(Marvel Comics, May 2016)
Writer: David F. Walker
As discussed in World Comic Book Review’s previous essay on homages to famous DC Comics’ character Batman, the other major American comic book publisher Marvel Comics has never hidden the fact that its character property called “Nighthawk” is intended to be a Batman analogue. The two characters have a similar backstory; each are depicted as being members of a group of substantially identical superheroes; and each character is described as deploying a similar Dracula-esque modus operandi of dressing up as a nocturnal creature and fighting street-level criminals at night.
This new title, Nighthawk #1, is most likely an effort to launch the character as a standalone franchise separate from its team affiliation, called the “Squadron Supreme” (a title of which we have also discussed previously). And the story seems like a perfect fit; as opposed to the super powered threats that the Squadron Supreme tend to face, Nighthawk’s enemies in this issue are street level thugs. In this plot, these criminals have got hold of technologically advanced guns that can use any bullet of any caliber (the comic did not attempt to provide an explanation as to how this is possible, except with the flimsy explanation that the technology is the gun equivalent of a universal phone charger.)
In the background of Nighthawk’s nighttime exploits is a serial killer who has been going around killing corporate criminals. The serial killer, who has been informally dubbed as “the Revelator,” is at this point in the story not high on Nighthawk’s priority list but only the completely clueless reader will fail to see the events as a setup to a future showdown.
There is a lot of gratuitous violence in the comic. It seems prudent for Marvel to have emphasized this in order to distance Nighthawk from Batman. With some exceptions, Batman has long been described as preferring to subdue criminals without any casualties or unnecessary violence. But in this title, Nighthawk revels in causing pain to his targets and goes out of his way to ensure death, even if it is not always the most efficient course of action. This absence of superhero altruism is stark. But it is inherently difficult for the writer, David F. Walker, to break new ground with a Batman-esque character. Comparisons with another Batman-based character, The Midnighter (owned by DC Comics), which also engages in sometimes quite horrifying violence, or the bleak and frightening version of Batman in Frank Miller’s ground breaking comic book, “Dark Knight Returns” (DC Comics, 1985) seems inevitable.
Perhaps the most distracting and even irritating element in this story is Nighthawk’s assistant Tilda. This supporting character in the title will not be able to escape comparisons to DC Comics character, Oracle, a source of intelligence which has been a type of “Mission Control” for Batman for several years. Mr Walker’s tendency to rely on Tilda’s constant stream of sarcasm and side comments in order to flesh out Nighthawk’s character is unnecessary and odd. NIghthawk is otherwise clearly portrayed in the pages as driven and obsessive: there is no point in having his assistant constantly mention it for the benefit of readers (at one point Tilda even namedrops “Frank Castle”, the alter ego of Marvel Comics’ armed and dangerous cartel-busting character called “The Punisher”, as if making a point of comparison.)
It will clearly take more than a couple of issues before Nighthawk the character is completely emancipated from his literary origins. Once you get past that, “Nighthawk” #1 is a serviceable story that helps build the character’s world separately from those of his superhuman teammates. The main story is an average street level hero yarn, but the Revelator plot that is being built by Mr Walker on the side is intriguing and shows promise.