‘Watchmen’ Series Premiere: Comic Book Easter Eggs, Explained
[This story contains spoilers for the series premiere of HBO’s Watchmen, “It’s Summer and We’re Running Out of Ice,” and the graphic novel on which the drama is based.]
“Nothing ends, Adrian. Nothing ever ends.”
Doctor Manhattan blinks out of Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons’ Watchmen with those haunting parting words, leaving Adrian Veidt and reader alike to ponder their meaning. In a literal sense (and certainly an unintended sense, given Moore’s distaste for sequels to his sprawling superhero subversion), the erstwhile Jon Osterman’s strange farewell laid the groundwork for more Watchmen — first as Zack Snyder’s 2009 feature film, then a series of additional comics like Before Watchmen and Doomsday Clock, and now HBO’s television series from Damon Lindelof, starring Regina King, and focusing on a whole new set of problems within the world Dr. Manhattan left behind.
Of course, Dr. Manhattan isn’t really gone, at least if we’re to take the series premiere of Lindelof’s semi-sequel at face value. Indeed, he didn’t even leave our galaxy as promised at the end of Moore and Gibbons’ work; he’s on Mars, still spinning structures out of sand, according to a blink-and-you-miss-it news broadcast.
Or is he?
Even after one episode, questions about Manhattan’s actual whereabouts and current agenda (though what exactly does current mean to one such as Manhattan?) already abound — and rightfully so, given what’s known of the character: he has the ability to experience moments across time; he can duplicate himself; he was last seen stating his intent of creating new life somewhere far away from the Milky Way; Veidt’s own plan to drop a gigantic telepathic squid on New York City and therefore unite the globe under a shared utopian ideal was fully fake news so why believe Manhattan’s Martian hangout is real, when there’s enough reason to suspect otherwise? Rorschach is dead, but his conspiratorial thinking clearly lives on — as does his likeness, thanks to the racist domestic terrorist group known as the Seventh Kalvary.
Heap this onto the reason to suspect something’s up with Dr. Manhattan: HBO’s Watchmen is fully loaded with nods at its source point. Here’s a partial list of ways the series premiere kisses back to Moore and Gibbons’ comic books:
President Robert Redford: The final pages of the comic books reveal the iconic actor’s intention of challenging then-president Richard Nixon (well beyond his real political career in the universe of the comics) in the 1988 election. In HBO’s version of events, Redford eventually scores the White House, and has stayed there since the 1990s.
American Hero Story: Watchmen features a show-within-a-show construct, with the tales of founding superheroes Hooded Justice and the Minutemen set to be told in the form of a television miniseries. Aside from serving as a way to bring old characters into the new context without too much continuity-shaking risk, it honors the graphic novel’s own comic-within-a-comic subplot of Tales From the Black Freighter, a pirate story with deadly parallels to the greater Watchmen plot.
The World’s Smartest Man: According to a newspaper, “Adrian Veidt is dead,” though it’s all but confirmed that Jeremy Irons is playing the retired crusader once known as Ozymandias. His exact whereabouts are hard to pin down; in the comics, Veidt owned a tropical biodome in the middle of Antarctica, so his current palatial existence could be truly anywhere. Through this man who may or may not be but almost certainly is Adrian Veidt, we get another nod at Dr. Manhattan in the form of the play he’s writing: “The Watchmaker’s Son,” which aptly describes Jon Osterman’s existence before becoming an atomic god. Another callout to Veidt, albeit an obscure one: the Seventh Kalvary soldier who dies via cyanide pill, mirroring Veidt’s would-be assassin from the comics who dies the same way. Granted, Veidt actually force-fed the poison to his would-be assassin, but let’s not bicker over details.
So. Many. Squids: Irons or not, Veidt lives on in one tangible way: squid rain. Early in the episode, Angela Abar (Regina King) pulls her car to the side of the road as sirens blare out and squids rain down from the sky. It’s clear that Ozymandias’ plan to unite humanity requires constant vigilance, and constant vigilance takes the form of baby calamari downpours from “another dimension.” The lighthearted cover of Bob Marley’s “Three Little Birds” underscores the ridiculousness of the continued squid rain, though it undersells the devastation of the original killer act, not to mention the fact that someone — Veidt or not — is powerful enough to maintain the rain.
The Rorschach Test: Walter Kovacs died outside of Karnak, refusing to compromise his values, even in the face of Armageddon. But the sugar-chomping crimefighter lives on in Lindelof’s vision, in a variety of ways. Most obviously, there’s the Seventh Kalvary, who have appropriated Rorschach’s likeness for their own, and espouse values stated in Rorschach’s journal. If they know his inner-thoughts chapter and verse, then they presumably know or strongly suspect Ozymandias’ squid plan was a load of big-budget bollocks. A bit less obviously, there’s a red-headed man on Greenwood Avenue holding up a sign. It reads: “The Future is Bright,” which is a nice contrast to Rorschach’s own sign from the comics: “The End is Nigh.” Ambiguously, there’s Tim Blake Nelson’s character Wade, aka Looking Glass, who calls the best parts of Rorschach to mind: a dried-wit attitude, a size that hides his danger, and a mask that reflects something different depending on who’s looking.
Flight of the Owl: Are Judd Crawford (Don Johnson) and Daniel Drieberg the same person? It’s not an entirely unreasonable theory based on some serious owl-focused imagery from the series premiere. Crawford’s office contains owl mugs, as well as a copy of “Under the Hood,” the Minutemen biography written by Hollis Mason, the original (and since deceased) Nite Owl. Most notably, Crawford pilots an Owl Ship during one of the biggest action scenes of the episode. Is it straight up “Archie,” Dan Drieberg’s ship from the comics? Drieberg was on the run at the end of the series, with a new identity and everything… did he settle down in Tulsa, Oklahoma? It feels unlikely, since shrouding himself in Nite Owl memorabilia would be a very strange way to divert attention away from being the actual Nite Owl on the run — more likely, the government has hands on Nite Owl’s tech and has since repurposed it for law enforcement — but it’s fun to think about.
“The Comedian is Dead”: Even if Judd and Nite Owl are one and the same, what does it matter? Poor Judd is dead! Much as Moore and Gibbons’ Watchmen begins with the death of the Comedian, Lindelof’s new take on the material ends with the death of a jolly figure in his own right: Judd, hanged to death, dangling from a tree as blood drips down onto his badge — reminiscent of the blood smeared on the Comedian’s own smiling badge. Will the murder mystery come to dominate the rest of the TV series, as it dominated so much of the comic? Eight more episodes until we know for sure.
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