In reading Watchmen “Under the Hood” by Alan Moore I was exposed to the fictional autobiography of Hollis Mason or Nite Owl. Mason’s was a story of mediocrity turned extraordinary. He wasn’t an alien with super-abilities, he wasn’t rich with fancy gadgets, he wasn’t even bit by radioactive spiders… Hollis Mason was, in fact, a normal man. He reminisces about his childhood growing up in the city, working with his father in an auto repair shop. Hollis gives us some background about his family values; his grandfather disapproves of his father’s choice to take the family to the city and away from the Montana farm he spent his first twelve years in. “If I look at myself today, I can see the basic notions of decency that were passed down direct from [my grandfather] to me.” Hollis believes that he has been swayed to see the bad in the city because of this background. The city is filth, a cesspool of dishonesty, greed, lust and godlessness. Hollis exclaims, “I’d feel sick in my gut at the world and what it was becoming.” Hollis recognizes the gap between his country and city homes and retreats to the world of pulp adventure fiction saying that it offered a glimpse at a better world where “morality worked the way it was meant to.” Hollis then asks a question that leads him to become Nite Owl:
“Which world would you rather live in, if you had the choice?”
With a will to do some good in the city, he becomes a cop. However, his whole life changes in 1938 when he sees Action Comics #1 the first appearance of Superman, the first superhero of his kind. He was enthralled. This new addition only added to his adventurous personality and Hollis begins to imagine himself jumping over buildings and running faster than trains like Superman. These fantasies become something else when the appearance of “Hooded Justice” appears in the real headlines of newspapers. Hooded Justice was the first in the trendy fad of real-life superheroes. He wears a costume and protects his community by fighting crime and beating assailants to a bloody pulp. Hollis decides to do the same. He makes himself a costume and goes out in the night to fight crime. He adopts the name “Nite Owl” and less than a year later, the superheroes of the day come together to form the "Minutemen." The Minutemen was a collaboration of superheroes, male and female consisting of the Comedian, Hooded Justice, Dollar Bill, Silhouette, Silk Spectre, Captain Metropolis, Mothman, and of course, Nite Owl. A crime-fighting team that became something worse than what was originally intended. Personality conflicts, sexual assault, marriage and children, alcoholism, and death struck the members of the Minutemen and eventually disbanded the original group. With times changing, superheroes also changed. It was no longer a fad to dress up and fight crime. War, McCarthyism, and social change/protest/music/etc. made for a different America. However, Hollis was still Nite Owl for two decades until the day he realizes, “We’ve been replaced.”
With the appearance of Dr. Manhattan and Ozymandias, the superheroes of old were exactly that… old. A new band of superheroes, younger, and some with real abilities and powers come into the picture. Hollis was a cop by day, Nite Owl by night… but his day career is what it is, a job. Hollis decides that the day has come to “hang up my mask and get myself a proper job.” He retires to repair cars, the way his own father did. To settle into being regular and even gives permission for another young superhero to done his name. After a 23 year-long career as a superhero, Nite Owl becomes Hollis again.
Hollis shows that it doesn’t take a supernatural occurrence to be a superhero. Any ordinary person can make the difference… he chose to wear a costume and fight crime literally but he was also mortal and never forgets that. The past experiences he has with death (of his father’s boss’ suicide and then the death of other superheroes) keeps him centered on that fact. I don’t remember much about Watchmen the movie… so I wouldn’t know Dr. Manhattan and Ozymandias from Adam… but there’s something oddly terrifying about their mention in Mason’s writing. I guess I’ll have to read it then! Dun, Dun, Dun! :)