Why Damon Lindelof Should Thank Darwyn Cooke for ‘Watchmen’s’ Success (Guest Blog)

The HBO series borrows from Cooke’s “Before Watchmen” comics in a substantial way, guest writer Lee Keeler says

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How does one sit down and criticize the perfect show? The 2020 Emmys have been kind to HBO’s “Watchmen” and for good reason: showrunner Damon Lindelof and his team delivered an intricate and diverse superhero story that elevates the medium.

In over thirty interviews and awards speeches, “Watchmen” showrunner Damon Lindelof and writer Cord Jefferson have appropriately praised Ta-Nehisi Coates, Dave Gibbons and Alan Moore for inspiring the show. They have also thanked their producers, their fellow writers, their agents, the studio heads at HBO, and many more.

There’s just one name that they keep skipping over: Darwyn Cooke.

Lindelof and Jefferson have been awarded the Emmy for Outstanding Writing for a Limited Series, Movie or Special with “This Extraordinary Being,” a solid mindbender that careens through the haunted past of a character named Hooded Justice. But upon closer inspection, this episode, and the show at large, borrows from the 2012 “Before Watchmen” comics in a substantial way.

That affair between Captain Metropolis and Hooded Justice?

Darwyn Cooke.

The gay outsider member of the superhero group who uncovers an evil underground syndicate, only to be blown off by teammates?

Darwyn Cooke.

The female heroine tripping out while facing down family issues?

Darwyn Cooke.

Those parts where Agent Blake pulls a gun, acting way more like her dad than her mom?

Darwyn Cooke.

The revelation that Black Hood is actually a black man who is dogged by the KKK his whole life?

Darwyn Cooke. But to be fair, this last one is from Cooke’s 2004 series “The Last Frontier,” in which a character named John Henry is built like a tank, wears a hood and a noose around his neck. Given the other elements lifted from Cooke here, it’s safe to assume that this one makes the cut.

It doesn’t end with just Cooke, either. Writer J. Michael Straczynski penned the Dr. Manhattan books for the same “Before Watchmen” line, which shares moments in which the blue god creates life forms from simple water on a faraway planet. In the first episode of the HBO show, a young Will Reeves escapes the Tulsa Race Massacre in a wooden trunk mounted to an old automobile. This moment is mirrored in the earlier Dr. Manhattan series by Straczynski and artist Adam Hughes, right down to the bullet holes in the side of the box.

From a roundabout, corporate outlook, all of these points are fair game in terms of intellectual property. The bottom line is that DC and Warner Bros. technically own the rights to each of these moments and can license them out however they see fit.

And Lindelof and his team have done fantastic work here, make no mistake. They have educated millions of people on the systemic racism that festers within our country while crafting an odyssey that seamlessly interweaves new characters with the old. Every award is well deserved and then some.

Be that as it may, Cooke was a titan in his industry who was struck down by lung cancer while in his prime in 2016. He garnered 13 Eisner awards, which New York Times writer George Gene Gustines points out in Cooke’s obituary, is “the comic-book industry equivalent of the Oscar.” The last time I checked, Damon Lindelof doesn’t have 13 of anything. Maybe seasons of “Lost”?

In an often-toxic comics industry that already cripples the rights of its creators as “part of the biz,” it’s astonishing that such a successful HBO vehicle has yet to credit these artists. For a show that has made its reputation on justice and equity, such acknowledgments are very much in order.

Lee Keeler is a writer and educator currently residing in central Oregon. He is the co-author of "Wet Hot American Summer: Fantasy Camp", an official RPG of the David Wain-iverse.