Why the Watchmen TV Series Should Be Set in Present Day

The news of a TV series based on Alan Moore's acclaimed graphic novel Watchmen coming to HBO has brought with it speculation on how close to the source material the show will be. It might seem blasphemous to alter Watchmen, but we all know these changes are coming in one form or another. With Zack Snyder's 2009 movie adaptation having already provided fans with a fairly faithful adaptation (up until the ending, at least), taking Watchmen out of the '80s and into the present day could be the best way to get value out of a new adaptation. After all, Watchmen’s world now seems more realistic. We’re essentially living out the chapter on symmetry.

In the graphic novel, Rorschach’s journal tells us it’s 1988, which is somewhat unusual. Most comics eschew that kind of dating so that the stories can be read in the perpetual now, but Moore wrote Watchmen to be reflective of the times—part social commentary, part satire. To modernize the text to continue that theme would actually be respectful to his vision. (Of course, he’ll still hate it, but that’s just Alan Moore). We’ve already experienced Watchmen’s eighties twice already - first in the original graphic novel, and then on-screen in Zack Snyder’s film. Given the meat of the text and the current political climate, there is no better time to have a modern version of Watchmen produced.

Despite its complex, decades-spanning mystery, the real speed of the story is the characters. Whether intentional or not, they have a timeless quality to them, and even if the era they operate in changes, neither they nor their arcs would be changed. For instance, after the Keene Act the Comedian went to work for the government. When engaging with the protestors, we see the Comedian’s new uniform. He looks more like a shock trooper than a superhero, and he responds to the protestors with violence. The scene doesn’t need much of an update to be a commentary on the growing militarization of police.

Watchmen - The Comedian

Updating the story would also allow it to resonate powerfully with modern audiences, in the same way that the original graphic novel did with '80s readers. Imagine the sight of Dr. Manhattan stopping the 9/11 hijackers or the forces of Kim Jong-Un, Saddam Hussein, Muammar Gaddafi, Bashar al-Assad or ISIS surrendering to and bowing down to him. The stark imagery will bring it home for the audience, while the question of victory against Liberty forces us to ask the cost of it all (our enemies have surrendered, but because of an overreaching and overpowerful government whose nuclear deterrent is a literal god).

There is possibly no greater irony in this era than those who rally against capitalism and the growing effect that corporations have on our lives, while organizing meetups and protests by using social media apps on their phones. In Watchmen, Adrian Veidt’s multinational company became intrinsic to daily life, with Veidt Enterprises creating products that everyone used: lingerie, cosmetics, action figures, nutrition, television, scientific development, clothing, appliances, publishing, and energy hydrants. Even the Gordian Knot Lock Co. and the Promethean Cab company are subsidiaries of Veidt Enterprises. There isn’t an issue of Watchmen that did not feature an advertisement for or feature somebody using a product created by Veidt’s corporate empire.

In that way, it wouldn’t take much to synthesize a modern Veidt Enterprises by adding technology to rival Apple and Microsoft and banking to the company’s products and services. It would modernize Veidt’s omnipresence and add to his terrifying scope of power and influence. (Though, how awesome of a merchandise tie-in would it be to have a cologne or perfume called Nostalgia released leading up to Watchmen's premiere?)

The fear surrounding corporatization and the impact of the very rich on politics has only risen thanks to people like Donald Trump and George Soros—look at the amount of money Jon Ossoff’s campaign spent—and Veidt Enterprises could be used to explore this as well. Given the resources and space Veidt needs for his end game, it makes sense that he would develop friends in the government and the military to aid him in his planning, unwittingly.

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