Each bit of footage from the upcoming Watchmen on HBO has answered as many questions as it has raised new ones. The trailer that dropped at this year’s San Diego Comic-Con is no exception to the rule.
The reveal that Dr. Manhattan is still kicking around — and may even be returning to Earth — is the trailer’s biggest surprise, but there’s a lot more left to unpack, including what happened to Adrian Veidt, why police officers are becoming masked heroes, and who Legion actress Jean Smart is supposed to play.
The opening moments of the trailer showcase a figure that viewers may recognize as Hooded Justice. One of the original members of the Minutemen, the very first group of superheroes, Hooded Justice was one of the few heroes whose secret identity was never revealed. (He was also romantically involved with Minutemen founder Captain Metropolis, and subsequently paired publicly with the original Silk Spectre in order to deflect media speculation as to his sexuality.)
The scene depicted is Hooded Justice’s second known appearance, in which he intervened in a supermarket stick-up by crashing in through the window and dispatching the would-be robbers’ leader. The reports on the incident would give Hooded Justice his name.
As evident even in the brief clip, Hooded Justice was a fearsome, brutal figure, known for savagery; his very first known appearance was to prevent an attempted assault and robbery, in which he beat the perpetrators so severely that they were all hospitalized, with one man losing the use of his legs.
Hooded Justice is the only masked hero whose final fate (as of the events of the graphic novel) remains unknown.
As it turns out, the footage we’re seeing is a recreation from a TV series on superheroes. Looking Glass (Tim Blake Nelson) is seen eating a can of beans while watching the broadcast. The choice of food, along with how he’s rolled up his mask and the audio’s emphasis on the gulp, seems to draw a parallel between Looking Glass and Rorschach. Both heroes, notably, also sport masks that invite whoever looks at them to reflect upon themselves.
Unlike Rorschach, however, Looking Glass’ character description reveals him to be part of the police force: “A top interrogator and behavioral scientist, he may also be a bit of a sociopath.”
Various advertisements suggest that Looking Glass’ choice of TV entertainment is American Hero Story (presumably with the subtitle Minutemen), which seems like it could either be a CNN-style news special or an American Crime Story-style anthology series based on real events.
The tagline for the series, “Comedy begets tragedy,” is a bit of a wink to one of the most infamous members of the original Minutemen, the Comedian, whose mask is seen juxtaposed with that of Captain Metropolis in a taxicab ad.
The Comedian was the first person to discover Veidt’s plan to stage an alien invasion, and his subsequent death kicked off the events of the Watchmen comic, presumably a truth that remains unknown by the general public.
The death of Adrian Veidt
A quick shot of a newspaper reveals further chaos. The big-ticket item is that Adrian Veidt (Jeremy Irons) has officially been declared dead (“formally declared ‘presumed dead,’” according to the text of the article).
The other columns signal unrest: “KKK Vandalism Forces Statue of Liberty Closure” and “Boise Squid Shower Destroys Homeless Camp, Kills 2” may be very different kinds of chaos, but mesh in the particular world of the Watchmen series, in which the world is still feeling the ramifications of Veidt summoning a space squid to prevent a third World War, and extreme measures are being met with extreme measures.
The celebrations involving the god-like Dr. Manhattan seem to be set in flashback, specifically from the time when Dr. Manhattan was enlisted to intervene in the Vietnam War.
From papier-mâché busts, to monuments, to a wealth of objects all in his particular shade of blue, everyone looks ready to celebrate Dr. Manhattan, though it seems safe to wager that the flashbacks are less to relitigate the events of the comic than to provide some background for the new characters featured in the show. Later, a girl, who may be the young version of show lead Angela Abraham (Regina King), who can be glimpsed running through the street, is told by her parents (with her father in military uniform), “People who wear masks are dangerous [...] they’re hiding something.”
Veidt, meanwhile, seems to have gone into seclusion in his retirement, retreating to an estate of which we only see bits and pieces and enjoying a cake styled in gold and purple, in the manner of his old crime-fighting costume. It seems safe to guess that reports of his death have been made too soon, and that appearing as such is a part of his plan (or is it just a coincidence that his cake only has one candle on it?).
The theme of time is a constant one in the Watchmen world, which makes it seem worth noting that the protagonist Angela Abraham’s (Regina King) daughter has Salvador Dalí’s The Persistence of Memory hanging in her room.
The painting famously features “melting clocks,” symbolizing the relativity of time and space, which seems like a particularly Dr. Manhattan-esque line of thought.
There’s a certain poetry to what Angela has to say, too: “Pretty colors [...] just hide what the world really is: Black and white.” They’re thoughts that jive not only with the color schemes associated with the medium of comics but with the world surrounding the radicals who now wear black and white Rorschach masks.
