Real Talk: Supreme Power’s Nighthawk

February 17th, 2007 by | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Let me tell you a story.

This had to have been back when I was in the fifth grade, in Mrs Washington’s class. There’s this program called DARE, Drug Abuse Resistance Education. Basically, they explain to you that you should narc on your friends if you catch them with drugs and that if you try weed just one time you’ll immediately find yourself toothless, hooked on crack, in prison, insane, and stupid.

From Wikipedia:

The U.S. Department of Education concluded in 2003 that the DARE program is ineffective and now prohibits its funds from being used to support it.[5] The U.S. Surgeon General’s office, the National Academy of Sciences,[5] and the Government Accounting Office also concluded that the program is sometimes counterproductive in some populations, with those who graduate from DARE later having higher rates of drug use. Studies by Dr. Dennis Rosenbaum [6], and by the California Legislative Analyst’s office [7] found that DARE graduates were more likely than others to drink alcohol, smoke tobacco and use illegal drugs.

Sorry, the mean-spiritedness is just deafening sometimes. I’ll do better, I promise.

Anyway, our DARE officer was a cop we called Officer Wood. At some point during the class, I ended up asking him a question about the Black Panthers. I wasn’t quite as “conscious” back then as I am now, but I knew a little bit about a little something. I even used to have one of those leather Africa medallions. I know that some of you folks know what I’m talking about. I was curious as to what Wood would say.

“The Black Panthers were worse than the Klan,” he told me.

That’s stuck with me in the years since then. He’s practically taken on bogeyman status in my head. I realized that if you don’t know what you’re talking about, you should keep your mouth shut. Arguing from a position of ignorance makes you an idiot, and no one likes idiots. If you want to speak, you’d better know first.

Other than that, though, I realized how perception informs things. I doubt that Officer Wood knew what he was saying. The Panthers, like Malcolm X, have been villainized in the years since they were active. They weren’t about killing white people, or even hating them. They were “The Black Panther Party for Self-Defense” and were an anti-police brutality group. They weren’t angels, granted, but they weren’t the frigging Klan, either. To Officer Wood, though, they were.

This brings me to Nighthawk, from J Michael Stracyzinski’s Supreme Power. Supreme Power sometimes feels like kind of a retread of JMS’s other series, Rising Stars, at times, but it remains one of his better works.

Nighthawk, though. Hm. Problematic.

Nighthawk is, to put a blunt point on it, the Batman analogue in Supreme Power. His name is Kyle Richmond and his parents were killed by racists. He’s a very, very rich man who really doesn’t like white people all that much.


Let me pull back a bit and give you some backround. The first meeting between Kyle and Hyperion, the Superman-alike, featured Hyperion pointing out that Nighthawk only helped out the black people who were being attacked by white people, even going so far as to ignore or simply miss the crimes going on that were unrelated to black people. Meanwhile, a few white people were busy defacing a black church right below where Hyperion and Nighthawk were standing.


Hyperion then went on to explain that he doesn’t see things in terms of color, because his parents raised him like that. He’s colorblind. Kyle’s response?



After Hyperion, Blur (the black speedster), and Nighthawk take down a serial killer, Nighthawk gets angry that they just gave the guy over to the government. He proceeds to trot out Malcolm X’s House Negro vs Field Negro speech, describing Blur as a house negro because he feels that Blur doesn’t do enough with his powers and/or wasn’t willing to kill the guy.

Okay. Seriously. Nighthawk isn’t a character. Nighthawk is a strawman. He is Officer Wood’s vision of a Black Panther. Nighthawk is the guy who just read the first half of The Autobiography of Malcolm X, listened to some dead prez, and is all high off slavery, talking about Kill White and all that nonsense. He’s an Issues Character, who gets created so that some one can make a point. I read a comment on a blog a couple weeks ago, back when Gail Simone was getting slammed for a joke in All-New Atom, that said “White people shouldn’t write non-whites ever.” I’m paraphrasing, but not by much. Kyle Richmond is that guy, and that guy is a complete idiot with no cred whatsoever.

