DIRECT-FROM-THE-SET HIGHLIGHTS INCLUDE HEROES’ COSTUMES, THE INSIDES OF THE OWLSHIP AND SISTER NIGHT’S MUSCLE CAR
By Robert Wilonsky
Following its 2019 debut on HBO, Damon Lindelof’s nine-episode Watchmen garnered 26 Primetime Emmy Awards nominations and 11 wins, among them a statue for Outstanding Limited Series. It also retains its rightful place high on some critics’ lists of the greatest TV shows of all time.
At last, fans of Watchmen can now own a piece of it: On April 5, Heritage Screenbid, in conjunction with HBO, will auction nearly 300 items from the acclaimed series, from its heroes’ costumes and screen-used props to pieces of the sets, including the extraordinarily detailed center console, steering wheel and bucket seats from the reconstructed Owlship that took flight in the series’ first episode. With its working toggles and buttons, the center console looks like it was yanked from a working spaceship. But the yellow timepiece in its center is one of the most defining characteristics of Watchmen in any iteration: the Doomsday clock. Tick tock, tick tock.
“When HBO told us they were ready to release assets, I jumped on the first flight to their storage facility,” says Jax Strobel, Heritage Screenbid’s Managing Director. “I can’t begin to describe the schoolboy excitement I experienced digging through boxes and pallets of costumes, props and set dressing.”
Lindelof famously called his Watchmen a “remixed” version of Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons’ 1985 landmark comic book. Yes, some squids fall from the sky, there are masked vigilantes with dubious intentions, and there’s a naked blue god named Doctor Manhattan. But Lindelof bravely ventured far outside the safety of the comic-page panel and was celebrated for “writing buried racial trauma, from slavery to lynching, back into comic-book mythology,” as Emily Nussbaum wrote in The New Yorker.
Here, too, was a history lesson Americans had never been taught: the story of the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre, during which the Oklahoma city’s prosperous Greenwood District, the so-called Black Wall Street, was attacked and leveled by racists who killed more than 300 Black residents and injured thousands. Heritage Screenbid and HBO are proud to announce that a portion of the proceeds from the auction will go to Greenwood Rising, the museum and memorial meant to ensure that the Tulsa Race Massacre is never again kept out of the history texts.
“It is our mission to educate the world about the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre,” says Dr. Raymond Doswell, executive director of Greenwood Rising. “In its own way, Watchmen supported our mission by generating conversations and questions. We are thankful not only for the proceeds of this auction, which will go toward programming, but for the continued elevation of this important history.”
In an auction full of memorable moments – almost everything seen in every frame is available – the Transmission Chamber from the series’ finale stands out, in part because it’s nine feet tall and boasts a bright yellow door and big yellow wheel befitting the color scheme created by Moore and Gibbons. Sen. Joe Keene (James Wolk), the secret leader of the white-supremacist group Seventh Kavalry, constructed this hollow to harness the power of a god, Doctor Manhattan (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II). In the end Keene was destroyed – by his hubris and, of course, Lady Trieu (Hong Chau). All that remains are the Transmission Chamber and the blueprints used to construct it.
In the comic book, Doctor Manhattan first says, “Nothing ends. Nothing ever ends.” This, in a way, is a goal of this auction: The series aired its finale in December 2019, after which the things used to make it – and make it unforgettable – were sent to storage. There, they could have languished for eternity. Or, as it happened, they could have been made available to its fans, who can enjoy Watchmen all over again without the screen between them.
In most series, there are but a handful of memorable costumes and meaningful props worth owning, relishing, coveting. But everything here means something – the newspapers with headlines about phony alien invasions or John Grisham retiring from the Supreme Court, the flyer dropped by Germans during World War I, the framed print of Tulsa from 1918, the 51-star American flags.
And, nearly every stitch of clothing worn on Watchmen is available in this auction, often in multiple iterations – including five versions of Regina King’s black-hooded Sister Night costume, which evolved over the series’ run. Here, too, is the crucifix she carries as part of her get-up and the airbrush gun King’s Angela Abar used to paint her skin before rolling out as Sister Night. Angela’s entire story is contained in this auction, from her Department of Justice personnel file to the Greenwood Center for Cultural Heritage acorns containing her family tree to the 1930s New York police uniform she wore during the flashback endured after she overdosed on her grandfather Will Reeves’ Nostalgia pills. Even the VHS jacket cover for Sister Night is here for the movie about “The Nun with the MotherF%&$ing Gun” who inspired young Angela’s eventual look.
Name a character, and their wardrobes are here: the purple tunic adorned with gold trim worn by Jeremy Irons’ Ozymandias and the seven-piece horse-riding ensemble Irons sports as Adrian Veidt; the colorful costumes worn by the versions of Hooded Justice and Captain Metropolis depicted in American Hero Story, Watchmen’s show-within-a-show; the giant furry head worn by officer Panda, the cop in charge of weapons; the police uniform of Judd Crawford, Tulsa’s chief with a skeleton in his closet played by Don Johnson; the ski mask and tracksuit favored by the Tulsa PD’s Red Scare; even the blue Doctor Manhattan mask he wears on his first date with Angela in Vietnam.
All the masks are here – the cops’ yellow balaclavas, Will Reeves’ first as Hooded Justice, Ozymandias’ spare. But as the elderly Will (Lou Gossett Jr.) reminds his granddaughter by the series’ end: “You can’t heal under a mask, Angela. Wounds need air.”
This event goes far beyond the wardrobes worn by the heroes, the villains and everyone in between. Anyone who watched Watchmen will find something instantly recognizable here, from a test printing of the Warholian painting of Night Owl, Ozymandias, Doctor Manhattan and Silk Spectre that adorned the apartment of Laurie Blake (Jean Smart); to the replica of George Catlin’s painting Comanche Feats of Horsemanship seen in the second episode, “Martial Feats of Comanche Horsemanship”; to the “Extra-Dimensional Anxiety and You” pamphlets; to a simple hammer Angela used to wake up her husband Cal to remind him of who he is.
King’s Angela – and her alter ego Sister Night – was the star and soul of Watchmen, the Tulsa cop at the story’s center who’s bound to the city’s horrific past, its quickly unraveling present and whatever’s left of its future. Masked or otherwise, she’s the face of Tulsa’s trauma – in ways she can’t even imagine until she overdoses on her grandfather’s bottle of Nostalgia pills. Nearly everything she touched, owned or wore is here, including the grandfather clocks in her living room – including the one with the clockface damaged during the White Night attack carried out by the Seventh Kavalry. This auction also features the vintage Eastman interval timer Angela kept in her bakery because it’s all about clocks in Watchmen. The tick toward the last tock.
And among the coveted lots, you will also find Sister Night’s 1987 Buick Grand National – Angela’s Batmobile, as it were. Yet it’s so much cooler. Because this isn’t a tricked-up museum display, but The Real Thing, the last of the great American muscle cars, no matter the hero who drove it last.
The auction is now open. And no matter what Doctor Manhattan says, it will end – on April 5. Tick tock.
ROBERT WILONSKY is a staff writer at Intelligent Collector.