This article contains major Watchmen spoilers.
HBO’s Watchmen has been incredibly faithful to the spirit and the letter of the book. For some, that may change with how Watchmen episode 6, “This Extraordinary Being” reveals the real history of Hooded Justice. But despite what some might see as a drastic departure from the book, this episode is still positively packed with references to the original work that make its world all the richer. Here’s everything we’ve found.
The Watchmen title getting replaced by the name “Minutemen” is the first clue of how this episode is going to go, as well as the purple letters that pay homage to the Hooded Justice costume. That being said, if Watchmen season 2 (disclaimer: there has been no word that this is actually a thing that is going to happen) turned out to be nothing but a black and white Minutemen series set in the 1940s, we’d very much be here for it. Oh, and the episode’s title “This Extraordinary Being” comes from a line from Hollis Mason’s autobiography, Under the Hood, used to describe Hooded Justice. Of course it does.
AMERICAN HERO STORY
The opening of the show, with Hooded Justice’s interrogation, is quickly revealed to be American Hero Story nonsense. “Turn that shit off,” indeed. Although, admit it, you lol-ed at “Captain Bigcockolis.”
It will be interesting to see as American Hero Story progresses what their theory of Hooded Justice’s identity actually is. The man who unmasks here is most certainly not Rolf Muller. Unless American Hero Story just plans to leave this as ambiguous as the Muller/HJ mystery was left in the book…a mystery that is put to rest by the balance of this episode.
However, the villains named by the crooked FBI agents are significant. Both Captain Axis and Moloch are canon Watchmen villains either named or actually seen in the original comic. Another, however, is “King Mob,” who certainly sounds like an appropriately pulpy villain from the 1940s, but is probably a reference to another towering work of comic book genius: Grant Morrison’s The Invisibles, where King Mob was the ultimate psychedelic secret agent.
WILL REEVES and HOODED JUSTICE
– The man who pins a badge on Will Reeves as he graduates from the police academy is apparently Lieutenant Samuel J. Battle, a real life figure who was New York’s first black police officer. So now the show has paid tribute to two important black lawmen in history, with Battle and Bass Reeves.
– To absolutely nobody’s surprise, Will takes inspiration for his full Hooded Justice costume from the Trust in the Law Bass Reeves movie we saw back in episode one.
– Will’s makeup under the Hooded Justice mask is an echo of how Angela Abar sprays a mask onto her face as Sister Night.
– Will is assigned to the 113th Precinct in the southeast part of Queens, New York. This lines up with the chapters of Under the Hood which place the first two Hooded Justice sightings in Queens. The details of the first (the mugging) are consistent with those of the book, with the only exception being that the witnesses felt their savior had “dropped into the alleyway from above” rather than charged in as we see here. It’s a minor detail, and one that can be chalked up to how eyewitness accounts can often lose key details like this, especially during such a traumatic moment.
– The first full costume Hooded Justice appearance that made the news (again, as recounted in Under the Hood) is the supermarket incident, also dramatized in an earlier episode of American Hero Story. This one is drastically different, with HJ leaping OUT through the window rather than in, and the attack having nothing to do with a supermarket stickup gone wrong. This illustrates just how well the Order of the Cyclops is able to cover up events and twist narratives to their advantage. Not relevant to headlines of today in any way, nope. Not chilling at all. Oh, and the romaine lettuce is a nice callback to episode one.
– Fred’s “what the fuck are you supposed to be?” when he sees Hooded Justice for the first time mirrors something that Hollis Mason noted in Under the Hood, about how the costumed heroes felt more at home when they had someone else larger-than-life to fight. “You see, if you’re the only one who’d bothered to turn up for a free-for-all in costume, you tended to look kind of stupid. If the bad guys joined in as well, it wasn’t so bad, but without them it was always sort of embarrassing.”
Speaking of the Cyclops…
BEWARE THE CYCLOPS
– Back in episode five, when Looking Glass was following members of the 7th Kavalry into an abandoned mall in episode 5, you could spot graffiti on the walls of a large red eye. That appears to be the same logo as the KKK’s Order of the Cyclops is pushing here.
– Incidentally, during the American Hero Story sequence, the “incriminating” evidence of Hooded Justice and Captain Metropolis’ affair was discovered behind a “painting of a white horse,” which sounds suspiciously like the painting found in Judd Crawford’s home back in episode 2, “Martial Feats of Comanche Horsemanship.”
