"Please! Don't all leave! Someone has to do it, don't you see? Someone has to save the world!!!"
—Captain Metropolis to the Crimebusters
Nelson Gardner, known publicly as Captain Metropolis, was the organizer, founder, and leader of the Minutemen. As a retired Marine, Gardner used his tactical knowledge to organize the team against enemies that had to be fought with numbers, almost always proving successful. He acted as the lover of Will Reeves, a relationship that was hidden from the public eye. After the split of the Minutemen and Reeves' disappearance , Metropolis enthusiastically attempted to form a second team known as the Crimebusters, but it fell apart the same day it was formed. Years later he was decapitated in a car crash.
Nelson Forrest Gardner was born in 1908. He grew up a child of privilege in New York City. Gardner enlisted in the Marines after washing out of Harvard University, and served with distinction under Major General Smedley Butler in the Banana Wars. He was honorably discharged as a lieutenant in 1936 and began a career as a security consultant and military contractor. He would introduce himself as "Marine Lieutenant USMC Nelson Gardner: Free-Lance Consultant". His line of work gained him a significant amount of wealth.
Using the skills he acquired in the military, he meticulously shaped his Captain Metropolis persona and attempted to eradicate organized crime in urban areas. He decided that coordinating a team of masked adventurers would be more effective against crime than each of them acting independently.
He contacted Larry Schexnayder, a talent agent representing Sally Jupiter, aka Silk Spectre, informing him that he devised codes, passwords and strategic exercises for the "The New Minutemen" and asked for his cooperation. He signed as "Captain Metropolis" and left the name of "Nelson Gardner" as his representative. Once Gardner collaborated with Larry on forming the superhero team, the Minutemen were born: consisting of Silk Spectre, Silhouette, Nite Owl, The Comedian, Mothman, and Dollar Bill.
But Captain Metropolis was not ready to take the Minutemen public yet. He needed Hooded Justice and he worked diligently to track down the vigilante and recruit him to the team. He tracked the vigilante to the home of Will Reeves, the true identity of HJ. Once Hooded Justice, the masked vigilante who had inspired the movement, was recruited Gardner felt secured in his decision and he introduced the Minutemen to the press. During the press conference when Reeves was about to present his intention of tracking down the Cyclops, Gardner blatantly intervenes and says that a crime wave is being planned by Moloch, and unveiled a racist poster from their sponsor National Bank, featuring the bank's hired hero and Minutemen member, Dollar Bill.
Though it was publicized that Silk Spectre was in a relationship with Hooded Justice, it is all but confirmed today that Nelson and Hooded Justice were in a relationship and Silk Spectre was merely playing the part for the added publicity - and possibly being paid by Nelson. When Ursula Zandt's lesbianism was outed by the press, and despite their homosexuality, Metropolis and H.J. voted her out as the revelation would damage the team's image.
In 1947, Gardner received a call from Reeves informing him that Cyclops is using mind control against black people and demanded him to get the other Minutemen to come down and help him. Gardner casually dismissed Reeves' plea as nothing serious, not believing that Cyclops is using mind control and stated that the residents of Harlem naturally cause violence on their own, and explained to him that his mission just isn’t something that the Minutemen will do since it doesn't fit their public image. Gardner proceeded to dismiss Reeves' concerns and tells him that he's going to have to solve "black unrest" all on his own, after which he proceeded to invite him over. Reeves hung up on him.
In 1949, Captain Metropolis disbanded the Minutemen following a series of tragedies and scandals that befell the team.
In the 1950s, the House UnAmerican Activities Committee demanded that all costumed adventurers to reveal their identity. Because of his exemplary military service, Gardner was given a passing grade by the HUAC.
In the fall of 1955, Gardner was visited by Reeves, and informed him that he had decided to take up an early retirement from the NYPD and expressed an interest in traveling abroad. Reeves made it clear to him that he never wanted to see him again. Gardner understandably honored his request and never made any attempt to defy it.
In 1960 as a representative of the former masked adventurers Gardner was asked about his opinion about Doctor Manhattan, the first person with superpowers; in obvious tension, Nelson just said that they were "pleased" for him. To maintain his physical physique, Nelson followed a strict regimen of Canadian Air Force Exercises, but his beer belly had started to show. Later that year, Gardner along with former and new costumed heroes attended a Red Cross charity event and was seen troubled, talking with the Comedian.
Around 1962 he reunited at Sally Jupiter's house along with Hollis Mason and Byron Lewis, and thirteen-year-old Laurie Juspeczyk met them. That year he read Mason's book Under the Hood where his relationship with Reeves was revealed.
