Filing Cabinet of the Damned

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Rehabilitating the Lame

Seeing as how people dig my frisson of woo idea, I thought I’d go to that well one more time. Chewing over various characters’ woo-giving abilities in an effort to write another post, I thought of something. Possibly dumb, likely wrongheaded, but hey.

I think it’s possible to rehabilitate the nineties-era whipping boy and poster child of lame superheroes, Darkhawk.

No, really. It could work.

For those unfamiliar with the character, here’s the rundown, courtesy of the Wikipedia:
While spying on his father at an abandoned amusement park, teenager Chris Powell discovered a mysterious amulet that, with concentration, transformed him into a powerful android. Suspicious that his father, a policeman, was accepting bribes from a crime boss, Chris vowed to use the amulet as "an edge against crime."

Darkhawk's powers include "darkforce blasts" which emanate from the amulet on his chest, a small energy shield from the same source, a grappling claw on one arm, retractable gliding wings and night vision. Darkhawk's face, covered by a helmet, is intensely ugly or terrifying, a feature that can be used to stun enemies. When the android body was damaged, Chris could heal it almost instantly by transforming into his human form, and then back into his android form again (injuries to Chris' human form could not be healed this way). Darkhawk originally glided through the air, but later gained the power of flight…

Chris discovered that the source of his powers was a living vessel in deep space, where his and other Darkhawk bodies were stored and repaired. When Chris was Darkhawk, his human body was stored in the ship in the android's place

If’n you search online, you’ll see that a lot of comic fans regard Darkhawk as a symbol of bad nineties comics. I read the series back in yonder days, and I agree it wasn't great.

He has a lot of weird junk in his story, but what’s the essence? What’s the core of the character?

Darkhawk is a fusion of Captain Marvel (“Shazam!”) and Batman. That’s it. Darkhawk’s core appeal is “being a powerless teenage kid who can transform into a scary-ass killer robot superhero is cool.”

I think it could work, though striking the right tone would be a bear. Play up the powerlessness and confusion of Chris Powell with the terrifying appearance and kickassitude of his mysterious alter-ego. Chris goes from being scared to scaring, from being the powerless victim to the powerful avenger of wrongs.

It’s a very straightforward power/revenge fantasy, with the advantage of the main character remaining a kid. Batman required fifteen years of incredible training, a Nobel Laureate’s brain, and a fabulous fortune to get his revenge. Darkhawk required a “magic amulet.” That could be a plus for reader identification.

Imagine the ad for Darkhawk: The Movie. Chris Powell is the son of a dirty cop. His family is falling apart. His school life sucks and involves frequent beatings. Crime is rampant in his neighborhood. Then one day his father disappears and Chris finds a strange amulet. Smash cut to a scary vigilante with razor-edged wings flying around and kicking ass. Revenge on crooks! Revenge on bullying schoolmates! Muh-ha-ha-haaaa!!!

Not Proust, I grant you, but I think it could work. Teenage nerd and perennial victim can become a killer robot badass whenever he wants? You’ve got Big Action (“The Menacing Man-Mollusk is attacking downtown!”), Big Drama (“Dad’s a dirty cop and he's missing! The family’s falling apart! Stacey won’t talk to me!”), and, if desired, Big Komedy Laffs (as a nerdy teenage boy trying to act tough could be hilarious).

I think Darkhawk could be transformed from a punchline to a good character, consarn it.

To throw the topic open to the world: are there lamewad characters you think have promising woo-giving traits?

Who has the stuff to be big but never was, and why?


  • Warren Ellis has voiced a desire to do something with Darkhawk, actually. It might've just been on the Bad Signal, though.

    By Anonymous Toby S., at 4:05 PM  

  • I agree almost any comic charactor can be rehabilitated, but the question remains why do it? There are tons of good characters you can work with or create a new one. Your point is valid, but in most cases I would just move on.

    By Blogger Brett, at 8:07 PM  

  • It's like haiku - it induces creativity by confining you and forcing you to use what you have in inventive ways. Also, it keeps the copyright fresh.

    By Anonymous Toby S., at 8:33 PM  

  • There was something years ago about a proposed Lizard movie. I don't know if it could be done now as a separate entity from Spider-Man, but there could be potential there.
    The main visual element that I'd keep? The lab coat. Totally b-movie, but run up the drama with the wife and kid, where they're never sure if Doc Conners is himself inside the Lizard, or a creepy megalomaniac vying for world domination for reptiles, OR a drooling, bitey thing.
    Morbius should totally work in the Blade vein (boo!): take what works for film, ditch the parts that don't, like his horrible costume. Keep up the search for penance: he's a serial killer who is trying to stop, by curing himself. (Imagine the Hulk TV show, where at the end of every episode Banner was hitching out of town, but leaving three or four corpses behind.)
    Since Marvel's new film deal, it seems like they're going to be hitting the highlights, and not really worrying with sub b-listers like these two anymore. A shame.

