HBO's 'Watchmen' May Only Be One Season, Damon Lindelof Suggests [New York Comic-Con 2019]

Tick-tock. Time is of the essence for Damon Lindelof's upcoming Watchmen series, which continues the story of Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons' groundbreaking 1986 graphic novel. Set in modern day, the HBO Watchmen series imagines what would happen in the aftermath of the world-shattering event at the end of the original graphic novel. Maybe Robert Redford would run for president and win? Maybe police officers would start wearing masks to protect their own identities? Maybe a new legion of vigilantes would rise up in the face of racially-motivated terrorists?

The possibilities are endless, but Lindelof, who created, executive produces, and writes the series, wanted to focus on a very specific story that would be told in nine episodes

"It's my very, very expensive bit of fanfic," Lindelof joked at the Watchmen New York Comic-Con 2019 panel, where he confirmed that the HBO superhero series is set to run for only one nine-episode season. "The comics have a beginning, middle, and an end," Lindelof said. "So does the first season."

Watchmen New York Comic-Con 2019 Panel

Damon Lindelof obviously has a great reverence for Moore and Gibbons' Watchmen graphic novel. "It taught me how to tell stories," Lindelof said at the show's packed New York Comic-Con panel. 'The writer is a genius and I'm always aspiring to his incandescent brilliance."

Moore is apparently he-who-must-not-be-named when it comes to the HBO show, but his longtime collaborator Dave Gibbons' name flashes in giant text in the credits of the pilot, which screened for the audience at the Javits Center. Gibbons ended up appearing onstage in the eleventh hour of the panel, joining Lindelof, pilot director Nicole Kassell (who directs two more episodes in the series), and stars Regina King, Jeremy Irons, Jean Smart, Louis Gossett Jr., Hong Chau, Tim Blake Nelson, and Yahya Abdul-Mateen II onstage.

"He's the very man for the job," Gibbons said, offering his blessing to the series. "What Alan and I did with Watchmen, we were asking what would happen if superheroes existed? What Damon's answer is the question, if that had happened back in 1986, what would happen now? And you end up a million miles away from the circumstances of the graphic novel but still with fidelity to it. It's an amplification of it rather than a dilution."

The series stars King as former Detective Angela Abar, who has retired to operate as a masked vigilante, Sister Night. The world has changed in the 30 years since Ozymandias enacted his world-shattering plan that left the world devastated, but finally united. Angela lives in Tulsa, Oklahoma in 2019, in a world where the internet and smartpones don't exist, Robert Redford has been serving as President of the United States for 30 years, and a white supremacy group wearing Rorschach masks have started to terrorize the masked police force. It's a new world, with hints and callbacks to the iconic 1986 comic book. And yes, in this series, the giant squid — which got cheers from the crowd whenever it was referenced in the pilot — is canon.

The series will feature the return of several of the beloved characters, including the former Silk Spectre (Smart), Doctor Manhattan, and the well-intentioned villain Ozymandias (who Irons is probably, most definitely, playing. Doctor Manhattan remains a big question mark after the panel, but Smart teased how an older Laurie Blake has joined the FBI to arrest the very masked vigilantes she once ran with. "She has a whole resentment for that culture, though I think there's a part of her that misses that," Smart said. But Gibbons stressed that this wasn't a series about those superhero characters and their powers. "It's an alternate history," Gibbons said. "It's not about the superpowers, but how [the existence of] those powers change reality."

That reality is so much like, and unlike our own. But the most striking similarities lie in the racial and social issues that pervade the series, particularly in the white supremacist group " The Seventh Cavalry," who wear homemade Rorschach masks and stage violent attacks against the police. The group echo a lot of the same dangerous vitriol that misogynists and bigots spew on the internet in our own reality, which Lindelof and Gibbons said was intentional. "I think there was a terrible appeal to a character like Rorschach," said Gibbons, who even noticed back in the '80s the following the character was beginning to attract. "They appropriated Rorschach's image," Lindelof added.

Nelson, who plays a Rorschach-inspired vigilante who works with the police named Looking Glass (look forward to one interrogation scene in the pilot where this becomes really apparent), summarized the audacity of Lindelof's script best. "The temerity [of Lindelof's script] imagine the future of this alternate reality to our present was so excited. And to do it that hewed very closely to the aesthetic terms of the source material."

Who Watches the Pilot and Preview Clips?

At the Watchmen New York Comic-Con 2019 panel, the audience at the Javits Center were treated to the pilot episode of the highly anticipated HBO series. While I can't go into many details about the pilot itself — which is a sprawling, audacious character ensemble packed with enigma and a nascent unease — a few (glowing) reactions have already begun pouring on Twitter. But King stole the show in the series as the complicated, tough-as-nails vigilante who begins to unravel a vast mystery connected to the Seventh Cavalry. She has a family life too, with Yaya Abdul Mateen II (Aquaman) playing her husband, with whom she raises three adopted children. Louis Gossett Jr. plays the mysterious Will Reeves, a 100-year-old disabled man who lurks outside Angela's bakery that she uses as a front for her vigilante identity.

Everyone but Jean Smart and Hong Chau appear in the pilot, but we got treated to two preview clips spotlighting their characters. One clip shows Jean Smart's Laurie Blake in a plane headed toward Tulsa, Oklahoma, which seems to have become ground zero for...something. But as she cynically brushes off her fellow FBI agent's questions into her past, she becomes disturbed when he rattles off more than she would like him to mention. Chau, who appears in the second episode as the enigmatic "boss bitch" trillionaire businesswoman, strikes a sinister presence in her clip, which shows her inviting herself into the home of a suburban couple and offering — no, demanding — to sell her their house. "You have three minutes," she says with a creepy smile, turning over a giant hourglass.

A preview for the entire season of Watchmen left the crowd buzzing with anticipation for the HBO series as it heads into its premiere on HBO October 20, 2019.

"Unless the fans want more," Lindelof teased. "Watchmen will be one and done." But after an electric panel like that over just the pilot episode, they could very well want more.