In Darkhawk from Kyle Higgins and Juanan Ramirez, readers are introduced to Connor Young, a 17-year-old athlete with his whole life planned out. When a diagnosis of multiple sclerosis changes everything, Connor will have to find a new direction — one that leads him to a new life as a superhero. Darkhawk is back!
Higgins cleverly pays tribute to the stories that came before it while also reassuring the reader that this is the perfect jumping-on point for new fans. There’s a really fun runner in the second half of the issue in which characters struggle to place where they’ve seen a superhero that looks like this before. Not only is it a fun, self-referential nod to the title hero’s lack of major mainstream recognition, but it also reinforces the underdog nature of the lead character. In many ways, Darkhawk is still an unknown quantity in the larger Marvel Universe, which gives Connor a chance to be his own hero without having to live up to the legacy of Christopher Powell.
The fight sequences are quite brief, but they’re full of fluid action and an exciting sense of discovery. The Darkhawk redesign is sleek and imposing, but also recognizable enough Connor’s not much interested in the hows and whys of the enemies he faces in this first issue. Instead, he goes straight to shutting them down and ending the threat. It’s a bit jarring to see him be so good at using the suit immediately, but there’s also a sense that the suit may be doing a good bit of nudging him along. In that sense, it’s kind of fun to note that Connor is just as much along for the ride as the reader is.
When it comes to the dramatic side of the story, the issue mostly handles things very well. Connor’s big injury at the midpoint is followed by a smart sequence in which the passage of time can be charted by his black eye healing over time, the cut above his eye eventually becoming a slight scar. The body language during the scene in which Connor tells his best friend Derek about his diagnosis is heartbreaking and natural, and the dialogue during the follow-up scene between Derek, Conor’s dad, and their basketball coach feels very real. When someone you care for is suffering, it can feel like the only thing you can possibly do is the smallest thing, like paying for the pizza when it comes or just being there as a friendly ear. These scenes feel very down to earth, grounding the book in real life in the way that Marvel Comics has always excelled at.
There are a couple of sequences that don’t fare quite as well. The basketball games feel a bit cluttered, making it a little difficult to get too excited about Connor’s victory towards the beginning. This technique is used to greater effect later on in the issue, when Connor feels like everyone has their eye on him as he returns to school. There are also a few moments in which the pages feel like they don’t quite flow into one another, leaving the action a bit muddied. Even so, those bits don’t detract much from what is a great-looking and well-told first installment.
Lastly, I also have to give a shoutout to the back matter of the issue, in which Higgins interviews Brooke Pelczynski, a comic illustrator with multiple sclerosis. Through this interview, readers get a sense of how people deal with the disease in different ways. Pelczynski walks Higgins through the process of her diagnosis and living with the disease and the questions and hardships that can come along with it. She also touches on how this has changed her view of the world and her craft. It’s a compelling interview that shows that not only has Higgins done his research, but he’s also made contact with people with MS to explain his intentions with the series and Connor’s character.
It’s explained in the preamble before the interview that this will be a regular segment for the series that seeks to educate readers and give a platform to people living with MS. I’m personally very glad that this section exists, and Higgins and Marvel editorial certainly deserve kudos for including it. Darkhawk is already setting itself apart from other superhero books in positive ways.