In Nighthawk #1, writer David Walker (Power Man and Iron Fist), artist Ramon Villalobos (E is for Extinction), and colorist Tamra Bonvillain (Moon Girl and Devil Dinosaur) craft a vigilante meets psychological thriller yarn rooted in the reality of 21st century United States with racial tension and gun violence everywhere. Nighthawk is wealthy African American businessman, Raymond Kane, by day, but at night, he beats the shit out of white supremacists, drug dealers, and basically racist scum. There are definitely parallels to be made with Batman and Midnighter, but Walker and Villalobos differentiate Nighthawk from these characters by rooting his war against crime in the real life racial tension of Chicago.
The first issue of Nighthawk has a lot to do as Walker and Villalobos must build the corrupt infrastructure of this fictional version of Chicago, establish both Nighthawk and Raymond Kane and their supporting cast, and throw in a serial killer mystery. But despite all these plates up the air, the team catches our attention early on with a brutal action sequence featuring Nighthawk killing and blowing up a meth warehouse run by white supremacists while establishing the repartee (or lack thereof) between Nighthawk and his tech support/information broker, Tilda Johnson. Tilda plays an active role in coordinating Nighthawk’s various surveillance drones as well as bringing a much needed dash of comic relief and pop culture inflected dialogue into a very dark comic. She also reminds Nighthawk about the cost of his violence and killings on his psyche in faded out flashbacks of a young Raymond, who is angry about how black people are treated in Chicago.
This rage is channeled in bone breaking, surgical panels from Villalobos, who shows his deadliest blows, while Bonvillain punctuates them with sparks of red. The comic really kicks in another gear when Nighthawk is doing his violent avenger routine, like a six panel page that cuts between him feeling the weight of his anger in the shower and then acting out that anger and beating up criminals. Bonvillain’s colors in the shower scene are almost golden as she hints at Nighthawk possibly finding some kind of redemption, but that doesn’t seem like the case for now as he brutally beats a white supremacist. Villalobos uses realistic anatomy and poses without being stiff or losing emotion as Nighthawk’s mask, dark costume and color palette hide his real feelings. It’s Nighthawk at his most vulnerable, and we get to see the angry, honorable, and woke man beneath the costume, surveillance gadgets, and fighting moves.
Nighthawk #1 is like the granddaddy of all vigilante novels/films Death Wish, but without its victimization of women, obsession with rape, and problematic racist elements. It still has Death Wish‘s ruthless, unrelenting violence that takes a toll on its protagonist as Nighthawk’s kills are less theatrical versions of the Revelator, a Biblical themed serial killer that belongs in a David Fincher film. (Fincher is even referenced by one of the less than competent police offers that Nighthawk is watching over with his drones.) However, Walker is punching up rather than punching down as Nighthawk fights for disenfranchised African American people in Chicago and goes mano a mano with a shady real estate developer, who wants to gentrify a housing project. This sequence shows that Raymond Kane fights for justice just as much as Nighthawk albeit with less blood letting. Both Raymond and Nighthawk are both laconic too as they focus on their mission and have no time for quips and pleasantries. They truly have a war time mentality.
With its connection to real world problems, a murder mystery that doubles as a moral dilemma, and David Walker’s ability to get Nighthawk a distinct voice from the quick, self-aware wit of supporting cast members, like Tilda and Detective Burrell, Nighthawk #1 is a strong debut issue. Ramon Villalobos and Tamra Bonvillain bring the rage and altruism of the protagonist while building the world of corrupt, classist, and racist Chicago in the Marvel Universe that is part over the top revenge thriller and part ripped from the headlines.
Story: David Walker Art: Ramon Villalobos Colors: Tamra Bonvillain
Story: 8 Art: 9 Overall:8.5 Recommendation: Buy