– Nelson Gardner was very much the founder of the Minutemen, and according to little bits and pieces scattered throughout Watchmen lore, he did indeed approach potential heroes exactly as we see here, by trying to keep his identity secret and acting as a “representative” of Captain Metropolis. He also did indeed have a long standing sexual relationship with Hooded Justice. We wrote more about the history of Captain Metropolis right here.
Gardner’s casual dismissal of Hooded Justice’s concerns about a white supremacist conspiracy is in keeping with the character’s surprisingly conservative views. Gardner tried to form a new superhero group in the mid-1960s called “the Crimebusters” utilizing the second generation of superheroes, such as Laurie Juspeczyk’s Silk Spectre, Dan Dreiberg’s Nite Owl, and Dr. Manhattan. He wanted to combat the progressive unrest of the 1960s. It um…it didn’t work out.
– The “you wear your mask, I’ll wear mine” thing is yet another (kind of tedious and obvious, to be honest) nod to the idea that the wearing of costumes is as much a sexual thing for these characters as it is anything else. As seen previously with Laurie and Dale Petey in episode 3.
Also visible (if you squint a little) during Captain Metropolis’ press conference introducing Hooded Justice are Silhouette, Nite Owl, Dollar Bill, and you can BARELY make out the shapes of Comedian and Silk Spectre. Maybe. But in any case, the Minutemen all seem to be present and accounted for here.
– We discussed that Dollar Bill poster, which was also visible in the first episode, in some more detail here.
– Captain Metropolis makes reference to Moloch’s solar weapon, which is also referenced in the book (although never actually seen).
– The Superman references that have peppered these episodes pop up in ways that are both obvious and subtle. The most obvious is the arrival of Action Comics #1 on the newsstand in 1938, as it’s the first appearance of Superman, something that clearly resonates with Will Reeves. In Watchmen’s supplemental chapters from Hollis Mason’s autobiography Under the Hood, it’s revealed that Mason took similar notice of Action Comics #1, and it planted the seed that led to him becoming Nite Owl.
Incidentally, there are a number of details wrong with Action Comics #1 as we see it here. While the iconic cover, with Superman hoisting and smashing a car full of toughs, is of course correct, the back cover features another illustration of Superman in flight. That picture is clearly from later in the 1940s, both because Superman still didn’t fly in 1938 and because the character’s costume is much more finalized and slick than it appeared in Action #1. The art style almost makes it look like something drawn by Fred Ray, who didn’t hook up with Superman creators Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster until the early 1940s.
More simply, though, Action Comics #1 featured a mail order advertisement as its back cover, not another picture of Superman. It was also a bigger, thicker book than what we see the newsvendor handling here. Look, folks…Action Comics #1 is the most important comic book ever published, of course I’m going to notice details like this. We can give Watchmen a pass that perhaps these things simply aren’t remembered to their finest details under the influence of Nostalgia and it’s the symbolic value that matters.
– Will Reeves graduated from the Police Academy in 1938, the same year that Hollis Mason, the original Nite Owl did. Like Reeves, Mason took notice of the early appearances of Superman, and that, along with the arrival on the scene of Hooded Justice, helped influence his decision to become a costumed adventurer. Is it possible that Reeves and Mason graduated in the same class, or even knew each other independently of their time in the Minutemen?
– More directly, Will turning down his fellow officers’ offer of a beer echoes how Mason frequently turned down offers from co-workers to hang out. Why? Because he was too busy training to become a superhero to socialize. Maybe he was turning down offers from the same racist dipshits we see in this episode.
– “Fred” wants to get home so he can listen to Amos ‘n’ Andy. Amos ‘n’ Andy was a radio show (later a TV series) about two black characters…who were written and voiced by white actors in stereotypical minstrel show fashion.
– Near the end of the episode, when we see the aftermath of the riot at the movie theater, The Secret Life of Walter Mitty is visible on the marquee. That film is from 1947, which means the events of this episode span approximately nine years. The film is about an otherwise ordinary man who has various “secret identities” in his rich fantasy life. Kind of appropriate in a show about superheroes.
This episode’s songs include The Ink Spots’ renditions of “I Don’t Want to Set the World on Fire” and “We Three (My Echo, My Shadow, and Me)”. The version of “Smoke Gets in Your Eyes” is by Eartha Kitt (who has a superheroic connection of her own). Her rendition was released in 1952, which makes me wonder if that’s a clue to where we are at this point in the episode, as well. (thanks to Laura on Twitter for identifying which version of “Smoke” this is!)