Hitting the comic scene back in 1992 as one of the launch titles of Image Comics, ShadowHawk became emblematic for the comics of the day, depicting a hard-as-nails hero who operated in the shadows, dispensing his own brand of justice that culminated with breaking the backs of his opponents. For months, the idea of the ShadowHawk character was played up as a mystery with series creator Jim Valentino providing many suspects before ultimately revealing the man under the mask. What it revealed was a man named Paul Johnstone who was diagnosed with a deadly disease and is trying to spend his last days righting the wrongs he hadn’t – or didn’t have the nerve – to do before. But this deadly disease wasn’t some nameless plague or sci-fi surprise, but rather the all-too real AIDS virus. ShadowHawk was one of the first comics to approach the serious subject while still retaining a superhero style, and it’s mark in comics has lasted far longer than the man under the mask who died in the mid 90s.Since then, Valentino and a score of other creators have carried on the ShadowHawk banner with numerous other heroes in the guise, but for many the standard bearer and high water mark for the series remained with the first to take up the mask – the deceased Paul Johnstone. Recently in an epic surprise that could only be seen in comics, the original ShadowHawk is back on the scene. Spiraling out of the events of Image United, series creator Jim Valentino has enlisted writer Dan Wickline and artist Tone Rodriguez to bring him back in the upcoming miniseries ShadowHawk: Resurrection. Taking place 15 years after Johnstone’s groundbreaking death in the pages of his series, he’s returning in an all-new #1 coming out on May 5th.
While Wickline & Rodriguez are the newest to take on the mantle as ShadowHawk creators, original creator Jim Valentino isn’t going anywhere – he’s doing a back-up story in the book written by none other than Steve Niles. For more, we talked with the creators of the book.
Newsarama: What can you tell us about this new series and story, Dan?
Dan Wickline: ShadowHawk had a very unique place in the Image Universe when the company started in 1992. He was the only street-level vigilante. He didn't have superpowers or colorfully dressed teammates, Paul Johnstone ran through New York with a home-made metal helmet and a mad-on for justice. He was angry about what had happened to him and was taking it out violently on the scum of the city. And he did this till the day he died.
Now Paul is back after over a decade and things are very different. He has no money in his pocket, no place to live, not even his own name as he is legally dead. Where before he became ShadowHawk to find a sense of justice, now he wears the helmet because it's all he has left. He has to find his place again, decide the type of hero he will be. and the type of man.
He will have a whole new array of villains to go up against; villains designed specifically to bring out his best and his worst. And they won't be taking turns. from page 2 of the new series you'll see just how intense this ride is going to be.Nrama: Tone, what about you – what’s your take on the series?
Tone Rodriguez: I have always liked the character, he's the silver avenger of the night, and as you can see, the character has changed and or evolved a few times since its creation and maybe that's its real power.
Evolve or die, this character has done both, now its Dan and my job (with Jim and Kris Simon watching over) to take it from there.
Nrama: Jim – I have to ask – what led you to bring back ShadowHawk?
Jim Valentino: Robert Kirkman and I were walking through downtown San Diego to a party a couple of years ago during the con and we were talking about it. If I remember correctly, the conversation was about Image United and the fact that it would provide the perfect venue for ShadowHawk’s re-emergence. It was Robert’s opinion, and I had to agree, that fans wanted to see the back-breaker—the question was, how do we do that… since he was dead and all.
Nrama: That’s a good question. How can he return?
Wickline: As we found out in later issues of ShadowHawk, there have been ShadowHawks all through history because of a group called the Nomo. When one of the ShadowHawks passes on, he becomes part of the 'spirit of justice' that Eddie Collins was able to tap into for guidance. So even though Paul's physical body died of AIDS, his soul did not crossover as a normal person's would.
Now just how we use that bit of information, you'll have to read Image United #5 and/or the new series to find out.
