Prepping for HBO’s ‘Watchmen’: Where the Comic Left Each Character

Aaron Pruner
TV Comics
TV Comics HBO DC

Watchmen changed the comic book game when the 12-issue series debuted in 1985. Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons story explored a world where costumed heroes changed the course of human history as we know it. From Nazi Germany to the Vietnam War, these landmark events transpired differently due to the involvement of masked vigilantes.

The landmark comic series eventually inspired prequels and follow-ups from DC Comics in recent years (albeit done without Moore’s involvement), expanding on the world that Moore and Gibbons created, while Zack Snyder directed a feature film based on the original comic books in 2009. And now, Lost and The Leftovers creator Damon Lindelof is bringing his own rendition of Watchmen to life at HBO. The series will debut October 20th, and will be part of a big panel at New York Comic Con this week on Friday, October 4th that includes Lindelof, Executive Producer/Director Nicole Kassell, and stars Regina King, Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, Jeremy Irons, Jean Smart, Hong Chau, Louis Gossett Jr., and Tim Blake Nelson.

The original comic book took place in the 1980s, after costumed heroes had hung up their masks and capes to retire. Some lived quiet lives, others continued the pursuit of vigilante justice. Two of these former crime-fighters found themselves representing two moral polarities: The masked Rorschach worked tirelessly to hold humanity accountable as the threat of nuclear war, and impending anarchy, was breathing heavily at the door; Doctor Manhattan, the only actual hero with superpowers, however, pulled back from humanity altogether, expanding his consciousness outside of our realm entirely.

It all kicks off with the death of one of their own, a boisterous masked vigilante named the Comedian. This eventually gets the band back together and pits Rorschach against Doctor Manhattan in a test of wills about what is morally right in an era steeped in Cold War tensions. With the Doomsday Clock just a couple ticks away from midnight, humanity’s future hanging by a thread.

Regina King in HBO's Watchmen.

How will the HBO series tackle the story? For one thing, it’s not a reboot. “Look, [the new series] certainly fits into the ‘sequel’ box, and definitely doesn’t fit into the ‘reboot’ box,” Lindelof told EW. “We treat the original 12 issues as canon. They all happened. We haven’t done any revisionist history, but we can maneuver in between the cracks and crevices and find new stories there.”

So while Lindelof is not including any of the subsequent Watchmen stories DC has told, he is using the original series as the backstory and foundation on which he’s building, as we meet a new modern day masked hero (Regina King) and see what the world of Watchmen has evolved into since the 80s.

Which iconic characters from the original Watchmen books might make an appearance here? Most of these vigilantes are either dead or were in hiding last we knew, but that doesn’t stop the show from tapping into the meaty nostalgia that makes the Alan Moore/Dave Gibbons series so great. From Rorschach to Ozymandias, here’s a refresher of where these comic book characters left off in 1985’s Watchmen.

Rorschach

Everyone’s favorite masked vigilante appears in HBO’s new series – in a way. Rorschach himself is gone, but that hasn’t stopped the Seventh Cavalry, a right-wing terrorist group, from donning their own Rorshach-style masks, using the dead man’s legacy to fuel their own hate-filled motives.

So, what exactly happened to Walter Kovacs, the original Rorschach? The inkblot mask-wearing vigilante who kinda, sorta, worked with the rest of the heroes, assisted in their investigation of the Comedian’s murder. The death of his colleague opened up a huge can of worms for Kovacs and the rest of the crime-fighting group.

The doomsday clock slowly ticked its way to midnight as they closed in on Adrian Veidt, known as the smartest man in the world. Veidt — AKA Ozymandias — had a plan to use an artificially created alien monster to kill millions of New York civilians in order to unite humanity against this common enemy, thusly ending the threat of war. A plan which he succeeded in.

The Seventh Cavalry sporting Rorschach's iconic mask in HBO's Watchmen

Nite Owl, Silk Spectre and Doctor Manhattan all agreed to keep the truth of these events a secret. After-all, there was a new peace accord achieved between the Soviet Union and the United States. But Rorschach had different motivations. Intending to get the news to the general public, he sent his journal to a right-wing newspaper titled, The New Frontiersmen.

His desire to get the news out was his ultimate downfall. Doctor Manhattan obliterated Kovacs in an attempt to maintain whatever peace the humans could muster.

But as the new Watchmen HBO series shows, Rorschach is not forgotten, for better or worse…

Nite Owl

Will Dan Drieberg, better known as Nite Owl in the original comic books, appear in HBO’s Watchmen? The answer to that question has yet to be confirmed. But Archie, his iconic Owlship, shows up briefly in the Watchmen trailer, leading to speculation that Police Chief Judd Crawford (played by Don Johnson) may actually be the Nite Owl using a new identity.

