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Into the back issue box #16

by  in Comic News Comment

I’m putting the ground rules for these posts first today.  That’s just how I roll! 

Today’s issue is Part 6 of 6 (or, as the splash page pretentiously calls it, Part VI).  Where’s my trade paperback?  Shouldn’t this be perfect fodder for that????

Well, no.  It’s freakin Darkhawk, after all!

Darkhawk #15 (“Heart of the Hawk, Part VI: The Return”) by Danny Fingeroth, Mike Manley, and Ricardo Villagran.  Published by Marvel, May 1992.


If you happened to stumble across this comic book as your first-ever reading of a four-color fandango, you might not run fast and far from comics, but you might wonder what all the fuss is about.  This is a muddled mess, with far too much going on and far too little of real substance.  Fingeroth attempts a lot but doesn’t quite pull it off, and the result is something that would appeal only to fans of Darkhawk – all twelve of them.

       


We begin on the Caribbean island of Althea (Ross and Monica Geller’s grandmother’s name, in case you’re wondering!), where Darkhawk – Chris Powell – came to find his father.  His father and “the bad man” – Philippe Bazin – are now dead.  They killed each other, and left Darkhawk unconscious.  The splash page shows him waking up with guns leveled at him.  So far, so good.  Fingeroth does a good job giving us pertinent information, and this was back in the day when Marvel put that short blurb at the top explaining the characters’ origins.  Darkhawk is surrounded by soldiers, the leader of whom exposits that there was a fight on the beach.  We learn that there is a woman with control over metal who is drugged and bound in plastic coils.  We see the woman in the truck behind him, but we never learn her name, and it doesn’t matter, because we never see her again in this issue.  The leader (let’s call him General X) says that witnesses saw the corpses of Powell’s father and Bazin wash out to sea.  A new comic book reader might not recognize that as the classic set-up for a dramatic return sometime down the line, but I’m not sure if the series lasted long enough for it to happen.  We also learn, through Darkhawk’s thoughts, that he has a mother and twins – presumably his siblings.  Then General X tells him that they are going to send him to the Vault – and a glorious footnote tells us that this is a prison for superhuman criminals.  Darkhawk freaks out because his family needs him, and he leaps into action.  He thinks about the energy oozing out of him and that he needs to patch himself up.  We’re a little puzzled by exactly what kind of being he is, because he’s certainly not leaking blood!

         


He steals a jeep and drives away, and we get some more information: he no longer has his amulet that gives him his power, because Tombstone tore it out of him (in issue #11, a footnote reveals).  We don’t know who Tombstone is, but he sounds nasty.  We also find out that the amulet helps heal him.  If the amulet transforms him into Darkhawk, how is he still Darkhawk when he doesn’t have the amulet?  It may have been explained in an earlier issue, but it’s not here.  He races onto an airfield ahead of the chasing soldiers and snags a plane that’s just taking off with some kind of grappling hook.  He gets on board (it’s full of tourists) and tells the pilot not to turn around or he’s “dead meat.”  The pilot tells him that he owes Darkhawk, because he lives in Forest Hills, where in issue #5 Darkhawk cleaned out some drug dealers.  So he flies back to New York.  By page 8, Althea is far away and we’re flying over Queens.

                      


Darkhawk lands in Flushing Meadow Park and realizes he’s going to die because his wounds are too severe.  He tries to stay positive when he feels like the amulet is calling out to him, but chalks it up to a “dying hallucination.”  It’s not, though – in midtown Manhattan, in the salon of Madame Rose (“self-styled psychic”), a woman (Madame Rose herself) is holding the amulet to her forehead saying that the owner is calling out for it.  Across from her sits a big hulking dude – Tombstone, presumably, although Madame Rose calls him “Mr. Lincoln” – who says that he’s the owner.  She tells him that not anyone can tap the amulet’s power, but he yells that he’s one that can.  Interestingly enough, the borders of his speech balloons are dotted.  A new reader might not pick up on this or what it means, but a long-time reader would know this is shorthand for someone whispering or speaking softly.  Why is Tombstone speaking softly?  We don’t find out, but he does it throughout his appearance in the book.

               


But let’s get back to the story!  Darkhawk bursts in and leaps at Tombstone, trying to seize the amulet.  They both tumble out the window and into a factory.  They beat on each other for two pages, and then Darkhawk diverts a metal pole that Tombstone was about to shove through his brain into a box helpfully marked “Danger High Voltage.”  This lights Tombstone up but doesn’t kill him, so Darkhawk leaves him chained and hanging for the cops, and thinks that the Vault guys will take care of him.  For the second time in the issue, we get a footnote explaining that the Vault is a prison for super-criminals.  Nel Yomtov, the editor, really wants us to know what the Vault is!

