SPOILER WARNING: The following article contains major spoilers for Darkhawk #51 by Chad Bowers, Chris Sims, Kev Walker, Java Tartaglia and Travis Lanham, on sale now.
Marvel Legacy is all about getting back to basics and exploring what it is that makes the Marvel Universe so great: the characters. Marvel has such a deep roster of characters with so much potential that any one of them could be the next breakout star (Squirrel Girl-style) and as part of Marvel Legacy, the publisher has been releasing one-shots featuring some of these characters. While the one-shots aren’t necessarily billed this way, it does feel almost like a pilot program for Marvel to see which characters are worth taking a chance on again -- and in that sense, this week’s Darkhawk #51 may just be the strongest of the lot. Over the course of twenty pages, we’re given a rundown of who Darkhawk is and what has happened to him over the last twenty-six years while simultaneously telling an exciting superhero story that sets up an all-new status-quo that leaves you wanting more.
It’s been a couple of years since we last saw Chris Powell at the end of Avengers Arena and since being separated from the crystal that turns him into Darkhawk, he’s managed to get his life together and establish himself as a person away from the armor; something he’s always struggled with and strived for. When we catch up with Chris, he’s followed in his father’s footsteps as a member of the NYPD and is engaged to a fellow officer named Miranda. He still has the Darkhawk amulet, but for some reason can’t access its powers which he's more than happy with even though he keeps having dreams about Darkhawk and the Tree of Shadow where amulets are stored waiting for new hosts.
A lot happened to Chris Powell since the end of his ongoing series decades ago. He joined a support group for former teen superheroes trying to have a normal life that morphed into the superhero group known as The Loners under the leadership of Rick Jones; he discovered his amulet came from a Shi’Ar order known as The Fraternity of Raptors dedicated to serving and maintaining the empire at any cost; he was abducted by Arcade and forced to fight for his life against other teen heroes on the deadliest version Murderworld ever seen and was even killed, but was brought back to life sans-amulet by Arcade who had much bigger plans for him. Now though, his life seemed to be normal, until he’s called back to the amusement park where he first found the amulet which transformed into Darkhawk where a trap lies in wait for the former hero.
Over in Gerry Duggan and Aaron Kuder’s Guardians of the Galaxy, the Fraternity of Raptors has been on the rise under a new leader named Talonar -- who is actually Nova’s brother Robbie Rider -- and they’re seeking all the powerful objects in the universe; the Nega-Bands, AKA the Infinity Stones, or whatever you choose to call them. The Fraternity of Raptors is now operating independently of the Shi’Ar Empire and serving as a more brutal and deadly galactic police force than their rivals the Nova Corps, but both operations are still in the process of rebuilding their numbers, which leads to two potential Raptors travelling to Earth in an attempt to steal Chris Powell’s amulet.
However, when one of them wakes it up and changes into Darkhawk, it is Razor who is in control because originally, Raptor armor was operated via an artificial intellgence while its host swapped places with the amulet on The Tree of Shadows. When Chris learned about the Fraternity of Raptors, he learned that he was never supposed to be able to control the armor at all, it was supposed to be Razor in control but for some reason that wasn’t the case. It was under the influence of Razor that Darkhawk assassinated the ousted Empress Lilandra but now, Razor seems to be in a much more co-operative mood.
Now preferring to be known simply as Darkhawk, the artificial intelligence was fundamentally changed by interactions with Chris and chose to cut itself loose from the Tree of Shadows to rebel against the zealots which had overtaken the Fraternity. Darkhawk asks Chris to remerge with it even at the risk of the Razor programming reverting and turning them both into an agent of the Raptors because in the words of Darkhawk, echoing Chris’ entire reasoning for becoming a superhero, “What am I going to do, not help?”
While most of the Marvel Legacy one-shots were fairly self-contained, Darkhawk #51 really has the potential to be spun off into a much bigger story. There’s a chance Chris’ adventures will continue in the pages of Guardians of the Galaxy, especially with Talonar knowing of his remerging with Darkhawk -- but that would eliminate so much of the great groundwork laid in this issue. Chris isn’t just Darkhawk, he’s got a fiancé who loves him and a job that he’s good at. He’s got corrupt co-workers that want to know if he’s going to join them, and he’s got to worry about how every time he changes into Darkhawk, he might lose control and become a murderous assassin. There’s so much interesting material there to mine it’d be a shame if we didn’t get more Darkhawk in 2018.
However, something big is coming next year and Darkhawk will be playing a big part of it. The Guardians of the Galaxy and the Fraternity of the Raptors are on the hunt for the Infinity Stones and we know that Wolverine has one, while Star-Lord and Captain Marvel are closing in on two more. With next year’s Avengers: Infinity War uniting the Earth-based and cosmic sides of Marvel’s Cinematic Universe, expect the comics to go equally big in their scope and who knows, maybe this is all groundwork for a Darkhawk movie to be one of the next twenty that Kevin Feige is said to have plans for.