A new iteration of the “greatest hero of the ’90s” debuts in Darkhawk: Airborne. The winged hero has always occupied a small space in the Marvel Universe, whether he’s being an “edge against crime” in Queens or an intergalactic outlaw on the fringe of Shi’ar space. This latest volume seeks to give closure to the original Darkhawk, Chris Powell, and introduce newcomer Connor Young to the mantle. Higgins and co. offer a fresh take on the hero and successfully kick off a new era.
The collection starts with the 30th anniversary special ‘Heart of the Hawk.’ This issue plays homage to Darkhawk’s most memorable eras while also passing on the mantle for the following series. Where this anniversary issue excels is in telling a cohesive narrative that celebrates the character while not feeling like just a smattering of short stories. Each story plays with the character’s history by bouncing from his humble origins to his cosmic adventures while also dovetailing into one another effortlessly. The switching classic writers and artists also feels fluid and benefits the reading experience. At the end of the one-shot you get a sense of closure for Chris Powell’s time as Darkhawk and also get excited for what’s to follow.
The following five issues make up the debut arc for teenage basketball star Connor Young. He’s got everything going for him: he’s popular, he’s on the fast track to a collegiate basketball career, and things have never been better — that is, until an unexpected medical diagnosis shakes him to his core. Connor is diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, a neurological degenerative disease. This marks a turning point in his life as he and his father are forced to adjust to his new way of living. As if his life wasn’t tossed upside down enough, shortly after his diagnosis Connor happens upon a glowing crystal that turns him into a metal clad vigilante.
We follow Connor as he strives to tackle each challenge in front of him, while also trying to find his new place in the world. His new condition makes him question everything he’s put his faith in, and his newfound responsibility just adds another layer to this. There’s ups and downs across this arc and at each point I fully bought into Connor and his supporting cast. There are some cool action set pieces, particularly in the latter issues, but the real meat of the story lies in its characters.
The interpersonal drama quickly becomes the main driving force. Be prepared for consistent gut punches here. When things go wrong in this story, the consequences are immediately felt by all the characters. This again plays to the story’s dramatic strengths. Each issue has its own weight and purposefully moves the plot and characters forward. The scenes of Connor and his father struggling to cope with Connor flare ups in particular are tense. Both characters are in vulnerable places and that comes across perfectly in the dialogue and art.
Juanan Ramirez does some outstanding character work here. His concentration on faces specifically works to the book’s advantage. This is a dramatic narrative at its core as we follow Connor’s struggles with not only MS but the daily life of a vigilante. As such, Ramirez’s choice to focus on the expressions sells these moments perfectly. Through this, he locks into the narrative’s emotional core and brings it to life. The artwork helped me buy into the character’s struggles and gave me a deeper connection to the story.
It can be easy to criticize a story for having a lot of talking heads and not a lot of action, but for me it worked here. The moments of characters just sitting around talking never overstayed their welcome or felt exposition-heavy. These scenes work to the betterment of the story’s characters and balances out nicely against the flashy superheroics one expects.
Also included in this volume are interview selections from the back matter of each issue. These have Higgins interview various individuals active in the MS community, ranging from experts and doctors to other artists with MS. These sections give readers a more personal understanding of MS and dispel a lot of common misconceptions. It’s a nice touch to include these here and continue to spark dialogue between readers and a disability not many have engaged with.
Darkhawk: Airborne marks a brand new day for the hero. By the end, I was fully bought in to reading more of Connor’s adventures. The drama was engrossing, the characters were relatable, and while the action could be sparse at times, it still worked. Airborne wraps up on a point to be picked up in the future and I for one cannot wait for what’s to come.
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