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Mothman of the Minutemen (Alan Moore's Watchmen)

Mothman

(Byron Lewis)


Power Level:
Game system: DC Heroes Role-Playing Game

Context

This Mothman appears in the landmark graphic novel The Watchmen. He is part of the Minutemen, the odd 1940s team of costumed vigilantes wherein lie the origins of the later Watchmen.


Background

  • Real Name: Byron Lewis.
  • Marital Status: Single.
  • Known Relatives: Arthur and Janet Lewis (Parents, deceased).
  • Group Affiliation: The Minutemen.
  • Base Of Operations: New York (Harlem ?).
  • Height: 5’8” Weight: 150lbs.
  • Eyes: Brown ? Hair: Black (Graying in the ’60’s).


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Powers and Abilities

Mothman was a good fighter, detective, and acrobat, whose schtick was the gliding wings on his costume.


History

Byron Lewis was a member of the famous Lewis family of Connecticut. His extremely wealthy father introduced Byron to high society at a very young age.

Finding this lifestyle rather boring and empty, however, Byron pursued the intellectual arts. He majored in philosophy at college and became involved with the radical left, adopting their bohemian lifestyle and attitudes with fierce idealism.

He doesn’t appear to have supported radical left causes after he graduated college, instead transferring his interest to the nascent civil rights movement.

After he graduated, his father died, leaving him in charge of the Lewis estate. This wealth was a great source of personal guilt.


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Mothman

In 1939 in order to partially compensate for this, Byron first became Mothman – protector of the people. When the Minutemen formed, he was one of the first to join.

In 1942, Lewis registered for the military draft as a conscientous objector. During World War II, he worked at a Red Cross station.

After Dollar Bill’s death in 1946, Lewis stepped his drinking up a pace.

In 1948, Mothman got into a scuffle with Captain Metropolis when the latter made some racist remarks after a black cab driver he had solicited stopped in front of a mud puddle Metropolis stepped into. Hooded Justice just watched and laughed, until the brawl was finally broken up by the police.

Downfall

In the 50s, when Joseph McCarthy brought the former Minutemen before the UnAmerican Activities Committee, Lewis’ associations in college, his support of “Negro rights” and his refusal to fight in the war caused the committee to label him a communist sympathizer. The resulting alienation and his newfound “outcast” status exacerbated his alcoholism.

Newspaper front page about Mothman of the Minutemen

The death of Frank Madison, the Lewis family butler (whom Byron had been closer to than his own father), in 1958 only served to further his downward spiral.

The last time Mothman appeared in costume seems to have been in 1960, at a charity event for the Red Cross, where he seems to have constantly had a drink in hand.

In 1962, Mothman was admitted to the Holland Valley Alcohol Rehabilitation Center.

Later days

In 1963, accompanied by an attendant from the Center, he showed up at Sally Jupiter’s Minutemen reunion. His friends (and young Laurie Juspeczyk) saw just how badly his mind and body had been damaged by his addiction to alcohol.

He had not shown any signs of recovery as of 1985. Since he was in Maine during the “alien attack”, he probably survived the events of the “Watchmen” series, for all the good that does him.


Description

As Mothman, Lewis wears a purple body stocking with black stripes on his arms and legs, black trunks, a yellow belt bearing a moth-shaped belt buckle, and a red “M” on the front. His boots are black.

His purple helmet/mask leaves his lower face and neck exposed, and has yellow antennae and large orange ovals surrounding a pair of mesh “compound eyes”. The costume’s wings are yellow with black striations.

By the ’60’s alcoholism had aged Lewis terribly. His eyes were hollow, and his movements uncertain and shaky. He tended to trail off in the middle of sentences and slur his words.

His handwriting in the Sourcebook is also extremely difficult to read.


Personality

Byron Lewis was, first and foremost, an good-hearted, but naive idealist who meant well.

While this was not in and of itself a bad thing, his feelings seem to have at least partially stemmed from overwhelming guilt and self-hatred. Byron appears to have been attempting to compensate for some inherent deficit he perceived in his character, due to being born rich and white.

The Minutemen group photo from the movie

One thing that stands out about him is his own brand of intolerance, not against different races, but against those whose beliefs differed from his own. His journal indicates that he regards such people as ignorant, and while this may be true in some cases, he appears to have made little effort to understand them or try to change their opinions for the better, simply regarding them as not worth his time.

In essence, therefore, he self-righteously wrote off large masses of people as worthless.