Nrama: And why is Paul Johnstone the one coming back to wear the ShadowHawk helmet and not one of the other people who wore it?Wickline: I think the short version of the answer is that it's two unique stories to tell. Paul is a vigilante where Eddie is a hero. Even though they wear/wore the same costume, they are very different ShadowHawks. Right now we have a story to tell with Paul and he's going to be in the driver's seat for a while. but that doesn't mean that we are done with Eddie by any stretch of the imagination.
Nrama: Although Dan and Tone are suiting up to do the lead story in ShadowHawk: Resurrection, you’ve brought in writer Steve Niles to do a story that will follow it in the back of the issue. Can you tell us about that?
Valentino: Nope! [laughs] I’ll tell you how it came about, though. Steve approached us during the San Diego Con last year at the bar and said he wanted to do a ShadowHawk story with me—this was amid a lot of laughter. We told him we’d hold him to it…and we have.
Steve’s one of those guys you want to work with—great guy, great writer—he and I go back many years and I’m as much a fan as friend, so again, no brainer. I will say this, the story will NOT be what anyone expects—and we’ll leave it at that.
Nrama: I’ll take you on your word. Speaking to the other guys here, is it nerve-wracking at all to write a character Jim Valentino created and is still actively involved in? I know at Marvel & DC they deal with long-lasting creations, but it’s not like they have Jack Kirby standing over their shoulder.
Wickline: The toughest part of jumping into the universe of an established character is getting all the subtle nuances right. How the lead character acts is pretty easy as I have 18 years of books to look at. But there are things that haven't hit the page yet that Jim has in mind for certain characters and those are the things that have tripped me up. I'll be writing a scene with one of the supporting character from the series and think I've got him nailed and suddenly I get a note that says "He can't do that because of XYZ." And I write back "When did that happen?" and I get back "It hasn't yet, but that's where I was going with him." Other than that type of thing, it has been fairly easy. His given me a lot of rope to play with. and I haven't seen the noose at the end yet.
Rodriguez: Jim is great, He has always been awesome towards me, I just don't want to disappoint him. I feel like he trusts us to do this job, I'm going to do the best job I can, and yeah it's a little nerve-wracking...but that's all on me.Nrama: Tone, ShadowHawk has a very unique design that Jim created all those years ago. How does it work now some 18 years since?
Rodriguez: I always liked the original designs; I always saw ShadowHawk as a SILVER Batman, I remember thinking how cool that first cover was, the black and silver just popped out at me and I remember cash was tight back then and I could only walk out of the shop with a few books that week, ShadowHawk was a must have. I also don't feel that we have moved far from what Jim created years ago, as a matter of fact aside from just streamlining the original costume, I feel like what we have here would have been the natural evolution of the suit/design over the 15 plus years...its classic, yet stream lined.
Nrama: Jim, when I saw the solicitation for the new series, I was surprised to see you passing the torch and letting another writer & artist take on the character. What made Dan and Tone the right fit to draw this new story?
Valentino: I was looking for a fresh approach, so I talked to several writers about bringing the character back. Dan came up with a concept that had the advantage of being both original (I don’t believe it’s ever been done before) and that fits in perfectly with pre-established continuity but, you don’t have to know anything about the character’s past, which is also nice for new readers. That won him the writing spot.
Tone is an old friend; we go back many years and is an artist I respect. He always expressed to me his desire to do ShadowHawk, and he and Dan are best friends and frequent collaborators, so it was really a no-brainer to team them up on this book.
Nrama Before we go, I wanted to ask one more question about the character design. Since you’re penning the main adventure Dan, why do you think ShadowHawk is a character that's been able to stay around so long in this ever-fickle comics world? What makes ShadowHawk memorable and unique to you?
Wickline: I remember getting that first issue of ShadowHawk when I was in college and was blown away by it. Here was a very dark, gritty character grounded in reality. We didn't get the usual origin story to start off with, we got a mystery and everyone wants to know the answer to a mystery. So I think a lot of the staying power of ShadowHawk comes from him being debuted in such a unique fashion. Another part of it is the costume. Jim really hit on something special here with the design, there is no mistaking him for anyone else.