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Watchmen | Chapter 7 : A Brother to Dragons | Summary

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Summary

Laurie Juspeczyk accidentally activates the flamethrower on Archie, Dan Dreiberg's owl ship, while trying to light a cigarette. Dan helps her extinguish the flames, and they talk about how he became the second Nite Owl. Left with a large family inheritance, he had no need for steady employment so he took on the mantle of his childhood hero, Hollis Mason, aka Nite Owl. Dan regrets that Crimebusters never got off the ground in 1966. In his mind being part of a crime-fighting group would have been like being part of the Knights of the Round Table. Dan gave up vigilante heroism after the passage of the Keene Act in 1977, and now he mostly studies and writes about ornithology.

Laurie and Dan go upstairs and watch TV. They see an interview with Rorschach's landlady, who claims Rorschach often propositioned her for sex. World powers are preparing for war, and the search for writer Max Shea has been called off after two years. Dan removes his glasses and Laurie suddenly realizes how attractive he is. They kiss on the couch like teenagers, but Dan is physically unable to go any further than that. Laurie tells him it's fine, and they go to bed together.

Dan dreams of the Twilight Lady, one of his old foes who had a crush on him. They are naked, then shed their bodies like clothing. Dan is now in his owl suit, and the Twilight Lady is Laurie, wearing her Silk Spectre II costume. They lean in for a kiss just as a nuclear bomb explodes, which turns bodies into black skeletons. Dan wakes with a start, then goes to his basement workshop. When Laurie finds him, he is naked save for his night-vision goggles. He tells her the war makes him feel "so powerless. So impotent." He confesses he's worried there really is a mask killer on the loose, and he just wants to take Archie out for a spin. Laurie thinks it's a good idea. They gear up and head out.

As Archie launches into the air, Dan and Laurie notice people stranded in the top stories of a burning tenement building. Dan lowers Archie alongside the building so Laurie can help them onto the owl ship. Dan flies to the next building's roof and lets the residents of the burning building out, and then flies Archie above the clouds. He and Laurie have sex. When they're finished, Dan decides they need to break Rorschach out of jail. The chapter ends with a quotation from the Bible's book of Job: "I am a brother to dragons, and a companion to owls. My skin is black upon me, and my bones are burned with heat."

Analysis

Dan has a complicated relationship with vigilantism. Although he often says it's good he no longer fights crime, a large part of him misses it. The gadgets, the adventures, and the satisfaction that comes from helping others gave him a purpose where he had none before. Dan's early days of heroism sound a lot like another caped crusader who identifies with winged nocturnal creatures—both he and Batman are wealthy, technologically minded orphans who have a costume and a gizmo for every situation. They differ, however, in how they relate to others. Batman is a notoriously solitary character, preferring to fight crime by himself or with one or two very trusted associates, but Dan really loves the idea of a large group of people united by a similar purpose. A romantic at heart, he thinks being part of the Crimebusters would have been like being a member of King Arthur's Knights of the Round Table. Although he hasn't fought crime for nearly a decade, he hangs on to his old gear not only out of nostalgia but also out of hope. He wants to have a purpose and the sense that he's part of something bigger than himself. Crime fighting gave him both those things.

Crime fighting also gave him a sense of power and confidence. Dan Dreiberg the civilian could be classified as the quintessential nerd from the top of his oversized glasses to the bottom of his obsession with owls. He is shy and awkward around self-confident Laurie, and he does his best to mask his attraction to her so as not to make her uncomfortable. She is the one who instigates the kiss on the couch, and although Dan has deep feelings for her, he's unable to become sexually aroused. His impotency is directly connected to his feelings of powerlessness. Putting on his owl suit is akin to putting on a different persona. As Nite Owl, he is self-assured and in complete control, saving the tenants with ease. This time he doesn't shy away from Laurie's advances. Being Nite Owl makes him feel "so confident it's like [he's] on fire."

Unlike Dan, Laurie's personality doesn't change when she puts on Silk Spectre's slinky yellow outfit. For one thing, her outfit, like her mother's, doesn't include a mask. There is nothing for her to hide behind. Secondly, Laurie didn't choose to become a vigilante—she inherited the role. She's not running from loneliness or insecurity like Dan, she's not an atomic superhuman like Dr. Manhattan, and she doesn't feel the desire to save the world like Adrian and Rorschach. Because she took her mother's place at such a young age, she never had the opportunity to develop a "regular" life from which she wanted to escape. Her private and public personas are the same because she was groomed to be Silk Spectre from the very beginning. That, coupled with her youth, distances her from the other vigilantes.

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