The critically acclaimed comic book series Watchmen is an official part of the DC Universe. After years existing as its own standalone story, characters and elements from Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons’ work have worked their way into becoming an integral part of DC’s expansive and iconic realm.
But how did this happen? Why did Watchmen go from being a miniseries that was largely independent to an active part of the DCU? And what does this mean for both entities’ futures? Screen Rant has compiled a complete history on how Watchmen slowly became the next centerpiece of the DC Universe.
Watchmen’s Original Connection to the DC Universe
Before Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons began work on the proper Watchmen story, DC acquired a number of characters from the now defunct publisher Charlton Comics. Moore drafted a proposal for a new story that would utilize characters like the Question and Blue Beetle, but was turned down due to the story killing several of the characters. However, Moore was able to continue with his proposal utilizing original characters modeled after the Charlton heroes. After collaborating with Dave Gibbons on the Watchmen world, the series began in September 1986 and ran through October 1987. After its publication, Watchmen became one of DC Comics’ most lauded series, even becoming the only graphic novel to make TIME Magazine’s 100 Best Novels list.
Despite the overwhelming success of Watchmen, the series remained independent for decades. There were no official crossovers between universes, nor was Watchmen designated its own place in DC’s vast multiverse. However, there were a few tips of the cap to the highly acclaimed story over the years. In 1988, Rorschach got a ‘cameo’ of sorts in The Question #17 when the titular hero reads Watchmen on a plane and subsequently dreams of the character. In 1999, DC published a team book composed of the characters that inspired Watchmen’s cast called The L.A.W. (Living Assault Weapons). Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely took that idea one step further in 2014 with The Multiversity: Pax Americana, a one-shot that also used the Charlton Comics’ characters. Pax Americana was even structured similarly to Watchmen, opting for an eight panel layout instead of nine. Clearly, Watchmen wasn’t just a hit with fans. Other comic creators were inspired by the work Moore and Gibbons put out into the world.
Watchmen Begins to Expand
Watchmen’s outstanding reception made the series an evergreen title for DC Comics. The publisher kept Watchmen in circulation with reprint after reprint, making it one of DC’s oldest and consistently printed titles. Though Moore and Gibbons never made any additional titles in the Watchmen universe, the duo did contribute to a series of RPG books based on their story that provided additional background and lore. Watchmen’s popularity also led to an incredibly difficult and long journey to get the comic adapted into a movie. Watchmen was trapped in development hell for years, with some calling it ‘unfilmable’. In 2009, Zack Snyder directed Watchmen, exposing a whole new audience and generation to the story comic fans had known for years.
The Watchmen film led to a renewed interest in DC’s beloved series and for the first time ever, the publisher decided it was time to strike while the iron was hot. In 2012, DC Comics announced Before Watchmen, a collection of books that acted as a prequel to the original Watchmen story. Before Watchmen was composed of several miniseries that elaborated on the background of Watchmen’s main cast, as well as several side characters. Though Dave Gibbons gave his approval, Alan Moore rebuked the project, going so far as to call the effort “completely shameless”. DC and Warner Bros continued to capitalize on Moore and Gibbons’ story later that decade with the creation of the HBO’s Watchmen, a direct sequel to the original story set three decades after the events of the comic.
Watchmen Officially Collides With the DC Universe
But the most stunning and by far consequential change to Watchmen came in 2016 during DC’s Rebirth initiative. The one-shot story DC Universe: Rebirth #1 by Geoff Johns, Ethan Van Sciver, and Gary Frank stunned the comics’ world with its final few pages showing Batman holding the Comedian’s button from Watchmen’s iconic cover. This was just the opening salvo for what the future held for the characters of Watchmen. Nearly a year after the mysterious tease, DC released Doomsday Clock by Geoff Johns and Gary Frank. Not only did Watchmen get a follow-up story for the first time in its history, but the world became an official part of the DC Universe. Though Doctor Manhattan was largely the focal point of the Doomsday Clock, the story also features Ozymandias, a new version of Rorschach, and a time-displaced version of the Comedian.
With Watchmen now an official part of the DC Universe, other stories began utilizing concepts established by Watchmen and Doomsday Clock. The miniseries Flash Forward featured Wally West becoming endowed with powers similar to Doctor Manhattan due to Flash sitting on a Mobius Chair infused with Manhattan’s energy. The 2020 event comic Dark Knights: Death Metal featured a Bruce Wayne from the Dark Multiverse who replicated the energy associated with the Comedian’s button and became ‘Batmanhattan’. And it seems that Geoff Johns isn’t done with the work he began in Doomsday Clock. Flashpoint Beyond introduced a new Watchmen-inspired character with the implication that the DC Universe’s association with Watchmen is far from over.
Is it a good thing that Watchmen has become an official part of the DC Universe? Some fans are probably thrilled seeing the two worlds interact and create new things. Others may feel that DC’s attempts to expand on the comic hasn’t added much to Watchmen and even misses the point of the original series. For better or worse, Watchmen is now tied to the DCU and that genie isn’t going back in the bottle anytime soon. The real question is what does the future hold for Watchmen in the DC Universe? A new line of Watchmen comics? The newest Rorschach joining the Justice League? Honestly, anything is possible now that Watchmen has become an official part of the DCU.