As a child, Nelson Gardner was sickly and asthmatic, but years of training allowed him to get past his condition and eventually played football in college before joining the U.S. Marines and served as a Military Consultant. Pictural evidence shows that his tour of duty was in the Far East. He retired as a Lieutenant and introduced himself as "Marine Lieutenant USMC Nelson Gardner: Free-Lance Consultant". He gained a significant amount of wealth, owning a mansion and several domestic servants.
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 then purchased cheaply an old malting factory from the Canadian government, who were happy to unload it from their books. He turned it into his secret headquarters, finding the company's logo, "C.M.", convenient. 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 for cooperation. In his letter, he said that he devised codes, passwords and strategic exercises for the "The New Minute Men of America". He signed as "Captain Metropolis" and left the name of "Nelson Gardner" as his representative.
When Ursula Zandt's lesbianism was outed by the press, and despite their homosexuality, C.M. and H.J. voted her out as the revelation would damage the team's image. She was soon murdered by the Liquidator and Sally held themselves responsible. While investigating his murders, C.M. and H.J. were after his traces in gay joints, before reaching his hideout. They found Sally, having already killed the Liquidator and after scolding for their hypocrisy, she announced her wish to quit.
During those declining years, 2 mysterious figures disguised as comic book characters Bluecoat and Scout warned the Minutemen that Japanese saboteurs planned to destroy the Statue of Liberty. Captain Metropolis coordinated the assault to Liberty Island, which they reached with his private boat. C.M. and H.J. covered Nite Owl and the two strangers who attempted to neutralize the threat.
The mission was a success however its publicity would be disastrous and the whole event was covered-up. Although that would be the biggest feat by the Minutemen, it was buried and Gardner, who could not act without the warrior's honor and glory, was devastated.
The Minutemen were eventually disbanded by Captain Metropolis himself in 1949 and he returned to his mansion. Because of his exemplary military service, he was given a passing grade by the HUAC in 1952. Hooded Justice disappeared that time and Gardner hadn't seen him since then and realized his "friendship" was not as deep as he hoped.
In 1955 Nite Owl and Mothman visited him in his mansion, asking for H.J.'s whereabouts, believing that he was the child kidnapper and murderer. Gardner told them that he never learned his identity or his residence and hadn't seen him for years, and his only known residence was the Tower of Freedom.
Gardner followed the two to the Tower and saw as he threatened them and Nite Owl snapped his neck killing him. He started crying and shouted them not to touch or unmask him. After everyone left, he demolished the Tower, either to offer his lost mate a warrior's funeral or vanish all traces of the crime.
He followed a strict regimen of Canadian Air Force Exercises, but his beer belly had started to show.
In 1960, as a representative of the former masked adventurers, he was asked about his opinion about Dr. Manhattan, the first person with superpowers; in obvious tension, Metropolis just said that they were "pleased" for him.
In 1962 he read Mason's book Under the Hood where his relationship with H.J. was revealed. He lost his sleep and considered suicide. His lover Norbert Veldon was sent to Mason and threatened him to remove this information from the book. He also called Sally Jupiter at night "crying his heart out". However later, Comedian threatened Hollis and he decided to cut off the sensitive parts from his book.
Later he attempted to come out of retirement and form another team, the Crimebusters, to which he invited Rorschach, the second Nite Owl, the second Silk Spectre, Dr. Manhattan, Ozymandias, and 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.
It appears that Gardner was decapitated in an automobile accident in 1974. An alternative possibility, that 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. While Hooded Justice was later confirmed deceased, Metropolis's fate is still left ambiguous.
Owing to his military background he had a strategic approach for crimefighting 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 homosexual, Gardner had conservative and racistic views and in 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 a "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.
Metropolis only appears in flashbacks in the Zack Snyder 2009 Watchmen adaptation. He has only one line in the film and is not present in the 1966 meeting. Ozymandias attempts to lead the 1966 meeting, calling the proposed team "the Watchmen". The David Hayter draft eliminated him entirely from the plot, and Dan Dreiberg was used as a replacement for the Crimebusters meeting scene, so as to make him more of a leader.
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.