The story of HBO's Watchmen is not a direct adaptation. But though the main characters of this new version have nothing to do with the comic doesn't mean the series isn't rooted in Watchmen lore. One of the ways the show adds in some of that lore is through, of all things, television. As audiences discovered this week, everyone on Watchmen watches American Hero Story. But what is American Hero Story? And what does it have to do with the comic? Warning: Spoilers for HBO's Watchmen follow.
Watchmen's premiere showed posters and a trailer for American Hero Story. It's a loving parody/homage to the Ryan Murphy-penned series American Crime Story and American Horror Story, just a whole lot cheesier. The ads include the following characters: Captain Metropolis, The Comedian, Moth Man, Dollar Bill, Nite Owl, and Hooded Justice. Viewers might assume these are the superheroes from the original 1985 comic, but that's wrong. These are the first superheroes that started it all a generation earlier. In 1938, a real-life version of the "Justice League" came together to protect New York. They called themselves "The Minutemen."
In the second episode, fans get their first look at American Hero Story. It begins with a comically long set of content warnings. Then it opens with a dead body of a circus strong man, and a voice-over, telling viewers that they're going back to the beginning.
What follows is a scene in a convenience store, where the cashier is getting robbed by a 1930s era gang. Then, out of nowhere, a masked vigilante crashes through the window. He begins violently, bloodily, graphically beating the gang members, smashing heads open, and leaving trails of blood. (This is not the PG-13 violence of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.) By the time the vigilante finishes "saving" the store, the look on the proprietor's face says he's not sure who frightens him more.
This superhero is the man who founded the Minutemen. He was known as Hooded Justice. American Hero Story pictures him much like the 2009 movie did, in a bright red cape, a loudly purple hood, and rope accents. The rope is his symbol, the noose of justice.
In the Watchmen comic, these now-retired superheroes aren't central characters, but their actions and choices affect the new generation who followed in their footsteps. Some of them, like Captain Metropolis, didn't hide their real selves. But Hooded Justice is different. The first vigilante who started it all never admitted to who he was. The research suggested he was a strongman named Rolf Müller, hence the American Hero Story opening. But that was never proven.
Nor could anyone say what happened to Hooded Justice. One day he just disappeared. There are theories, which tie to him having been a closeted gay man. That part the comics confirm, along with fellow superhero Sally Jupiter having acted as his beard. Jupiter was so committed to keeping his secret, her daughter Laurie (who followed in her mother's superhero boots) grew up thinking Justice was her father.
American Hero Story will most likely get to all that in good time. Until then, viewers should make sure they're watching the show HBO's Watchmen is watching,