A central mystery to HBO’s television sequel/remix of Watchmen has been: What exactly is going on with Will Reeves (Louis Gossett Jr.)? Will, Angela Abar’s (Regina King) paternal grandfather, has been quietly manipulating events behind the scenes, from the hanging of Judd Crawford (Don Johnson) to his alliance with Lady Trieu (Hong Chau). With Watchmen’s sixth episode, “This Extraordinary Being,” his past stands revealed. What’s most curious about this reveal is how much it seems to take inspiration from another comic book classic.
NOTE: Spoilers for the episode follow below.
For those paying close attention, the title of the episode gives the game away. It’s the descriptor Hollis Mason gives Hooded Justice in the “Under The Hood” text piece in the very first issue of Watchmen and the inspiration he provided Mason in becoming Nite Owl. And in turn, tonight’s episode revealed that Will and Hooded Justice were one and the same, as predicted weeks back by a few intrepid pals of mine.
In truth, the series had been not so quietly laying down the tracks for this reveal. The American Hero Story interludes that center on Hooded Justice (which play like this iteration’s version of the The Black Freighter sequences in Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons‘ comic) go so far to even say that the identity of Hooded Justice was not actually circus strongman Rolf Müller as long believed. And while those short bursts of Ryan Murphy parody are highly fictionalized within this world, they did pave the way for this big moment. Thus, Damon Lindelof and Cord Jefferson, co-writers of “This Extraordinary Being,” give their own answer to one of the biggest mysteries in the source text.
And while the idea of Will putting on white makeup over his eyes (a brilliant turn from the black makeup worn by his granddaughter in present day and just about every big screen portrayal of Batman we’ve seen) and becoming the first costumed hero is enticing enough, the way he comes to that decision stuck with me.
The Will Reeves of this era (played by another Lindelof alum Jovan Adepo) is a New York City police officer inducted into a system that is completely overrun by racism. At his induction ceremony a black superior officer tells Will to “Beware the Cyclops,” referring specifically to the underground den of racists that have invaded the NYPD. After Will tries to find out why an anti-semitic arsonist (Glenn Fleshler) he caught in the act of burning down a store was let go by his colleagues, he’s attacked and then lynched by his fellow police officers. After briefly hanging him from a tree in the outskirts of town, he’s let go, with only a cut noose remaining around his neck and a black hood in hand. His resulting anger births Hooded Justice.
This is where it struck me that Lindelof and Jefferson may be taking inspiration from Darwyn Cooke. Ironically, though, not from his own iteration of Hooded Justice, but from another of Cooke’s works. As soon as I saw it, I realized how similar this origin tale was to that of John Wilson in The New Frontier, a Korean War vet whose family was brutally murdered by the KKK and who also survived a lynching. Wilson then dons a black executioner’s hood, maintains the noose around his neck, and takes on the identity of John Henry, named after the American folk hero. His vigilante career was short lived and ends in tragedy, but he plays a key role of inspiration for J’onn J’onzz, the manhunter from Mars.
That John Henry holds visual similarities to Hooded Justice as he appears in Moore and Gibbons’ comic is really just coincidence, as Cooke’s on the record statement on the matter was:
“The New Frontier’ had to be part of that era (the late ’50s and early ’60s), and an important part of that era was the civil rights movement, and, let’s just say it: in the 50s, DC was a very white company. I needed to deal with that aspect of society, and I kept coming back to Steel,” even though the character didn’t make his debut until the 1990s. “John Henry wasn’t part of the DC Universe in that era (the 50s), but I kept going back to the folk tales and songs wondering about, “well, what if this was in inspiration to someone and there was an interim character between that John Henry and John Henry Irons?” (The Steel of the 90s.) “When I started thinking about it – and the KKK – I knew the whole story: that they’d tried to hang him and he didn’t die; so he wore the black mask.
But it’s hard to shake the potential inspiration that Cooke may have had on Lindelof and Jefferson. Particularly when you consider that, again, Cooke had his own take on what happened to Hooded Justice in the Before Watchmen miniseries Minutemen. There, Cooke does not reveal who the masked hero actually was, but he also rules out Müller, who is revealed to be a pedophile and child murderer that the Comedian strangles to death. But thanks to Hollis Mason being under the impression that Hooded Justice was guilty of those crimes, he ends up killing his idol and covers up the act.
All taken together, it’s a fascinating bit of inspirational DNA that Lindelof and Jefferson are working with here, and they clearly know their comics canon. (I mean, there’s even a King Mob shoutout, which is an unseen Watchmen bad guy, but let’s be real…I wouldn’t fight you if you thought that was an Invisibles reference too.)
As it stands, it’s another possible answer to one of the ongoing enigmas within a masterpiece of the comics form and potentially a tribute to one of our greatest and much-missed cartoonists.