Thursday, May 31, 2012

Graphic Novel Review: Shadowhawk Chronicles Volume 1

Image Comics has certainly had an interesting history since it made its way from the early 90's into today. In the 90's, comics took a bit of an odd turning point. Anti-heroes became the norm, everything was dark, and there wasn't usually any kind of deep or complex storyline involved; just anti-heroes kicking a lot of ass, with character proportions defying every law of physics known to man. Before Chew and The Walking Dead, we had a very different type of juggernaut on our hands. Along with the creators of Spawn, Youngblood, The Savage Dragon, and WildC.A.T.S., Jim Valentino created a series called Shawdowhawk. This title didn't originally succeed quite as well as the aforementioned. When I first saw a picture of what the character actually looked like, I immediately wondered if the lesser sales figures were actually justified. I mean, seriously; look at the guy.

You could say his appearance is like a cross between Wolverine and Batman, but it'd be hard to label that as a bad thing all the same. Most characters in the early days of Image Comics were very similar to the creators' works with previous companies like DC and Marvel. Being an Image Comics title from the 90's, I was expecting cheesy one-liners, an average story with some decent fight scenes, and maybe even one or two twists I wouldn't see coming. I'd say I ended up getting a little more out of this title than I expected to. This book collects Shadowhawk #1-4, Shadowhawk II #1-3, Shadowhawk III #1-4, Shadowhawk #12-18 (don't even ask about the format...), his first appearance in Youngblood #2, and a few other bonus issues, exerts and sketches. One thing to note however, is that the reason they were able to fit all of these issues into one book for the $19.99 retail price (I got it for less than half of that), was the decision to reprint the issues in black and white format. I didn't feel I'd be missing out much without the colors in this case, especially since this was for a series that I didn't even know if I was going to like or not.

The first thing that interested me about Shadowhawk upon starting, was the fact that we don't actually learn his true identity until about 6 or 7 issues in. This was a very ballsy move on Valentino's part, and I'm actually kind of glad he did things in this style. The first immediate hook for me was to keep reading and find out just who this guy was, and why he went out every night, breaking the spine of every street thug he encountered.

Even more credit is due to Valentino here, as once I finally found out who the masked vigilante was, I was even more engrossed to find out about his past. I've heard just about every superhero origin story to the point where nothing really impresses me much anymore. I have to say that the back story of this character deviated just a little bit from the norm, and actually made me even more fascinated by his motivations for justice. While I'm not going to spoil any of these details, I will point out the fact that this guy is far from "super." He is as human as human can get, with human flaws and emotions, as well as human weaknesses. I actually found myself feeling sorry for the man quite a few times before getting to the end of this volume.

This series is far from perfect however. I understand the idea of writing to make your characters appear to talk the way it would sound in real life (Brian Michael Bendis comes to mind), but some of the bad grammar was just too much for my eyes. I also thought that the cameos from other Image Comic titles could have used some work, especially Spawn's appearance. This may have been one of the most pointless guest appearances I've ever seen in a comic book, as he literally just stood there the whole time, uttered a few words to Shawdowhawk about protecting the city, and then left. It would have been one thing if any of the dialogue here was memorable. No such luck. At least when Savage Dragon made an appearance, we got to see an awesome fight between the two of them, and for a reason that wasn't completely stupid or forced on the reader. This title also suffers a lot of the same tropes as most comics from Image did at the time. The human anatomy is disconcerting, the dialogue is sometimes laughable when trying to sound serious, some fight scenes are incomprehensible, and not many other things aside from what I mentioned in the opening paragraphs really separate it from the rest.

If we had to make a scale of how I would rate this series, I'd put it above the likes of titles like Youngblood and maybe even WildC.A.T.S. I still put Spawn and Savage Dragon above this one however. All in all, I'm glad I got to finally read these earlier stories in a format that was affordable. It may have not aged particularly well for its time, but with the early Image Comics titles, you know what to expect, and I think for once, that's more of a service to this than a disservice. I'm not generally a fan of many 90's comics, so relaying that I got some enjoyment out of this title is really saying something in my particular case. The fact is I didn't want to put it down until I was finished. I can't argue with that.

7 Broken Spines Out Of 10

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