When I first started reading Watchmen by Alan Moore and Dan Gibbons, it took my 30 minutes just to take in the first two pages. I just had to take my time to absorb the rich graphics with mysterious captions without context, and it wasn't until I was reading further on when I finally got into an flow of reading, which started around page 9 when the character Dan Dreiberg, the Nite Owl, is introduced with Hollis Mason.
Dan Dreiberg and Hollis Mason, Chapter 1; Page 9
In many ways, Dan acts as an anchor for the watchmen. The Comedian's murder and Rorschach's subsequent exploration of the Comedian's apartment leaves readers with not much understanding on what is happening, but when Dan enters the novel, the characters and story line of Watchmen become more graspable to everyday audiences. He is the character I most identified while reading, and with good reason: he is the the good-natured, altruistic hero that everyone wants to be, and is a masked adventurer for noble reasons and doesn't have any glaring personality disorders unlike most of the other masked heroes.
Nite Owl Character Sketch, Gallery Appendix
But more than just motivations, there is a sadness about Dan that really hit me. When he sits in front of his Nite Owl costume after Rorschach tells him "You quit." I couldn't help but be taken back for a second. Dan's unrealized dreams and feelings of present failure are something I feel all the time about my own life and aspirations.
For Dan, these disappointments often manifest themselves in his sexual encounters. When Laurie and Dan are finally engaging in intimacy, Dan's sexual performance is directly contrasted with Adrian Veidt's performance in acrobatics on the television, and the juxtaposition is emasculating to Dan's character and made me pity him.
This scene is immediately followed by Dan's puzzling dream of him erotically meeting a promiscous villain, the "Twilight Lady," from his past on a distant planet, where he transforms into the Nite Owl and the Twilight Lady turns into Laurie as the Silk Spectre. They share a kiss and before blowing up.
How I read this dream is Dan is stuck in his identity in the past and in his adventuring that is represented by the Twilight Lady and himself. In ripping himself to reveal the Nite Owl, and the Twilight Lady transforming into the Silk Spectre, there is a movement from the past into the present and future, foreshadowing Owl and Spectre's future team up to bust out Rorschach from prison and the eventual explosive destruction of NYC.
It's only after Nite Owl (not Dan) and Silk Spectre save a group of people from a burning building that Dan's sexuality is realized.
After this revealing chapter, a segment of Dan's owl research appears at the end of the chapter, the main argument being that owl's should not be studied so much that their mythological grandeur is lost and speaks to the value of imagination when studying owls. This translates directly to his own life: him donning the Nite Owl mask again is him re-imagining himself and not studying 'normality' as he did before.
The rest of the novel features the Nite Owl using his gadgets and gizmos in various ways, all a little bit outdated and limited in some way or another. Dan also is present to represent a "sane" moral compass of an average person, but the only character development we get after that chapter is at the end, when Laurie and Dan visit Sally after everything is over. Dan picks up a copy of a playboy-esque magazine featuring Sally and admits to Sally that he owned a copy in 1952. Sally then gives Dan the copy and an interesting exchange occurs.
Both Sally and Dan kept erotic memorabilia from their past, and here Sally gives up hers to Dan, a cathartic moment in of itself. Dan, who has assumed a new identity, in receiving Sally's past token and admitting his own tendencies, in a way gives up his past. After this exchange, Dan suggests having children to Laurie, who wishes to go out and adventure more. But what is the take away of all of this?
Dan's character development is a pretty generic hero timeline that still captures the heart. He starts as a middle aged man reminiscing about the past to having a "mid-life crisis" and captivating life and pursuing his fantasies as a masked adventurer once again. One take away I have from Nite Owl is that it's never too late to spice things up and reinvent yourself in the pursuit of what is noble and beautiful.