Literature Study GuidesWatchmenUnder The Hood Chapters 1 And 2 Summary

Watchmen | Study Guide

Alan Moore

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Watchmen | Under the Hood (Chapters 1 and 2) : Hollis Mason Autobiography | Summary



Chapter 1

Former Nite Owl Hollis Mason wrote an autobiography after his retirement from vigilantism in 1962. Under the Hood begins with the saddest thing Hollis knows: the song "The Ride of the Valkyries," part of German composer Richard Wagner's opera cycle The Ring of the Nibelungs.

Moe Vernon, the rough-and-tumble owner of the auto repair shop where Hollis's father worked, was listening to this music the day he announced that the head mechanic, Fred Motz, was sleeping with Moe's wife. Everyone laughed hysterically when he said it; Moe had forgotten he was wearing "an artificial foam rubber set of realistically painted lady's bosoms," something he put on to make the mailman laugh. That night Moe committed suicide. Hollis laughed along with everyone else that day, but 34 years later he knows what it's like to stand there "dressed in something just as strange, with tears in my eyes while people died laughing."

Chapter 2

Hollis became a police officer when he was 23. He was influenced by his grandfather, a Montana farmer, who felt cities "were just cesspools into which all the world's dishonesty ... greed ... lust, and godlessness drained." Hollis often saw New York City through his grandfather's eyes and through the lens of his favorite "pulp adventure fiction," which championed high morals and justice for evildoers. Hollis used to borrow ACTION COMICS from the kids on his beat, and he loved reading about Superman. He spent his days pacing the city, fantasizing about the life of a superhero.

Superman made his debut in 1938, and a real-life vigilante followed that same year. A masked man wearing a cape and a noose around his neck interrupted two robberies and scared the criminals into submission with his fists. The newspapers nicknamed the unidentified man "Hooded Justice." He was the first known masked vigilante in the United States. Hollis planned to become the second.


Watchmen is a comic book about superheroes, so it's fitting one of its characters was influenced by a comic book about superheroes. Superman's introduction was a major departure from the "darkness and ambiguity" of pulp novels, which were published from 1896 through the 1950s and were at their height of popularity in the 1920s and 1930s. "Pulps," named for the low-quality, ragged-edged paper on which they were printed, were known for their sensational, sometimes grisly stories, often accompanied by racy cover art. Popular pulp characters like the Shadow, Doc Savage, and the Phantom Detective may have lacked Superman's squeaky-clean image, but, in Hollis's mind, they made up for it with their strong moral codes. In the pulps good was good and bad was bad—there was no in-between. The satisfaction of righting wrongs attracted him to police work just as it attracted him to pulp novels and comic books. Hollis believes those who fight crime are good and those who commit crimes are bad. As in his favorite stories, there are no in-betweens.

Hollis tells the story about Moe Vernon's subsequent suicide not only to gain the reader's sympathy, as he suggests at the beginning of Chapter 1, but also to let readers know a life of heroism isn't necessarily a happy one. Hollis has known the humiliation of being laughed at for trying to make other people happy, and he knows the loneliness of a life spent hiding behind a crazy outfit. This portrayal of a "superhero" is very different from what audiences were used to seeing in the mid-1980s. Earlier stories about caped and masked crusaders were mostly fun and exciting adventures written for children and teenagers. Watchmen and The Dark Knight Returns, a four-issue Batman miniseries written by Frank Miller, are largely considered to have set the tone for the serious, often angst-filled portrayals of heroes. In Watchmen author Alan Moore turned the traditional superhero trope on its head by showing the darkness and light in each of his characters. Even Hollis, the epitome of virtue and honor in the name of justice, isn't immune to the insecurities and missteps that plague us all.

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