Let’s commit comic book sacrilege. For most of the 21st Century, Watchmen writer Alan Moore has shown a unique distaste for Hollywood adaptations of his work. From a legacy of ownership disputes stemming back to Watchmen‘s original publication to the ugly lawsuit against The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, which painted him as a stooge for 20th Century Fox, his experiences with the studios have not been great.
For a time, he was willing to cash checks from the projects and stay hands off. But after V for Vendetta producer Joel Silver claimed Moore was “excited” about the adaptation, Moore severed ties with Hollywood, and transferred money owed to him (and onscreen credit) to the artists of the books being adapted. This is why Dave Gibbons is the only person credited with creating the Watchmen comic book in both its film and television versions.
When pressed by journalists about adaptations, Moore is cantankerous – mainly because he is tired of answering the question. And his distaste has left some of his fans believing his work should never be adapted to other mediums. Granted, Moore himself said as much at one point, indicating the medium of comics was an intrinsic part of the Watchmen experience.
Nonetheless, HBO’s Watchmen has proved it is possible to take ideas from Moore’s work and create something new and compelling, much the same way he took the Charlton Comics characters and made them the Minutemen or took literary characters for his own in works like The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen or Lost Girls. Which is the long way of saying Moore is the greatest fanfic writer to ever live and it is time to consider how others can produce amazing fanfic from his contributions to the discourse. Here are five examples of the sort of television shows which could emerge from the sacrilegious act of adapting Moore’s comic books.
The Premise: A look at the day-to-day lives of the Neopolis Police Department’s 10th Precinct. In many ways, it resembles the venerable 1980s cop drama Hill Street Blues – except for the fact all the cops are superheroes in a world where almost everyone has a power and a costumed identity. Across the 12 issues and one hardcover special written by Moore, the series heavily featured detective Jeff Smax and his new partner Toybox. Of course, stories of other police officers and cases filtered throughout, even as it culminated in an overarching tale of government corruption.
The Approach: If one chose to ignore the larger story developed across Moore’s 12-issue run, it is very easy to see the program as its initial pitch: Hill Street Blues in a world of superheroes. Unlike, say, Sony’s adaptation of Powers, Top 10 would need the prestige budget to pull off the world as designed by artists Gene Ha and Zander Cannon; it’s stuffed to the margins with amazing-looking superheroes who flutter by for only an instant. Then there are the major characters like Smax, Dust Devil, and Sergeant Hyperdog to consider. They would be expensive to translate to live-action.
But a point of departure from the comics could come from leaning even further in to the Hill Street Blues format, which burned its ongoing dramas slowly while favoring cases of the week. The format has served Law & Order: Special Victims Unit well for 20 years and would give Top 10 enough of an engine to run five or so seasons as a prestige drama on a streaming service.
The Premise: Inspector Frederick Abberline and charlatan psychic Robert James Lee investigate the vicious murders of sex workers in the Whitechapel district of London. The sensational details of the murders grab the attention of the Fleet Street papers, which leads the killer to write in and to the introduction of his legendary sobriquet: Jack the Ripper. Meanwhile, Royal Physician and Freemason Sir William Gull accepts an assignment from Queen Victoria to end the threat of an illegitimate heir via her grandson Albert marrying a commoner girl from the East End. He is also ordered to silence a group of sex workers who know the truth and attempt to blackmail one of the conspirators. The mission gives Gull the chance perform an obscure rite that will both solidify male dominance over women and, as he sees it, birth the 20th century.
The Approach: Honestly, a direct adaptation would serve From Hell the best. The film version, directed by Albert and Allen Hughes, abandoned Moore’s compelling “why-dunit” narrative almost entirely in favor of the traditional “whodunit” seen in most Jack the Ripper movies. The text of From Hell (brilliantly realized by the great Eddie Campbell) leads readers down more sinister allies of government conspiracies, into the mysticism hidden in the layout of London, and even gives us a bit of time travel. It also features some striking characters in the form of Marie Kelly, Abberline, and Lee – to say nothing of Gull himself, who Moore and Campbell bring to such vivid life.
