Nostalgia can do weird, weird things.
See, I recall Darkhawk as being one of those rare gems of early ’90s comics, but going back to it many years later… well, it’s not bad, but it’s definitely not as good as I thought at the age of nine. That said, this book isn’t accountable to my memory of it, it’s only accountable to itself.
So what’s this about? Well, on the surface it’s about Chris Powell, the oldest of three sons, whose parents are a beat cop and an assistant DA, both of whom are battling organized crime boss Phillipe Basin. One night Chris sees his father taking a bribe in an abandoned amusement park, and also discovers a mysterious amulet that transforms him into the powerful Darkhawk!
That’s what it was about to me as a nine-year-old, and it’s still an accurate description of this nine-issue arc. Rereading it as an adult, while it’s not as impressive to me plot-wise, I am noticing more behind it now.
It’s kind of an anti-Stan Lee origin story, which is interesting as a premise. Chris’s father talks a lot about having an “edge against crime,” which is his version of Uncle Ben’s “with great power” speech… the only problem is, he never bothered to explain to his son what he meant by that edge. To further complicate matters, Chris’s father disappears as soon as the amulet is discovered, so that Chris can’t ask his father what he was doing taking a bribe from Basin. What the story becomes is young Chris trying to figure out the meaning behind his father’s words, and by extension, the type of hero he is going to be.
To that effect, this book features multiple guest-appearances from established Marvel icons that act as surrogate fathers and role models for Chris. Heroes including Spider-Man, Daredevil, and Captain America all weigh in on Chris’s moral development. But it’s not all loving-father fare. Far from it. These classic heroes view Darkhawk as too… well: dark. Chris is informed by the early ’90s trend of hard-boiled killers that take a permanent solution to crime.
It’s no coincidence then that the Punisher is mentioned several times throughout this book. In the last chapter, Chris actually meets the Punisher… and decides that’s not the sort of edge he want’s to be. Seeing cold-blooded murder up-close is different from talking about it in concept, and Chris learns that.
In the end, this is a great new superhero story that’s slightly hampered by ’90s trends. It wanted to be more decompressed but was forced to be episodic and formulaic.
Ground-breaking at the time, but without the rose-colored glasses that’s the best I can say about it.
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
“See, I recall Darkhawk as being one of those rare gems of early ’90s comics, but going back to it many years later… well, it’s not bad, but it’s definitely not as good as I thought at the age of nine. That said, this book isn’t accountable to my memory of it, it’s only accountable to itself.”