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Comic Book / Shadowhawk

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He's the best there is at what he... Oh wait, sorry. Wrong guy.

Shadowhawk was one of the original seven comic lines produced by Image Comics, written by Jim Valentino. The titular character first appeared in a back-up story in Youngblood, issue two.

The first series followed Paul Johnstone, an African-American district attorney who refused to fix a case for mobsters and was infected with HIV, which later developed into fullblown AIDS. Despite this, he refused to give up and took up the path of a vigilante, forming an alliance with a suspended female cop and using a combat exoskeleton and special drugs to try and slow the infection and give himself the strength to fight crime. Eventually, the disease killed him.

The second series revealed that Paul was merely the host of a "Spirit of Justice" and this entity later chooses a successor in the form of a young high school student named Eddie Collins.

This comic book series provides examples of:

  • Animal-Themed Superbeing: Downplayed. Aside from his name, the hawk motifs are pretty subtle.
  • Anti-Hero: The first Shadowhawk would shatter the spines of criminals, so as to ensure that they would be punished "properly". He mellowed out towards the end of his lifespan.
  • Arch-Enemy: Hawk's Shadow is the closest thing that Paul Johnstone as Shadowhawk has to one. They clash repeatedly throughout his storyline, and Hawk's Shadow is the final foe that he faces before he succumbs to his AIDS and ultimately dies in Shadowhawk #18.
  • Cain and Abel: It was Paul Johnstone's younger half-brother, Hojo, who got Paul in the mob's eyes and consequently got him infected with HIV when Paul refused to fix a case for the mob, all because Hojo was desperate for a hit of crack. It's downplayed in that Hojo didn't have anything particular against his brother, he was just that messed up from his drug addiction.
  • Clothes Make the Superman: The second Shadowhawk gets a skin-tight outfit that increases his strength, speed and stamina, which manifests when he puts on the Helmet of Huru (called "Nommo").
  • Costume Evolution: Paul Johnstone's Shadowhawk armor in the first series constantly changes designs in between issues, which is justified In-Universe as Paul constantly updates and experiments his armor to cope with the disease ravaging his body.
  • Cowboy Cop: Captain Frakes in the original Shadowhawk stories, who hires first The Savage Dragon and then a bounty-hunting psycho named Slaughter to try and bring in Shadowhawk.
  • Crossover:
  • Cruel Mercy: Shadowhawk's rationale for crippling his victims instead of killing them is that a broken spine will let them experience the suffering and torment they've inflicted on their victims, whereas death would be just a release.
  • Enemy Mine:
    • When the Mle Trois between Shadowhawk and the already-squabbling Regulators in issue 10 brings down the building where Vort-X's infant son is supposed to be, they immediately stop fighting and work to save him. In the next issue, they all travel down into the sewers beneath the city to rescue him from the cult of the Liquifier, and Blackjak sincerely thanks Shadowhawk for his help in saving the kid before they part ways.
    • When Hawk's Shadow attacks both Shadowhawk and Chapel, learning that Shadowhawk is also an African-American leads to Chapel immediately helping Shadowhawk to fight off the white supremacist and tell him everything he knows about
  • Even Evil Has Loved Ones:
    • Regulator member Vortex/Vort-X, the only member of the Regulators who bears any grudge against Shadowhawk, is his Arch-Enemy because of this trope. Really a Puerto Rican girl named Tajana Juarez, she sought the aid of the crimelord Max Boldd (aka Vendetta) because Shadowhawk crippled her brother Jaime.
    • Hawk's Shadow, the psychotic serial-killing white supremacist, has an elderly but enormously racist mother who loves him very much and whom he loves in return.
  • Even Evil Has Standards: Even Blackjak, the Flying Brick muscle-for-hire, is disgusted when he learns the Underdwellers kidnap babies to feed to their "god", the Liquifier, threatening to kill the high priest with his bare hands.
