Warning: This post contains major spoilers for Watchmen‘s sixth episode.
Hooded Justice was the first masked adventurer in the world of Watchmen. He was also the only masked hero in Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons’ comic who kept his secret identity. But what we thought we knew about him completely changed in the sixth episode of HBO’s Watchmen. It re-contextualized the character entirely, in a development that deepened the show’s ties with the graphic novel while also bringing its own story into focus.
Hooded Justice in the Comic
The original Watchmen comic reveals few hard facts about the noose-wearing Hooded Justice. His first documented act of masked vigilantism took place in Queens in 1938. He saved a couple from a mugging and beat up the three perpetrators so badly they had to go to the hospital. One of them he permanently paralyzed. Hooded Justice’s savagery became his calling card as a hero. It also led many armchair psychologists to believe his brutality and costuming adventures were related to his sexuality.
A week later, Hooded Justice stopped an armed robbery at a local supermarket. He jumped through the window and beat up the group’s leader so viciously the other robbers dropped their guns and fled. (American Hero Story’s dramatization in Watchmen‘s second episode showed him beating up all of the assailants.) Witnesses described the masked-figure as tall and with the build of a wrestler. The press formally dubbed him Hooded Justice after this event.
He joined the Minutemen, organized and led by Nelson Gardner, a.k.a. Captain Metropolis, in 1939. Rumors started immediately that Hooded Justice and fellow group member Silk Spectre (real name Sally Jupiter, Agent Laurie Blake’s mother) were dating. The two were frequently seen arm-in-arm, but it was all for show to protect the group’s image. They were never a couple. Nite Owl, Hollis Mason, wrote in his tell-all book years later that “HJ” and Captain Metropolis were romantically involved. Sally Jupiter also implied the two men were a couple in an interview. That’s all she seemed to know about her “protector,” though. Jupiter never saw Hooded Justice without his mask. She didn’t know his true identity either, even though he was the one who saved her when the Comedian tried to rape her in 1940.
DC Comics/Dave Gibbons/John Higgins
The Minutemen broke up in 1949, but Hooded Justice remained active until 1955. That year, the House Un-American Activities Committee requested all masked vigilantes reveal their true identity to a congressman in their home state. Hooded Justice refused to share his identity with anyone, despite the government’s promise of anonymity. Mason Hollis wrote his former team member seemingly chose to retire instead. The first masked vigilante was never seen again.
That’s all we know for certain from the graphic novel, and even then, Hooded Justice’s relationship with Nelson Gardner is technically hearsay. The comic does offer a suggestion as to who he really was, though. A few months after Hooded Justice went missing, the very large, very muscular body of East German circus strongman Rolf Müller washed onto a Boston shore. (American Hero Story recreated this moment too.) He had been shot in the back of his head, execution style. The ultra right-wing newspaper The New Frontiersman said Müller might have been killed for being a Communist sympathizer, since he was East German. It was even suggested he was a Communist spy.
Hooded Justice himself had been known to hold far-right views. He had expressed approval of Hitler’s actions prior to the U.S. joining the war. While Müller’s supposed opinions and the totally unsubstantiated rumors he was a spy don’t match Hooded Justice’s own known political leanings, the two men’s physiques do. Here’s them side-by-side in the original Watchmen comic.
DC Comics/Dave Gibbons
Adrian Veidt theorized Eddie Blake, who promised to get revenge on the former Minuteman one day, might have killed Rolf Müller during a mission to unmask Hooded Justice in 1955. Veidt could never confirm his theory (though Ozymandias was rarely wrong) and the true fate of Hooded Justice was never discovered. The only viable candidate offered in the comic was Rolf Müller.
Now HBO’s Watchmen has given its own answer to that enduring mystery.
The Two Masks of Will Reeves
The original Watchmen comic—and only the original comic—is canon for Damon Lindelof’s series. Before Watchmen and Doomsday Clock do not count. While the show is not changing the canon of the graphic novel, where Hooded Justice was most likely Rolf Müller, it uses the comic’s ambiguity to craft its own story. The series’ version of Hooded Justice now connects the show with the very origins of Watchmen‘s masked vigilantes. It also completely re-contextualizes the origins of superheroes in this world, and in doing so we now have greater insight into why the show is set in Tulsa, Oklahoma.
Young Will Reeves survived the very real, very tragic Tulsa Race Massacre of 1921. No one would have faulted him if he grew up bitter about the law that failed to protect him and his family. Instead he followed in the shoes of his hero, Bass Reeves. The exploits of the real-life sheriff were the inspiration of the movie Will was obsessed with as a child.
The institutionalized racism he found in New York City was no different than what he had experienced in Tulsa, though. His near-lynching by his fellow white officers made it impossible for him to “trust in the law” anywhere in America. It also led to an unplanned start as a superhero when he saw innocent people under attacked. In that vulnerable moment, he found protection in the mask. It protected him from being a black man in a white world. Like Laurie Blake told Angela, the mask “hides the pain.” For Will Reeves, the anger that gave him physical strength was his pain.
The common belief in the comics was Hooded Justice wore a mask because of “sex stuff”. Will Reeves wore two masks—his hood and the white makeup to hide his skin color—so he could be a man of the law, even if it meant acting outside of it. (Superman comics also inspired Nite Owl, who was also a police officer).
Masks didn’t give Will Reeves what he wanted, though.
The famous story of him jumping through the supermarket window was a convenient lie. It hid the truth that Hooded Justice had actually broken up a secret meeting of Klan members. He didn’t jump through the window in a daring and dramatic rescue, he jumped out of it to flee for his life. White America didn’t want to hear that story anymore than they wanted a black superhero.
His fellow Minutemen didn’t want to hear about Cyclops either. Will uncovered a “vast and insidious conspiracy” to make black Americans kill each other, and no one cared. Not even vain glory boy Nelson Gardner, who knew the truth about Hooded Justice. The only thing Will could believe in the end was mob justice. His hero Bass Reeves wouldn’t kill the corrupt white sheriff, but Hooded Justice had no other choice.
HBO’s Watchmen didn’t completely re-write the story of Hooded Justice. He did have a sexual relationship with Captain Metropolis, and he was full of rage. Will might have even had sympathetic views about pre-World War II Germany after carrying his father’s WWI pamphlet for years. But he wasn’t some East German strongman hiding his sexual identity. He was a black man who knew he could never trust in America’s laws.
Seventy years later, he still can’t. Police chiefs with Ku Klux Klan robes in their closet and U.S. senators who might become president lead the Seventh Kavalry. And nefarious forces have never stopped plotting against black Americans. The difference now is Will has powerful friends, and he has Cyclops’ own subliminal technology to use against his enemies.
American Hero Story doesn’t know the truth about Hooded Justice. History doesn’t know who Will Reeves was, that he was really black, or why he put on a mask. It doesn’t know why he wore a noose, or what happened to him in his hometown of Tulsa. But it does know one thing about Hooded Justice that has always been true: he’s angry. And he’s still channeling his anger into becoming a symbol of justice.
Featured Image: HBO