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A flawed costumed vigilante? Or brillant Superhero?

"Nite Owl" is one of the 5 main protagonists of Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons' marvellous piece of graphic fiction "Watchmen", released in 1985 and possibly one of the best comics ever. Set in a US which won the Vietnam War and where the cold war is at a height it never was in the real world, this is "the first human act in superhero stories" (to quote a review).

The first Nite Owl, Hollis Mason, roamed the streets of New York with his fellow costumed heroes, the Minutemen, from 1940 to 1960 before quitting the superhero business, revealing his identity and becoming a mechanic. True to his name, he wore a owl-like costume and was active mainly at night. After his retirement, he continued to mentor his successor, Daniel Dreiberg. He died in a tragic, drug-fueled vigilante attack that actually targeted Dreiberg.

Both Nite Owls do not possess any superpowers (actually none of the costumed avengers have): they rely on agility, muscles and self-designed technology. Dan Dreiberg, with a keen interest in Science and a nice trust fund inherited from his father, designs an impressive array of transport devices, such as Archie, a multi-purpose transporter shaped like an owl's head, with the capability to fly and dive stealthily and a nice variety of (mainly defensive) weapons.

Dreiberg is not your typical superhero: he is rather flat and inhibited (even having erectile dysfunction outside his costume), and he is struggling with life after hanging up his costume in 1977 (but refusing to reveal his identity), when a federal law made costumed vigilantes illegal. He lives isolated in a shabby part of New York, writing the occasional article for ornithological magazines and apart from the weird Rorschach and his accidental lover Silk Spectre rarely has contact to his old colleagues.

So here we are: a boring middleaged git that only gets it up when in a funny costume, but in a rare act of defiance, he does in the end don his uniform again and tries to solve a mystery, beats up a couple of vigilantes and tries to help his friends.

But even that futile gesture gets him nowhere.

Source: Watchmen; DC Comics; 1995

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