Ahhhh, the 90s... Rightfully maligned for its over-the-top yet simplistic portrayal of superheroes. Nevertheless, it holds a special place in my heart. You see, I was just getting into comics around 1991. Of course, I didn't understand half of what was going on in the industry, but it was quite an exciting time! Being 13-years-old, I was also the perfect audience for everything that came out during the following years – Image, Valiant, Wizard Magazine, you name it! Luckily, I grew out of that phase (eventually).
But enough reminiscing...
Darkhawk is really Danny Powell, a teenager that found a mysterious amulet that transforms him into an armor-clad superhero with a distinct hawk motif. He has small wings under his arms that allow him to glide on air currents and a grappling claw on one hand that he can either use to climb buildings or as an striking weapon. He can also shoot a battering ram force field he calls the Dark Force out of the amulet embedded in his chest.
We start this issue in the middle of a drug deal on a school basketball court. A couple of cheap hoods aren't much of a problem for Darkhawk, however, and they are quickly knocked out. Our hero wonders what to do with them now - kill them or capture them? He decides to let them go, thinking they surely have learned their lesson about peddling drugs to kids. He is watched by a nerdy student called Steve Rubino, called Headset by his friends. (More on him later.)
Darkhawk changes back to Chris Powell, his alter ego, and bikes back home. While doing homework (ah, the life of a teenage superhero) he's ambushed by his two kid brothers (what's their names?) and while play fighting they snatch Chris' amulet from around his neck. He flips out, of course, worried that they will discover its secret. That kills the festive mood, and everyone goes their separate ways. During their roughhousing, however, they knocked a hole in the wall and guess what Chris finds? His father's diary! (Chris' father is a policeman who disappeared after being caught taking a bribe way back in Darkhawk #1, and his family has been searching for him ever since.)
This particular entry is illustrated in gray tones on the following pages. It describes an episode where Chris' father and his partner were in a high speed chase with some robbers and during the pursuit an innocent bystander gets hit. His partner wants to stop and help her, but his father is more focused on capturing her killers. Sorta ties into DH's dilemma from the earlier, right? This a common theme throughout the early issues of this series. Chris's father always talked about the need to find “an edge against crime”. Chris believes Darkhawk can be that edge but is unsure of the best way to use his powers.
Anyway, his mother, a local DA, arrives and interrupts his reverie. They drop a load of exposition about the local crimelord named Bazin (imagine a thinner Kingpin with a pointy goatee), who they both believe had something to do with Chris' father's disappearance and now is trying to finish off the rest of the family. (Luckily, Darkhawk as been on the scene each time to thwart his previous attempts.)
Speaking of Bazin, it's time to shift scene and peek in on one of his secret labs. We are introduced to the villain du jour – Lodestone. She is bursting with energy and surrounded by that patented Kirby Krackle. She seems to have gone mad with power, though, as she attacks the nearest lab assistants. Just before she can turn her wrath against anyone else, she doubles over in pain. Then, we see Bazin himself talking with his head scientist who explains they put a control device in her Lodestone's brain that can cause crippling pain at the touch of a button. The lead scientist says she'll be the perfect tool to kill Darkhawk, but the operation that gave her her powers has also made her mental state more volatile.
Meanwhile, Chris is taking a karate class somewhere. Cheryl, his girlfriend, complains that he hasn't been around a lot lately. Before he has a chance to explain Headset pops in. Chris and Cheryl make a dinner date for later. Headset wanders off on his own again.
On his way home Chris sees the same drug dealers from yesterday hanging out at a new spot in the neighborhood. He ducks into an alley and quickly changes into Darkhawk. The crooks are ready for him this time, however, because they brought some heavy backup in the form of a bazooka! (Ah the 90s, where every cheap hood has access to military grade weaponry.) DH uses his darkforce to shield him from the blast. Then, he rips a lightpole out of the ground and uses it to knock everyone down. Seeing how easy it was for him to defeat the bad guys, he finally convinces himself that he can be that “edge against crime” that his father always wished for.
Before he can get a swell head, however he sees an innocent victim has been hit by a stray bullet – Headset! Chris tries to use amulet to switch Headset to DH and back (whenever Chris transforms to DH he is healed from any wounds he has and vise versa) but it doesn't work on his friend because he's lost consciousness. Chris is at a loss for what do do to save Headset when who should appear but Lodestone in all her glory, demanding “Produce the Darkhawk or die in his place!”
This issue doesn't really have Spider-Man in it except as a one-panel cameo as a logo on a t-shirt, but I thought I would review it fully just for nostalgia's sake. This story is a rarity in the superhero world in that there was no supervillain fight featured at all. It was this kind of slice of life storytelling that was very compelling for me as a kid.
You've got family drama, girlfriend drama, and school drama, mixed in with couple of low-key encounters with some drug dealers. Plus a major a villain lined up for next issue. A very nice, tidy story. They don't make them like these anymore.
Darkhawk was one of those new characters that debuted in the 90s that was similar enough to Spider-Man to peak my interest. Spider-Man does make the requisite guest appearance in Darkhawk #2 and Darkhawk #3. Tombstone and Venom, both longtime foes of Spider-Man, appear in Darkhawk #11 and #12 and Darkhawk #13 and #14 respectively. Spidey himself appears again in Darkhawk #19 and Darkhawk #20 (both of which I will be reviewing at a later time).
His series was relatively long-lived (running for 50 issues), but now he is relegated to being a one-panel background character that only shows up during universe-spanning crossovers. If he's lucky, he may receive a one-shot or a miniseries every few years just to keep the trademark alive.