Byron Lewis was an engineer, aviation inventor, and former member of the Minutemen formerly known as Mothman. In his later years as a masked vigilante, he developed a drinking problem and admitted himself to a mental hospital, where he met Reggie Long and inspired him to become the next Rorschach.
Byron Lewis was born into a wealthy family in Bethlehem, Connecticut. He would later move to New York to pursue a career in engineering and aviation full time. A young prodigy, Lewis made a fortune making patented inventions in the aviation industry. In his young adult life, he sought adventure around the world. He ventured as a hunter/explorer in the jungles and as a mountaineer, and at one point making an extended visit to Africa. When he returned home from his journeys, Lewis saw that his country had been taken storm by crime fighters. Seeking to help the less fortunate and fight oppression and corruption himself, Lewis utilized his inventive talent to create special wings that allowed him to glide through the air, taking to the streets as "Mothman".
Lewis invented a glider suit, actually a set of wings of which he perfected after several near-fatal injuries. Before flying, he had to check the wind speed and air density, and his weight could vary by no more than three pounds, according to Hollis Mason. Shortly after, Lewis joined the crime fighting group the Minutemen, which were based in New York City. Because of the tremendous pressure put on him to stay in perfect condition, Byron developed an addiction to aspirin, liniment, morphine, and eventually a drinking problem. In 1939, a little after news of the Silhouette, there were reports of a man dressed like a moth who could glide through the air.
During their first botched mission, Mothman had the role of aerial cover. Supposed to throw a smoke bomb inside the "saboteurs"'s warehouse, his bomb fell directly in a box of Chinese fireworks, causing havoc. During World War II he went with Mason to enlist, but they both were classed as 4F. He was a conscientious objector during the war and served as a medical aide.
Lewis would often appear flying as a "surprise guest" during Dollar Bill's publicity "pep talks" to the children. By 1942, he became hard to get hold of, Mason took his place. Around 1946, after the end of the war, Lewis had bought an abandoned machine shop and used its enormous basement as a secret workplace; the building itself was boarded up so they used a manhole as its "entrance". Mason worked helped him with maintaining or improving his flying suit. There they learned of the death of Ursula Zandt and Gretchen Slovak. Lewis arranged for unmarked graves so that they wouldn't be defiled by haters.
Hollis and Byron had agreed to break into Gretchen's home and collect any evidence they would find surrounding the case Ursula was working on, but Byron was lost in alcohol and Hollis proceeded alone. That time he was taking hashish to remedy his back and knee ailments. The following days the two continued to work Ursula's case, patrolled and investigated for missing kids. He also attended Sally Jupiter's wedding to Larry Schexnayder.
When Japanese saboteurs planned to destroy the Statue of Liberty, Mothman was tasked to fly above and deliver a satchel with tracers, tear gas and Chinese fireworks. This diverted the guards, allowing the others to dock to Liberty Island and assault. Mothman landed on the Statue of Liberty's flame and saw the saboteurs completing the procedure. He hanged himself from the statue's crown and managed to shoot down the remaining henchman, but he was shot by the Japanese leader, and he fell to the ground. He entered a private clinic until healed.
During the 1950s, the House Un-American Activities Committee forced all active costumed vigilantes to reveal themselves to one of their representatives. Due to the left-wing friends that Mothman had cultivated while a student, his clearance was considerably more difficult than his companions. He was eventually cleared, but the investigations were both lengthy and ruthless. Mason speculates that the pressure of this meeting may have prompted his future drinking problem, but Laurence Schexnayder points out that the stem of his harder drinking was after the death of Dollar Bill.
Lewis was present at the ceremony in honor of Nite Owl where he was given the Key to the City. Having being told that Hooded Justice was behind the children disappearances and murders, they paid a visit to Nelson Gardner's mansion and then entered the Tower of Freedom looking for H.J. Mothman saved Nite Owl's life pushing him when a crate fell on them, but he was hit, and then taken by H.J. who threatened them and asked them to leave. Nite Owl threw himself on him, killing him.
