“Dawn of the Darkhawk”
Writer: Danny Fingeroth
Pencils: Mike Manley
It’s another crappy..errrr, collectible… FIRST ISSUE! When “Darkhawk” popped up on the racks in late 1990/early 1991, my first impression is that he was a licensed property; like “Solar Man”. I primarily thought this because Darkhawk’s costume; prominently displayed on the cover and splash page; looked like a leftover from 80’s cartoon “Silverhawks”. Plus, since the mid-70’s or so, Marvel had a pretty slim track record for debuting original characters, right out of the box, in their own ongoing title. I think the last one might’ve been the first “She-Hulk” series, circa 1980. In the late 80’s/early 90’s, they usually tried to debut a character in “Marvel Comics Presents” or at least appear in an established character’s summer annual. So Darkhawk seemed a little unusual to me.
But I opened the first issue of his first issue, and there’s Spidey Villain, the Hobgoblin. He’s been forcing the gangster Phillipe Bazin to scour New York to find a “source of power”.
The captions mention that Hobgoblin’s about to become Darkhawk’s mortal enemy. Hobby had a good run over in the Spider-Man titles and was pretty much Spidey’s main villain in the mid-80’s. Yet ever since Venom appeared in 1987, ol’ Hobby had been used up and was looking for a home. It’s something of a coup for a rookie like Darkhawk to land a Spidey villain, let alone in his first issue.
Yet even though this story is “Dawn of the Darkhawk”, as we open it’s more like “Wee Morning Hours of the Darkhawk”, since his ORIGIN is due up. Our main character is Christopher Powell, a teenaged kid and the eldest of three boys. His younger twin brothers; Jason and Jonathan; are around as the crazy little scamps who get in all sorts of wacky trouble– sorta’ like Huey, Dewey and Louie, only much less interesting.
Their parents, Mike and Grace work for the Queens Police Department and the New York District Attorney’s office, respectively. Mike is a beat cop (complete with a MUSTACHE) and has been feeling overwhelmed, while Grace has been getting some heat and death threats while trying to work a case against Phillipe Bazin. Both parents have been encountering increasing frustration with Bazin in their jobs. Daddy Mike pines to his family about how he wishes he had “an edge against crime”.
All this leads to a chance encounter at a local amusement part, called Wonderland, which is conveniently slated for demolition. Mike Powell meets Bazin at the Wonderland funhouse, after hours, and agrees to take a bribe to walk away. But all 3 of the Powell boys have coincidentally arrived as well. The scampy twins were there looking for fun, while big bro Chris is out to retrieve them. As the bribe goes down, the gangsters get into a tiff with the kids and PANDEMONIUM (tm, Gorilla Monsoon) ensues.
Of course, boards break, Chris and Mike try to fight Bazin’s men and the twins end up in a temporary safe spot. Chris ends up deeper in the funhouse and finds a random, pointy, black, amulet. Apparently, the power source Hobgoblin had Bazin’s men looking for. In desperation, Chris grabs the amulet and is suddenly transformed into Darkhawk. He’s now bigger, more armored, has a helmet and looks like a member of Destro’s Iron Grenadiers.
His first words are epic: he chucks a shelving unit at the thugs and says: “Here, guys– have a big metal object!” He soon discovers his other powers, like the ability to shoot a beam from the amulet on his chest and…umm, that’s about it. He appears to have a claw on his right arm, but it’s not used in this story. After he defeats the thugs, Chris is freaked out about his appearance and grasps the amulet and turns back to normal. He confronts his dad, thinking that the bribe was just a ruse. But it was the real deal, so Dad walks away. In an effort to make up for his dad’s shortcomings, Chris decides to use the amulet as the “edge against crime” that his dad didn’t have.
That’s about it, although there is one more element. Wonderland has its own resident bum, a guy named “Saint Johnny”, whom Bazin’s thugs had been trying to shake for info on the amulet. Johnny is the one who initially tells Chris how to get into Wonderland, then appears in the final pages to say: “power’s got to be used…not abused… by a DARKHAWK”. Chris tries to look for him, but Johnny mysteriously disappears. Yes, the Mystical Omipotent Old Man Who Smells Like Booze. Oh well, not everybody can be Alec Guiness as Obi-Wan. Chris likes the sound of “Darkhawk” and decides to use it (earlier, Chris had referred to himself as “Edge-Man”). Thus, Darkhawk may be the only super hero who got his name from a BUM.
The final two pages set the stage for the rest of the series. The Powell family is in disarray over their father leaving them, Chris decides to contiune on as Darkhawk, and the Hobgoblin vows to appear next issue!
Dubbed “a hero for the ninties”, Darkhawk certainly lived up to that billing. Primarily because he LOOKED NEAT and had shoulderpads. Darkhawk had some initial success, yet he pretty much evaporated from Marvel in the middle of the decade (yup, I’m sure somebody will use the “Comment” function to babble about all the random appearances Darkhawk has made in the past 15 years). I’m not sure if he ever had the mandatory gimmick cover, though.
There was also a fairly simple, yet intriguing, recurring subplot that kept readers coming back– while we see Darkhawk in all his helmetted glory, we don’t see what’s UNDER the helmet. Chris eventually removed the helmet and was horrified by what he saw, but this was never in view of the “camera”. So readers were intrigued over “the Face of Darkhawk”. Kinda’ borrowed from the ol’ Hitchcock-ian idea of “it’s more scary and intriguing because you can’t see it”. I don’t think I ever read Darkhawk after 1992, so I have no idea if his face was ever shown (surprisingly, I can’t find a picture via Google and the Internets). Like I said, a very simple subplot, but it worked.
Definitely a novelty book. Darkhawk was new and different, but in the long run he apparently didn’t have much to offer.
Summary: A new hero fights thugs in a funhouse. Mysterious Bum, Corrupt Cop and Hobgoblin babbles.