Nighthawk is presented as an otherwise intelligent guy, and I refuse to believe that a man intelligent enough to quote Malcolm X is going to be the kind of guy to take the positions that Nighthawk has taken. That’s foolish.

Nighthawk is a racist, is what this boils down to. If he’s fighting crime selectively, as depicted by JMS and Gary Frank, he’s a racist and a scumbag. It’s ugly.

I don’t like this character trait at all. It’s just affirming a couple ugly stereotypes about pro-black black folks (pro-black doesn’t even remotely mean anti-white) and it honestly isn’t even good writing. He’s just completely unlikeable. I’m a guy who bumps Immortal Technique and dead prez on a daily basis. I know ugly and sometimes stupid politics. Nighthawk is beyond the pale.

It’s a shame, because, Gary Frank’s sometimes grotesque art aside, Supreme Power had some interesting stuff going on. I’ve long had an interest in a world ruled by authoritarian superheroes (“You are going to get along or else“), and SP was creeping toward that.

It’s telling that the stories about Nighthawk that I’m digging the most leave this racism out. Daniel Way and Steve Dillon’s Supreme Power – Nighthawk is an excellent little miniseries. It’s the story of Nighthawk versus a combination of John Wayne Gacy and The Joker called Whiteface. The villain’s name aside, it’s wonderfully free of the crap characterization. Nighthawk is portrayed as a hero, rather than a jerk. There’s a definite racial element to the story, but it isn’t overriding.

It’s obvious that he works the inner city. The book opens on a scene that wouldn’t have been out of place in the main series, but it’s lacking the stuff that bugs me about Nighthawk. It’s just about a horrible man and the man who’s going to put him in the ground. Here’s the introductory sequence from the first chapter. It’s a pretty good summation of how I like to see Nighthawk.

funny01.jpg funny02.jpg funny03.jpg funny04.jpg funny05.jpg

He should be a gritter Batman with a focus on doing right for everyone. A lot of superheroes spend time saving white people. It’s sad, but true. I like the idea of a hero who’s beat is the inner city. If Daredevil can do it, so can Nighthawk. I just don’t like the window dressing that’s been put on him.

Squadron Supreme: Nighthawk vs Hyperion is another good portrayal. Marc Guggenheim and Paul Gulacy are telling a story that’s directly related to the carnage in Darfur. Nighthawk sees that there is a problem and the inaction on the world stage. He first contemplates pouring money into it, until he’s informed that the cash would just go to the wrong hands and end up funding the violence.

Something has to be done. He gets his costume, he goes to Darfur, and he begins killing those responsible. No questions asked, no quarter given. He plants a piece of Hyperion’s ship in Darfur where he knows it’ll be found, in what appears to be an attempt to provoke a very public conflict and force an intervention.

That is Nighthawk. “By any means necessary.”

The caricature he’s been in the other SP-related books is a joke, in my mind. I can understand a little resentment, but Nighthawk’s behavior was beyond the pale. He’s ostensibly a hero, so he should act like it.

Nighthawk’s got potential. You could tell some killer stories with him, and some people have. I just want to see more of that, rather than this:


Make him pro-black, not anti-white. He isn’t some high school kid high off Public Enemy and KRS-1 who didn’t really understand them at all. He’s an adult. He’s supposed to be smart. Write him like it. The good points that he has are buried under ignorant bile. That’s not the business and that’s not cool. He can be much, much more.

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8 comments to “Real Talk: Supreme Power’s Nighthawk”

  1. I don’t know. I can see what you’re getting at, but I think Nighthawk’s awful characterization is the point. He may be smart, but his point of view is fucked up. Really, I think of him almost like a less extreme Magneto with no powers. Hey, doesn’t he get the wrongly-given Malcolm X label too?

    Look at the way Nighthawk looks at Hyperion when they first meet. The way he perceives Hyperion based on his speech. He isn’t acting this way because he’s stupid. He’s acting this way because he’s sick.

