Kyle Richmond’s story is always that of a wealthy man turned costumed crime fighter, but over the years that story has played out different ways across the various iterations of the Marvel Comics Multiverse. Each version of Nighthawk uses his fortune, training and high-tech gadgets to battle crime, but each also has his own unique beliefs and methods of fighting for justice. Some believe crime can be cured by punching out villains, others take a more extreme approach. The latter was best exemplified by the Nighthawk created by J. Michael Straczynski and Gary Frank for their 2003 “Supreme Power” series.
The “Supreme Power” Nighthawk has appeared a number of times both as a solo vigilante and alongside the super heroes from his reality, but thanks to the events of Marvel’s “Secret Wars” event, that Kyle Richmond’s Earth is no more. Nighthawk isn’t interested in just seeing the sights, however. He still hears the same heroic calling, and he’s decided to protect the All-New, All-Different Marvel Universe from all threats — and by any means necessary. He’ll first do that as a member of December’s “Squadron Supreme” seres by James Robinson and Leonard Kirk, and next year he’ll fly solo in an all-new “Nighthawk” series by writer David Walker and an artist to be determined, which finds their title character plying his signature brand of bloody justice on the criminals of Chicago.
Walker spoke exclusively with CBR News about the noir-tinged series, his protagonist’s morally murky approach to solving the crime and injustice plaguing the Windy City, and his goal of making Nighthawk one of the most dangerous characters in the Marvel Universe.
CBR News: David, the “Supreme Power” version of Nighthawk has seen, done, and endured so much already, and now he’s also lost his home world. I’d imagine that makes him a pretty interesting character to write about, but what’s your sense of what makes Kyle Richmond tick? And what aspects of his personality are you especially interested in exploring in your new ongoing?
David Walker: That’s a really good question and obviously it’s this concept that’s going on with all the members of the new Squadron Supreme, which is that they’re almost these “Strangers in a Strange Land.” They’re the only remaining survivors from various different worlds that have now set up shop here, so to speak, in the new Marvel Universe.
So there’s exploring what this world is like compared to the world he came from and sort of the differences as he sees them, and playing the character within this context of, “Wow, the world I came from was pretty bad, but it was nothing compared to this world.” In the universe he came from there was a handful of super powered people, the world was always in some kind of crisis, crime was running rampant, and there was corruption everywhere. Now he’s in the new Marvel Universe where it’s like you can’t throw a rock and not hit a super hero in the head, and yet this world is worse off.
â€¨So a lot of it is him trying to reconcile why it’s worse off and looking at sort of systems of corruption and systems of oppression and how those impact the community that he’s most strongly connected to.
Will he just be operating in his guise as Nighthawk in this series? Or will his alter ego Kyle Richmond play a part in the book as well?
I’m treating the two as if they were very much one and the same. With a lot of super heroes and costume crime fighters, the question is where does one persona end and the other begin? So where does Kyle Richmond end and Nighthawk begin? And what sense of responsibility does the man have when he isn’t wearing the costume versus how he interacts with the world when he is in the costume?
I think at some point every good costume crime fighter has to go through a sort of identity crisis of their own. It’s like, “Okay who am I here? Am I Kyle? Or am I Nighthawk? Who is reacting to this scenario?” So there’s a lot of that in conjunction with him sort of finding his place in this new world, which looks a hell of a lot like the world he just came from.
In the recent “Avengers” #0 issue we saw hints regarding the status quo you’re playing with in “Nighthawk.” It looks like your title character has reestablished his fortune on this world by acquiring Oracle, Inc.
Yeah, part of what I want to play with is this juxtaposition of this role that he has in Squadron Supreme as this billionaire head of a major corporation, but then also looking at how is he capable of playing that role while also looking at what’s going on on the streets of Chicago? So in that regard it’s like, okay, Squadron Supreme can go up against these incredible forces that are working to destroy the world, but how come they can’t save kids on the streets of Chicago where crime is running rampant?
