Despite the mounting skepticism that preceded its release, HBO's Watchmen managed to blow all expectations out of the water, both in terms of cleverly honoring the source material and delivering an exciting and unpredictable story. While it will no doubt inspire many adaptations and original works in the years to come, it barely took any time at all for the Damon Lindelof-developed series to directly affect Watchmen's comic book canon. It turns out the TV show played a role in bringing the upcoming Rorschach sequel miniseries to life.
During the Expansion of DC's Watchmen panel during Day 2 of DC FanDome, Damon Lindelof spoke with Rorschach's writer Tom King and artist Jorge Fornés about what fans can expect from the noir-esque conspiracy thriller. The first thing Lindelof asked echoed the questions that he heard many times when putting the TV show together: Why and why now? According to King, it was the HBO series that directly led to him accepting the gig after previously turning it down. In his words:
Frankly, I was reluctant. I didn't want to do this. They had offered it to me much earlier, and I had said no. You don't want to be the guy who follows Richard Pryor on stage to tell the next joke. It just sets you up for failure; you don't want to be compared to something that you can't ever beat. And frankly, I just didn't think there was room to breathe in that universe, because I think the original Watchmen had said what needed to be said. And I mean, I feel like I'm sucking up to you [Damon Lindelof], but honestly, when I first saw your show, I remember just looking at the pilot, the first episode, and I said, 'Oh, someone can follow Pryor. Someone can still make jokes and still make people laugh as much as before.' But you need the exact right environment, and you need to not – I'm gonna switch metaphors here – but you can't be the cover band. You can't be the Monkees to the Beatles; you gotta be the Stones. You gotta be the next thing, and not a copy of the last thing. When I sorta had the vision that that could be done, that opened the doors.
Tom King's initial hesitation to dive into an official Watchmen comic sequel is beyond understandable, considering how lauded Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons' original 12 issues are. Not just for the brilliant core narrative but for the allusions, the panel choices, the art style, the foreshadowing, the supplemental material, and the other numerous ways that the duo upended expectations intrinsically tied to the comic book medium. It's easy to sympathize with King not thinking there was a proper way to follow that up, but then the Watchmen TV show came along and proved it was not only possible, but it was also possible to do it extremely well.
The Rorschach miniseries will be set in the modern day, the same as the Watchmen TV show, but fans hoping to see references to Sister Night or Looking Glass' origins are going to be disappointed. That said, Tom King made an interesting note when confirming the projects will be mutually exclusive.
The TV show meant so much to me. I don't reference it, or make it in the world, but I make it so nothing contradicts with the TV show. So if you've seen the TV show, you can imagine that this is happening a little bit afterwards.
Considering the variety of different ways that Damon Lindeof's creative team flipped the script on Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons' Watchmen – from Hooded Justice's origin story to Laurie's future – there were probably times when Tom King very well could have alluded to the original text in a way that retconned the TV show's storytelling. But awesomely enough, King and Jorge Fornés made the conscious decision not to take away from that side of the universe.
Still, in the way that HBO's Watchmen was as much a commentary on the state of the world today as it was a commentary on the 1986 source material, Rorschach will strive to make that same double-duty responsibility happen, with Tom King metaphorically taking the reins from Alan Moore. (Metaphorically because Moore would have burned those reins up so that no one would have access to them.) Here's how King put it:
I mean, obviously, America is in a very bizarre place. We're in a very bizarre place; we're in FanDome instead of in San Diego. It changes every single day, and we're going to through incredible, tumultuous insanity, which is grinding us and testing us to talk about that in a comic book. And in a literary way, I think Alan Moore has given us the notes, in the way someone might give Wagner a scale. He gave us the notes to talk about our current moment, and so I wanted to play in that sandbox to talk about this. And so yeah, it's a very political work. It's about today, it's about contemporary, but it tries to be revolutionary in the way that Watchmen tries to be.
In case anyone wondered, Damon Lindelof was indeed humbled by Tom King's admission, but did not take credit for everything himself.
I just want to say that I appreciate everything you just said, and thank you so much. It means a lot. I'll also say I cannot in any good conscience use the pronoun 'I' because I was literally sitting in the writers room with a dozen people, all of whom kind of came to Watchmen from different angles.
Rorschach centers on an investigation after an assassination attempt is made on the first presidential candidate in decades to face POTUS Robert Redford, and the first issue will hit physical and digital stores on October 1. Meanwhile, you can currently stream all eight episodes of Watchmen on HBO Max, though you probably won't be able to catch the FanDome panel. And stay updated with our Fall 2020 TV premiere schedule to see what new and returning shows are on the way.