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Longbox Junk - ShadowHawk

322 views • 13 weeks ago • (0) Comments

Welcome to Longbox Junk, where the comics are cheap and the reviews are free!

 
Sorry things are starting to get a bit off-schedule again.  It happens every year. I do these reviews at work in my spare time as the night manager of a hotel and the summer tourist trade is already beginning to ramp up, even though it's only the end of April, so that spare time is starting to become less as the countdown to the REAL summer rush begins.  
 
So not to make excuses, but expect a kinda spotty posting schedule for the next few months because unless there's an ACTUAL apocalypse of some sort, Americans will NOT be staying home this summer.  I can see that already.  I predict it's gonna be a big year for hotels across the nation and you can cash THAT check at any bank.
 
ANYWAY. . .
 
If you've been Longbox Junkin' as long as I have, you start to notice certain comics that seem to pop up in bargain bins more often than others.  For me, it's comics from Image's early "We REALLY want to be Marvel!" days.  Titles like Youngblood, CyberForce, WildC.A.T.S., Wetworks, and Deathblow, for a few examples off the top of my head.
 
Yeah. . .in case you weren't there for the 90's (and it may make me sound old, but you sorta had to be there), before they managed to carve out a niche as the comic publisher for readers tired of superheroes, Image was ALL Superhero ALL the time.  
 
As a result, the glut of 90's Image superhero titles that didn't make it through the partial collapse of the comic industry make up the meat and potatoes of most bargain bins today.  For every Marvel or DC comic found in the bin, you're pretty much guaranteed to find ten Image comics.
 
The comics at hand (ShadowHawk) are part of that period of comic history. . .the beginning of Image Comics' gaining a foothold in comic shops by way of a flood of new superhero titles.  It seems like just about any bargain bin I dive into holds at LEAST one ShadowHawk issue, so over the years I've managed to grab just about the whole run (I think I'm missing 3 of them), mainly because I think the character looks cool and the series has some pretty nice covers.
 
But I've never bothered to actually read any of them.  
 
Until Now!
 
Join me as I take a look at the first four issue series of ShadowHawk and see what's going on with this bargain bin relic of the 90's.  Is ShadowHawk any good, or is it in just about every bargain bin out there for a reason?  Let's find out!

SHADOWHAWK (Vol. 1)

Image (1992)

 

ISSUE ONE

 
 A NIGHTMARE WALKING
 
SCRIPT: Jim Valentino
PENCILS: Jim Valentino
COVER: Jim Valentino & Rob Liefeld
 
THE COVER:
 
The actual cover I have is a glorious example of early 90's "gimmick" covers (ShadowHawk #1 was actually Image's FIRST gimmick cover), with a heavy black cardstock background and a super-shiny silver "chromium" title and image.  Unfortunately, it doesn't scan well at all, so I had to grab a picture of the non-enhanced version off the internet.  But trust me when I say that in its fully gimmicked state, this is a cover that reaches out and grabs you! It's outstanding in its black and silver simplicity.
 
THE STORY:
 
An unknown, ultra-violent vigilante stalks the streets of New York City.  His calling card is breaking the backs of his targets, paralyzing them.  We follow the vigilante, "ShadowHawk", as he patrols the city, permanently taking down criminals and coming into conflict with the police.
 
We are also introduced to a villainous arsonist called. . .Arson, as well as his employer, the mysterious and beautiful high-profile crime boss Max Boldd (AKA Vendetta), who is profiting from the insurance on the buildings Arson has been burning.  
 
Then there's Jamie Anthonette, an intrepid reporter looking into Ms. Boldd's shady business dealings, sketchy Detective Lt. Lou Jacks. . .who always seems to be in the wrong place at the right time when ShadowHawk attacks, and finally former D.A. Paul Johnstone. . .frustrated with the broken justice system, he's now a social activist.  One of these people is ShadowHawk!  Which one?  They aren't saying just yet.
 
To be continued. . .
 
