Let me ask you a question. If you were to sit down and try to create a new superhero, how much would you be forgiven if you borrowed elements of characters, settings and tropes that already existed? One of Marvel’s more recent attempts to get readers’ cashola seems to dance according to that tune, and you have to wonder whether people were being lazy, or are we just demanding too much from our comics. Nighthawk doesn’t seem to lead readers into terra nova. The recently released debut issue is packed with borrowed story elements almost to the point where it seems that the creative time had a meeting where they all sat down and said, “OK guys, let’s put out a book that is 90 per cent borrowed story elements and 10pc whatever.” Am I being too harsh? Humour me will you?
What do you get when you mix elements of Batman, Black Panther, Old Man Logan, Nite Owl and the Punisher? Apparently Nighthawk. Chicago has its very own masked vigilante who’s got no natural superpowers, but is rich enough to afford a vast arsenal of sophisticated weaponry which he uses to disseminate swift and brutal justice to criminals. Where have we heard this before? I know what you’re thinking…Batman! But no, he’s black! So…Black Panther? Well, he’s the last of his kind, “a sole survivor of a world-destroying cataclysm.” Eh…Old Man Logan? But he doesn’t quite work alone; he’s got a sidekick with above-average intelligence. Again, Batman? Yeah but Batman doesn’t blatantly kill the criminals in his pursuit for justice. So…Punisher? Well…yeah, ok, kind of, but let’s move on shall we?
We find our “hero” just as he’s about to swoop on a band of redneck white supremacists at their den. The True Patriots, as they like to call themselves, learn quite quickly that Nighthawk, takes his job of waging his “one-man war against crime,” seriously, even to the point that he leaves no survivors, and even sees fit to blow up the cache of guns and meth. (Meth, guns, Breaking Bad, déjà vu). You have to hand it to writer David F Walker for not pulling any punches when it came to the comic’s showcase of brutal violence. I mean, did anyone else notice that the titular character has just murdered a truckload of incapacitated rednecks? There’s more of that, albeit from a different source later on in the book as we see detectives Burrell and Nina at a crime scene. They don’t seem too unnerved about making a few jokes in the aftermath of a decapitation, and talk nonchalantly about dismembering body parts, and caving in skulls without seeing the obvious pattern in these murders, the way Raymond Kane aka Kyle Richmond aka Nighthawk does as he observes with the help of his avian drone. Ok so…Falcon? Nite Owl? I’m no ornithologist, but these parallels are a hoot!
But this is a layered story, and Nighthawk will have several battles to fight as he wages his war and brings justice to Chicago. His sidekick Tilda Johnson, herself a reformed criminal, reminds him of a meeting he has to go to, scheduled of course at a time when he was sure to be done fighting crime for the day. And so, Ray Kane meets wealthy realtor Dan Hanrahan, who we find out has detective Dixon and officer Moletti on his payroll. Kane wants to save an impoverished black ghetto project building because ‘reasons,’ and the meeting ends with him secretly declaring war on Hanrahan. Speaking of war, you have to wonder what the deal is with Kane’s inner demons. The flashback to when his mother advises him to keep his rage in check didn’t reveal much, except that a prosperous-looking young Ray once had an adventure that led to a bloody nose and piled years onto his face, despite being just a little boy. Why so much rage? Does it have anything to do with his catholic upbringing? Cough, cough, Daredevil.
While I’m clearly being too much of negative Nancy with all of my observations, I’m giving full credit to the creative time for producing a comic that’s a little less mainstream, a little darker and a little disturbing, especially the scenes in which dismembered fingers are shoved into mouths. But then you also have to pay attention to the references to film and TV shows that pepper this debut issue, including Sean Connery, Oldboy, Blade Runner, Game of Thrones, The Wire and David Fincher, to kind of see what the creative team was aspiring to. At one point whilst reading, I wondered whether this book was greenlit because of expiring publishing rights or some other commercial reason. (Art for art’s sake? Wake up and smell the profit margin!) Walker’s book does well to highlight the racial issues that are oftentimes ignored in today’s comic books, even if it’s done with the subtlety of a jackhammer. One thing I cannot forgive, however, is Marvel’s keen ability to come up with unbelievable and lame names for fictitious countries and locations. Wakanda was good, but Sokovia? and Bagalia? For serious? The comic ends with the murderous Revelator, who appears to be a dark-skinned man who prefers a white suit, continuing his spate of murders, threatening to reveal the truth to judge Czenziki and his wife. We are only given a mask however, no reveal of a face. How’s that for irony? It reminded me of a line that the Penguin offered Batman in the film Batman Returns “Ah, the direct approach. I admire that in a man with a mask.”
I can’t wait to see how comic fans respond to this book, because my spidersense tells me that this is going to polarize people, maybe not as much as a Superhero Registration Act might, but not everything in this world is as simple as black and white. Let’s just hope this anti-hero continues to survive, and carry on the adventures of Black Bat Hawkeye…ah fuck it…you get what I mean.
Writer – David F. Walker
Artists- Ramon Villalobos, Tamra Bonvillain