Forming the Crimebusters
In 1966 Gardner attempted to come out of retirement to form a new league of extrajudicial avengers, the Crimebusters with the help of his friend Adrian Veidt aka Ozymandias. He a had recevied a postcard from Will Reeves to which he invited Rorschach, the second Nite Owl, the second Silk Spectre, Dr. Manhattan, Ozymandias, and former Minutemen teammate the Comedian, and spoke of tackling the "social ills" of America. But his plans never fully came to fruition; the Comedian (who knew that the world was not anymore the place it was in the Minutemen era) mocked him for wanting to "dress up" and play "cowboys and Indians", and further accused the older hero of seeking personal glory and a sort of mid-life crisis, which Metropolis insisted wasn't true. As the would-be members filed out, Metropolis begged them not to leave, telling them that someone had to "save the world." The crime display that he worked so hard on was burned and destroyed by the Comedian. Gardner permanently retired shortly thereafter.
The Will of Nelson Gardner
In the years following the disbanding of the Minutemen and the failure of the Crimebusters, Gardner began to realize how he drove Will Reeves away with his own racist attitudes and indifference towards the black community. His aborted effort to start the Crimebusters with a focus on the inner city was in part his attempt to make amends. On May 31, 1971, the fiftieth anniversary of the Tulsa race massacre, Gardner modified his will to leave his entire estate to Reeves, and if he were to decline he would bequeath all proceeds from any auction of his Minutemen paraphernalia to the Southern Poverty Law Center. He even went so far as to order that his remains be cremated, with no funeral or grave marker, feeling it was what he deserved.
Death and Legacy
On the night of August 9, 1974, Gardner was driving northbound on Broadway in a Buick LeSabre in the general direction of his uptown mansion. He had attended a rally in Washington, D.C. protesting the repeal of the 22nd Amendment. Gardner lost control of the car and crashed into a barrier at a high rate of speed. He ejected through the front windshield and was decapitated. His decapitated head was never found. At his request, there was no funeral or memorial and his remains were thoroughly destroyed. His only desire was for Reeves to be the sole beneficiary of his estate, which he accepted.
In 2019, a biographical series called American Hero Story: Minutemen aired, dramatizing all the known information about the Minutemen's adventures and drama. One episode depicts Captain Metropolis engaging in sexual intercourse with Hooded Justice.
Owing to his military background he had a strategic approach for crime-fighting as he was the brain behind the Minutemen and later the Crimebusters. He was also polite and reserved. Though a soldier and a de facto leader, Metropolis often appeared timid, weak-willed and easily flustered.
Although a gay man, Gardner had conservative and racist views and during his time in the Minutemen he made racist comments regarding the blacks and the Hispanics.. It can be seen from the display in the Crimebusters scene that Gardner's views were very conservative, even reactionary. He regarded the liberal sentiments of the '60s as "social evils" that the Crimebusters should crush; furthermore, he was concerned by "Black Unrest", "Campus Subversion" and "Anti-War Demos". It would seem that the world he wished to save was that of respectable, white 1950s America and the "social ills" he feared were the changes of the 60s.
- He is named for E. Nelson Bridwell and Gardner Fox. The reference to a grown man "playing cowboys and Indians" maybe a reference to Le Chiffre's scornful reference to James Bond's adventurous career as "a game of Red Indians" while the cold war was in fact "a game for grown-ups" in Ian Fleming's Casino Royale.
- An alternative possibility was that Nelson Gardner staged his own death and survives to the story's present-day of 1985, and indeed appears within the story imagery, is explored in The Fate of Hooded Justice and Captain Metropolis, thus leaving his fate ambiguous.
- As Nelson Gardner got older, he begins a strict regimen of Canadian Air Force exercises to try and stay in shape. However, there is no evidence that he actually served in that military organization.
- EVIDENCE: The Will of Nelson Gardner https://www.hbo.com/content/dam/hbodata/series/watchmen/peteypedia/06/memo-the-will-of-nelson-gardner.pdf
- Sally Jupiter clippings
- Chapter IV: Watchmaker
- Under the Hood: Chapter V
- Chapter IX: The Darkness of Mere Being
- Chapter II: Absent Friends
- EVIDENCE: The Will of Nelson Gardner
- Chapter I: At Midnight, All the Agents...
- Little Fear of Lightning
- Under the Hood: Chapter IV
- Under the Hood: Chapter III