Alright, here we are, the five-part story-arc billed as “The Origin of Darkhawk” that leads up to the celebratory issue 25… Which inadvertently marks the half way point to the entire Darkhawk series, sadly.
And to be honest, there’s a lot of good and bad here: but most of it’s good! Really good! Fingeroth seems to really thrive with having a multi-part arc with which to tell his story, which is something I’ve suspected since Darkhawk Classic.
So what’s good? The story is epic in scope and scale, and features a surprising and interesting twist in revealing the origin of the Darkhawk suit. Each of the five parts ratchets up the tension and the action, leading up to a well formulated confusion.
The first part starts as standard superhero fare, with Chris stopping some criminals as Darkhawk. As it ends, he gets a blinding headache that won’t subside until he turns back into Chris. He and his family then head to Cyprus Hills Cemetery… Where we get our first dose of the bad.
And I’ll admit that when reading this, going from ‘standard’ to ‘bad’ was a pretty big bad sign. So why is a grieving family heading to visit the grave of their lost patriarch a bad thing? Well, it’s not what they’re doing, it’s where they’re doing it.
See, Cyprus Hills Cemetery was the birthplace and default “home base” of the Danny Ketch Ghost Rider, and because this is the Marvel Universe in the ’90s, correlation equals causation equals crossover. And there hasn’t been a major Darkhawk storyline without a crossover yet, and it typically distracts from the story.
After his family leaves, Chris stays to mourn alone, when he’s approached by Allegra Basin, the daughter of the mob boss responsible for his fathers death. They chat for a moment before Allegra is targeted by hit-men and Chris has to save her.
Later Chris returns as Darkhawk to try and investigate, and stumbles on a couple of grave-robbers stealing a mystical amulet from Basin’s grave. The amulet turns the head goon into a giant, rampaging monster who kills his lackey. This is about when Ghost Rider shows up, leading to the inevitable team-up.
… And you know what? Even the obligatory Darkhawk team-up is good here. Ghost Rider and Darkhawk work together very well, pad out the story to give time for the mind-blasts plaguing Chris to increase in severity and regularity. Also, through the madness, Chris get’s fired from the radio station he works at…
Which brings us to the first instance of the bad. See, this story-arc is plagued with subplots. Fingeroth seems to think that adding this plot points of all avenues of Chris’s life closing in on him make the tension better, but juxtaposed with the main storyarc they just seem silly and ridiculous.
You know what? Let’s get them all out of the way now because I don’t wanna deal with this throughout the whole post.
There’s the Allegra storyline, possibly the only plot not completely divorced from the main story. After being saved by Chris, Allegra Basin goes all ‘single white female’ and starts stalking him. That’s not Fingeroth’s intent, its just how it comes off. She starts drawing pictures of him and taunting Chris’s girlfriend that he’s “hers now.” That’s pretty creepy, and goes nowhere.
There’s the family storyline, started when the Powell family try to aid Chris in the amusement park. The timeline is weird on this one, bit its the only one that complements the main story.
Then there’s the weirdest, most out of place one of them all: the suspension storyline. What this plot-line amounts to is that, every issue, we cut to Midtown High School, where the Principle and a teacher discuss how Chris has been lagging behind for ‘some reason’ lately and that they might need to suspend him to teach him a ‘lesson.’
I’m just going to dwell on this for a moment, because it’s by far the most bizarre plot point of this storyline and the series so far. Noticing that one of his students has been cutting class for a few months, a principle calls in his teacher to say that he’s planning on preventing that student from going to class. I know that sort of logic sometimes happens in the public school system, but that is just messed up logic. What doesn’t happen is the gross idiocy of the reason. I mean, I think what Fingeroth is going for is that Chris’s Darkhawk time is making him cut class and effect his personal life… but there’s no reason for the principle to assume it’s for some “mysterious reason.” He should assume that it’s because the kid’s cop father was violently murdered. Especially since it happened at the exact same time-frame. Logically, Chris shouldn’t be getting suspended, he should be getting a free ride. This is high-school, not University or work: the last thing they’d want to do it pile stress on to a poor teen already under enough stress to force grown men to crumble, even without the super-heroing.
And there’s yet another plot line in which the AV club at Midtown High decides to devote itself to bringing down Darkhawk. These wouldn’t be so bad if not for the fact that Fingeroth didn’t insist on taking them so seriously, each one ending on a cliffhanger that’s supposed to ratchet up the tension. But when placed alongside scenes of Chris being shot or battling monsters it’s ridiculous. It’d be like splicing cliffhanger moments from Saved by the Bell into The Avengers and expecting it not to create a tonal shift.
Now that that’s dealt with, the main story: Chris goes to the amusement park across the road from his house where he first found the amulet and confronts St. Johnny, the hobo that Chris has long suspected was the Darkhawk before him. Johnny transforms into a cybernetic killing-machine (it seems out of nowhere, but it was actually foreshadowed in Heart of the Hawk, so pass). During the fight the headaches that have been plaguing him reach their apex… and a giant spaceship erupts from his chest. The ship that the ominous figure glimpsed during the last storyarc was piloting.
You know what, that’s clever. It made us think that the ship was coming from space, but then it switched modes. It was a cool, clever twist.
From the ship comes a monstrous looking hulk of a Darkhawk called… EvilHawk.
I just… EvilHawk. Evil Hawk. Maybe he’s gonna burst through me next, because I’m getting a headache.
I think Fingeroth is writing for a younger generation he doesn’t respect much. I wanna be mad at him for that, but honestly I ate this stuff up when I was a kid so I can’t say anything. Look… they quickly reveal EvilHawk’s real name, Bokk, so we’re just gonna be using that.
So, after a fight in which Chris gets summarily trounced, Darkhawk gets disintegrated. See? Now that’s a cliffhanger! Not “Chris Powell will be suspended!”
In the final issue, we open with Chris hanging Da Vinci’s Man-style in an energy field on a spaceship. It’s here, from this sentient ship (no stated relation to the sentient ship in X-Factor, although that would be cool) that Chris learns the origin and nature of the Darkhawk armor: it’s alien armor that is housed at the ship for repair and maintenance. When Chris uses the amulet, he switches places with the armor instantly, much like Captain Marvel. Bokk is trapped in his armor because his real body was destroyed, giving him nothing to switch back into.
Bokk travels to the spaceship and he and Chris have their epic final battle. Chis outsmarts Bokk and finds a way to use the Ship’s technology to teleport him back home. And you know what? This fight was epic enough that I’ll forego complaining that Chris figuring out the technology was too quick and prevented us from getting perhaps a cool endcap story in space.
And thus ends Return to Forever, a great-five part story that finally closes the mysteries of the Darkhawk armor as well as several lingering plot threads, allowing Chris to move on to bigger, better things. Despite some flaws, mainly owing to the subplots, this storyline was probably the most consistently entertaining of any of Darkhawk’s exploits so far.
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
” This fight was epic enough that I’ll forego complaining that Chris figuring out the technology was too quick and prevented us from getting perhaps a cool endcap story in space.”