The Watchmen - Both Eyes Open
I’m not a comic book aficionado. The majority of my experience with comics occurred in my Japanese Grandma’s basement, reading from the massive, messy pile of comics my uncle had left behind years ago. There were treasures there, though I didn’t realize it at the time – I’m pretty sure I remember reading the first Swamp Thing. But even then, Superman and the Justice League were not my favorites. Not even Wonder Woman or Thor. I preferred the strange, spooky ones like Weird War and The Witching Hour, or the vampire ones. I even read old Archies.
So, if you’re looking for a well-informed review of the new Watchmen series – this isn’t it. I didn’t read the comics. But I am 45, and that means I saw Superman in the theater. When young Clark Kent was having a morose moment by a window and contemplating leaving the farm, I mortified my parents by yelling out, “You can do it, Superman! Break the glass!” My mother was pleased I understood dramatic structure at such an early age. My father wanted to crawl under his seat.
So, while my nerd credentials may not be present in full, I have been here for most of the Hollywood superhero ride. I’ve come from Krypton to Wakanda. We could unpack that journey for days, but that’s not what I’m here for now. Watchmen… I thought I wanted to watch it.
Perhaps my Wakanda high was still lingering. After all, we JUST got there. Perhaps I was still in my feels about seeing Meg Murray and Domino portrayed as black women… I don’t know. But I went into Watchmen ready for escapism and got five fingers to the face. I watched the trailer. I don’t know why I was shocked.
But I was shocked.
The opening of the series brings to life a horrible historical event, one that has mainly been swept under the rug of truly uncomfortable American history. It was once called the Tulsa Race Riot, but it has been appropriately renamed the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre. “Black Wall Street” in Tulsa, Oklahoma, was burned to the ground – 35 blocks. Thousands of black residents were imprisoned or interned and 300 were murdered. It was horrific. It was unjust and mass graves are just now being sought and examined, mainly due to the focus brought by the new Watchmen series.
I did not turn on The Watchmen expecting or wanting to see this. I suppose I wanted all the racial issues handled John Wick-style, an entertaining execution of justice I could enjoy with clean hands and a light heart. This is not that. Because this is not Superman, nor is it Black Panther or Luke Cage. There are no assurances here, no superpowers or visions granted by the ancestors. There is no clear line between the good guys and the bad guys, at least not yet. Because unlike movies or series where the characters are filling out classic archetypes, The Watchmen is taking its cues from American history and there are bodies on the floor.
As a POC and single mother of two, staying on top of what’s happening in our country is like swallowing a cup of lye every day. So, when I want to escape, I’m usually turning to dragons or magic or kung fu or Ultraman, but this…
I want to look away, but I don’t think I will.
We have finally reached a time where black actors and actresses, and the characters they embody, can not only be present, they can have depth and complexity. And if we are fortunate enough to have that in a drama that examines the racial strife black people and people of color are living in today’s America, we shouldn’t look away. We owe it to ourselves not to.
But only on strong days.
By Jaimie K. Wilson