Don Johnson as Chief Judd 'Is He Nite-Owl?' Crawford

Nite Owl was a part of the big Antarctica battle against Ozymandias. But, unlike Rorschach, he, along with Silk Spectre and Doctor Manhattan, decided it was best to keep the secret behind Veidt’s alien attack on New York. The tensions of a nuclear war were averted, bringing a welcome peace between nations. As Doctor Manhattan murdered Rorschach, Nite Owl and Silk Spectre — who had become romantically involved over the course of the 12-issue comic series — vowed to keep Ozymandias’ alien attack a secret.

Silk Spectre

Laurie Juspeczyk took up the Silk Spectre mantle from her mother, Sally Jupiter, in the comic series and was heavily involved in the climactic confrontation against Ozymandias. Initially, Jean Smart was announced as playing an FBI agent named Laurie Blake, and at this summer’s Television Critics Association press tour, it was confirmed that “Laurie Blake” is indeed Silk Spectre herself, Laurie Juspeczyk, making her the one 100% confirmed character from the comic to be returning in the series.

We’ve already gone over the big Adrian Veidt battle that transpired in the comics. And while this is definitely an integral part of her story, and will probably inform the events of Damon Lindelof’s small-screen adaptation, her relationship with Nite Owl and Doctor Manhattan may actually be the bigger clue into her character’s trajectory in the show.

Jean Smart is FBI Agent Laurie Blake (aka Silk Spectre) in HBO's Watchmen

In the original Watchmen comics, Laurie was romantically involved with Doctor Manhattan. But as he became detached from humanity, and his empathy towards the human race dwindled, Silk Spectre moved in with Nite Owl. Masked vigilantes that fight crime together, stay together. Their romance blossomed and it didn’t affect Doctor Manhattan one bit.

When the threat of nuclear war amped up, she pleaded with Doctor Manhattan to help the rest of their former teammates in saving humanity. After learning that the Comedian raped Laurie’s mother, leading to her birth — and the realization that their dead colleague was her father — Doctor Manhattan saw the worth in saving the human race, fueled by his remaining affection towards Laurie. So, he helped save it by murdering Rorschach, thusly keeping Veidt’s attack on New York a secret.

In the aftermath, Laurie Juspeczyk and Dan Drieberg went into hiding. They bleached their hair and changed their names to Sam and Sandra. How Laurie eventually ended up working as an FBI agent will be a question for the TV series to answer.

Ozymandias

We’ve talked a lot about Adrian Veidt, the handsome, extremely-intelligent, egomaniacal big bad of Watchmen. Now that we’re finally to his section in the article, it almost feels like we covered all the bases about where his character left off in the original comic series. We mostly have, but there will surely be more ground to cover when Jeremy Irons takes over the role on HBO in October – well, we’re just about sure Irons is playing Veidt, because while it’s not officially confirmed, it’s long been reported that’s who he’s playing. In fact, even HBO’s Watchmen NYCC panel announcement had fun with this, listing Irons’ character as “Probably Who You Think He Is.”

Veidt’s superhero name was Ozymandias and, for all intents and purposes, he’s ultimately the villain in the original story. But there are layers in how he’s presented, tackling a bigger moral quandary while allowing for a certain percentage of loss and destruction in order to provide an overall solution of world peace.

Jeremy Irons is (we're pretty sure about this) Ozymandias in HBO's Watchmen

We suppose he could be referred to as an anti-villain in the story … but the overall good he accomplished after laying waste to a large chunk of New York’s population doesn’t excuse the crimes he committed: He murdered Edward Morgan Blake (aka the Comedian); he framed Rorschach for the killing of supervillain Moloch; He exposed a whole load of people to cancer-inducing radiation, placing the blame on Doctor Manhattan, thusly provoking the big blue guy to leave Earth altogether.

And now, here we are 30 years later. Did The New Frontiersman ever publish Rorschach’s journal, outing Veidt for all the crimes he committed? It’s uncertain, but by the looks of things, Ozymandias isn’t done pulling the world’s troublesome strings.

Doctor Manhattan

Jonathan Osterman is the human name, but most know this blue, bald, and usually naked post-human as Doctor Manhattan. That code name is a reference to the Manhattan Project and given the fact that Osterman was involved in a nuclear accident that gave him godlike powers — we’re talking everything from super strength, telekinesis, the ability to transport himself absolutely anywhere, and clairvoyance — the code name fits.

Is Doctor Manhattan returning to Earth in HBO's Watchmen?

The end of the original Watchmen comic series found Doctor Manhattan leaving Earth once more. For all we know, decades later, he’s still kicking it somewhere in space and indeed, the San Diego Comic-Con trailer for Watchmen included news footage with the onscreen text “Dr. Manhattan on Mars.” But another glimpse of his blue hand picking up a mask of his own face from a littered street alludes to the big blue dude’s return. How will he react to America’s current state of affairs? Something tells me, he might wish he’d stayed in space.

Watchmen will premiere on October 20 on HBO.

Aaron Pruner
Actor. Writer. Jew.