The direct line between Rorschach and the Rorschach-masked radicals is made explicit by further footage of the address. “Soon, they will shout, ‘Save us!’ And we will whisper, ‘No,’” the main figure says, parroting one of Rorschach’s most famous lines. This is the first big clue that the series may be drawing from the Doomsday Clock comic storyline (Doomsday Clock was part of DC Rebirth and served as a direct sequel to Watchmen, albeit without Alan Moore, Dave Gibbons, or John Higgins’ involvement) — it seems dubious that Superman will appear in the show, but the idea that Rorschach’s journal got out and Veidt’s plan was revealed seems plausible given the fanatical nature of those styling themselves in his image.
“We convinced ourselves that they were gone, but they were just hibernating,” says Chief Judd Crawford (Don Johnson), in a line of thinking that lies eerily parallel to what’s been said about the rise of white supremacism and similar ideologies in the present political climate.
Crawford’s dialogue also reveals the reason for the police’s adoption of superhero personas. The Rorschach masks staged a coordinated attack on all police officers at their homes, leading to the use of masks and alter egos in order to keep the officers safe.
An overhead shot of the gathered police features most of the officers wearing yellow masks, but there’s also one particularly colorful row, in which heroes like Red Scare (Andrew Howard) and Looking Glass can be seen seated. Panda (Jacob Ming-Trent) can also be seen near the top of the assembly.
“Tartarus Acres” has no connection to Watchmen’s comic origin, but seems worth noting as a nod to Greek mythology; Tartarus is equivalent to Hell as a prison of torment and suffering.
The scene of black cars rolling into the funeral grounds while protestors gather outside, however, recalls the Comedian’s funeral in the comic.
This is our first glimpse of James Wolk’s character, Senator Keane. Though his name isn’t spelled exactly the same, it doesn’t seem like a stretch to guess that he may be related to the Keene Act of 1977, the national law passed by Senator John David Keene that forbade any “costumed adventuring.” The act led to the retirement of second Nite Owl and Silk Spectre, as well as the official cooperation of Dr. Manhattan and the Comedian as agents of the government.
The heroes we see now are similarly sanctioned, versus the Rorschach masks who are not, much like their inspiration.
Angela also comes across as much more at home in her costume than in any domestic setting. The kids for whom she provides a demonstration cracking eggs give her a warm reception, but her attitude is a little timid, at best.
She manages to crack the eggs into a smile, complete with a little spatter of blood that clearly recalls the now-iconic spot on the show and comic’s logo.
What’s more interesting about the classroom scene, however, is that it reveals that actor Robert Redford is the sitting President. This also follows the events of Doomsday Clock, in which Redford was elected on the promise of capturing Veidt in the wake of the discovery of Rorschach’s journal.
This may mean that at least part of the “present” of the show is a little earlier than we think, as, in Doomsday Clock, Redford is elected in 1992.
The trailer provides a striking glimpse at the police base of operations, consisting of a warehouse filled with blindfolded prisoners as well as a small enclosure constructed specifically for Looking Glass, whose interrogation techniques seem to be in full play. He’s seen escorting a man out of the room, and there’s also a security camera feed of what’s happening inside.
The warehouse also gives us a glimpse at a yet-unnamed officer-hero; though they’re wearing a regular police uniform, they’re also sporting a metallic mask that resembles a wolf or a dog. Accordingly, they have a German Shepherd on a leash that seems ready to tear apart any of the prisoners being trundled around the facility.
Red Scare and Pirate Jenny are also seen roughly handling prisoners around the facility as FBI Agent Laurie Blake (Jean Smart) comes to visit, as well as throwing prisoners out of a truck later on. They seem to be the brawn of the operation where Looking Glass is the brains.
Further Doomsday Clock and general historical context is provided by a newspaper saying that Redford won’t be seeking a second term as President, placing at least the paper somewhere in the mid-’90s, if not the show itself. The room in which the paper is being kept is filled with dust which is sent into a swirl as soon as Angela breaks in.
One of the biggest reveals in the trailer is Jean Smart as Blake, who may just be the aged-up Laurie Juspeczyk. The second Silk Spectre goes by her mother’s maiden name in the comic, but makes a revelation about her father, the Comedian/Eddie Blake, in the final act of the story, realizing that he and her mother really did love each other.
The name “Laurie Blake” seems like too much of a coincidence in that respect, suggesting that Laurie ended up taking her father’s name in the wake of either Veidt’s attempts at averting a World War or the discovery of his actions. Accordingly, she comes across as cynical of the attempts of the police to create order, saying that there’s no difference between a masked cop and a vigilante.
