Random Reviews: ShadowHawk: Out of the Shadows (The Image Review-lution, Part 5)

A mediocre mystery offers some additional interest in a book about a Batman wannabe trying to figure out what kind of hero he is

—by Nathan on December 2, 2023—


In previous blogs, I’ve compared some of Images' earlier heroes/teams to their Big Two counterparts, or at least the character(s) each Image hero/team feels closest to or most inspired by. Youngblood as a whole feels like Rob Liefeld’s version of the Avengers, while WildC.A.T.S. feels closer to the Thunderbolts. Badrock’s a big dude covered in, well, rocks, similar to a certain orange idol-of-millions; Diehard wears armor with a red, white, and blue color scheme, feeling like a cross between Iron Man and Captain America (or a very early prototype for Marvel’s own American flag-colored armored hero, Iron Patriot). There’s a guy named Supreme who basically feels like a recolored Superman.

But why stop there? If you’ve got the guts to rip off Superman, you might as well take a crack at DC’s other flagship, cape-wearing, dead-parent-ed hero.

It’s been done before. Marvel’s got Moon Knight, a caped rich boy who throws crescent-shaped trinkets at criminals in the dead of night. Thing is: Moon Knight, for all the similarities between him and the Dark Knight Detective, has his own thing. He’s Batman with a twist. He’s Batman with multiple personalities. It keeps him fresh, offers him a different angle a straight up Batman parody wouldn’t have.

ShadowHawk isn’t a parody, not in that he’s a gag character affectionately taking potshots at Image’s competition. But he does feel lifted from the Batman School of Vigilantes…eh, with maybe a wee pinch of Daredevil sprinkled on top for good measure. He’s grim, brooding, wears dark colors.

And he’ll break your spine with a good kick to the back if you so much as look at him funny.

ShadowHawk: Out of the Shadows

Writer: Jim Valentino

Penciler: Jim Valentino

Inkers: Jim Valentino, Chance Wolf, Paul Scott, Richard Horie, Christopher Ivey

Colorists: Digital Chameleon, Eric Vincent, Rob Schwager, Todd Broeker, Paul Rivera

Letterers: Diane Valentino, Kurt Hathaway, Chance Wolf

Issues Collected: ShadowHawk #1-4 and material from Youngblood #2, Image Comics #0, and Operation Urban Storm

Volume Publication Date: April 1993

Issue Publication Dates: June 1992, August 1992, October 1992, November 1992, January 1993, March 1993

Publisher: Image Comics


It goes without saying, but it’s far easier to discuss a story I connect with for some specific reason, whether for good or ill. The words come to mind quickly, pouring out how much I enjoy a narrative or why I might dislike it. When specific ideas become lodged into my brain–shouting the praises of Daytripper to the skies, lambasting Stan Lee and Jack Kirby’s early X-Men issues for not providing nuanced social commentary, critiquing Contest of Champions for being far more vapid that it should’ve been–I can crank the words out in defense of or against any story. But that requires me to have walked away impacted, whether uplifted by my enjoyment or frustrated by my disappointment.

Other stories leave me with a "meh" kinda feeling. Those are harder to quantify. I find my reactions exist largely on opposite ends of the scale, weighed heavily to one side or the other. A "meh" that leaves the scale relatively balanced is just darn hard to talk about with any passion or vitriol. There’s no fire. There’s just some smoke, wispy and aimless in where it floats, dissipating into nothingness.


That’s my experience exiting ShadowHawk, as it has been for other early Image Comics series. These have been frustrating reviews to write, simply because I’ve not been left with an overwhelming joy or disgust with any of these series. I’ve found the words, sure. I can tell you I like Erik Larsen’s Savage Dragon more than Jim Lee’s WildC.A.T.S. or Rob Liefeld’s Youngblood. I can point to all of Spawn’s big guns and silly pouches and brooding temperament and tell you how silly it all feels. But I’m not angry with early Image. I’m not even disappointed, not really.

I’m "meh." And ShadowHawk…is "meh."


To the credit of Image’s earliest stabs at superhero fiction, each book I’ve reviewed so far has some central conceit which helps distinguish it from its compatriots. You got your Avengers ripoff, your Thunderbolts ripoff, your green dude with a giant fin on his head who joins the Chicago PD, your phantom Batman who slips through shadows…each book has, for all their accumulated foibles, purpose. Not so much narrative direction, in most cases, but at least a core conceit. ShadowHawk is no different. Much like Savage Dragon, ShadowHawk is driven by a central mystery: who is this armored vigilante coming "out of the shadows" to start (and I quote) "taking back the night"? That’s a mission statement right there, brimming with purpose. Taking back the night, from crime, from creeps who stalk the streets and prey on the weak and helpless.

Kinda like a certain Dark Knight Detective.

In function, the character of ShadowHawk is meant to embody the dark, brooding, introspective vigilante Batman had transformed into, in part thanks to Frank Miller, grim and gritty in his persona. He’s angry, violent, looking to strike back physically at the criminal muck and mire which floods his city. He’ll mug the muggers, break the legbreakers. He’s closest to Spawn, who cameos in this series, with his dark-colored costume and violent tendencies. He lacks Spawn’s supernatural origin and abilities, sure…and, unlike Spawn, lacks an origin.