Motivation

Lewis became Mothman to alleviate some of his guilt, protecting people from those who would exploit or oppress them, and likely as a rebellion against the stolid establishment.

As a Minuteman, Byron doesn’t appear to have left much of an impression on his teammates. Comedian would later describe him as a “flake”, and “a nerdy little kid trying to hang out with big brother and his friends”. Hollis Mason (aka Nite-Owl I) barely mentions him in his autobiography, Under the Hood.

There appears to have occasionally been some friction between Mothman and the more closed-minded members of the team. As mentioned above, at one point, he and Captain Metropolis came to blows after Metropolis used a racial slur, though they reconciled shortly afterward.

He definitely hated Hooded Justice, and feared what he represented, believing him to be the embodiment of the worst kind of hatred – the kind that needed to hide behind a mask.

However, Justice didn’t scare him half as much as the Comedian, as Byron felt that the amoral young crimefighter was smarter and more cynical than any “superhero” had a right to be. The Hooded Justice’s brutality could be ascribed to sheer ignorance, but the Comedian knew exactly what he was doing, and enjoyed it.

Contemporaries

Lewis was ultimately disappointed by the fact the the Minutemen seemed to be more devoted to publicity than effecting social change. He never seemed to grasp the fact that, though the public was enamored of the superheroes, they mostly saw them as amusing celebrities rather than role models, and had little respect for them.

Interesting parallels can be drawn between Mothman, Dan Dreiburg aka Nite-Owl II and Walter Kovacs aka Rorschach:

Although Dreiburg was partially motivated to become Nite-Owl II by the guilt his wealth brought him, he overcame it, channeling his feelings into a desire to help people using his money. Lewis apparently never got over hating himself for being rich, and may not have even conceived that his money could be used to achieve anything positive until he started cracking.

(The first we hear of him donating his money to a worthy cause is an incident which occurs in 1960.)

The Minutemen having a social event

Both Kovacs and Byron were driven by ideals which they refused to compromise, to the point of allowing them to consume their lives, but their reactions to having those ideals challenged were completely opposite.

Kovacs, upon being confronted by the sheer meaningless cruelty makind was capable of in a seemingly indifferent universe, became even more fanatical about his beliefs. After the HUAC hearings, Byron, always somewhat weak-willed, simply crumbled when faced with the ineffectuality of his activist pursuits against an uncaring society.

Other parallels

For Byron’s whole life alcohol appears to have been his primary escape, and as things got worse, he began to drink more and more. By the 1960’s he was little more than a mentally fragile, alcoholic wreck, and activist movements such as the ones he had embraced in his youth wanted nothing to do with him.

One of the great ironies of Lewis’ life is that had he been willing to accept the role in high society his father groomed him for, been willing to mingle with the empty-headed but influential people who had surrounded him in college and been willing to shed his naivete and get get a bit shrewd order to advance politically.

Had he, in short, never gone down the path that led to becoming Mothman, he probably would have been able to use his money and influence to help bring about the social changes he so desired.


Quotes

(1939) “Me, I hope we keep out of [World War II]. Just thinking about war, it scares me…”

(1963) [At the Minutemen reunion.]
Nelson Gardner: “Hey everybody, look who made the reunion after all!”
Sally Jupiter: “Byron ! Oh Byron, it’s so good to see you ! Can we fix you, uh…”
Attendant: “Just a club soda for Mr. Lewis.”
[Guided by the attendant’s grip on his arm, Byron steps forward uncertainly.]
Byron Lewis (vacantly): “My friends. All my friends. What time is it ?”
[Hollis Mason and the attendant help Lewis lower himself into a chair.]
Hollis: “Uh…it’s uh, high time we all got together is what it is ! Here…here’s your club soda, Byron…”
Laurie Juspeczyk: “Mom ? Who… ?”
Sally: “Shh. An old friend. I’ll explain later.”
Laurie: “He’s one of *you* right ? Jesus, is that what I’m training for ? What I’ve got to look forward to ?”
Sally: “Laurie, shut up ! Byron’s *fine*. He just…”
Byron (vaguely) : “Are…are my relatives here ?”
[His grip on his glass slackens.]
Attendant: “Uh…Mr. Lewis…”
Byron: “I-I’m just sorry. I’m sorry for us *all*…”
[The glass shatters on the floor.]


DC Universe History

If he has the high INT and Gadgetry skills the Sourcebook gives him, he could well have been a forerunner of Batman. Perhaps he even faced some of the Golden Age Batman’s foes.

