6 comic book callbacks from Watchmen’s series premiere

There’s absolutely no need to read Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons’s 12-issue graphic novel to understand what’s going on in HBO’s new Watchmen series. It’s set in 2019, decades after the events of the novel, and doesn’t focus on those characters (at least so far). In fact, most of graphic novel is equally homaged and spoofed with Watchmen having its own show within a show, called American Hero Story . But knowing what happens in the source material makes the viewing experience much richer, weirder, and more intriguing. Spotting the references to the original Watchmen challenges viewers to fill in the missing details of the decades that passed in between the comic book and the TV series. In Watchmen ’s first episode, “It’s Summer and We’re Running Out of Ice,” there are a few standout comic book callbacks that made my eyes go wide and my ears perk up. They’re small, subtle ways of adding texture and symbolism to the story — texture that might be lost if you haven’t read the book. Here’s the comic book context behind those moments:The Rorschach maskHBONot long after the show moves to present-day Tulsa, we witness a traffic stop. When the cop asks the driver to hand over his license and registration, the driver opens up his glove compartment and the camera lingers there just long enough to show us a grey, stained ski mask. Meanwhile, back in his car, the cop alerts the station that the suspect has a Rorschach mask, which is a cause for alarm. This is the show’s first overt callback to the comic. In the comic, Rorschach is the unreliable narrator and violent anti-hero of the book, whose inkblot-style mask is his signature look. His brand of justice is also black and white, and he’s a hateful human being who continues to commit acts of masked vigilanteism, even though it’s against the law. At the end of the comic, he uncovers a plan by an ex-villain named Ozymandias to stop a worldwide nuclear war, by creating a fake threat that will cost the lives of millions of innocent people. Rorschach is the only hero who doesn’t go along with the plan and threatens to reveal it all, and for that he’s killed — a noble gesture from a guy who is otherwise reprehensible. In the TV show’s period, these masks signal that they’re followers of the long-gone Rorschach, which seems to mean a combination of conspiracy theories, racism, xenophobia, nihilism, and complete and utter distrust of authority. The egg smiley faceHBOWhen Angela is talking to the grade school class about baking and eggs, she transfers a few yolks to a different bowl, and smudges some around to explain how yolks and whites works. The shot from the bottom of the bowl shows that she’s created a smiley face. In Moore and Gibbons’s comic, the iconic yellow-with-two-black-dots smiley face is peppered strategically throughout the book and appears on the cover of the first issue. The two wanted to use an image that symbolized innocence — they had heard of a study in which babies respond positively to smiles as even as basic as a drawn smiley face — and then sully it to represent the loss of that innocence. And perhaps as an homage to the comic, in the next sce ...Read more

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