I’m having a hard time figuring out if the writing on Darkhawk is getting better, or if I just have a strange sort of Stockholm Syndrome going on with it. Either way, I’ve thoroughly enjoyed the whole of Operation Symbiote. However, like many of my reviews, it requires an aside explaining the current context of a character: Venom.
The last time we saw the villain it was during a very interesting segment of his history, when he was in a self-imposed exile on a Caribbean Island, believing his nemesis Spider-Man was dead. Between that time and this story, the Maximum Carnage storyline happened, and Marvel decided to make Venom into an anti-hero for a long-running series of mini-series’, moving his main narrative to San Fransisco. As such, his role in this Darkhawk story is very important to his ongoing development and doesn’t feel shoe-horned at all. It actually redeems his role in Heart of the Hawk through association. After Operation Symbiote, I would gladly accept Venom as a member of the Darkhawk rogues gallery. He certainly gets more development here than he did in the monthly Spider-Man title at the time.
But the issues grouped together here to form an Operation Symbiote trade include much more than just the issues involving Venom. This is where the writing on Darkhawk is notably better. We have three plot-lines that dovetail into one another, ratcheting up the tension with each successive jolt.
The villain for the first part of the story is ‘Cuda (short, I imagine, for Barracuda), who is an original villain that lives in the sea. It’s an interesting premise: a biologist turned into an aquatic creature via mutation, kind-of like an anti- Man Ray. Unlike May-Ray, and most aquatic-powered characters, ‘Cuda is attacking humans trying to clean up New York Harbor, because his specific mutation makes him only able to survive in pollution. ‘Cuda is actually a very effective villain, and Fingeroth doesn’t try to make him into more than he needs to be: all he really is is a distraction from the main villain of the piece: Broderick Bazin.
At the end of Darkhawk: Shattered Fates, Chris learned that his father may in fact be alive. This led to a tearful reconciliation with his family in which he promised to be there for them more.
And yet, here he is, his superhero career taking center stage again. This makes him unaware of the colliding threats of Jason’s growing animosity towards him and the seductions of the knife-wielding madman Broderick Bazin.
Broderick is the son of Phillipe Bazin, the original Darkhawk villain. During the Heart of the Hawk storyline, he was the deciding witness at his father’s trial. Now though, he has decided to exact that revenge on anyone he considers an enemy of his father, including of course the Powell family. To this end, he seduces the young and impressionable Jason, taking advantage of the child’s increasing anger towards his brother, Chris.
The Bazin plot clearly has more edge and tension, but the plots actually work best in tandem: the tension of the ‘Cuda scenes isn’t that ‘Cuda is particularly menacing, it is that he’s keeping Darkhawk away from his family and Jason.
Bazin slowly brings Jason under his wing with his dark seduction, convincing the child to break windows and even use his gun.
This culminates in Jason confronting Chris in his back yard at gunpoint and telling Chris what a horrible brother he has been, prepared to shoot him when done.
This is exceptionally tense, possibly among the most tension I have felt while reading a comic book. It is expertly handled by Fingeroth: really deep, troubling stuff.
Jason eventually has a change of heart and turns his gun on Broderick until the police arrive, resulting in his and Allegra’s arrest. This feels like it’s cluing up all the desperate Darkhawk plot-lines since the series begun, with the familiar imagine of the characters going home… only to return to an answering machine message from Chris’s father, confirming that he is: alive. Alive, and in fact, being held captive in San Fransisco.
This is an amazing holy-crap moment that pulls the rug out from under the entire Darkhawk series to date. It’d be like if Uncle Ben was suddenly discovered alive: it is that big.
This revelation rockets us into the final three issues of this trade, the only three actually labelled Operation Symbiote, though this is clearly all one story.
Darkhawk flies to San Fransisco, where his father has given clues to his location.
Here, more threads of previously-unrelated Darkhawk stories are drawn together, making the narrative tighter. Mike Powell’s captives are the fanatical Cabal from the short-form story that elaborated on them. They discovered Mike, and a comatose Phillipe Bazin, while they were looking for Venom on his Caribbean Island home.
This… makes sense. I can’t decide if Fingeroth had this planned all along or if it’s retroactive, but either way it’s damn impressive plotting.
They were looking for Venom as a part of their Operation Symbiote, a continuation of Operation Savage Steel. This also fits: both are suits that grant the wearer power, and could be swapped between wearers. It also fits the ongoing Venom plotline, as he is more and more seduced by the government, culminating in Flash Thompson wearing the symbiote as a military agent.
The dynamic between Venom and Darkhawk is different this time around, as the situations of both characters have changed. Darkhawk is not as naive as he was in the Caribbean, and more secure in his point-of-view. Venom, as opposed to being the monster he was the first time the pair met, now skates the edge of hero / villain / antihero. Because Venom walks this line, Darkhawk also see-saws between teaming up with him and fighting him. These choices are hard for Chris, but his need to rescue his father eventually superceeds all else and the two team-up to invade The Cabal’s building.
Through their combined forces they defeat the Seeker guards and free Mike Powell from the cabal, and it seems as though there will now be a happy ending. key word: seems. Because Darkhawk is immediately wisked to the stars by Johnny to fight for Orsh, the Darkhawk ship.
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
“The dynamic between Venom and Darkhawk is different this time around, as the situations of both characters have changed.”