If you look at real life, Chicago is just plagued with crime. It’s got one of the highest murder rates in the country. This is what he needs to tackle and in a lot of super hero books, we see heroes tackling these great big global problems. So the question then becomes if you can save the world from ending, but you can’t save people from getting gunned down in the streets, are you really doing any good?
It sounds like you’re playing with shades of gray in a way that seems very noir-inspired. Would you say that’s accurate?
Yeah, part of what I want to explore with this particular character is what does it really mean to be a super hero, especially a super hero in city that’s riddled with poverty, rife with police corruption, and a lot of gang violence.
â€¨That’s the big question. I’ve been doing a ton of research on Chicago and how crime has been escalating in the city over the years. It’s really a sort of sad and terrifying glimpse at what can go wrong in an American city. I ask myself that if a city is a living, breathing entity as it were, and all cities have their own unique personalities, what would it be like to be a super hero in a city that just can’t seem to heal itself, and you want to heal it even if it means you’ve got to chop its feet off? [Laughs] If the feet have gangrene, what are you going to do?
Me and my editors at Marvel keep talking about how dark this book is going to be, and I keep telling people at Marvel, “There are heroes. There are villains. And then there’s Nighthawk.” There’s always been this relationship between super heroes and, say, representatives of law enforcement where some cops will look at the heroes and say, “You guys are doing more harm than good.” And others will look at them and think they’re doing a really good job, but with Nighthawk the police are as terrified of him as the criminals are.
Even the community is asking, “What is this guy here for?” His position is, “At some point you’ll thank me. Right now though you’re just going to have to learn to deal with all of the blood.”
So it’s almost like he’s dealing with a terminal infection in the city?
Yeah, he really is, and on a personal level, I look at some of the stuff that’s going on especially in a lot of these major metropolitan areas of the country and I think to myself, how do you fix it? Because there is no one simple fix. That’s part of what’s going to be plaguing both Nighthawk and Kyle. How do you fix this?
It’s not just a matter of we have to improve the schools. Sure, but then we have to improve the after school programs. And oh! Then we need to bring work into the community. We also need to improve the bus line and the public transit. There’re so many different factors, and when one thing falls apart it can lead to another thing falling apart, which can lead to another thing, which can lead to a domino effect. And that’s a lot of what we’re going to be seeing in this book; how complex relationships actually are, how they operate, how a city functions, how good guys are some times bad guys, bad guys are some times good guys, and things aren’t always black and white.
Let’s talk a little more about the Marvel Universe aspects of your Chicago setting. We’ve seen a few glimpses of the Windy City in the Marvel U back when Luke Cage used to call the city home, but I don’t believe we’ve seen it recently.
No, we haven’t, and Chicago as a city has gone through some tremendous turmoil the last several years. A lot of people call it Chiraq now, and the violence that’s going on there is absolutely mind boggling. So for me, a lot of it has been both talking to friends of mine who live in Chicago and are from Chicago, studying as much as I can about it, and trying to understand how that city operates just so it can inform the story that I’m writing.
Obviously, I’m not setting it in the real Chicago because there’s no chance Spider-Man is ever going to swing by the real Chicago. [Laughs] There are no super heroes there, but I do think it’s pretty interesting because when we think of Marvel Comics we pretty much only think of New York City. Almost everything takes place there. So to a large extent this is virgin territory. So I’m playing with concepts of creating almost a mythology within the city of Chicago, of how it operates.
It’s got the L train. It’s got the lake, and it’s got all these things that people recognize and know, but they don’t know it as well as they know New York City. So it’s fun getting into things like how does Nighthawk move around the city. We’re also playing with some concepts like old urban legends about Chicago from back in the bootleg days when Al Capone was running the streets and incorporating some of that stuff into this sort of modern mythological setting. Again, we’re treating it as not quite a real city because what we see in comic books aren’t real cities. They’re imaginings of reality, if that makes sense.
Who are some of the characters Nighthawk will run afoul of as he hunts the streets of Chicago?