THE REVIEW:
 
Okay.  Interesting.  A lot of setup and character introductions in this first issue.  According to the letters page, it seems that the "Who is ShadowHawk" tag on the cover is actually the main thrust of this first mini-series. . .with a generous handful of suspects, but leaving it up to the readers to make their best guess as part of a contest (a page of original art as the prize).  It's a fairly interesting reader hook.
 
Secret identity puzzles aside, I found this to be a pretty good read.  Not the best superhero comic I've ever read, but  pretty decent when many other "Style over Substance" comic offerings of the 90's are practically unreadable today.  
 
ShadowHawk himself has an interesting look and design. . .equal parts Batman, Wolverine, and Moon Knight.  The influences carry over to ShadowHawk's gritty first person inner monologue through the issue as well.  
 
Jim Valentino's art is probably the best part of the issue. . .once again in keeping with the "Style over Substance" direction of 90's comics. . .but where many 90's artists haven't aged well at all, Valentino's art is clean, simple, and solid.  It tells the story without the annoying artistic excess I'd expect in an Image comic from 1992.
 
Unfortunately, even though ShadowHawk #1 holds up surprisingly well, it's not ALL good news.  The villain (an arsonist named Arson) is extremely weak and unimaginative (again. . .an arsonist named Arson), and there's so much introducing going on that none of the "suspects" stand out as very interesting because we really don't spend much time with any of them.
 

All in all, not a bad first issue.  I found it surprisingly readable for a 90's Image superhero comic, with an interesting main character and some solid artwork.  The villain is weak and the multiple characters introduced as possible ShadowHawks aren't that interesting (yet).  Still, it's a good introduction to a new character and it makes me want to read the next one, so ShadowHawk #1 gives me what I expect from a first issue. I can't complain much about that.
 
NEXT!
 

ISSUE TWO

 

A GOOD NIGHT FOR ARSON
 
SCRIPT: Jim Valentino
PENCILS: Jim Valentino
COVER: Jim Valentino 
 
THE COVER:
 
This is actually one of my least favorite ShadowHawk covers.  It just seems to be trying TOO hard.  It does give you a good look at the interesting design of the character himself, but the kids in the background look out of place, the generic-looking villain is a generic-looking villain, and the stiff poses all around give the cover an awkward look.  It's not a BAD cover.  I've definitely seen worse.  It's just sort of off in the composition.
 
THE STORY:
 
Trying to prove he's not the villain everyone thinks he is, ShadowHawk takes it upon himself to take down the Arsonist that's been wreaking havoc in Harlem.  He is surprised to briefly encounter the mysterious Spawn during his hunt.  ShadowHawk convinces Spawn that they are after the same quarry, and Spawn leaves Arson to ShadowHawk.
 
As ShadowHawk searches for Arson, we are introduced to yet another suspect that may be ShadowHawk. . .Christina Reid, an ex-cop with a reputation for violence that got her kicked off the force.  We are also pointed toward more clues during a lavish dinner party where it is revealed that Sketchy Lt. Lou Jacks is actually a wealthy bachelor that joined the police force after witnessing his parents murder.
 
IN THE MEANTIME. . .
 
ShadowHawk finally catches up to Arson and the two of them engage in a brutal rooftop battle in Harlem.  ShadowHawk defeats Arson by hitting his flamethrower fuel backpack with a shuriken, destroying the armored villain in a massive explosion.
 
At the end of the story, we see a young woman vow revenge on ShadowHawk for breaking the spine of her brother.  Elsewhere, we see a junkie friend of former D.A. Paul Johnstone (AKA another ShadowHawk secret identity suspect) being stalked through a dark alley by a grotesque lizard-like creature dripping acidic slime.
 
To be continued. . .
 
THE REVIEW:
 
I liked the first issue of ShadowHawk as a pretty good introduction to a new character, with the interesting reader hook of trying to guess which side character is ShadowHawk's secret identity.  Unfortunately, just the second issue in and the series seems to be slipping into a fairly standard "Set 'em up. . .knock 'em down" rotating villain grind, with villains being introduced in one issue and taken down in the next.   It's an extremely well-worn comic book story path.
 
