With Marvel Legacy representing a ‘return to form’ for the publisher, every title chosen for the initiative could be said to represent part of the company’s history they were looking to reconnect with. For books like “Shang-Chi, Master of Kung Fu,” “Tales of Suspense,” “Power Pack,” “Dazzler,” I could see what Marvel was going for. Tying in to upcoming media, calling back to a freer time for the House of Ideas, you name it. But “Darkhawk?” That one’s not so easy to pin down.
The character is back, though; first in a oneshot that’s also the 51st issue of his ongoing series 22 years after the previous issue hit stands (because Marvel Legacy numbering!) and now in a four-issue miniseries running under the “Infinity Countdown” banner. To help me make sense of Darkhawk’s place in Marvel, then and now, we reached out to the Darkhawk writing team of Chad Bowers & Chris Sims.
You’ve both mentioned your love of the character in previous interviews. He came from a period in Marvel history where the company was actually cranking out ‘legacy’ characters: USAgent, Thunderstrike, and War Machine for the Big Three of Cap, Thor, and Iron Man, for example. Darkhawk didn’t have such an obvious precedent but clearly came about from somebody throwing one part Nova, one part Captain Marvel, and one part ROM in a blender with a heaping cup of 90’s grit and just let fly.
Given that, what made you such fans back in the day, and what do you think has kept him hanging around the Marvel U over the years to be used now? (Unlike, say, Sleepwalker . . .)
Chris Sims: It’s funny that you mention ROM, Nova, and Captain Marvel. I think those are all pieces of Chris Powell’s DNA for sure, but Chad and I have always thought of him as the Spider-Man of the ‘90s. He’s in that same legacy as guys like Nova, the teenager who stumbles into this great power. The big difference is that that his comes in the form of an alien Terminator armor with Wolverine claws and a grappling hook, and instead of accidentally letting Uncle Ben die, he finds out his dad’s a crooked cop. That’s a pretty great premise even before you get to the space stuff!
And hey, don’t count out Sleepwalker. It wasn’t that long ago that Rick Sheridan was an Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. teaming up with Carol Danvers!
Chad Bowers: I joke about this a lot, but that “Heroes for the ‘90s” Marvel house ad made a big impression on me as a kid. I still remember getting really excited about the idea that, “finally, Marvel was making something for ME!” Darkhawk, of course, along with New Warriors and Deathlok and a few other titles, was a huge part of what I loved about that campaign, and I think he was the only wholly original character in the bunch, which was maybe the biggest draw for me. There’s always something really cool about getting in on the ground floor with a character, but Darkhawk, unlike Spider-Man, came out of the gate full of secrets and ominous destinies, and that blew my mind. Hell, “the new guy with a ton of backstory” IS the recipe for every successful 90s character, and Darkhawk is one of the earliest examples of that (Sleepwalker, too).
As for what’s kept Darkhawk around, I think there’s probably two answers. There’s no getting around it — I think his popularity, originally, is primarily due to the fact that he just looked dope as hell on the page! Like Chris said, he’s basically black-costume ROM, and that’s never not going to make me smile! Like Ghost Rider in the 70s, Darkhawk had a look about him that appealed to our sort of Power Rangers, video game-obsessed generation, and there’s zero wrong with that. Comics are supposed to be cool, right?
As for his modern appeal, it’s apt and pretty easy to compare Darkhawk to something like Adam Warlock under Starlin, in that the concept started as one thing, and that thing was cool in and of itself right out of the gate. But as shared universe comics go, other creators come along and take a kernel of something already there and add to the mythology, or in Darkhawk’s case, create a mythology. I’m not sure if it was C.B. Cebulski, or Abnett and Lanning, or Bill Rosemann — probably it’s all of them — but they realized that, on Earth, it’s hard for Darkhawk to be much more than another Spider-Man wannabe. But in space, he can be something extraordinary!Continued below
And I always thought Nova was initially a take of Peter Parker as a Green Lantern, so I guess there are legacies at work in these characters, either implicitly or explicitly.
CS: Yeah, one of the things we’ve talked about a lot, going all the way back to when we used to work at a comic shop together, is how Marvel has a tendency to try out a new spin on Spider-Man every few years. Nova was absolutely one of those, and I think that’s one of the reasons that you see him connected to Darkhawk so often. They’ve got that weird sci-fi teen hero connection that helps them to relate to each other. They could have a team-up in New York or on Alpha Centauri and it would all make sense.
CB: That’s true. And both characters, like Spider-Man, have been put through the paces and come out the other side all kinds of changed. But they always manage to find their way back to the core of what made them popular in the first place, which I feel we’re doing now with Darkhawk.
