Batman Exists in the HBO Watchmen Universe… Kind Of
The latest episode of HBO’s Watchmen, “An Almost Religious Awe,” dropped a bunch of major bombshells on viewers. The biggest one was confirmation of the heretofore fringe Reddit theory that Angela’s husband Cal was actually Dr. Manhattan. Turns out, he is! Whoa!Not to be outdone, the latest entry in the Peteypedia — HBO’s companion website for the show, ostensibly authored by fictional FBI agent Dale Petey — includes a reference to an in-universe version of none other than the Caped Crusader himself, Batman!
But only kind of…
Batman in HBO’s Watchmen
In the entry “MEMO: The Origin Story of ‘Sister Night,'” Petey recounts a brief alternate history of the Watchmen universe’s superhero cinema. As we learned in the episode, Angela Abar took her alter-ego moniker Sister Night from the title of a 1977 blaxploitation vigilante flick. The so-called “Black Mask” film genre was especially popular in the ’70s and ’80s in Vietnam, Petey tells us, where large populations of African-Americans relocated after the country became the U.S.’s 51st state. In addition to Sister Night, Petey mentions a few other titles, including Batman.
This Batman movie and others like it, he says, were made as “responses or parodies of masked vigilantes.” Batman was one such response to the archetype created by Nite Owl, though presumably this version of the Caped Crusader is African-American. There’s also a mention of a movie called Tarantula — modeled after Mothman, one of the original Minutemen — which sounds like a subtle nod to our universe’s Spider-Man.
Watchmen: All the Comic Book References in the HBO Series
The world of Watchmen diverged from our own when Hooded Justice first donned his signature hood and noose combo. Up until that point, our worlds were basically the same, including the publication of some of the earliest superhero comic books. In the episode, “This Extraordinary Being,” the young policeman Will Reeves passes a vendor at a newsstand reading Action Comics #1, which introduced Superman in 1938. The vendor shows Will the comic, and explains the basics of Superman’s origin (which actually parallel Will’s own story, though he is an orphaned refugee from the destruction of the Black Wall Street Massacre rather than the destruction of Krypton).
But as loyal Watchmen fans know, that would be just about the end of the superhero fad in comic books in that world thanks to the rise of “real” masked vigilantes like Hooded Justice those who were inspired by him, including the original Nite Owl and Silk Spectre, the Comedian, and more. So that reality’s version of Detective Comics #27 in 1939 presumably didn’t feature the introduction of the Dark Knight the way ours did. That also means no Flash, no Shazam, no Captain America, no… you get the idea. In the place of superheroes, pirate comics became all the rage instead.
Oh, and let’s not forget the Batman knock-off Mister Shadow who Agent Blake took down in the third episode of Watchmen this season. He didn’t exactly have the grace of Bruce Wayne, did he?
Batman in Zack Snyder’s Watchmen
In the 2009 Watchmen movie, director Zack Snyder addressed this disparity with a fun Batman reference in the opening credits. In the super slow-motion sepia montage during the film’s opening credits, we see the original Nite Owl saving a well-heeled couple from a gunman as they exit a theater’s stage door. If you look closely, you’ll notice the theater they’re exiting is the Gotham Opera House. That’s right, those two patrons of the arts are Thomas and Martha Wayne, Bruce’s parents. It stands to reason that if they survived, Bruce would never become Batman. Thus, Snyder is taking the conceit that “real” costumed adventurers like Nite Owl precluded their “fictional” comics counterparts and presenting it in a very literal way.
Another meta easter egg in that shot is the copies of the cover of Batman #1 that are plastered on the wall as handbills. That issue wouldn’t come out until 1940 though, so this is just a wink to fans. And it doesn’t really make sense anyway if Batman, you know, doesn’t come to exist in this reality anyway.
Batman, Watchmen and Doomsday Clock
In the comics, on the other hand, Bruce Wayne’s Batman and his fellow DC Comics heroes are in the process right now of crossing over with the world of Watchmen in the series Doomsday Clock, which is set to conclude in a few weeks. Those stories are non-canon for the HBO series, but it’s interesting that their concept of a multiverse includes the idea that one universe’s real heroes are often part of another’s fictional pantheon. That’s pretty similar to how the “Black Mask” version of Batman operates in the show.
What do you think of Batman existing (or not) in the various Watchmen universes? Let’s discuss in the comments.
While you anxiously await the second-to-last episode of Watchmen, why not check out our review of “An Almost Religious Awe” and catch up on all the hints the show gave viewers before the big Dr. Manhattan reveal?
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Batman Exists in the HBO Watchmen Universe… Kind Of