I have watched three episodes of the new HBO series, a purported sequel to the classic graphic novel Watchmen by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons. I grow anxious with the show and refuse subscription to the moral blackmail that its creators seemingly are soliciting.
The show occurs in an alternate 2019, 30-odd years after the original book (which thankfully ignores the Zack Snyder film). It follows the travails of a Black female police officer in Tulsa named Angela Abar, played by Regina King. She is working to unravel the mystery surrounding resurgent terrorism by a trailer park white nationalist group called the Seventh Kavalry (Lindelof is certainly not one for subtlety with names here) with heavy artillery sporting Rorschach masks, worn in tribute to the nut-ball narrator of the antecedent text.
In this world, electric cars are proliferate and Robert Redford, serving his sixth presidential term, has overseen the roll-out of a reparations program for African Americans (that Henry Louis Gates is an officer in this administration should say plenty to those versed in the nuances of African American politics and discourse). The effort to continue the source’s story is obviously novel but also borders tedium.
Preliminary interrogation starts with basic observation. This is perhaps the most-abused work of literature in the history of the 20th century’s great offering of postmodern fiction. Should one attempt a graphic novel adaptation of a Toni Morrison novel? Would you ever consider trying to make a film out of Gravity‘s Rainbow? If you were given the offer by the publisher, would you consider authoring a sequel to Cormac McCarthy‘s Blood Meridian? Of course not!
Jesus Christ, Mohammed, Zarathustra, and Joseph Smith are the only authors that come to mind who ever dared trying to write sequels to grand old tomes of classical literature that were on that similar level of self-contained narrative. And do you remember what happened with those authors? Basic standards of taste and sanity dictate authoring such a sequel is itself an egotistical act of narcissism run wild.
Watchmen did not and does not require a sequel because it said absolutely everything that needed to be said about not just superheroes, but the entire literary genre of comics (such as it is) and the entire Romantic hero archetype.
Adaptation of the novel off the page into alternative formats furthermore obscures a key element of the source’s genius, its critique of comics art as a form. Consider this example of the book’s fifth chapter, titled ‘Fearful Symmetry,’ which creates a parallelism between the first and last pages in style, layout, and coloring so that the last page mirrors the first.
Notice also a few issues being sold simultaneously. While HBO runs this serial, DC is publishing a comic book miniseries titled Doomsday Clock, just as ridiculous in the level of pomposity displayed by its authors.
By way of some contractual somersaults that exploit a fine-print clause intended to screw the authors, Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons get their regular royalty checks. However, because DC persists in keeping the book in publication ad infinitum, they prevent the intellectual properties from reverting to the authors, thereby robbing Moore and Gibbons of the real cash they could be accruing. This show is just one more way for DC to keep robbing the authors. That certainly has dire repercussions for African American intellectual property issues that other franchises of the Warner media behemoth (such as its music labels) might exploit in a similar fashion.
While it might seem as though the politics of the show are somehow revolutionary, they actually are far from it.
The protagonist is a cis heterosexual middle class cop. Her costume is made up of elements derived from Roman Catholicism, the ecclesiastical body that founded and financed the slave trade. By positioning her as the hero, Lindelof continues erasure and ignorance of the liberatory role played by queer/trans working class Black women in American history. The proposition that you somehow could expect to see the American police forces serve as an agent of radical positive change by enforcing the roll-out of a reparations program while running around in ski masks (hints of AntiFa/black bloc, obviously) is an obscenity that spits on our contemporary police/prison abolitionists who put their lives on the line daily in actions which thereby demonstrate incidentally the absolute impossibility of such a proposition. (Note also the reparations program is exclusively to finance descendants of the 1919 Tulsa pogrom, where white mobs descended on the affluent so-called “Black Wall Street,” as opposed to reparations for chattel bond slavery.)
This all speaks to a larger flaw that Lindelof seems to be ignoring. In the source novel, the authors explicitly chose not to create any non-white superheroes, thereby putting a subtle emphasis on the racism inherent to the archetype. The vigilante crime fighter is represented throughout as extraordinarily conservative at best and fascistic in most effective formulation, embodied by the vicious sadist Edward “The Comedian” Blake.
By no means is the novel full of liberal colorblindness, quite the contrary, instead the multiple superheroes and their various teams (none of which are ever named Watchmen in the text, by the way) are segregated law-and-order militias seeking to maintain the strictures of a racist status quo, a kind of cross-section of the Reagan electoral coalition circa 1984.
Lindelof’s refusal to maintain that color line is a distinct political decision that flies in the face of his publicized virtue-signaling via a narcissistic interview with Rolling Stone. The television producer fundamentally misunderstands his source material on a basic level.
Of course, there are already numerous published claims that this serial is “ultimately triumphant,” but at what exactly? Contra liberals who eat this sort of thing up, it seems the major ideological effort propagandized within this project is articulation of the subtle notion that #BlueLivesMatter, something articulated first by the brilliant DaveyD in a discussion with Dr. Jared Ball, the eloquent multimedia scholar of hip-hop history through a radical anti-colonial lens.
I refuse to take the bait of the moral blackmail such a narrative entails and urge others to take up such a fast.