Damon Lindelof has long maintained that his “Watchmen” is neither a direct adaptation nor a reboot of the original comic book series created by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons.
Instead, the showrunner has described his HBO series, which premieres Sunday, as more of a “remix,” albeit one that treats the 12-issue comic as canon: The new series does not alter any of the events that happen in its source material.
The series does not require any previous knowledge of the “Watchmen” comics, though having some familiarity will definitely help. Having read the comics, or even watched Zack Snyder’s 2009 film adaptation, offers extra insight into the TV show, which primarily follows Angela Abar (Regina King), a Tulsa Police detective who uses the alias Sister Night. She’s juggling both personal and professional mysteries related to an unsolved murder.
Here’s what you need to know before watching the show, whether you’ve read the comics, seen the movie or are completely new to “Watchmen.”
WHAT TO KNOW IF YOU’VE READ THE COMICS
The TV series is set in the same world introduced in the “Watchmen” comics. All the things that happened in the 1985-set comics are historical events within the 2019-set show.
This means it has been more than 30 years since the fake alien squid attack that destroyed New York and saved the world from nuclear annihilation. (More on that for newcomers below.)
Characters that will be familiar include Laurie Jupiter/Juspeczyk, who now goes by Laurie Blake (played by Jean Smart), and Adrian Veidt, a.k.a. Ozymandias (Jeremy Irons). Doctor Manhattan’s presence can also be felt, though he’s not central to the action in the season’s first half.
Rorschach is still dead, but his legacy lives on in the form of a terrorist white supremacist group that wears his mask.
It’s still a world in which being a masked vigilante is illegal, unless you’re working for a government agency like the police in Tulsa, Okla., where most of the series is set.
That Laurie now works as an FBI agent who specializes in taking down masked vigilantes is not as surprising as that she’s now using her biological father’s name.
The series includes plenty of references that will be recognizable to “Watchmen” fans, including thermodynamic miracles, familiar-looking gadgets and vehicles, a TV series about the Minutemen and even the name of a certain senator.
There are even certain shots in Lindelof’s adaptation that replicate panels from the comic book.
WHAT TO KNOW IF YOU SEEN THE 2009 MOVIE
Pretty much the same as the comics section, except you might not understand the squid jokes.
That is to say, Snyder’s adaptation was fairly faithful to the plot of the comic book series, even if it missed some of the nuance by being a bit too enamored with the source material.
Of course, if you’ve seen the film — which put Doctor Manhattan’s glowing blue penis on the big screen — you’re more than prepared for just about anything HBO can throw at you.
WHAT TO KNOW IF YOU’RE NEW TO ‘WATCHMEN’
“Watchmen” is set in an alternate world in which certain historical events played out a little differently than they did in reality.
In this world, the rise of superheroes helped the U.S. win the Vietnam War, and Richard Nixon never faced impeachment. In fact, he became so popular that the 22nd Amendment was repealed; he was still president in 1985, when the U.S. was on the brink of nuclear war with the Soviet Union.
Despite the existence of superheroes and superhero teams, most of these individuals did not have superhuman abilities. They were mainly people who wore costumes and fought crime. But by 1977, these heroes were so unpopular with the police and the public that Sen. Joe Keene was able to pass legislation outlawing masked vigilantes.
Some became government agents. Many retired. Others remained active despite the law. One, Rorschach — a central figure in the comic book series — is the main holdout among the vigilantes after it becomes illegal, who had become increasingly violent over the years.
One person who does have powers is Doctor Manhattan. He gained his abilities (and strange appearance) after a lab mishap that tore his atoms apart. Among the repercussions of the incident is that he experiences time in a nonlinear fashion.
In 1985, Adrian Veidt (a retired superhero known for his intelligence) helped de-escalate the tensions between the U.S. and the Soviet Union by faking an alien invasion in New York that killed millions of people (it involved a giant squid).
Among those who knew about Veidt’s actions but chose to keep it a secret for the “greater good” were Laurie Blake (Silk Spectre), Doctor Manhattan and Dan Dreiberg (Nite Owl).
Rorschach, who planned on revealing the truth, was killed by Doctor Manhattan before he left Earth for someplace less complicated.