Crafting a good teen superhero is a delicate business. Heart is deeply important — the kid’s got to be kindhearted in some way that justifies any superheroics later on. A dash of pathos is smart, because without some interior struggle, the character is only concerned with exterior threat — and exterior threat doesn’t lead to character growth. The kid’s got to have likable peers, because when you’re a teenager you do a lot of understanding yourself through comparing yourself to others (which is why it’s good to have a Flash Thompson-type on hand). They’ve also got to be relatable on a particularly broad spectrum — relatable to kids, relatable to teenagers, and even relatable to any adults stopping by.
In last month’s Darkhawk #1 we were introduced to Connor Young, a star basketball player who doesn’t revel in his talents, who uplifts his friend, who is congenial. . . and who gets diagnosed, about halfway through that issue, with MS.
It’s a bold choice, one that gives that ‘interior struggle’ a literal meaning, and one that does some token work of making the disease visible to readers. It also throws relatability into a new ring for anyone dealing with MS (or any other large-scale chronic disorder).
That the book also then throws Connor a Darkhawk suit is perhaps a little less relatable — and, in a lesser book, might then use the suit to overcome, overshadow, or otherwise undermine the narrative blow the disease had dealt.
Issue #2 of the series refuses to allow that, however. the crushing emotions Connor and his father are experiencing drive the narrative far more than Darkhawk. The sudden imposition of the routine of medication, the shadow of Connor’s future — an assured fast track to professional ball player — being taken from him, and even Connor’s fear of needles takes up more emotional bandwidth than his newfound ability to transform into an extraterrestrial bird-themed superweapon.
Here the book walks a faulty balance — this is, after all, a superhero book where readers expect a certain amount of shenanigans. To stray too far from Connor’s struggle with MS betrays the human interior of the story, but to do so to the exclusion of the fantastic nature of the story could topple the book away from its presumed purpose.
Darkhawk #2, thankfully, manages to find this balance, even if some extra superhero ballast needed to be added on one side by way of a very short and uneventful Spider-Man cameo. The moving wheels of a larger conflict — the introduction of shady villainous elements, the complication of Connor’s relationship with his best friend (and secret criminal), Derek — show the book’s forward momentum.
That Darkhawk is a legacy title, one with complicated and interstellar roots and reaches, hasn’t yet been addressed, and I suspect that this will remain to be the case. Connor needs to be the center here, at least long enough for some actual character growth to be made. The book seems evenly pointed in that direction. It does so, this issue, to the neglect of developing its titular device, but out of necessity rather than missed opportunity.
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