In Watchmen (2009), during Dr. Manhattan's flashback scenes, he mentions the retired Nite Owl and his book, in which Dr. Manhattan's arrival was described as the "dawn of the superhero," and he says he's not sure what that means.

Was the old superhero appreciating Dr. Manhattan, or was he against him in that book?

up vote 33 down vote accepted

The original Nite Owl's feelings about Dr. Manhattan are complicated.

Firstly, Nite Owl acknowledges Dr. Manhattan's and Watchmen's superiority when it comes to fighting crime. This is seen in the prequel comic series, Before Watchmen: Minutemen (which is narrated by Hollis Mason), issue 6:

There was a new breed of superheroes emerging. Young and brilliant and more effective than we'd ever been.

Everyone knows who came along next. It was a pretty safe bet that the world would get along fine without Nite Owl.

So I packed it in. They gave me a dinner and a statue and the whole thing was swell. I even got to meet the good doctor. He seemed nice enough, but the entire time my mind was chanting "Not human, not human."

And this one is from Alan Moore's Watchmen #4:

(Jon's narration) In May, 1962, a masked man retires to open an auto business. His real name is Hollis Mason. We are talking after a civic banquet in his honor. Dallas is still eighteen months away... "See this? Almost makes me sorry I'm quitting this ridiculous business." "Then why have you chosen to retire now? Is it your age?" "Partly. Partly, I guess it's you... With someone like you around, the whole situation changes. You can do anything. All I got to offer is a good left hook. Nah. I'm better off retiring, writing my autobiography, repairin' folks' cars for 'em... Cars are something I'm happy with... And it'll be a while before even you affect General Motors. See, I understand cars, how they work. That's more'n I can say for the rest o' this world." "Well, the new electric cars should be even simpler." "Electric?" "That's right. They'd have appeared before, but there wasn't enough lithium to mass-produce polyacetylene batteries. Of course, I can synthesize it easily. Anyway, it's been interesting meeting you again. I hope you enjoy your retirement." "Y-yeah. Yeah, I hope so too."

One could argue that Hollis could feel bitterness and some tingles of anger towards Dr. Manhattan here, since the scientific progress the latter induced will potentially take away one thing Hollis is passionate about now - the cars he fixes; however, the comic does not elaborate on that.

But you can also see that Nite Owl acknowledges that he cannot grasp the concept of Dr. Manhattan. Them coming from different generations, and having completely different ideals and mindsets, it's no wonder Mason has a hard time accepting Dr. Manhattan as reality.

In Minutemen #1, Nite Owl clearly says that Dr. Manhattan had toppled his perception of the world:

If you're wise enough to approach this seeming impasse with humility, you may even find a sustained happiness. Then One day you meet a guy, and he throws a wrench in the gears. He takes away your understanding of the world you live in.

There's actually a panel in Minutemen #5 where Nite Owl says he felt a "vague disdain" for Dr. Manhattan - in this case because of the injustice. A boy whose hand he is holding on the panel had sacrificed his life to hold a sphere surrounding a ball of plutonium open - otherwise it'd reach critical mass and go boom (that's a real thing, and an interesting read).

The thing is, the sphere closed for a second, and the boy received an enormous dose of radiation - so he died a horrible death; while Dr. Manhattan forgot his watch, got disintegrated, and became a god. Sure, those two are not the same, but for Hollis they are.

Hollis (narration): His suffering was unbearable. The radiation did horrible things to his body. Looking back, I've realized this is why I have some kind of vague disdain for Dr. Manhattan. Some dope forgets his watch and becomes a god on Earth. Some poor kid saves New York City and he gets to suffer and die alone and forgotten. What kind of sick world is this?

But you say "that book", meaning the original Watchmen, written by ALan Moore (none of the prequels were written, or even approved by him). Original Watchmen featured some excerpts from Hollis Mason's autobiography, Under the Hood. In Watchmen #3, in chapter V of Under the Hood, Mason discusses the dawn of new heroes and Dr. Manhattan in some detail:

The arrival of Dr. Manhattan would make the terms "masked hero" and "costumed vigilante" as obsolete as the persons they described.

[. . .]

While [the feeling] is hard to define precisely, if I had to boil it down into three words, those words would be, "We've been replaced." I'm not just talking about the non-powered costumed hero fraternity here, you understand, although Dr. Manhattan's appearance was certainly one of the factors that led to my own increased feelings of obsolescence and my eventual decision to quit the hero business altogether.

[...] I personally found Dr. Manhattan to be a little distant. Maybe that was more my fault than his, though, since I found it very difficult to feel easy around the guy, even once I'd got used to the shock of his physical presence.

Thus I conclude that Nite Owl did not feel hatred or contempt toward Dr. Manhattan. What he felt was some sort of respect, but mostly helplessness and incomprehension, and himself being an anachronistic remnant of a time now past.

  • 2
    Doctor Manhattan, world's first Gigafactory. – hobbs Apr 19 '17 at 2:23
  • Unrelated but it took this answer for me to appreciate the double entendre of the title of Hollis' autobiography – Paul May 8 '17 at 12:53

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