    To me, if there was ever a point in the current Squadron Supreme, it’s that everybody is royally fucked up except for Blur. He’s made a couple mistakes, but he’s the closest thing the story has to someone being pure-hearted (except Amphibian, I guess). Hyperion is an innocent man who’s being driven towards darkness and insanity. Nighthawk means well, but he’s totally lost in his own trauma. Blur is trying his hardest to keep both of them on the level.

    While Hyperion is moving closer and closer to Hyperiondickery, Nighthawk is actually showing signs of cleaning up his act. That’s the way I see it. His experiences as a crimefighter and as an ally are subtly changing his views. Look at Squadron Supreme #6, also written by JMS. His close-mindedness is wearing off. He’s taking down a black pimp and tells the guy that he’s is doing more damage to the community than a hundred Klansmen.

    Even still, there’s work to be done. Blur asks him to join the team, but Nighthawk refuses because his domain is Chicago. Blur’s reaction?

    “Then maybe you ought to broaden your perspective a little and live in the world.”

    I like the current Nighthawk because of this. He’s black and he’s a hero, but by God, he’s horrible. He’s one of the worst role models you can ask for. To put such a flawed black character in a comic like that is extremely ballsy for JMS (ten times as much if Blur wasn’t there), but at least he’s developing. He’s improving and according to the Hyperion miniseries, he may be the only hero we’ll have left one day.

    Also, Marvel cancelled Squadron Supreme right before the Redstone fight. That’s the real bullshit of the topic.

  2. Yeah, you do have a point, especially with the Magneto comparison.

    I hadn’t even realized that all the team on Squadron Supreme is damaged goods except for Blur and the big dumb fat guy. Possibly even Arcanna, but she’s got that whole “Might destroy the world” thing going for her.

    It’d be nice if SS was on some kind of regular publishing schedule. Give it to Marc Guggenheim, he’s doing a good job with the NvsH miniseries. I figure that part of the problem is judging him before his character arc is done, which at this rate will take forever.

  3. Solid character analysis, bruh. It almost makes me wonder if Nighthawk is being setup to do the 180 and be the end all type hero. You dig? Sure, the brutha has got tunnel vision forreal, but, as things progress and he starts to stretch his mentals, he truly becomes ‘the hero’. Maybe his real story is about change from within. It’s a power move to portray my man as messed up as he is — like T’Challa thats been brainwashed and a smaller kingdom to boot. Here’s to hopin’ there is a purpose to my mans essence. He’s over the top right now, but, again, all of that could be about change. Nice writeup. I’ll holla.

  4. If JMS ever actually speeds up his story telling to even get to the point where the original series STARTS, then I’m betting Nighthawk will be less of a bad caricture and more of a heroic character. That is if the strawman personality is intentional and not just bad writing…

    Given that JMS decided to turn the basically heroic Redstone into a psychopath I’m unsure if Supreme Nighthawk would have had the same heroic ending as in the original…

  5. You don’t understand, LurkerWithout. There’s nothing to speed up. The main Squadron Supreme series has been deep-sixed. In the middle of a fight scene cliffhanger. While two mini-series about Squadron Supreme are going on.

    Right when it was going somewhere too :/

  6. I hadn’t heard that. Well, it saves me the trouble of debating every issue whether to drop the book. Still this gives me flashbacks to the cancellation of “Stormwatch: Team Achilles”…

  7. Nighthawk really is representative of how Godawful Supreme Power really is. It pretends to explore deep concepts while barely skimming the surface. JMS has, AFAIK, never given any insight to Richmond’s life before his parents’ murder and his first appearance as an adult in SP. He’s a straw character all right.

    I had no idea Nighthawk was meant to be doing other things besides beating up white supremacists until the Way/Dillon mini. That was cool; he was fighting crime in mainly black neighborhoods and still had the unsettling standoffish attitude but there seemed to be an actual mind behind it. And he’s even more intersting in Guggenheim’s mini.

  8. For the most part, I agree with you, although I disagree with the following:

    re: “Nighthawk is presented as an otherwise intelligent guy, and I refuse to believe that a man intelligent enough to quote Malcolm X is going to be the kind of guy to take the positions that Nighthawk has taken. That’s foolish.”

    Even dumb people can quote (and, especially, misinterpret) someone else.