How about I offer up some teases instead of real revelations? I don’t want to get into trouble or spoil anything. What I will say is that we’re going to see some characters that we have not seen in ages in the Marvel Universe. We’re using the Nighthawk from the “Supreme Power” run that Straczynksi wrote and obviously, that’s an African American character. So it’s giving me an opportunity to sort of look through the history of the Marvel Universe and go, “Who are some of the Black and Latino characters who haven’t gotten any significant play in the last 20 or 30 years? And how can I use them?”
In terms of antagonists, Nighthawk started out as a Marvel counterpart to Batman, so will this solo series function like a Batman title, perhaps one that’s even darker tonally, in that it focuses on street level action and villains?
Yeah, there’s always going to be those comparisons to Batman obviously. You could also make comparisons to certain Marvel characters, too, like Moon Knight and the Punisher. So there’re bits and pieces of all that in there, but the thing that I want to do is make this character more dangerous than all of them; even more dangerous than the Punisher.
I don’t know if it will make it into the initial story, but there is a scene where some people are talking about Nighthawk and at first they don’t know who Nighthawk is. They’re speculating that maybe this is the work of the Punisher, and they’re like, “If this is the Punisher, then he’s upped his game. Because the Punisher has never done anything like this before.”
So the key thing is, again, I want to take the character in a direction where we’re never 100 percent sure if he’s the hero or the villain. By that, you can tell a straightforward Spider-Man or Captain America story and you can still have that hero exist in this world of ambiguity because in Spider-Man’s world Doctor Octopus and the Green Goblin don’t think they’re the bad guys. The Red Skull? He thinks he’s doing God’s work. [Laughs]
Those stories are written in a way though where the roles are clearly defined; who the good guys are and who the bad guys are. I want to play with some of that a little bit. Not so much with Nighthawk, but with how Nighthawk is perceived by both the good guys and the bad guys.
Would you say it’s comparable to what Cullen Bunn did with his “Magneto” series?
Exactly, Magneto is a great example of a character that has really evolved in complexity over the years; from his earliest days in the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants to who he is now. There’s that split we see in Marvel’s mutant universe where there are people that believe in him and his cause versus the folks who think he’s the worst thing ever. So yeah, I hadn’t thought about that until just now. Nighthawk is not similar in his personality or anything, but he’s also in that sort of moral gray zone; where it’s very easy for people to not be sure of what to make of him.
Finally, what can you tell us about the first “Nighthawk” story arc you have planned?
Part of my initial “Nighthawk” arc is going to be firmly establishing him within the new Marvel Universe as his own entity and not just as a member of the Squadron Supreme. In the Squadron Supreme, he has this role where he’s almost like the Oracle. He’s overlooking things and talking about stuff, but this is more about him getting down and dirty and getting his hands bloody. And at some point the members of Squadron Supreme, especially someone like Hyperion, are going to look at him and go, “WHAT ARE YOU DOING? We all agreed it’s okay to cross the line, but apparently you found another line that none of us knew existed.”
â€¨So that first arc really is about establishing him as someone who is thought of as the most dangerous man in the Marvel Universe. Even though he doesn’t have any super powers he’s still the most dangerous because he’ll just kill you. There’s no breaking your legs. There’s no throwing you in jail. There may be a brief moment where he thinks, “You’ve been in and out of jail for years. You’re never going to be rehabilitated. Boom! You’re dead.” That’s very much what the Punisher does, but he’s going to kill people that even the Punisher would think twice about shooting. [Laughs]
I’m really excited about this book. It’s an opportunity for me to explore the darker side of the super hero world. I know it’s going to freak some people out after what happened with Nick Spencer this week and Captain America, but hey that’s what we want. It just means more sales.
Right, and not to get too pretentious, but art is supposed to challenge people and say “Here’s a mirror of the world. You may not like it, but it’s still a mirror.”
Oh yeah! [Laughs] This is going to be one of those mirrors where you’re looking at it and you’re thinking, “There’s something wrong with this because I’m not really this fat.” No you really are that fat and you’re ugly too. [Laughs]
“Nighthawk” will debut in early 2016 from Marvel Comics.