When Alan Moore models you after the Blue Beetle, you better have other positive traits. What we’re saying is, young Dan was probably not one of the cool kids. What? Don’t say you’re absoshmooply surprised by that. Unlike Rorschach, Veidt, or Dr. Manhattan, we never really get a slice of Dan during his childhood in Connecticut, which suggests that his origins are less interesting and important to Moore than the man Dreiberg becomes.
Speaking of Dreiberg, Dan Dreiberg isn’t the kind of Bruce Wayne name that rolls off the tongue, and it’s not all jawline the way Clark Kent sounds. Dan Dreiberg is the kind of name for a guy who plays in a year-round bowling league.
Okay, we’re being too hard on him. Dan’s not so worthless; he did earn two Masters Degrees at Harvard, one in Aeronautics, the other in Zoology. And he’s put that knowledge to good use, building Archie (his airship) and a wide variety of Nite Owl swag. That’s his angle; he’s industrious and an engineer, style points or not.
And like master like student— Dan Dreiberg is as honest and genuine a superhero as Hollis Mason, the original Nite Owl, ever was. But even old Danny Boy is past his prime in alt-1985 when Watchmen goes down. He’s forty now, and has really let himself go in the eight years since the Keene Act made costumed heroes a thing of the past.
We’re going to have to beat around the bush a bit here. From the moment Laurie walks out on Dr. Manhattan, there’s only one man in Watchmen who even has a chance: Dan Dreiberg. Who else could it be? Rorschach? He’s completely asexual, and has some underlying resentment of women thanks to his awful mother. Who else? Adrian Veidt? He’s too busy trying to end/save the world.
In his prime, Dan Dreiberg was quite a catch, but now he admits to feeling “so impotent” (VII.19.8). It’s too bad, because Laurie Juspeczyk thinks he “look[s] terrific without glasses. If only [they] could just do something with this stupid hair” (VII.13.4). If Laurie starts out the book acting like a child and ends up a strong, capable woman, then Dan’s arc is the opposite. He goes from being an out-of-shape has-been to feeling young and confident again. Eventually, Dan and Laurie meet in the middle.
By the end, Dan’s making jokes about having kids, the very act of which would have given him the heebie-jeebies earlier on. Sally Jupiter even gives him a sexual Christmas present: her old Tijuana Bible, the porno comic featuring her as Silk Spectre. None of this is meant to be perved-out or lewd, Dan just reaches a point where he is comfortable in his own skin, costume or no costume.