For Hollis Mason, Watchmen is a tale of two stories. For the first half of the book, his excerpts from Under the Hood are like a life raft for the reader. Without them, the flood of names and places would be way too overwhelming to follow. The original Nite Owl is also a retired cop and a mechanic, but more importantly, he’s one straight arrow, a good guy through and through.
Mason is one of the only heroes in Watchmen who doesn’t have a dark side. His single fatal flaw, if he has one at all, is that he doesn’t belong in the world of alt-1985. Time has passed him by. The one inkling of darkness comes out when he writes about the suicide of Moe Vernon, his dad’s boss back in the 1930s. The only reason Mason can relate is that he’s “stood there dressed in something just as strange, with tears in [his] eyes while people died laughing” (Chapter A.4). Here, Moore gives Mason a clear, poetic voice, which is the ultimate tribute to his good character.
Let’s be frank. As powerful as Hollis Mason was in the good old days, and as helpful as his memoir is in making sense of Watchmen, he’s pretty useless while the central mystery unfolds. He’s relatively uncomplicated, which makes him a relic in a world where everything is spiraling out of control.
He has no known wife, no known children, which makes his passing of the Nite Owl torch to Dan Dreiberg even more poignant. When Dreiberg learns of Mason’s death, Rorschach is the one who has to hold him back. And that’s saying something. So why does Moore make the most functional family in Watchmen the one that’s not even related by blood? Maybe that’s the point: we are all one family. At the end of the day, this just might be what the bearded one, Alan Moore, is up there on stage singing about.