As far as the "Who is ShadowHawk?" hook, it's pretty plain to see that the writer wants you to think the sketchy detective who's secretly rich and has a tragic back story is ShadowHawk (SPOILER: He's not), so he gets most of the side character attention this time out.  The new suspect (Angry ex-cop with a taste for violence) is just sort of dropped in out of nowhere like the writer forgot to put her in the first issue and is hustling to fix the mistake.  
 
The cameo by Spawn is interesting, but ultimately just there to tie this series into Image's attempt at having multiple independent creator-owned properties inhabit a shared superhero "universe" that never really worked out as well as they wanted it to.  
 
Where the writing seems to be falling into a "Villain every two issues" rut already, Valentino's art remains the strong point of this series, delivering some solid and eye-pleasing visuals.  I like that about half of this issue is told through double-page spreads. . .giving the art plenty of room to breathe.  Once again, you would expect artistic excess in an early 90's Image superhero comic, but the art here has aged quite a bit better than something like Youngblood, for example. 
 
 
Overall, it doesn't bode well that ShadowHawk is ALREADY falling into the old "Villain fight every other issue" comic writing rut. . .not to mention the old reliable increased sales grab of having a super-popular character cameo appearance happening in just the second issue.  The "Who Is ShadowHawk" reader hook also looks like it's already losing steam, despite the writer's best efforts at keeping the mystery going.  
 
That said, there's enough meat on the bone storywise to make me want to read the next issue, and the solid art keeps ShadowHawk from being as hard on the eyes and practically unreadable as some other early 90's Image comics.  So good taken with bad, this is still a pretty decent read.
 
NEXT!
 
 

ISSUE THREE


LIQUID FIRE
 
SCRIPT: Jim Valentino
PENCILS: Jim Valentino
COVER: Jim Valentino 
 
THE COVER:
 
 Now HERE'S a winner!  ShadowHawk perched above the city, cloaked in darkness yet still showing off the interesting character design.  It's simple, it's moody, it's effective.  Yeah. . .I know.  EVERY gritty "street level" hero has had one of these covers.  But you know what?  Why fix what ain't broke? Did I mention it glows in the dark?  IT GLOWS!   Such a great cover.
 
THE STORY:
 
As a mysterious lizard-like creature stalks the alleys of New York City in search of prey, the young woman introduced last issue determined to have her revenge on ShadowHawk meets with Max Boldd (AKA Vendetta).  Her name is Tajana Juarez, and she has come to Boldd to ask for help with her vengeance.
 
Boldd agrees and introduces Tajana to her enforcer, a failed Youngblood recruit called BlackJak.  Elsewhere, reporter Jamie Anthonette and and Lt. Lou Jacks meet at the scene of a grisly killing, where the victim is almost completely dissolved by a mysterious acid.  
 
In the meantime, as ShadowHawk recovers from the battle with Arson, news of the gruesome string of murders reaches him, and he decides to hunt the killer, although he is still exhausted and burned from his previous battle.
 
Back at the scene of the battle with Arson, the villain is amazed to find himself still alive after being caught in the gigantic explosion of his flamethrower fuel. . .but he's in an extremely painful state of constant flame!  Not knowing what else to do, he decides to ask Max Boldd for help.
 
WHILE THAT'S GOING ON. . .
 
At police headquarters, Captain Frakes calls a meeting with the city council.  He claims to have evidence that Lt. Jacks is the vigilante ShadowHawk.  Unfortunately, his evidence is circumstantial and Jacks reveals that his mysterious absences are because he's visiting his adoptive father in a nursing home, taking Jacks off the list of ShadowHawk suspects.
 
AND THEN. . .
 
As ShadowHawk pursues the mysterious creature killing with acid, Arson accidentally runs into the two of them at the exact moment that ShadowHawk finally catches up with his prey!  As ShadowHawk and the creature fight, Arson is offered the chance to help, but declines, continuing on to meet with Boldd and leaving ShadowHawk to his fight.
 