In 1960 Mothman and other former Minutemen attended a Red Cross charity event for the India famine. Hollis noted that he was always with a drinking glass, mumbling incoherently.
Decline in Mental Health
After a long bout of drinking, Mothman had a complete mental breakdown, and knowing what he would become, in 1962 he bought his friend Hollis Mason a auto repair shop. That was his parting gift, as his condition worsened, and was admitted into the Fitzgerald Mental Home in Waterville, Maine. Later that year, Mason had sent Lewis a draft of his book, Under the Hood. He paid him a visit there as Lewis was staring at the setting sun, but didn't receive an answer whether he did read it.
Later that year, his doctors gave him leave and his nurses brought him to Sally Jupiter's mansion for a brief reunion with former Minutemen, Nelson Gardner and Hollis Mason. He seemed lost and was given a soda, but the glass fell from his hands. 13-year-old Laurie, Sally's daughter, asked her mother if that's what the future holds for the crimefighters. In 1983 Dan Dreiberg paid him a visit in his hospital on behalf of Hollis.
Later Years and Death
Having spent several years in the mental home, Lewis would frequently write letters to his sister Betty, remembering memories from their childhood and staying in touch. Lewis was present in the asylum the day a giant space alien attacked and killed three million people in New York. With his wealth still in his possession, he would make several hefty donations to the massacre victims donation fund.
Byron becomes notorious for his escapes from the asylum, donning a makeshift Mothman suit and flying off, inevitably being recaptured, but smuggling contraband inside the facility in the process.
Lewis befriended a newly committed patient named Reggie Long, a New York City Massacre survivor who had been institutionalized due to trauma from the attacks. Lewis and Long would bond for some time, with Lewis retrieving some of Long's father's possessions from his old home on one of his nights escaping the asylum. After his young friend suffers a violent encounter with an orderly, Byron teaches him how to fight, imparting the techniques and methods of each of the Minutemen to Reggie. He also repeatedly returned with family keepsakes and information pertaining to his father's final case: the vigilante known as Rorschach. The two became close friends over the years.
When suspicions went public that Adrian Veidt had secretly caused the invasion of the alien that destroyed New York, Long organized an escape from the asylum in order to seek out and assassinate Veidt, setting the mental institution ablaze. Leaving his friend Reggie with a handwritten letter, means to finding Veidt, and a gift he had picked up on one of his escapes - Rorschach's mask, Lewis began to hallucinate at the critical moment couldn't bring himself to escape the burning mental institution, believing his destiny was to stay, returning and perishing in the burning building like a moth to a flame. An obituary was published in the newspaper on November 23rd, 1992, with his history as a vigilante quietly omitted.
Mothman wears an expressively gaudy costume themed like a moth. Although most are gray, he has a large letter "M" across his chest in bold red, as well as a red belt with a gold star and two antennas attached to his forehead. The most pronounced of his accessories are the two considerably large, bright yellow wings that supposedly flap when he is scared or possibly when he is nervous as well.
- Byron Lewis is portrayed quite differently between the original Watchmen and the prequel Before Watchmen series. In the few references and flashback scenes about him, he gives the impression of a bored or feeble playboy who entered the superhero fad for his own self-gratification. In the prequel, he is presented far more positively, and while his story is expanded upon, it is revealed he was a genius millionaire, and a brave man, before his inevitable mental breakdown.
- There is also at least one apparently irreconcilable contradiction between the two media: In the original, Mothman's only speaking line in a flashback is about him being scared about the war and hoping the Minutemen keep out of it. This is contradicted by Hollis Mason's line in the prequel that the two enlisted for the war before eventually classed as 4F.
- In the introduction montage of the film adaptation, Byron Lewis is taken forcibly by nurses to an ambulance while still wearing his Mothman costume; in the Before Watchmen series he seems conscious of his health problems and he voluntarily enters the hospital, after his retirement.