This summer, it was announced that Damon Lindelof would be working with HBO to adapt Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons’s Watchmen for television. Now, talking to a crowd at a recent live event, Lindelof sheds some light on his interest in the book.
“Watchmen—it was dangerous,” he told a crowd at a panel at Vulture Fest LA, featuring Lindelof and The Good Place creator Mike Schur talking about mutual interests, projects, and ideas. “And you can’t be dangerous for dangerous’s sake, but the reason that I’m doing this is these are dangerous times, and we need dangerous shows.”
He goes on to reiterate what might be the central point of Watchmen, saying, “What we think about superheroes is wrong. I love the Marvel movies and we saw Justice League this morning and I’m all for Wonder Woman and Batman and I grew up on these characters, but we should not trust people who put on masks and say that they are looking out for us. If you hide your face, you are up to no good.”
Lindelof’s insight into the themes of Watchmen is solid. The 1986 graphic novel is absolutely aimed at the neuroses of the superhero, asking a very pointed question: “What kind of person would really do this?” The answers aren’t very good, and the story spends most of its time looking at its “heroes” with a critical, if not entirely cold, eye. You’re not supposed to like these people, and you’re not supposed to trust them.
At the same time, I’m not sure I’m convinced that Watchmen works as an intervention in superhero media now the way it did in the 1980s. Moore’s critiques have been woven into the modern shape of the genre. I mean, Zack Snyder, the architect of the modern DC cinematic universe, cut his superheroic teeth on an adaptation of Watchmen. Superheroes as they exist in 2017 are too messy to fit neatly within Moore’s crosshairs. They’re too reflexively self loathing as it is, dancing near the edge between critique and affection. Superheroes have had over twenty years to respond to Watchmen, and they’ve changed as a result.
I’m glad Lindelof has an authentic interest in Watchmen, and that he seems to get it. But if he wants to make an intervention in superhero media as it stands now, he might need more than that.