    By Anonymous Chuck T., at 1:53 PM  

  • I think it’s possible to rehabilitate the nineties-era whipping boy and poster child of lame superheroes, Darkhawk.

    Well, of course. Any character can become great in the right hands: witness Alan Moore's work on various image titles in the mid-to-late nineties. Similarly, the greatest character can turn to crap in the wrong hands. There's no character, story or premise that's intrinsically wonderful or terrible. These are all just raw materials - it's just a matter of what you do with them.

    By Anonymous Moose N Squirrel, at 10:43 AM  

  • Yes, I know it's obvious. I've been reading comics a long time.

    How about "I think it's possible to rehabilitate Darkhawk without having to rework the central concept?"

    Take a pair of Moore's famous revamps: Miracleman and Swamp Thing.

    Miracleman: originally a British clone of Captain Marvel. Light and charming silliness about "boy becomes super-man." In Moore's hands, Miracleman was an extended riff on what superpowers would mean in the real world. A very different core.

    Swamp Thing: originally a man turned monster, seeking to regain his humanity. In Moore's hands, Swampy became a plant elemental grooving to nature and suchlike.

    My idea was that under the dross and dreck of Darkhawk, there was a kernel of an idea that was downright clever, a core notion that could have led to something much more. I don't think that could be said of all, or even many, characters.

    By Blogger Harvey Jerkwater, at 12:40 PM  

  • I demand a list of these so-called people who don't think that Darkhawk is the awesomest ever - so that I can personally run wild on them.

    Darkhawk is a great character. For proof just read the recent "League of Losers" arc in MARVEL TEAM-UP. It's such a waste that he's rarely used.

    I don't agree with your assessment of the character, though. He's not Captain Marvel/Batman. He's Captain Marvel/Spider-Man. That he's a scary, shoulder-pad wearin' guy with an Adjective+Noun name is merely a side effect of him being created in the nineties. Through and through he's an Everyman archetype. In the third issue or so it's pretty clearly stated with a Spider-Man team-up.

    He's more about Power and Responsibility than Vengeance or Justice. He's also a working class lad who has trouble balancing his heroing with things like dating and spending time with his family.

    The beauty of the character is that he's a Cosmic Everyman. He fits right in with street-level stories but he's also got tremendous power. He lasered the hell out of Ultron in RUNAWAYS, after all. There's all this potential there but it's squandered because, lord knows, the world needs 20 X-Men/Wolverine books.

    There are far, FAR worse characters from the late '80s to early '90s, also. There's a gulf of difference between Darkhawk and, for example, anything created by Rob Liefeld. Don't be hatin'.

    By Blogger Anthony Palmer, at 5:03 PM  

  • Heck, I had no idea there was more than one Darkhawk. It's sort of a bizarre riff on the Green Lantern Corps concept, with much story potential in itself.

    By Anonymous Chawunky, at 4:14 AM  

  • ...I've always dug Darkhawk.

    And Sleepwalker. He's even more awesome. "When average joe Rick Sheridan sleeps, he unleashes the weird fury of an alien with crazy powers! Sleepwalker!"

    By Blogger Bill Reed, at 1:18 AM  

  • I'd like to say this, IM A MASSIVE FAN of Darkhawk. Ive been reading comics for over 20 years now.

    The reason why I started reading this character was that every hero has some crappy tag line. My world sucks or spider-mans' damn clones. Batmans' back was broken. Superman died. Hal Jordan killing the Core, and so on...
    Darkhawk was the reason I wanted to be an artist. Also Greenlantern was another one, because they are almost a like.
    Kyle R. is considered my favorite Lantern of all time.
    Chris Powell was and will always be my Marvels "Green Lanturn". I will say that some of the ideas were a little out there, but over all 60 issues of killer reading. Now they have brought him back from just being a character rights one shot just showing him in a picture.
    They have giving him even more depth. With the Losers Club and in Marvels Team Up. Darkhawk can be one of Marvels answers into creating characters who have not been in the Marvel Mega of over done stuff. Take a look at Runaways and Marvels Team UP 2099. They have shown they can do it and do it well. Or would rather read something about Speed Ball then have to read the newest Xmen or god shall I say it Spider-Man.

    These are Marvels main heroes, but man are their stories over done. DC Comics has shown time and time again that their Second and 3rd stringers have more depth. Marvel has a chance to tap into there own characters instead of making the newest mutant team.

    Come Marvel wake up and smell the java. You have Speed Ball, Sleep Walker, Darkhawk, New Mutants from the 80's are more in tuned then the current line up you have. Im just saying give DarkHawk and your other 3rd stringers a chance. Kirkman is doing a killer job on Marvel Team Up and your Runaways is a runaway hit.


    By Blogger Clyde, at 4:54 AM  

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