  • Evil Counterpart: Hawk's Shadow, a racist lunatic who believes the Shadowhawk name belongs to him. Unaware that Shadowhawk is African-American, he assumes they share a goal at first, because he mistook Shadowhawk's attacks on violent criminals as being targeted at African- and Latin-Americans. Shadowhawk violently corrects him by beating him to a pulp before showing Hawk's Shadow that he's a black man.
  • Failure Is the Only Option: Absolutely nothing that Shadowhawk tries will cure his AIDS. Having Voodoo heal him with her powers? Won't work. Use Brain Uploading into one of Spartan's spare synthetic bodies? He goes berserk and starts trying to kill everybody, forcing them to transfer him back into his original body. Seek a few drops of Supreme's super-powered blood as a miracle cure? Supreme has gone off the rails and would rather kill Shadowhawk than let him have his blood. Not even Physical God Horus, the powerful Beatnik sorcerer Johnny Beyond, or the borderline Reality Warper Spawn can heal him. Spawn's failure is at least justified in that his power comes from Black Magic and so would not be conducive to healing, but there's no justification for any of the other cures failing, other than the fact that the plot mandates it.
  • Fish out of Temporal Water: Issue #6 of the original Shadowhawk run contains a teaser mini-comic called "U.S. Male", who is describe as "what if, like Captain America, a male superhero from 1943 wound up in New York in 1993?"
  • Foreshadowing: Paul Johnstone's failure to mesh with Spartan's spare synthetic body, which is shown in his final issue (#18), heralds its transformation into the Killer Robot called Justice, which kicks off the five-issue Shadowhunt arc.
  • Gender-Blender Name: Max Boldd sounds like a male's name - in fact, the crimeboss also called Vendetta is a woman.
  • Gone Horribly Right: In issue #14 of the first Shadowhawk's story, it's established that in the Image universe, A.I.D.S is actually a bio-weapon engineered by the Soviet Mad Scientist known as Comrade Cockroach.
  • Handicapped Badass: The first Shadowhawk was dying of A.I.D.S, yet still went toe-to-toe with the likes of The Savage Dragon and similar superfreaks.
  • Has a Type: In issue #12 of the first series, it's established that AIDS proliferated amongst the African community because of the "taste" for African women possessed by the Russian agent who was made the first host to the prototype virus.
  • Heroic Sacrifice: Shadowhawk chooses to leave the Enclave and its special healing herbs that can put his AIDS into remission rather than allow his presence to plunge the Many into a civil war.
  • Hollywood Acid: The first "freak" that Shadowhawk faces in the original series is the Liquifier, a mutant monstrosity that feeds by dissolving victims with acid and drinking the liquified flesh.
  • I Work Alone: Subverted. The first Shadowhawk not only actively enjoyed fighting alongside the Wild C.A.T.s (WildStorm) and Young Blood, but lamented that his desire to find a cure had kept him from ever being able to join a superheroing team.
  • Jerkass Has a Point: In the epilogue for Shadowhawk issue #14, Horus observes that he feels a great truth in what Shadowhawk said to them before he left, and laments the team's failure that day, reminding them that they failed to find the infected assistant whose sexual escapades in Africa will give rise to the plague of AIDS.
  • Laser-Guided Karma: Hojo's drug addiction gets him killed off very early into the first series, when he ends up dying of an overdose. It's karmic in that Paul's suffering can be laid entirely on Hojo's decision to get into cocaine back when he was a big shot economist on Wall Street.
  • Let's You and Him Fight: When Shadowhawk first goes to investigate reports of a government cure for AIDS in issue #12 of the original series, he bumps into Chapel and the two immediately start fighting.
  • Made of Evil: The AIDS virus is presented as this. Absolutely nothing can save you once you're infected. It's even personified as a demonic presence infesting Paul Johnstone which both Voodoo and Johnny Beyond try and fail to exorcise in an attempt to cure him.
  • Moral Myopia:
    • Vort-X wants to avenge her brother Jaime, despite the fact he was a violent criminalnote .
    • Hojo has been so messed up by his drug addiction that he feels no shame in hustling people or exploiting his own brother, showing not the slightest bit of guilt over his involvement in Paul's contracting AIDS.