After a brutal battle, ShadowHawk finally kills the creature by shooting a grappling hook into its chest and pulling its heart out.  
 
AND FINALLY. . .
 
After his failed attempt to prove Lt. Jacks is ShadowHawk, police Captain Frakes decides to call in a favor from an old friend in Chicago and bring in some super-powered support to find and take down the vigilante once and for all. . .The Savage Dragon!
 
To be continued. . .
 
THE REVIEW:
 
To be honest, this issue was sort of a mess.  It jumped all over the place trying to keep the "Who is ShadowHawk" mystery alive with short scenes featuring all the suspects (and taking Lt. Jacks off the list), while at the same time introducing yet MORE characters (The superhuman version of Arson, BlackJak, and Tajana) AND making sure there's some action with ShadowHawk and the acid creature fighting.
 
It seems to me that this series could have benefited from at least one more issue, because Valentino is really trying to pack a lot into a little space.  The ShadowHawk/ Acid Creature storyline feels tacked on because the writer felt like there HAD to be some sort of fighting going on.  Truthfully, he could have thrown the whole thing out and concentrated on the mystery aspect of the story and this issue would have been better for it.  As it stands, the acid creature fight just seems as disposable and unremarkable as the acid creature itself.
 
Valentino's art remains the strong point of this series.  It's just good, clean, simple comic art with a bit of 90's flair, but without the 90's excess.  Is it enough to save the issue from the mess the story is becoming?  Barely. 
 

Overall, the writing on this issue is a mess. . .Valentino is trying to cook too many things at once and all of them suffer for it.  The art remains a solid high point, but art is only half the equation when it comes to comic books.
 
AND FINALLY. . .
 

ISSUE FOUR

 
ENTER THE DRAGON
 
SCRIPT: Jim Valentino
PENCILS: Jim Valentino
COVER: Jim Valentino & Erik Larsen
 
THE COVER:
 
This isn't one of my favorite ShadowHawk covers, but I really like the overhead view of the city.  The artist gives this cover a true sense of height and scale.  The main figures are well done, but the eye-catcher here is definitely in the background.
 
THE STORY:
 
AAAAAAAAAAND IT'S CROSSOVER TIME!
 
After police Captain Frakes failed to prove Lt. Jacks was ShadowHawk, he calls in a favor from an old friend in Chicago and is loaned their Super-Powered Superstar cop. . .The Dragon.  Upon arrival in New York, Dragon ruffles some feathers as he shows the NYPD how it's done by almost immediately tracking down ShadowHawk while the vigilante deals with a rapist.
 
A rooftop battle ensues while ShadowHawk insists he's not a criminal and The Dragon lets him know (between brutal punches) that the good guys don't sentence criminals to a living death with a broken back.  
 
IN THE MEANTIME. . .
 
At Max Boldd's (AKA Vendetta) secret laboratory, we see that she's setting up a super-powered team consisting of failed Youngblood recruit BlackJak, the now constantly burning and super-powered version of Arson, and Tajana Juarez, who has been given super-powers by the alien technology in Boldd's lab and is now called Vortex.  Each of them has a grudge against ShadowHawk, but Boldd tells them that her intention isn't to destroy him, but to recruit him for the team.
 
Since the televised battle between ShadowHawk and The Dragon is going badly for the vigilante, Boldd take the opportunity to reveal her plans for him and orders BlackJak to deal with Dragon while Vortex and Arson rescue ShadowHawk.  The unexpected interruption of Boldd's team takes Dragon by surprise and they manage to grab ShadowHawk and take him to the safety of Boldd's headquarters.
 
Vendetta offers ShadowHawk a place on her team, but the vigilante continues to insist he's not a criminal.  Vendetta mocks his righteous stance and tells him he can either join up or she'll turn him over to the police so he can see just how much of a criminal he really is.  ShadowHawk doesn't like either option and makes his escape by jumping through a window.  Vendetta doesn't pursue him.
 
AND IN THE END. . .
 
