HBO's Watchmen TV series has enjoyed playing with convention, and now appears to be smartly mocking its own fan backlash. Even before Watchmen premiered, there seemed to be a campaign against the series' very existence. The writer of the original DC comic, Alan Moore, is said to be "not thrilled" with Damon Lindelof's live-action sequel and while critical reaction to Watchmen has been extremely positive thus far, fan opinion is far more mixed. Some have argued that the lower audience aggregate scores are the result of unsatisfied fans of the original comic "review bombing" the new Watchmen series and one common point of contention seems to be the depiction of Rorschach. Many fans view the psychology-themed vigilante as a hero, currently decrying his status as a white supremacist idol in the minds of Watchmen's 7th Kavalry.
In Watchmen's latest episode, "She Was Killed By Space Junk," the Silk Spectre of the original story is finally introduced. Laurie Blake is working as an FBI agent assigned to investigate the death of Tulsa's police chief, Judd Crawford. Wanting to work alone but forced to take on a partner, Laurie nonchalantly picks the slide projector operator to accompany her, obviously wanting as little cooperation as possible on the mission. Clearly, Laurie has a preconceived idea about her new partner, the fresh-faced Dale Petey, and Dale has a similarly stereotypical view of the famous ex-Silk Spectre.
While taking a particularly awkward plane ride to Tulsa, the duo finally get to learn a little about each other, and this is where Watchmen offers a thinly-veiled take on its own fan perception. Laurie sees Dale as a wannabe superhero, with his little, black Robin-esque eye mask and incessant questions about life in the Watchmen, and she even accuses him of having a "hard-on for the past." However, the rookie agent fires back, revealing that he studied for a PhD in History and analyzed events that directly involved Silk Spectre and her contemporaries, leading to his desire to join the FBI. Dale concludes by respectfully asking Laurie not to think of him as a "fan." In a similar vein, Dale clearly expects Laurie to regale him with heroic tales and insider information. In truth, it's clear that Laurie's depiction of a "hero" has been shattered by her experiences with the likes of Dr. Manhattan, Adrian Veidt and even Nite Owl. Laurie's episode-long "joke" confirms that she sees all three of her colleagues as deeply flawed individuals not worthy of their adulation.
This dynamic perhaps mirrors the criticism Watchmen has received for its depiction of Rorschach thus far. Many fans of the comics and the Zack Snyder movie view the masked character as a hero who gave his life in service to his principles and revealed the truth of the New York squid attack in one final act of heroism. This image of Rorschach is, like Laurie and Dale's view of each other, not the reality of the situation. The original Rorschach of the comics was written as a prejudiced antihero with right-wing leanings - the complete opposite to most comic superheroes who err on the more liberal side of political opinion. Although some are accusing HBO's Watchmen of not being faithful to Rorschach, the truth is that the character's death and controversial views absolutely could've been cannibalized by the far-right and used as both a rallying cry and a martyr figure to prop up violent discrimination.
Just as Dale shattered Laurie's view of a fan and Laurie shatters Dale's view of a world-famous hero, the Watchmen TV sequel takes down the long-held viewpoint that Rorschach was a beacon of morality. In both cases, the truth is far more layered, ambiguous and morally murky, and by referencing its own backlash, Watchmen highlights how hype and misunderstanding surrounding the concept of superheroes can often overshadow the truth. It'll be interesting to see whether any more real-life allegories will be made in next week's episode, titled "If You Don't Like My Story, Write Your Own..."
Watchmen season 1 continues November 10th on HBO.