Out of the shadows: Jim Valentino talks "ShadowHawk"

[ShadowHawk #1]In this oh-so politically charged year, not even John Ashcroft could keep Jim Valentino from bringing ShadowHawk back to comic stores.

"My current understanding is that Congress is trying to pass a law to keep me from doing any more... but, hey, that's never stopped me before!" Valentino joked when CBR News caught up with the writer/artist last week.

"The Return of ShadowHawk," a 22-page one-shot, hits comic shelves this week. Valentino says the new book takes ideas from two former ShadowHawk writers he, and comics fandom, respects greatly -- Alan Moore and Kurt Busiek -- and adds ideas of his own.

"The story is called 'Legacy,' it deals with the origin and the history of the ShadowHawks," Valentino says. "And why it is that Eddie Collins, the current SH, can use the costume in ways no one before him ever could.

"For old readers I think it fills in some gaps, some things that if you think about it may not have made much sense. For example, how was it that someone who was dying of complications from AIDS could do all the things that Paul Johnstone did -- like get into fights, take nose dives off of buildings, run around in that armor, etc.," Valentino says. "For new readers, this is the only ShadowHawk book you'll have to read. It fills in the whole story, you don't need to hunt down back issues. For both it's a complete done-in-one, so it's easy to collect 'em all! Oh, yeah, and just as I did in the recent 'normalman' Special there's an illustrated retrospective of every single appearance of the character to date (which can also be found on-line at www.valentinocomics.com)."

The co-founder of Image as well as its publisher from 1999 to early 2004, Valentino says the character of ShadowHawk isn't quite the tops on his list of characters to work on, but the new version does rank higher than the original.

The first incarnation of the character, Paul Johnstone, was a violent vigilante back-breaker. Mobsters also intentionally infected him with AIDS. The current ShadowHawk, Eddie Collins, is more of a fun-loving character that enjoys the sensation of leaping off of buildings.

[Page 18]"I enjoy this particular version a lot more than the original, that's for sure," Valentino says. "That whole back-breaking thing just never sat well with me. This is a young, bright energetic kid that's wahooing it up. That's a hell of a lot more fun to write. Also, I've added in jokes about the whole back-breaking thing -- poor Eddie has to tell everyone 'that was the other guy!'"

So if he didn't enjoy the back-breaking angle, why the heck did he write it that way? The character took on more of a life of his own, Valentino says.

"I don't think any character ever goes where the author intends or expects them to," Valentino says. "Also, when you return to a character after several years, your perspective changes. You've grown, hopefully, and your outlook and experiences are different, so you never return to the same spot where you left off.

"(The back-breaking was) mostly my reaction to Batman and the Joker. Here is this homicidal maniac that the Bat captures and re-captures knowing full well that he'll kill and kill again. It occurred to me that if Batman were really doing his job -- and didn't want to kill -- then he would incapacitate him. That's where the notion came from," Valentino continues, "What I didn't expect, and, in hindsight, I can't say why I didn't expect it... was the fact that I got a lot of fan-mail, and a lot of it from kids, saying that he wasn't violent enough. They wanted more blood and guts and more back breaking. It disturbed me enormously."

After Erik Larsen took over as publisher of Image Comics, there was a period of adjustment for Valentino. But he says the passion for comic books will always be there, regardless of any circumstances.

"Honestly, at this point my career has taken so many weird turns up, down, backward, forward, whatever, that I've pretty well learned how to roll with the pies flying at my face. I love the comics medium. I always have and I always will. I cannot imagine that ever changing," Valentino says. "But, I'll tell you what I told a friend of mine about the work itself; when you're in the zone and everything is working for you, it's like great sex. When it's fighting you and nothing is working, it's like a bad date."

[Page 19]At this stage in his career, Valentino says he's leaning more toward the writing than the drawing. He even hopes to get into honest-to-goodness books soon.

"I have several prose books that I'm researching and gathering up my notes for -- a couple of which I have serious interest from book publishers for -- and I'm thinking of pitches for new series," Valentino says. "The first of which is a new Image book called 'The Pact' that will be, more or less, Image's Teen Titans or New Warriors. My biggest problem these days seems to be that I have so many things I want to get to focusing in on one becomes difficult."

After 20-plus years in the comics medium, Valentino has seen a lot of things. He says there's a lesson to be learned in all of it... but he's not willing to share just yet.

"My suggestion would be over a couple of beers... Your mileage may vary."

If you're up for the journey, Mr.Valentino prefers Pacifico.

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