Blake was known for fathering children while overseas and that “among his alleged progeny, seven were Vietnamese, ranging in age from 25 to 39, including “'one of Vietnam’s most prominent post-statehood citizens.’”
Watchmen airs Sundays at 9 p.m. ET on HBO.
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