Rage At The Night
“There is a lot to be angry about… but son, this rage you feel—will eat you alive”
Frequent listeners of my podcast have no doubt heard me sing the praises of David F. Walker’s Nighthawk roughly a billion times. Well, as you’ve probably heard Marvel has decided to cancel the book. This is far from the first time a title I’ve loved has been cancelled, but this one, man, this one really hurts. I always endeavor not to spread hate or write or say anything in a blind rage, so I will simply say: Marvel, I disagree with your decision. Nighthawk is the hero this country needs right now.
The vigilante has a long history throughout popular culture; this character type has been one I’ve always gravitated to. I love the catharsis of the vigilante; the rage and violence we may feel at times but never dare act on. I, like most people these days, frequently find myself shocked and enraged by what I see on the news. In these times my mind wanders to the thought of, “Isn’t there someone out there who can do something about this?” The vigilante is that person, the righteous person with a gun who will set things right. They’ll take out the bad guys and stand up for the innocent. I’m very aware that the world is not this black and white and real life vigilantism is frequently horrifying and tragic.
It’s the fantasy of the vigilante that I’m talking about. Of course the world exists in shades of grey, but these are stories that make things black and white or at least characters that try to. I think to back to one of my favorite vigilante movies, hell, it’s the granddaddy of all vigilante movies, Death Wish. This is a movie born out of 1970’s New York, a time and place where violence and crime rates were high and people were growing ever frustrated with the state of the country. Onto cinema screens came Charles Bronson as Paul Kersey, a normal guy who’s family is destroyed by violence so he picks up a gun and starts shooting street thugs. Kersey gave moviegoers the fantasy of taking back the power from the criminals. Instead of being afraid of criminals, criminals were now on the run from Bronson in that movie and its four sequels.
The 70’s also gave birth to the be-all, end-all vigilante, Frank Castle, better known to comics fans as The Punisher. Originally created as a Spider-Man villain, Castle became more and more sympathetic as readers began to root for his violent retribution. I’ve always felt that violence can be portrayed one of two ways, as horror or as catharsis. Characters like The Punisher give us a healthy outlet for our anger and more violent impulses. They alleviate the frustration and fear by creating a healthy space for revenge fantasies.
This all brings me to Nighthawk. Nighthawk is character who’s been around for a while. Readers may know him as a member of the superhero team, Squadron Supreme. He’s gone through a few different identities over the years (in comics, who hasn’t?). I can’t say I was all that familiar with the character prior to this new run but it was David F. Walker’s name that made me pick up the first issue. If you haven’t read Walker’s stuff, run to your local comic shop and pick up all of his work right now. Seriously, I’ll wait…
Okay, he’s incredible right? Basically I’ll read anything with his name on it. So, I pick this book up and it seems pretty cool, the guy’s got a sweet black costume, kind of a Batman vibe. But it doesn’t take long to see that this far from another Batman clone. The first few pages show Nighthawk brutally dispatching a group of arms dealing white supremacists.
It became instantly clear that Walker had more on his mind than a simple crime fighting superhero. Nighthawk was a hero for the oppressed and the pissed off. Rage and fear are the most common underlying emotions of a vigilante story. While these emotions are frequently preyed upon by less than scrupulous people of power in reality, the vigilante story empowers these emotions and points them at the root cause. I love seeing Nighthawk break the arms of racist corrupt cops; I thrill seeing him clean up the streets of Chicago. Walker has tapped into his rage, my rage, and I’m sure most American’s rage at the state of things and given us hero who attacks the target of our rage with fists, throwing knives, and hawk shaped drones.
But for all the cathartic violence and just plain badassery on display here, Nighthawk is a very human character and Walker delves into what drives our avenging hero. When not in costume, Nighthawk is wealthy businessman Raymond Kane who’s committed to rebuilding Chicago and helping those less fortunate. He, of course faces a corrupt and greedy system that bats down his legitimate attempts to help people, hence the costumed vigilante work.
Walker gives Kane a heart but he also gives him a scarred psyche. Let’s face it, no truly sane individual is going to don a hawk costume and beat the hell out of people at night. Walker leans into this bout of psychosis, giving Kane actual rage issues, he may be fighting for justice but you get the sense that the justice is what he’s channeling his violent impulses through. He’s got a code, but he is also capable of extreme acts of brutality and at times straight up murder. All this carnage is brought to vivid life by artist Ramon Villalobos, whose bloody fight sequences had me constantly checking if this book was part of a new MAX line.
The story also features a villain who is a dark mirror of our hero, which always creates a fascinating dynamic. The Revelator is a serial killer who targets the wealthy industrialists that prey on the less fortunate citizens of Chicago. He brutally eviscerates these people and their families to make a statement. Nighthawk may agree that these men are criminals who need to be brought to justice, but the twisted serial killings are far beyond even the brutal justice that Nighthawk doles out on the streets. I love that this comic forces the hero to define his moral code and the lines he will and will not cross. It’s a commentary on the nature of justice and violence in our increasingly polarized world.
I should also note that while the book definitely deals with dark and violent issues, it is not without a sense of humor. One of my favorite aspects of Walker’s writing is his gift for comedy, even in a book like this he manages to give us character like Tilda Johnson, a reformed criminal and robotics expert who aides Nighthawk in his crime fighting. Tilda’s running commentary during Nighthawk’s exploits keeps a sense of fun even as our hero delves further into the darkness of crime and corruption.
I was inspired to write this post out of my anger and sadness over the cancellation of my favorite Marvel title. But the more I think about it, the more I realize I’m happy this book ever got to exist in the first place. Walker has been able to tap into the cultural conversation about race, violence, and justice while adding to the lengthy canon of vigilante tales. Hopefully, readers will continue to stumble upon this gem, a collected edition is available for preorder on Amazon. A piece of work this fantastic will not just disappear and frequently the finest work in any medium doesn’t find its audience until years after its initial release.
But if you’re still pissed that Nighthawk’s been cancelled (and believe me I have my moments as well) you can read his exploits with the Sqaudron Supreme or pick up David F. Walker’s other ongoing book at Marvel: Power Man & Iron Fist, which you should seriously add to your pull list if it’s not already in there. Also, Walker will be writing a new Avengers title called Occupy Avengers starting in the fall. So, we haven’t seen the last of Nighthawk or Walker and I for one can’t wait to see what both of them get up to next.
You can hear John every week on the Panel on Panels podcast.
Be sure to follow the show on twitter.