It seems likely that the JSA weren’t the only heroes forced into retirement by the HUAC. Thus, Mothman’s life and career in the DCU would probably be quite similar to that depicted in Watchmen.

The Minutemen's group photo from the Who's Who

He might have been a bit more successful in acting as a force for social change as Mothman, however, given the public’s wider acceptance and appreciation of superheroes.

Alas, his true legacy is a villainous one.

An unfortunate legacy

Drury Walker, aka Cameron Van Cleer, is a petty criminal who was doing community service at the Holland Valley Alcohol Rehabilitation Center. He learned the story of Byron Lewis, and ingratiated himself upon the old man.

Always naive, Lewis, believing Walker to be a good and worthwhile person, eventually shared the secrets behind his technology. He even signed papers giving Walker access to what remained of his wealth, as well.

To this day, Byron Lewis believes that he has successfully passed on the Mothman legacy, a notion no one wishes to disabuse him of, and the still-living heroes who know him bear a special hatred in their hearts for Killer Moth.

Addendum by capita_senyera, part 1

Lewis was being visited by the JSA’s old members (Flash, Green Lantern, Wildcat) when the Spectre appeared to summon them for some crisis. Lewis, who was having a pre-death moment of lucidity, asked Corrigan to visit him again.

After father Creamer (his spiritual counselor) asked him to be more amiable with his friends, the Spectre visited Lewis. Byron said to him that he knew he was going to die, and wanted to know if he was going to hell or heaven, something that greatly worried him, due to his past failures.

Spectre said that God could forgive his personal problems, but that his “record” was tainted for inspiring Killer Moth (now Charaxes). Furious, Lewis asked Corrigan to avenge his name, but the Spectre did something better: turned him young and healthy again to do it by himself. He had 2 days to do it. After it, he would die and go to Limbo for a time.

Addendum by capita_senyera, part 2

The reborn Mothman tracked Charaxes through Gotham city’s sewer system, were the monster was going to kill a group of anti-war activists. These young men were fleeing from a public demonstration turned a riot due to police brutality.

Mothman had the fight of his life. But despite his self-doubts, he soundly defeated the mocking Charaxes.

When one of the youngsters feared he was going to arrest them, he told them of his own youth, when being a leftist was a crime. About HUAC and how he left his trial to ruin his life. He encouraged them to keep fighting for their ideas.

Then the end came, and the Spectre came to take Mothman to the heaven doors. He said farewell to the last surviving Minuteman (the now grandmother Sally Jupiter) and gone without remorses.

The Mothman last talk had an unexpected effect: Charaxes had left some of his eggs nearby (see his chilling writeup). One of them opened during the fight, and one Rory Walker listened his words. Somehow, that had a profound influence on him, and after befriending the activist groups, became the new Mothman.


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Game Stats — DC Heroes RPG Print Friendly

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Mothman

Dex: 04 Str: 03 Bod: 04 Motivation: Responsibility
Int: 05 Wil: 04 Min: 04 Occupation: Millionaire
Inf: 03 Aur: 04 Spi: 04 Resources {or Wealth}: 012
Init: 014 HP: 025

Skills:
Acrobatics*: 04, Detective: 05, Martial Artist: 04, Medicine (First Aid): 04, Thief: 04, Vehicles (Land): 03

Advantages:
Connoisseur, Innocent, Local Hero (New York), Scholar (Philosophy, Poetry).

Connections:
Minutemen (High), Radical Left (Low), Universities (Low).

Drawbacks:
Guilt, MIH (Racism), Secret Identity, SIA (Alcohol, Prior to 1954, this was an MIA).

Equipment:

  • Mothman Costume [/BODY 06/ Gliding: 05]. The wings on this costume allow Mothman to glide short distances.
  • Minutemen Communicator [BODY 03 Radio Communication: 07].

Design notes

The Watchmen Sourcebook gives Byron an INT and Linked Gadgetry of 06, but there doesn’t seem to be anything in his history or in the documents shown in the book to justify them, apart from his wings (which he may have commissioned).

The Sourcebook also gives him a Scholar in Politics, but from the background material, I didn’t really get the impression that Byron was interested in politics so much as the philosophies behind the causes he supported.


By Civanfan based on Ray Winninger.

Helper(s): Matthew S. Pulido, capita_senyera, Ethan Roe.

Source of Character: “Watchmen” Graphic Novel, the “Who Watches the Watchmen” module by Dan Greenburg, the “Watchmen Sourcebook” and “Taking out the Trash” module by Ray Winninger (from which I cribbed most of the History and stats, though I disagreed with a few.).

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