That central question–who is ShadowHawk?–drives these first issues. I should credit Valentino with that injection of creativity. Little about ShadowHawk as a character feels overly new or original–his trademark is to kick thugs in the spine, and he stops muggings and arsons just like any other superhero or vigilante is wont to do (literally, ShadowHawk stops an armored arsonist who calls himself "Arson," which is about as generic as if he beat up a thief who called himself "Robber"). You can easily paste his face next to guys like Spawn, the Punisher, Batman, and a dozen other grim-demeanored men in masks, and he’ll get lost in the ground. But that mystery gives the book somewhat of an additional hook.

We’re not talking The Long Halloween or Watchmen here, where a compelling central mystery twists and turns through layers of deceit, questioning, and surprising plot developments. Part of that is we only have four issues of the central series. Valentino does his best to sow suspicions about various characters–Guy A never happens to be around when ShadowHawk shows up, but Guy B seems to have greater motivation to become a vigilante–hoping to keep us guessing, and he’s not wrong. You do try to focus on this larger mystery surrounding the character, soak in the clues, piece together the plot. I think, by the end of the fourth issue, there’s enough info to create a decent hypothesis.


Problematically, Valentino’s mystery rarely extends beyond two suspects, Guy A and Guy B, so it isn’t that difficult to hypothesize. You basically have a 50/50 shot of guessing the guy under the mask, and by time the fourth issue wraps, you start to wonder if maybe a straightforward origin would’ve served the series better. Again, the mystery is a neat touch, but though it becomes the focus of the series, it lacks the complexity which makes for compelling reading. We don't get any defining moments for us to latch onto and support the character beyond him fighting on the side of the angels. No bird comes smashing through his front window, Batman-origin-style, for our hero to examine before swearing that, yes, Father, he will become a shadowhawk.

Valentino strives to create something different from his most obvious inspiration, and again, he kinda succeeds. It’s a little difficult gauging ShadowHawk’s complete character and motivations after just four issues, but this isn’t another billionaire dressed up in tights beating the tar outta guys who could use some extra TLC. The vigilante feels like he does have some personal stakes in his one-man war on crime, and his brutal brand of justice isn’t condoned by the police (leading to a cameo from Savage Dragon, who attempts to bring the armored hero in). He’s a fairly angry individual, and it’s not quite clear if this is Valentino introducing some internal conflict (i.e., will ShadowHawk learn that violence isn’t always the answer?) or taking the whole "violent vigilante" route to the edge of the abyss, similar to Spawn. It’s the 90s, right? Who doesn’t want to watch a dude kick the snot out of creeps and muggers for the sheer joy of kicking the tar outta creeps and muggers?


I was reminded of other narratives I’ve read recently–Mike Grell’s Longbow Hunters, even Invincible or Geoff Johns' Batman: Earth One trilogy–that re-frame the superhero/vigilante concept through a societal lens. What’s the purpose of a vigilante? What’s the benefit of having a dude who stops muggers and purse-snatchers? Longbow Hunters tackles the very real darkness of human indecency, showing through Green Arrow’s response a fictionalized method of taking down the worst kinds of people–Ollie’s methods are vicious, but you cheer on the heart of who he is. Likewise, Johns' work on Batman is steeped in this question, as are other takes on the Dark Knight, of who the character is–why is it necessary for Bruce Wayne to strap on a mask and cape every night? Why should Mark Grayson care to be a superhero once the "cool factor" of the flashy costume and freedom of flying clash with the stark reality of beating dudes into hamburger before they can wipe out a city full of people?

I think that’s part of what these initial issues are trying to reach–"Who is ShadowHawk?" is not just a question we’re supposed to ask about the identity of the character, but who he’s supposed to be as a hero. Maybe that question is answered more definitively later down the line. For now, ShadowHawk is a little repetitive, grousing about injustice when he isn’t breaking spines. Sure, it’s fun. Valentino employs a unique artistry angle which reminds me of Marvel’s line of high-quality graphic novels from the 80s and 90s, using different styles of penciling and colors from his Image Comics compatriots. So it looks unique. A small gaggle of criminals become a bit of a growing rogues gallery for ShadowHawk–here, if anywhere, the question of what kind of hero ShadowHawk is gets answered a tad more sufficiently, as these villains all have qualms against the hero for one reason or another. In those moments, we see the unintentional ramifications of ShadowHawk’s actions and question his methods briefly, leading me to wonder if Valentino’s really trying to show us his hero is just immature and violent and has to change down the line for the better. Think of Robert Pattinson’s Batman, who learned that being a symbol of hope accomplishes more than being a symbol of vengeance.


So the "meh" factor sticks. These initial issues aren’t nearly as unreadable as Youngblood, but they’re not as plot-driven as WildC.A.T.S. or as character-driven as Savage Dragon. Like with other series, it may just be I don’t have enough issues to fully appreciate Valentino’s concept and his scope for the character…but, I’ll admit, like with other series, I don’t feel the need to dig much deeper into ShadowHawk past these initial issues. The central mystery is a plus, even if it could be more compelling beyond "It’s probably one of these two guys we meet pretty early into the story." Again, we’re not talking about something as intriguing as "Who is Holiday?" or "Who is the Green Goblin?" It’s an okay enigma, and were ShadowHawk to do more than just kick people in the back, I’d probably care more than I do. So, as before, I’m not disappointed–it’s difficult to be underwhelmed by something you had no high expectations for to begin with, right? These issues exist. They don’t come out charging to "take back the night" as they defiantly claim, but they don’t slink back into the darkness either, tails tucked behind them.

—Tags: 1990s, 1992, 1993, Erik Larsen, Image Comics, Image Review-lution, Jim Lee, Jim Valentino, Mark Silvestri, Random Reviews, Rob Liefeld, ShadowHawk, Todd McFarlane, Whilce Portacio

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