  • My God, What Have I Done?: After he is impeached for recruiting J.P. Slaughter to try and catch Shadowhawk, Captain Frakes is so horrified with himself that he blows his head off with his own shotgun.
  • Pay Evil unto Evil: Paul Johnstone's modus operandi; he only targets criminals he catches in the act of committing violent crimes, predominantly armored robbery, rape and attempted murder, and he breaks their spines to ensure that no matter what the justice system decides, they will never be capable of hurting people again.
  • Poorly-Disguised Pilot: For The Others (1995).
  • Power Armor: The first Shadowhawk and his "hawk-themed" exoskeleton, which augmented his strength and agility (especially vital as his disease ate away at both) and covered him in bullet-proof armor plating, as well as having wrist-mounted retractile spikes to use as melee weapons and grappling hooks, with infrared lenses in the helmet.
  • "The Reason You Suck" Speech: Downplayed, but after the Tomorrow Syndicate stop him from executing Comrade Cockroach for creating the AIDS virus, and they call him out on his brutality (especially the "break the spines of criminals" thing), Shadowhawk retorts that he is simply fighting in the only way he can that will have an impact in the harsher, more brutal age in which he lives.
    Shadowhawk: "Heroic? My god you people are so naive. You live in a world where super-villains seek some abstract concept of world domination. So you do a meaningless dance with one-another that never amounts to much more than property destruction, and nothing is ever resolved. In my world things are different. The bad guys kill. Usually they kill innocents. Gangs of kids rule the streets by intimidation, selling drugs and violence. My methods may seem harsh by your standards... but we had to change, those of us who seek justice. We had to get tougher, more violent, just to survive, let alone to try and beat them."
    Horus: "Then what, pray tell, is the difference between Good and Evil on your world?"
    Shadowhawk: "My world isn't black and white, Horus, but, rather, shades of gray... but the difference is the same in my world as it is in yours. They prey on the weak and innocent, we try to protect them... even at the cost of our own lives! In that, we're not very different at all!"
  • Retcon: Between the first and second Shadowhawk.
  • Retroactive Legacy: Even before the Retcon of Shadowhawks thoughout history, Paul took the name from a previous superhero (a parody of the Silver Age Batman). This led to the SA Shadow-Hawk's ex-sidekick becoming Hawk's Shadow.
  • Required Spinoff Crossover: The Others (1995), a super-hero team of people who seek to guard their hidden homeland, debut in issue #15 of the original series, where readers were encouraged to follow their upcoming series.
  • Shout-Out: In the first issue of The New Shadowhawk, police captain Arturo Rieves has a nightmare in which he is confronted by four psychotic "reimaginings" of Shadowhawk - Shadowkid, Iron Hawk, Shadowkill and Hawkborg - who are clearly based on the four "Replacement Supermen" from The Death of Superman.
  • Villainous Lineage: Issue #6 of the original Shadowhawk's stories reveals that Hawk's Shadow is coming from a family tradition of white supremacism; he references his mother's teachings being his guiding light, and one panel features a photo of the Ku Klux Klan in uniform hanging proudly on the wall.
  • Wolverine Claws: Shadowhawk's armor sports a pair of short, talon-like blades on the back of each wrist.
  • Xtreme Kool Letterz: Regulator member Vortex's name was changed to Vort-X for unknown reasons; theories range from trying to make her "cool" to a case of copyright infringement.
  • Yank the Dog's Chain: In issue #15 of the original series, Shadowhawk's AIDS sickness is temporarily cured by the special herbs cultivated within the Enclave of the Many, but the civil unrest his presence provokes causes him to make a Heroic Sacrifice and leave, unwilling to have the destruction of this peaceful, Eden-like society on his head.
  • Your Approval Fills Me with Shame: In the end of issue #7 of the first series, Shadowhawk is somewhat unsure of being set free by an approving Slaughter after he explained his goal to the man. On the one hand, it's nice to feel vindicated that somebody else believes his crusade is just. On the other hand, that man is a self-professed psychopath bounty hunter who just crippled one of his friends by shooting out her kneecaps.