Thursday, June 26, 2014

Review: Darkhawk #35

Darkhawk #35, "Operation: Symbiote, Part 1: The Trap," Cover Date January 1994
Written by Danny Fingeroth, Penciled by Tod Smith, Inked by Ian Akin

Darkhawk 35 Cover Venom



For those that don't recognize the guy that isn't Venom on the cover, Darkhawk was the alter-ego of Chris Powell, a teenager who discovered a magical amulet that transformed him into the armored bird/robot guy, Darkhawk! It was essentially Marvel's latest attempt at re-capturing that teenage Spider-Man magic, but with plenty of other stolen ideas, some from places like the Marvelman/Miracleman reboot, and with a cool 90's costume.

Our story begins sans explanation, as we see a long-haired crazy guy (Broderick Bazin), as he celebrates the murder of some unseen person, and is then joined by a young child (Jason Powell). We then cut to... somewhere else, where Mike Powell is being held captive, as a nurse checks on his condition. After the nurse leaves, Powell gets to his feet, makes a phone call to his home number, but the machine picks up, even as he collapses. It turns out that Mike was being watched, and the bad guys wanted to see what he was going to reveal. We cut again to characters we aren't introduced to, as Grace Powell and Allegra Bazin drive down the street, searching for Grace's son Jason.

Darkhawk 35 Chris Powell
Nice jewelry there, Chris.

In front of Chris Powell's place, we finally see Chris Powell/Darkhawk as he shoots hoops while wearing his gaudy Darkhawk amulet over his shirt. Jason trains a gun on his older brother, and says that the caps will "really scare" Chris, as crazy guy Broderick tells Jason to aim for the head for maximum scariness. Jason confronts his brother, gun drawn, as Chris tries to explain that he's not a deadbeat, he's just got a lot on his plate right now that he can't talk about. Before Jason can shoot him, the car with Grace and Allegra pulls up and Grace explains that Jason's holding a real gun. Broderick starts shouting for Jason to "do them all," but Jason turns the gun on Broderick. He says he knew that Brod wasn't his friend, and that maybe Chris hasn't been the best, but he's not a killer like Broderick's dad. Mentioning his father is Brod's trigger, and he flips out and grabs the gun away from Jason, holding him hostage. Chris tries the ol' "take me instead" trick, but Jason elbows Broderick and runs away, even as Chris tackles the crazy guy and knocks him out, until he's finally pulled away by the two women. Allegra tries to console Chris, but he flips out, viewing her as partially responsible for her family because she was unwilling to blow the whistle on them.

Darkhawk 35 Chris Powell Jason Powell
Hey remember a few hours ago when you pulled a gun on me?

Everything seems to have sorted itself out, and Jason is now saying Chris should move back in, when Grace plays the answering machine messages. Chris immediately rushes out and transforms into Darkhawk (finally!), on page 19 of his own comic. He decides to use his newfound flying power to fly from New York to San Francisco. Suddenly we cut to Venom, as he beats up lowlifes in San Francisco (the same city where Mike Powell said he was being held), as he mentions he's heard someone is setting a trap for him. He gets the information out of one of the goons, then knocks him out anyway for... being a low-life. Darkhawk lands in a city in the continental US, exhausted, but by switching back into his Chris Powell form and into Darkhawk again, he's fully healed and continues his flight.

Darkhawk 35 Venom
Comic book action, a mere 26 pages in!

Venom finds the house (two guesses which house), but before he can do anything else, Darkhawk kicks him from behind. No time to talk things out, I guess. Darkhawk says he thought he had killed Venom in their previous encounter, but before they can continue their fight, both are stunned by a concentrated sound blast that nearly blasts the symbiote off Venom. The hero and anti-hero look up to find... The Seekers, a group of former A.I.M. agents turned armored suit wearing mercenaries! To be continued!

The letters page also features multiple letters asking the writers to break up Chris and Allegra. Though the page responds to keep reading for more developments, spoiler alert: there won't be. They broke up this issue.

Review:

Thank God the internet exists and provides supporting information for this, because otherwise this comic is incomprehensible. It's written as the conclusion of a big arc and the beginning of a new one, which seems doubly insane considering they had to hope for a sales spike by having a 2 part Venom crossover advertised on the cover. People give Silver and Bronze Age writers a hard time for providing too much exposition, but I'll take too much over not enough 100 times out of 100. If I'm reading an Essential and a character suddenly remembers the last four issues (all included in the same trade), I can just look at the pictures and skim over the text, because I know what happened. But if I pick up this issue because Venom is there, the title character appears on page 7, and appears in costume on page 20. Before that we get tons of  characters who only readers of Darkhawk would know, doing things without introduction. And our big conclusion is a showdown with minor Iron Man villains created by... Danny Fingeroth in a 1987 fill-in!

Beyond being needlessly dense, the book also suffers from being way too much about family drama. I'm all for having the father be a supporting character, but way too much screen-time is given to people who are not Darkhawk in a comic called "Darkhawk." This is apparently continuing a Hatfield/McCoy type feud between the Powell's and the Bazins, and I just don't care about that as a comic book reader. Unless somebody gets super powers, I don't want to see Darkhawk family squabbling with some mob bosses and their kids for months.

Tod Smith's art is perfectly acceptable, but his style is more reminiscent of DC's late 80's/early 90's house style, which seems dated even by 1994. That probably has a lot to do with having been the regular penciler of DC's "Vigilante" series in the late 80's. He'll remain the regular penciler of Darkhawk until the book ends with #50, and I think he gets a bit better over the next year and a half. Yes, Darkhawk ran 50 issues. The 90's were a different time.

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