Do you think the best Darkhawk stuff has been the material embracing the space/Nova aspects (like “Realm of Kings”) or the more down-to-earth parts (like “The Loners”)?
CB: Narratively, it’s impossible to separate the two. A big part of what I love about Darkhawk, especially the modern iteration of the character, is the versatility. Chris Powell’s a street level guy who sometimes goes into space and fights gods and stuff. He’s got a family life and a career that’s very important to him, but he’s also bound to this living, galactic fighter jet that gives him an edge against all things cruel and oppressive. And there’s the mystery aspects, too. What’s the history of the Raptors? Who put them in Null Space? (Questions we try to answer in the “Infinity Countdown: Darkhawk” mini, BTW.) Darkhawk’s an onion you can’t stop peeling, because there’s always something cooler waiting below the surface.
CS: Exactly. Most of my favorite characters have this idea of adaptability to them, that you can easily throw them into a variety of different kinds of stories. Darkhawk has that built in from jump street, and a lot of those mysteries — what is the amulet? Why does it exist? — are there right in that first issue.
I have some process questions about putting together a mini like this, but before we dive into those, where do we find Powell at the start of “IC: Darkhawk” #1?
CS: When we wrote “Darkhawk” #51 for the Marvel Legacy event, with the amazing Kev Walker and Java Tartaglia on art, one of the things we really wanted to do was put new readers and existing fans on the same level for getting back into him. We told a story where he hadn’t been Darkhawk for a while, and when he finally bonded with Razor again, it put him in the position of being more powerful and more confident than ever before. When we start with “Infinity Countdown,” that’s the Chris we’re looking at: confident, dedicated, and ready to take the fight to the “Raptors” who have been causing trouble all over the galaxy.
CB: So this is probably the most mature we’ve seen Chris Powell. He’s a little older, he’s got a career, a fiancé, and he’s got his power back… and a new mission — rid the galaxy of the Fraternity of Raptors at all costs. Like Spidey, Chris’s motivation comes from a sense of responsibility and atonement. The best Darkhawk stories keep that front and center, and with the one-shot, that’s something we very much wanted to bring back into focus.
CS: One of Chad’s ideas in the one-shot was seeing Chris become a cop, trying to be one of the good guys to make up for his father being on the take. That really came through with the idea of legacy, that Chris’s defining feature is that he’s always trying to make up for someone else going bad, whether it’s his dad, the original Raptors, or Talonar’s Raptor cult out in space. He has this desire to be the better version of the people that let him down, and for good or worse, he’s got the confidence to think he can do it.Continued below
Giving Darkhawk a four-issue mini, and one tied to their summer event series, strikes me as a significant push on Marvel’s part to get some eyeballs on the character. When you guys were approached for the mini, was Editorial giving you fairly concrete story goals for you to hit and get Darkhawk to a certain place? Or was it more like, “Do what you want as long as he ends up in X”?
CB: I think Marvel wants eyes on Darkhawk, especially after the hugely positive response we got with the Marvel Legacy one-shot! But as far as being given story goals from editorial, there was none of that really. We had some boundaries related to what was happening in the core Infinity Countdown mini-series, but that mostly related to where we started things and not where we needed to end up. As far as I know, Darkhawk’s future is pretty wide open, and hopefully in our hands for a little while longer if things go well with this mini.
CS: We were both honestly blown away by the response to the Legacy one-shot. We knew that we love Darkhawk, but hearing from so many readers that they actually want more not only felt great as creators, but gave us the push we needed to go big and bold with stuff in the new series. Believe us, it’s going to get way more wild than you might expect.
Maybe tied to that question, how much were you both made aware of the plans for the event as a whole? Was it like being an actor on Infinity War where you only got pages for the scenes you were in? If so, how did that affect your writing process?
CS: With books like “Infinity Countdown: Darkhawk,” or even the “X-Men ‘92” tie-in to “Secret Wars,” our goal is to make a comic that’ll be rewarding whether you’re reading the core series or not. That said, we obviously need to know what’s going on in the larger story so that we can make things interesting, if only because we need to know whether or not we can use certain characters. You might’ve heard, but the Guardians of the Galaxy, for example, are going to be pretty busy over the next few months, so even if they’ve been the ones dealing with the Raptors up to now, they’ve got other things to worry about. For that we get to see the bigger picture when we start out, and watch as it’s all fleshed out from there.
Speaking of writing process, you’ve been working as a writing team for more than a few years now. What’s it take to get a Sims/Bowers script from the ether to the editor, and what do you think makes you work as well together as you do?
