HBO

Is 'Watchmen' Based On A True Story? The Cold Open Has Historical Significance

HBO's Watchmen series is a bold gambit in the post-Game of Thrones universe. Much like its predecessor, it's based on a fantasy novel (graphic novel in this case) with legions of dedicated fans. It's a property that doesn't necessarily lend itself to easy adaptation. The 2009 Watchmen film, which was desperately faithful to the source material, was a distinct flop. Could a TV series succeed where the movie failed? Considering the new direction the show takes, fans might also be asking, is Watchmen based on a true story? Warning: Spoilers for HBO's Watchmen follow.

Anyone who knows the Watchmen comic will find this question odd. The original story was an alternate reality fiction, where superheroes aren't limited to comic book fantasies. In 1938 (the year Superman was first published in our world), a real-life vigilante superhero, Hooded Justice, rose up in New York City. Along with Captain Metropolis, he formed the "Minutemen" league of heroes, which included Silk Spectre, Silhouette, Nite Owl, The Comedian, Mothman, and Dollar Bill.

Their existence changed the course of history. The presidential two-term limit act post-Roosevelt never passed. America won the Vietnam War. Watergate never came to light, and Nixon ran for several terms, remaining president until the 1990s.

So how could Watchmen be faithful to historical events? Because this new series opens in 1923, 15 years before history diverged.

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The show opens in Tulsa, Oklahoma, in the Greenwood neighborhood, on May 31, 2013. Despite Jim Crow laws, and the deliberate failure of Reconstruction by white southern politicians, this was a thriving black neighborhood. A small boy watches a silent film while his mother plays the piano as loudly as she can. She's trying to drown out the horrors outside as the town is burned, and it's people beaten and lynched.

This event outside the movie house doors happened in real life. Greenwood was a former Indian territory that had become a safe-haven in the post-emancipation landscape. It was the first FUBU, if you will, founded by O.W. Gurley, a wealthy black landowner. In 1906, he began loaning money to former slaves who wanted to start their own businesses. By the end of World War I, the township had grown into a self-contained hub of African American upper-middle-class wealth.

The area became famous as the "Black Wall Street," and a target of white rage. The resulting Tulsa Race Massacre, which took place from May 31-June 1 of 1923, destroyed the town, it's people, it's businesses, and the hope of a better life it represented. In Watchmen, the escape of this one little boy suggests perhaps Civil Rights will one day rise again.

Watchmen opens with this because, unlike the comic with takes place in New York City, the show is set in Tulsa. Despite the intervening century, race relations have not improved much. President Robert Redford has done his best to pass Reparations for slavery descendants (known derisively by white people as Redford-ations). But the Seventh Cavalry, a new form of the Klan, has risen up in response. The world is a powder keg, ready to explode, with only a few superheroes, like Sister Night, keeping the peace.