Unlike some of the other Moore comics on this list, though, From Hell could only arrive on television as an eight-episode limited series. Both the story and its construction require the tight confines of the TV format, just like the original comics themselves.
The Premise: By saying the word “Kimota!”, Michael Moran transforms into Miracleman – a character not unlike Shazam. Losing about a decade to a perceived amnesia, Moran eventually learns his time as Miracleman was a simulation orchestrated by the British government. It leads to conflict with fellow test subject Johnny Bates, who destroys the center of London and kills some 40,000 people. In the wake of their devastating battle, Miracleman is revealed to the world and decides to do the only sensible thing left to him: take over the planet and run it himself.
The Approach: Mircaleman – also known as Marvelman in the U.K. – may lend itself the most to a Watchmen-style reinvention. In fact, writer Neil Gaiman and artist Mark Buckingham already did a lot of the development of the concept when they took over Miracleman from Moore and his collaborators. In their “Golden Age” storyline, Gaiman and Buckingham revealed a world under stress from the utopia built by Miracleman. The individual issues told tales of regular people chaffing against that fantastic world, removing Moran from the center of the action to a seemingly distant force. That concept would allow for a prestige drama about real people coping with an unwanted occupation. And like Watchmen, it would leave the text of the Moore stories as its history. Such a series could also find a way to finish up Gaiman and Buckingham’s abandoned “Silver Age” story, which was to see the return of Bates and reveal larger cracks in Miracleman’s brave new world.
Like the other Moore comics we’ve discussed so far, the idea fits snugly into the realm of prestige dramas on streaming services, meaning it would need a low episode count and a cadre of impressive actors to breathe life into its world.
The Premise: Science hero Tom Strong – a spin on pulp adventurers like Doc Savage – his wife Dhalua, and their daughter Tesla, explore the world and battle science villains with the aid of steam-powered robot Pneuman and super-smart gorilla King Solomon. Along the way, luxurious flashbacks told in the style of older comics reveal Strong’s origins and other adventures from his long life.
The Approach: The whimsical and good-hearted nature of the original Tom Strong series by Moore and artist Chris Sprouse lends itself best to an animated series. Of course, a high-end series with great animation and an absurd attention to details. The format allows the potential series to keep Sprouse’s design aesthetic while also seamlessly switching to other art or animation styles as the story dictates. It also means the program could keep the decidedly un-Watchmen feel of the comic. Designed in many respects to pull away from Moore’s tendency to deconstruct genre, Tom Strong is a character whose seeming simplicity calls for the sort of complexity one can find in the best animated tales.
The Premise: A member of the lower aristocracy, Brian Braddock comes upon his powers when Merlyn (who claims to be the wizard of the Arthur legend) and his daughter Roma save him from a bad bike accident. Accepting the Amulet of Might, Brian is suffused with energy and becomes the Captain Britain of Earth-616, the main Earth of the Marvel Multiverse. Facing a gaggle of homegrown threats and inter-dimensional crises, Brian also attempts to keep up with his studies at university. When Moore and artist Alan Davis took over the character, they introduced characters like the time-traveling mercs known as the Special Executive and a superhero-slaying monster called The Fury. He and Davis also introduced the notion of the Marvel Multi-verse itself and even the Earth-616 designation.
The Approach: Clearly, this is a Disney+ series waiting to happen. With its close ties to the multi-verse, it could serve as a way to explore those ideas – to say nothing of introducing different Marvel Earths – while also telling a very localized story about a British hero with deep roots in the country’s own mythology and history. Merlyn’s participation also gives such a show a mystical element not seen in the other Disney+ projects announced thus far. Also, with Captain Britain’s ties to the X-Men (his sister is the telepathic mutant formerly known as Psylocke), the series could also slyly introduce those characters into the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
All that said, this may be the one concept so removed from Moore’s spirit that it may not be much of a sacrilege to bring it to the screen. Also, since we were fans of the Excalibur comic by Chris Claremont and Davis, we just want the character to make his MCU debut.
Watchmen is currently airing on HBO.