The brutal vigilante gets a surprisingly socially-minded debut.
Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: a highly trained and very rich playboy takes to the streets at night to punish crime with an assortment of gadgets and technology, while maintaining a dark, menacing secret identity. While the concept overall might not be unique, the execution presented in Marvel’s Nighthawk #1 does a great job of separating it from any flying rodent similarities.
Kicking off directly in the middle of a fight, Nighthawk #1 finds the hero knee-deep in a gun smuggling operation run by white supremacists. The tone is immediately set: Nighthawk breaks limbs and snaps bones with brutal efficiency, easily disarming the entire group. But instead leaving the guns and criminals for authorities, he pulls a decidedly anti-Batman move and burns the entire building down, wounded thugs included. While this could be seen as a transparent ‘distance himself from the Dark Knight’ story grab, given the anger shown through Nighthawk’s communications with his ‘Alfred’ (reformed criminal Tilda Johnson) it comes across as a brutal, but logical, conclusion.
And no doubt about it: Nighthawk is angry. When he isn’t crushing the skulls of racist gun mongers, he’s battling over the slums of Chicago as Kyle Richmond, using his wealth and influence to repair the damaged city. This is another obvious reference to Batman’s work as Bruce Wayne, with one huge distinction: Kyle Richmond is black, and that changes a lot. Nighthawk isn’t afraid to dive directly into racial tensions in the Windy City fists first, but it’s real strength comes from its direct, blunt writing. Richmond is confronted by a sleazy real-estate mogul who wants the secret hero’s help with a new renovation project, and makes no mistake that he is doing so because Richmond is African-American, and would be seen as a common voice to ‘those people’. The writing, and how it relates to casual racism and classism, is somehow natural and believable, while being starkly unsettling. In fact, at times it veers so close to real life events, you might be tempted to look up a few names and see if they are the ones from the news.
Combined with beautiful art from Ramon Villalobos and coloring from Tamra Bonvillain, Nighthawk paints a gritty, but colorful Chicago. Broken-down buildings cloaked in grey and brown give way to neon blood splatters, and everything has a hardened edge. The book feels kinetic and sharp, perfectly framing a story that clearly intends not to hold back.
It will be interesting to see how a character like Nighthawk fares with the larger Marvel universe. His location away from NYC will most likely keep him off the radar of more colorful heroes, but it’s unlikely we’ll see him only as a solo act. Hopefully, the tone of the book will remain grounded, leaving the high heroics to the other costumed protectors. With a stunning first issue and clear momentum, Nighthawk is set to carve out a spot on the shelves.