“Do you believe I could lift 200 pounds?” a mysterious man (Louis Gossett Jr.) in a wheelchair asks Angela Abar (Regina King) in the first episode of Watchmen. “Yes, I believe you could,” says Angela, trying to politely extricate herself from an awkward interaction. Later, this same man turns out to be Will Reeves, the boy from the opening scene of Watchmen who claims that he strung up Judd Crawford (Don Johnson), the Tulsa Chief of Police. In an unofficial interrogation, he tells Angela that there’s too much to tell her and that giving her all the information at once would make her head explode. At the end of the episode, he’s mysteriously rescued and we still don’t really know who he is.
Except the second episode, “Martial Feats of Comanche Horsemanship”, pretty much tells us he’s the superhero Hooded Justice.
Keep in mind that this is just a working theory, but it opens up some rich thematic avenues that seem to be supported by touches on the plot. As for the evidence that he’s Hooded Justice (or was, anyway), we can first look at his outfit. The Hooded Justice we see in American Hero Story, Watchmen’s show-within-a-show, depicts Hooded Justice in a red-and-purple outfit much like he was in the comics. Whenever we see Will in the present day, he’s clothed in the same color scheme. Additionally, the first scene of the show is a hooded figure chasing after a thief. The hooded figure turns out to be the heroic marshal Bass Reeves (Will, a man who lost his family at an early age, may have also taken the last name of his hero or he may be a descendant of Reeves). Finally, the broken noose that’s a part of Hooded Justice’s costume could be a potent bit of symbolism in a show that’s trying to upend depictions of racial justice and injustice to make us better considered how they’re implemented in our world.
Of course, it’s easy to counter that Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons’ book doesn’t support this. Hollis Mason’s book suggests that Hooded Justice is circus strongman Rolf Müller, there’s the retconning from Before Watchmen, and even in the graphic novel you can see that the skin color around his eyes is white. So how could that be a black man? The hint may be in the use of American Hero Story.
If showrunner Damon Lindelof is headed where I think he’s heading, then he’s made a clever upending of expectations by having Hooded Justice be Will Reeves. In terms of the timeline, he’s the right age since he’s a part of the superhero group the Minutemen, which came together in 1939, 18 years after the Tulsa Race Massacre. But American Hero Story may be showing us how the myths we create end up erasing people of color because they’re a minority.
Again, go back to the first scene of the show, and the hero is revealed to be Bass Reeves. Bass Reeves was a real guy, and one with a pretty cool story. He was credited with arresting more than 3,000 felons and was the first black deputy U.S. marshal west of the Mississippi. He’s also been credited as the inspiration for The Lone Ranger, a white hero.
HBO’s Watchmen is getting right into the fray of contentious race issue in America, and part of that fray means looking at black erasure. In the world of Watchmen, there’s an entire museum devoted to the Tulsa Race Massacre and families of its victims are entitled to reparations for what they suffered. In the real world, the Tulsa Race Massacre was only recently added to the school curriculum in Oklahoma.
“We know the world is black and white,” Angela tells her son Topher (Dylan Schombing). “Martial Feats of Comanche Horsemanship” indicates that Angela has it half-right. The world is black-and-white, but white people have a vested interest in erasing the black part. In the world of Watchmen, that may not happen with the Tulsa Race Massacre, but it may be happening with Hooded Justice, a way for the show to indicate who gets to be a treated like a legacy superhero and whose past gets rewritten for the comfort of white audiences.
Of course, this is all just conjecture at this point, but if Will can lift 200 pounds, it’s probably because he was a superhero.