                  


 

Darkhawk lands on a roof and puts the amulet back in his chest, but he doesn’t change back into Chris Powell.  This is some good information for the first-time reader without being too obvious about it.  He decides that if he’s going to die as Darkhawk (even though he doesn’t appear to be oozing energy anymore, so maybe he’s healed?), he’s going to say goodbye to his family.  He puts on an old coat and hat to disguise his superhero-ness and goes back to Queens to visit his brother, Jason, who’s in the hospital.  While he’s there, his other brother Jon (Jason’s twin, presumably, although they must be fraternal because they don’t look alike) comes in and thinks he’s Chris, not Darkhawk.  He finds out that his mother is missing, too, which spurs him into action.  He heads off to the Tombs prison in lower Manhattan, where he finds a prisoner named Harry Lennox.  Lennox tells him that his mother – Grace – is at a gas station at Allen and Delancey Streets.  Darkhawk wonders why he’s giving up so easily when he was once “Savage Steel” – whatever that is – and Lennox tells him the “cabal” abandoned him like they did Mike Powell, and they deserve to be taken down.  That’s a lot of information for two thin panels, but Fingeroth packs in what we need to know!  We hope we will get more clarification on this whole “cabal” business before the end of the issue!

              


At the intersection of Allen and Delancey Streets, Darkhawk’s mother is tied to a chair, telling a man named Johnny, who’s holding a gun on her, to hear her out.  They obviously know each other from way back.  In another room, a bunch of gangster-looking guys, along with what appears to be two policemen (obviously crooked) are sitting around.  There’s actually a donut box on the table between them.  Someone knocks on the door and one guy says, “Ernie’s back with the pizzas.”  What the hell kind of bad guys are these?  It’s Ernie, all right, but Darkhawk is right behind him, ready to kick ass.  He’s oozing energy again, so I guess he’s not healing.  As he throws the guys around, someone gets a bead on him with his gun, but Grace comes up behind him and hits him with a two-by-four.  She tells him that Johnny Leone released her because she convinced him that the cabal was wrong.  Wow, that’s some persuasive power she has, considering thirty seconds before Johnny was holding a gun on her!  As Grace leaves with the police, Darkhawk still can’t tell her that he’s her son and that he’s dying.  He staggers away into an alley, and as he lies against the wall, he finds in his stuff his father’s diary, in which he describes how he left an injured woman to die so he could chase down the bad guys.  In grand deus ex machina fashion, Darkhawk discovers that there’s more to the diary, and that his father left a page blank by accident.  So he reads on and finds out that his father returned to the woman and got her to a hospital.  The others in his group – he was part of this “cabal”! – thought he was foolish for helping the woman and letting the bad guys go.  He writes that they took pay-offs from people like Bazin to build a suit of armor – the “Savage Steel” that Darkhawk was talking about earlier - and they all took turns wearing it and fighting crime.  The others in the group wanted to kill the criminals, but Darkhawk’s father argued against it.  He disappeared without telling his wife and children so they wouldn’t get involved.  The diary ends and Darkhawk realizes his father wasn’t a killer and he wishes he could hug him one more time …

                          


And then he realizes he’s changed back into Chris Powell.  He doesn’t know why, and neither do we.  He races off to the hospital, where he finds out that Jason will be okay.  His mother tells him that his father is dead, which saves him the trouble of telling her.  The issue ends with him standing on a pier at sunrise, debating his future.  He thinks about giving it up, but like a junkie, he can’t throw it away!  He decides that he has real power to make a difference, and that’s what he has to do.  As he walks away, he thinks: “Get ready, world!  The Darkhawk is here to stay!”  Or, you know, until his book gets canceled and he ends up in rehab in Runaways.

                                      


I can’t say this is a particularly good book.  It’s fairly pedestrian in all aspects – Fingeroth’s story simply goes through the motions, while Manley’s art does its job but isn’t inspiring or anything.  There’s a lot to process in this book (it’s 30 pages, by the way, longer than usual), and although we’re never confused about what’s going on (there are some nagging questions, like who the heck is the woman who can control metal?), we never actually care all that much.  For a first-time comic reader, the biggest detriment of this book is that we’re never actually told what Darkhawk’s powers are.  He flies with the help of gliding wings, he has a grappling hook attached to the arm of his costume, and his amulet emits weird energy, but Fingeroth never tells us if he’s stronger than anyone or can do anything interesting because he possesses the amulet.  It heals him, we know, but does it do anything else?  One would think so, because Tombstone wants it so badly.  All we know is that it’s powerful.  Gee, thanks for that.  It’s a weird omission, because Fingeroth does a nice job telling us all the other pertinent information.

                                


Darkhawk didn’t last that long, and it’s easy to see why.  Nothing in this book is particularly compelling.  It’s not awful, but it would be one of those books that wouldn’t make a cut if you felt like dropping some titles.  Chris Powell has hung around the Marvel Universe since this, showing up most recently in Runaways and now in a spin-off mini-series, Loners, where he might work because he’s not the focus.  Darkhawk had a memorable role in Chuck Austen’s U.S. War Machine MAX series, which is well worth checking out.  As for this book?  Not so much.