This would also explain her colder attitude towards the various Dr. Manhattan monuments around, not just because their relationship was a thorny one but because of the circumstances of their parting. After accepting (though not affirming) Veidt’s actions, Dr. Manhattan left Earth, seeking to create new life elsewhere.
It also seems like Laurie’s old beau, Dr. Manhattan, is back in play, if not necessarily in the form of Louis Gossett Jr.. Angela encounters him in a wheelchair in the middle of a field, and once again in her superhero costume as he claims that that there’s a vast and insidious conspiracy at play.
“Maybe I’m Dr. Manhattan,” he says, when she asks who he is, to which she retorts, “He lives on fucking Mars.”
One of the strangest shots of the trailer is also its most inexplicable, as we see one figure looming over another in the middle of a campsite. The figure on the ground is prone, possibly dead, and the surroundings don’t really mesh with anything else we’ve seen besides also possibly being set in Oklahoma. If anything, it looks more like Tales of the Black Freighter, though I wouldn’t go so far as to assume the comic-within-a-comic will reappear in the show as well.
Also strange is the object we see falling from the sky, which suggests that alien forces really may be at play. We see other aerial combat later in the trailer, but nothing as singular as this. In combination with the squid rain, it may turn out that Veidt was right.
It’s also a shock to discover that Dr. Manhattan is still kicking around on Mars (helpfully cued up by David Bowie’s “Life on Mars?”). The chyrons below read, “Man robbed of meatball sub at gunpoint,” “18-year-old wins $200 million Mega Millions Jackpot,” and “Reporting live: Water found on Mars,” the latter of which dovetails with Dr. Manhattan’s quest to create new life. It just seems that he’s been going about it closer than we thought.
As for exactly what he’s building, he’s seen creating and then demolishing a structure that very closely resembles Veidt’s mansion, which doesn’t bode well for the aging genius.
Dan Dreiberg, the second Nite Owl, may also surface in the series if the appearance of the Owlship is any indication. Nicknamed “Archie,” after Merlin’s owl Archimedes, the Owlship was built by Dreiberg himself.
For now, Crawford and Pirate Jenny are seen piloting the craft, using the flamethrower to take down a plane. That success, however, is short-lived, as neither of them seem proficient in piloting and subsequently crash the Owlship straight into the ground.
Red Scare next crops up in “Nixonville,” a mocking take on the ex-President, with a cadre of police officers in tow. By the looks of it, he’s set to clear out the area, which is filled with trailers and tents, and people dressed similarly to the men we’ve seen donning the Rorschach masks. Riots break out shortly afterwards, with police and rioters alike striking with abandon.
Judges, too, have donned masks, as seen in footage of a court scene in which a drawing of Veidt’s space squid takes center stage. The drawing further suggests that Veidt has been found out, if not on trial outright.
A scene in a bank introduces yet another mystery figure, whose costume bears similarities to but doesn’t exactly resemble that of the Nite Owl. The man’s age, as far as can be told by what’s visible of his face, also suggests he’s an aged-up hero. That brings into question exactly what he’s doing facing off against Blake, who fires without much hesitation.
Despite the Redford clues, it’s still possible that some of the show will take place in a present that’s closer to us, at least if the “No vaping within 25 feet of the entrance” text on the bank windows are any indication.
Chaos also reigns during what seems like another scene from the squid court case, judging by the decor and the clothes of the man being cornered by a herd of piglets, as well as the drawing, which seems to depict some sort of costumed figure. It’s not clear why the piglets are there (besides, of course, for chaos), though it seems like the kind of melodramatics Veidt would pull off without hesitation.
The consequences of Veidt’s space squid (or perhaps a prolonged exercise in getting people to fear an alien invasion) involve squid raining from the sky, recalling the rain of frogs at the end of the film Magnolia. Angela is seen caught in the deluge, if not necessarily surprised by it.
Veidt is seen standing in front of a sign that, while partially obscured, places him at the Gila Flats Test Base, where Jon Osterman died and Dr. Manhattan was born. (The year also seems to be that of Dr. Manhattan’s birth: 1959.)
“Nothing ever ends,” he says, echoing Dr. Manhattan’s last words to him. “It’s only just begun.”
The kicker is that Dr. Manhattan may really be returning to Earth, as a blue hand is seen picking up a Dr. Manhattan mask from the detritus of a street fair. This may, however, only be in flashback, as the same kind of masks are seen in the footage of the parade that the maybe-young-Angela is walking through. (It’s also during this time period that Dr. Manhattan still wears clothes regularly instead of appearing in the nude, though in the comic, he also puts on a full suit in order to appear on a news broadcast.)