CB: We’ve known each other a long time, you know? We’ve read a lot of the same stuff, and share so many of the same influences, that we basically know what the other is thinking, so that’s always been a plus. Sounds pretty romantic, I know, and I’d love to say we’ve refined our process over the years, but it still differs from project to project.
Getting started is always the easy part for me. Beyond that, Chris is always pretty cool about letting me run with just the stupidest and strangest ideas because I think he understands me better than most. But the real C+C magic happens when he steps in and refines things, and molds my mostly incoherent weirdness into a very drawable script.
CS: Nine times out of ten, Chad’s ideas are what kick things off, and they’re way more fully formed than what I bring to the table. It might be because we’ve worked together so long, but we’ve developed this routine where Chad tends to start from the big ideas and works into the small, and I usually begin these key scenes, or even just lines of dialogue, and work out to connect them from there. It can take a little hammering to get it there, but we always wind up meeting in the middle with a synthesis of what we both want to do. It’s not quite as clearly defined as that — the big plot always changes those moments, and sometimes we come up with something that makes us go back and change the direction of the story — but I think there’s a lot to be said for being two writers who can come at the same idea from different directions, and talk it out until we find the best place to meet up.Continued below
What’s one thing the other of you has put into a script (could be Marvel or not) that made you go “where the hell did that come from?” in a good way?
CS: For me, I think it was dropping Xodus the Forgotten Celestial into “X-Men ‘92.” That, and all the stuff we did in #5, the time travel issue that Cory Hamscher drew, with Mr. Sinister and our new origin for Cable. That stuff might not have been what anyone expected out of a retro X-Men book, but we loved doing it.
CB: HAH! We did a digital first comic with Erika Henderson called “Subatomic Party Girls,” and I introduced this magic space horse called Gregasus and his badass best friend, cat rebel called Katmandon’t. Chris took some convincing on that one, but it all worked out in the end.
There’s honestly something that makes its way into “Infinity Countdown: Darkhawk” that I’ve wanted to do and explore since I was younger, and we’re really looking forward to seeing what readers think of it. It’s a little Starman-y in that it adds a new layer to the Darkhawk mythos, and if you know your way around Cosmic Marvel, hopefully, you’ll probably dig it. If not, you’ll probably think “where the hell did that come from?”, and I’ve got a better answer next time you interview us!
CS: Believe it or not, I also had to be convinced to throw the Council of Cross-Time Draculas into “X-Men ‘92.” I thought it would be way too weird for the audience, but we’re always hearing that people loved how wild that scene was.
Let’s shift over to the art side for a second. One of the things I see successful writers talk about is writing to their artist’s strengths. When you have someone like Gang-Hyuk Lim working on your book, where there isn’t much of a body of work yet to get a handle on, do you try and reach out directly for feedback from them? Or is that one of the benefits of working for a Big Two publisher like Marvel, where the editor can do a lot of that scouting & liasing for you and help you craft your scripts to the artist?
CS: We’ve been super lucky to work with the artists that we have — not just at Marvel, but on everything we’ve done. Alti Firmansyah and Cory on “X-Men ‘92,” Ghostwriter X on our recent “SwordQuest” series, Kev Walker on “Darkhawk” #51, and, of course, Rob Liefeld on “Deadpool: Bad Blood,” just to name a few. Gang’s definitely continuing that trend, in that his pages blew us away when they started coming in. He’s got this incredible style that has the dynamic page layouts and energy that you might expect from shonen manga, but with an approach that looks like pure Marvel comics. He was our editor’s pick for the book, and we weren’t familiar with him beforehand, but he was absolutely the right choice.
CB: Yeah, we’ve been partnered up with the best people around. What’s cool about Gang’s style is, it’s so different from just about anyone who’s ever drawn Darkhawk or the Raptors before. And like Chris mentioned, he brings this unique, almost Tokusatsu flavor to a character who, quite honestly, never really had an aesthetic identity related to, like, motion and presence, and I think the story really benefits from it. There’s this scene in the first issue — the first time we see Gang’s take on Darkhawk, and it’s just incredibly powerful and satisfying. He’s knocking it out of the goddamn park.
One last question: you get to hang on to one of the six Infinity Gems (and I don’t care what the MCU calls them, they are GEMS) and use it once before hiding it forever. Which one do you pick and what do you do with it?
CS: Man, that’s too much responsibility! I can barely figure out what to do when I’m working with changes to a fictional reality, let alone a real one!
CB: Oh, this one’s easy. I’d use the Time Gem, and get that third Timothy Dalton Bond flick made. Y’know, do something really important with it!