Saturday, 4 December 2010

I have no humourous quotes today, but I would like it known that INTERNET EXPLORER IS JUST AWFUL

No drawing done today thanks to babysitting shenanigans, but I know just what will fill a screen grab-shaped hole - the wonderfully blog-filling review of Darkhawk #1!

Synopsis: In his search for an artifact said to hold great power, the supervillain Hobgoblin has employed New York mobster Phillipe Bazin, who is being investigated by the District Attorney's office with the case overseen by assistant DA Grace Powell, mother of Chris (soon to be Darkhawk) and husband of Mike, a street-weary cop considering retiring from the force in light of the seemingly endless and unwinnable battle against criminality. Though Bazin has threatened the Powell family, Chris leaves the house when he's supposed to be babysitting his 11 year-old twin brothers and they abscond to an abandoned amusement park near the family home, prompting Chris to seek them out and the three are discovered by the mobsters they witness bribing their father. Running from the criminals, Chris comes across a dark amulet which suddenly changes his body into a cyborg fighting machine and he turns on his pursuers, one of whom accidentally kills himself during an attempt to murder Chris. Transforming back to his human body, Chris demands answers from his father but Mike flees the scene. Later, phone threats from Bazin to discontinue her case against him increases the pressure on Grace, and a frustrated Chris returns to the power of the amulet to wage a vendetta upon Bazin under the name Darkhawk.

I'm not saying there is not impoverishment or criminality in the city anymore and I'm sure its natives would resent it if I tried, but even I know that the NYC appearing in Marvel comics is an unrepresentative picture of New York as a level of hell rather than the Guiliani-clensed and gentrified shithole of coffee shops, plastic Irish and irritating caucasian twentysomething sitcom concepts it became in the 1990s. Power Pack had to move to an impoverished Manhattan and this conceit dates the book rather more than references to ET and Star Wars (which were 1980s things we people of the future with our three shells instead of lavatory paper would know nothing about), while Daredevil even now fights crime in Hells Kitchen, or to give it it's proper name locally, Clinton, a high-rent, low-crime, defacto campus village for the Actors School.

On this front alone we can view Darkhawk is a bit of an artifact of a lost age, but there is also Mike Powell (the father of Chris/Darkhawk), a world-weary beat cop of the old school and a bit of a cliche in concept who becomes more than that by failing to die and justify his son's eventual superheroic career as is usually the lot of such characters. Instead of dying, he is exposed as corrupt policeman and instead of a crusade fuelled by his memory, Chris/Darkhawk uses his newfound powers to lash out at percieved injustices in an attempt to find an identity for himself now that he has chosen to abandon his father as a role model, and in this Chris/Darkhawk represents that confused period of adolescence that most people can identify with.
As origins go, this first issue hits a lot of familiar notes for something claiming to embody a new decade/millenium but I suppose if something ain't broke, then don't try to fix it, and this is an origin that has definately got its Spider-Man on, and Spider-Man's origin worked out okay for him in the long run.

Darkhawk's: not so much.

I like Fingeroth's conceit of using the abandoned amusement park's funhouse where Chris' faith in his father is finally broken to represent the underworld stage of the Hero's Journey during which all hope must be lost before the hero can be born anew - in this case literally in a new body.

I also like the humanising touches brought to the backing cast and peripheral characters, particularly the hero's family, who buck the trend in most superhero comics by being both alive and dysfunctional to the point that open aggression is tolerated as horseplay and rivalry between young boys rather than symptomatic of sociopathy as would be the reading of a modern take of such a tale.

This is a cast with a bit of moxie and I like them, particularly Grace, who remains true to her own code of ethics even in the face of Bazin's threats against her.

It's a strength of character that goes all but unnoticed by a Chris still lost in the wake of his father's failure to live up to the ideals he held. There's a scene where Chris is repulsed by the sight of his powerful new body when catching a glimpse of it in a cracked mirror, and I think this is a microcosm of the character's confusion and eventual wrong-headed life path.

By this stage Chris has embraced his power and an 'end justifies the means' mentality and by the book's end, he has betrayed the only untarnished moral code of his family home (Grace's) by indulging in vigilantism, a short-term solution to a long-term problem and one which erodes the very idea of a lawful and ordered society.

The Chris that exists before Darkhawk enters the picture takes his father as his role model and in doing so discards the example set by his mother, Grace, who labors tirelessly, thanklessly and diligently within the slow and grinding cogs of the society machine to see to its smooth working, and to see that it attends to elements like Bazin and his ilk in due course. Grace still believes in the idea of society as a workable entity and it highlights what Chris has lost.

Ever in the background, Grace remains a constant that the confused teenage mind of Chris cannot comprehend as a viable role model either before or after the disappointment of his father's actions become apparent, and nor can he ever do so because he is of a very traditional family unit and has chosen the masculine path. He was always to become his father, yet later when he discards this notion he still chooses the shortcut and compromise of vigilantism just as his father chose the shortcut of bribery. The 'effeminate' route of mediation is not an option - problems are to be confronted and dealt with directly rather than managed by the safeguards put in place by society and Chris will become a man - the only man he has ever really known - whether he knows it or not.

In all, Darkhawk #1 has a lot going on under the traditional Marvel staples that make it look like a knock-off Spider-Man, and I liked this first issue and think it holds up better than it should - although I don't have a problem with some of the narrative tools used (thought balloons, third person narration) that most modern readers of comic books do, and there is the occasional subtext of 'destroying' the old world even as it is from here that events are enabled - the ancient amulet, the anachronistic suited mobsters, the Hobgoblin (from an existing superhero book and post-demonic transformation in the wake of yet another multi-title crossover), the amusement park as the setting for the superhero's origin - that arguably allow the whole work a postmodern charm it perhaps didn't have at the time of its original publication.

You dick, Hobgoblin - that was a cultural treasure!

Watching: It's a Trap! - the latest Star Wars riff from the Family Guy people, and you probably know by that much information alone what you will make of this. Some funny jokes, some references to things that exist, and at least one painfully unfunny pulled-punch sequence where the cast fail to lay into Seth McFarlane in the same way they do Asians, blacks, gays, or even Family Guy cast member Seth Green. Still worth a watch, in my opinion.

1 comment:

  1. Love this blog about Darkhawk! Love the "Demolition Man" reference in the 2nd paragraph with the "3 shells" hahaha.

    Darkhawk is one of my fave characters but I must admit, going from the wholesome story writing style of Gerry Conway (Firestorm, JLA in the 80's) and the ever so detailed style of Fabian Nicieza (X-Force, The New Warriors), the writing style on Darkhawk seems sorta lazy. Not to mention the first 4-5 issues made the comic look more like a Spiderman vs Hobgoblin spin-off. I understand Marvel employs a lot of gimmicks to sell a new comic but SHEESH!

    I'm currently at Darkhawk #4. I have the entire run I got off ebay :)