Watchmen: Who is Captain Metropolis?

Watchmen episode 6 introduces Nelson Gardner, the hero known as Captain Metropolis. Here's why he's important.

Watchmen Captain Metropolis

This article contains major Watchmen spoilers.

Watchmen episode 6, “This Extraordinary Being” focuses primarily on Will Reeves, his journey to becoming Hooded Justice, and his quest to stamp out the Ku Klux Klan and their white supremacist plans. It’s a powerful episode that begins in 1938 and spans approximately the next decade of Reeves’ life, covering key moments from his vigilante career. But in a surprising moment, it also introduces another character from the book and member of the Minutemen: Nelson Gardner, also known as Captain Metropolis (played to perfection by Limitless and What We Do in the Shadows’ Jake McDorman). So who is Nelson Gardner, and what do we know about Captain Metropolis? We’re here to lay it all out for you.

As  has been with any other Watchmen “legacy character” we’ve seen on screen, such as Laurie Blake or Adrian Veidt, the Nelson Gardner we meet on HBO is very much in keeping with the character as he was portrayed in the book. Gardner only appears in a few pages of the original Watchmen and most of what we know about him comes from Hollis Mason’s autobiography Under the Hood, presented as supplemental material in between Watchmen chapters. Additional information about Captain Metropolis can be found in the Before Watchmen: Minutemen prequel by Darwyn Cooke and two Watchmen supplements for a DC Heroes roleplaying game from the 1980s, which happens to feature the only additional information about the Watchmen universe ever approved by Alan Moore. On the other hand, a lot of the materials in the Watchmen RPGs I’ve looked to for additional details here are probably similarly invalidated, as they proceed under the assumption that Hooded Justice’s true identity was Rolf Muller.

According to one of those supplements, an adventure called “Taking Out the Trash,” Nelson Gardner “was a somewhat sickly child who often found himself the butt of other children’s jokes.” However, he eventually got himself together enough to join the United States Marine Corps where he achieved the rank of Colonel. Like most of the other heroes in the Watchmen universe, Gardner became a costumed adventurer after reading about Hooded Justice in the papers, and he “adopted military tactics, techniques, and organization into his war on crime” as Captain Metropolis.

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read more: Watchmen Episode 6 Easter Eggs Explained

Captain Metropolis was indeed the driving force behind the formation of the Minutemen in 1939 (along with the original Silk Spectre, Sally Jupiter), and he did have a long sexual relationship with Hooded Justice. And as we see on the show, Gardner also held a number of reactionary views, the seeds of which were present in the book. “Captain Metropolis has gone on record as making statements about Black and Hispanic Americans that have been viewed as both racially prejudiced and inflammatory, charges that it is difficult to argue or deny,” Mason recalled in Under the Hood. That’s certainly in keeping with what Gardner tells Will Reeves on the phone about the “residents of Harlem.” 

Gardner was reactivated by the Army after the bombing of Pearl Harbor, and served during World War II in his civilian identity, keeping him too busy for crimefighting as Captain Metropolis. We know from the book that the sexual relationship between Captain Metropolis and Hooded Justice continued until at least early 1948, and thanks to HBO’s documents we know it continued until 1955. The Minutemen disbanded in 1949, and Captain Metropolis was given a pass by Senator Joseph McCarthy’s shameful House Un-American Activities Committee in 1954, the same year that Hooded Justice refused to unmask and reveal his secret identity before HUAC. There are some other details about Captain Metropolis’ career revealed in Darwyn Cooke’s Before Watchmen: Minutemen, but based on the other revelations from this show about Hooded Justice, it would appear those are no longer canon. 

In 1966, in the grip of a midlife crisis, Gardner tried to put together a second team, the Crimebusters, by recruiting the second generation of heroes such as Rorschach, Dan Dreiberg’s Nite Owl, Laurie Juspeczyk’s Silk Spectre, Doctor Manhattan, and the Comedian. Gardner’s reactionary views were manifest in the “evils” he proposed the new team combat, among them “promiscuity,” “drugs,” “campus subversion,” “anti-war demonstrations,” and “black unrest.” Needless to say, the group never formed, both because of the misgivings of the entire team and a rather public display of disapproval by the Comedian, who cut Gardner down to size with some sharp remarks. In short, as we see on HBO with his handling of the Minutemen and the kinds of cases he thinks are their “cup of tea,” much of his costumed adventuring may have been driven as much by a thirst for publicity as  anything else. Still, Gardner remained active until the 1970s, before his life was cut short in an automobile accident on Aug. 9, 1974. The accident decapitated him, and curiously, his head was never found.

Now, here’s where things get a little interesting. Captain Metropolis is the driving force behind one of the two Watchmen RPG adventures, specifically the one detailed in the Who Watches the Watchmen? sourcebook by Dan Greenberg. Set in 1966 shortly after that first (disastrous) Crimebusters meeting, Gardner cooks up a plan to get the heroes to work together, by orchestrating the kidnappings of various people close to them, all while framing members of the underworld. This adventure was cooked up with Alan Moore’s approval (back when he approved such things), so it’s pretty clear that Captain Metropolis was always intended to be both a dick AND a weak-willed shady dick who will take questionable actions to satisfy his own ego, regardless of the cost.

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However, according to HBO’s official supplementary materials, Peteypedia, Gardner apparently had a change of heart regarding his political views, the political nature of superheroics, and the way he used Reeves and Hooded Justice for his own ends during his final years. You can read the details in Gardner’s last will and testament, written in 1971 and executed in 1975, several months after his death, here

The events of “This Extraordinary Being” take place over the span of nearly a decade, from 1938 to approximately 1947 or ‘48. We know that Hooded Justice disappeared from public life around 1955, and Will Reeves retired from the police force around the same time. Perhaps future episodes of Watchmen will further explore Reeves’ history, which might also allow for us to learn more about Captain Metropolis. But if not, this episode was an excellent way to give the relatively minor character of Nelson Gardner some time in the spotlight, in a way that is true to his characterization in the book.

Mike Cecchini is the Editor in Chief of Den of Geek. You can read more of his work here. Follow him on Twitter @wayoutstuff.