We get two epilogues.  In the first, we see the Savage Dragon leaving New York, anxious to return to cleaning up Chicago, but with the NYPD grateful that he was at least able to narrow down ShadowHawk's identity to his being male.
 
In the second epilogue, we find ShadowHawk alone and wracked with doubt as he ponders his encounter with The Dragon and Vendetta. . .asking himself if he really IS a hero, or is he actually a villain?
 
The End. . .To be continued.
 
THE REVIEW:
 
ShadowHawk is sort of a strange series in that it's actually a set of connected mini-series. . .sort of like what Dark Horse did with Hellboy.  The next mini-series is called ShadowHawk II (3 issues), but actually connects directly to the ending of this one, so most comic collector sites just call ShadowHawk II #1 ShadowHawk #5 (And ShadowHawk III #1 as ShadowHawk #8).  It's this strange way of publishing ShadowHawk that makes this issue a pretty unsatisfying "ending" to the first ShadowHawk mini-series.
 
In addition to an ending that's actually more of a "to be continued", this issue also drops ShadowHawk into his first full-fledged crossover, with Erik Larsen's Savage Dragon.  Not that there's anything wrong with crossovers in general, but you can plainly see Image trying to drum up some reader interest in ShadowHawk with this one.  From what I've been able to find out about the series, it was a bit of an underdog in Image's initial push. . .not backed up by a red-hot artist, it wasn't doing as good as Image had though it would.  
 
What I'm trying to say is that the crossover with Savage Dragon is a pretty obvious sales tactic. It feels forced and ultimately inconsequential in the long run for either character.  Add in Vendetta's super-criminal team and whatever gritty street-level feel this comic had initially is pretty much gone by this issue.
 
That's not to say it's ALL bad.  I liked that we ended with the "hero" agonizing over whether or not he's actually a villain.  It's a pretty good hook to draw readers into the next ShadowHawk mini to find out how he discovers the hero inside. . .showing that the character isn't just a black and white Image version of armored Batman.  The ending of the story here makes me want to give the character another chance, despite the steady downward spiral of the writing through the four issues of this initial series.
 

Overall, the ending of this series is pretty disappointing in that it's not actually an ending at all.  The crossover with Savage Dragon feels like a forced and pretty obvious sales tactic, and the colorful supervillains have sapped the gritty street-level vigilante feel from the story entirely.  There are some good character moments at the end of it all that barely manage to save the story with the promise of interesting things to come.
 

CONCLUSION

 
When I finally decided to actually READ some of these ShadowHawk comics I've been picking up through the years, I had already decided that I was going to find an unreadable comic with excessive 90's art doing the heavy lifting for a story that didn't matter as long as the comic looked good.
 
What I found instead was a story that isn't great by any means, but is a pretty good introduction to a new character, backed up by art that has a bit of 90's flair, but not so much that it completely distracts from and overpowers the story.  So for that, ShadowHawk is actually pretty good.
 
Unfortunately, the story progressively weakens through only four issues. . .going from a violent, gritty, street-level vigilante story to a colorful mess of supervillains and forced crossovers, where the initial reader hook of "Who is ShadowHawk" was all but forgotten.
 
The strong point of ShadowHawk is definitely the art by Jim Valentino.  It's some very nice and solid superhero art that helps tell the story without trying to push its way to the front.  As a 90's Image superhero comic, I was pleasantly surprised to find the art holds up so well 30 years down the road when many other comics from the era are eye-bleeding jokes that didn't age well.
 
Overall, I can recommend ShadowHawk as a decent read.  It's definitely a relic of the 90's Image "We want to be Marvel!" era, but it has aged a little better than a lot of other comics from that time.  The issues aren't hard to find at all.  Like I said in the introduction, ShadowHawk is almost ubiquitous when it comes to bargain bins.  It's more unlikely to NOT find an issue of ShadowHawk in a dollar box.
 
Up Next. . .
 
How about a Longbox Junk retro review?
 
Let's jump into the paper time machine and crank that dial backwards!
 
Be there or be square.

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