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Frantic as a cardiograph scratching out the lines, Day 185: Supreme Power: Nighthawk #4

Every day this year, I will be examining the first pages of random comics. Today’s page is from Supreme Power: Nighthawk #4, which was published by Marvel and is cover dated February 2006. Enjoy!

Never piss off someone holding a pool cue!

Nighthawk, by Daniel Way, Steve Dillon, Dan Kemp, and Joe Caramagna, is a thoroughly unpleasant comic. This was after J. Michael Straczynski bailed on the book (imagine that!) and other writers were picking up the various threads of the series, and Marvel, in its infinite wisdom, released mini-series starring the characters. I thought JMS’ series (both of them) were quite good, and I wanted to see what happened with different writers. This series ended any interest I had in this corner of the Marvel Universe, because this comic is so terrible. It’s also put me off Daniel Way as a writer – I’ve heard he’s written some decent stuff since this, but I can’t forgive him for this.

But what about the first page of the fourth issue? Well, Way does get us up to speed quite well, I must admit. The mayor’s wife and son have been killed at a birthday party along with many other people attending the party. This may be linked to a “crack cocaine poisoning epidemic” ravaging the city, but it’s unclear. The guy sitting at the bar (his name is Jimmy) chuckles at this, and we find out that the mayor has been criticizing those with a cocaine addiction and implying that this is some kind of punishment for their behavior. Jimmy finds it humorous that the mayor’s family is dead. So we’re caught up on the basic plot. Way doesn’t do anything all that egregious on this page, and he uses the old cliché of the newscaster expositing well. As we’ve seen before this year, newscasters going over some crucial information is a favorite device of writers, probably because it doesn’t feel too intrusive.

Dillon lays the page out pretty well. Artie, the guy with the pool cue, dominates the first panel, and we honestly don’t think it’s all that weird, although Artie eventually takes that pool cue and bashes Jimmy in the head with it. Dillon is just making sure we get the sense that we’re in a bar, plus he needs to be pulled back far enough from the television in order to fit all those word balloons. Artie’s stare leads us directly to Jimmy and his “Heh …”, which is the beginning of his rant. In Panel 3, we see Artie again, looking toward the word balloon, and we see his expression has changed to one of disgust and anger. Dillon does a good job slowly closing in on Jimmy, building tension simply by showing him more in close-up. In the next panel (on Page 2), Artie hits him over the head, so the close-up can also imply that Artie is walking toward him, even if we don’t know that yet. Dillon places the figures nicely in the panels, too – everything is moving to the right, from Artie’s glare, the cue pointing to the right, Jimmy’s gaze at the television in Panel 2, Artie’s stare back to the right at the word balloon, and Jimmy looking toward the next page in Panel 4. Everything is pushing our eyes to the edge of the page, making it almost imperative that we turn the page.

You’ll notice that Kemp’s colors are warmer in tone that we often see with Dillon’s pencils, and I assume it’s digital work, which smooths out Dillon’s crisp lines just a little. It’s recognizably Dillon, of course, but notice the shine on Artie’s temples in Panel 1 and on Jimmy’s in Panel 4. The folds of Artie’s clothes are softer, too, and that has to be the colorist. I don’t like digital coloring, but it’s not horrible here, although seeing Dillon’s lines under this method is a bit odd. Kemp doesn’t do it throughout the book; it appears to be done here because of the “soft lighting” you’d get in a bar. At least Kemp is doing it for a reason here, which is more than I can say for some digital colorists.

I would say that Way and Dillon do a nice job getting us to turn the page with this, although that means you have to read more, and the issue itself is pretty lousy. But we can’t blame the first page for that, can we?

I’m still taking suggestions for August’s theme – writer and artist duos who worked together on at least 25 issues, whether that was one title or many titles. Hit me with them!

Next: Fairy tales! Everyone loves fairy tales, right? You won’t find them in the archives, but that shouldn’t stop you from taking a look!

12 Comments

This series could have been written by Ennis. I don’t know if he could have made it any more appealing. It’s some pretty dark stuff as I recall.

I’ll put in a vote for Ennis & Dillon in August.

I haven’t read it, so I became curious—why is it bad?

I have to third, fourth or fifteenth the suggestion of Gerber and Colan.

Sandra: Way is trying to write like Miller at his Millerest or Ennis or someone like that, and it just comes off as really unpleasant – there’s no sense of panache, I guess, that we get from better writers writing unpleasant comics. It’s just unrelenting death with no hope of redemption. I kept waiting for it to either have a slightly happy ending or for Way to make some kind of comment about society, but he didn’t – he just kept slaughtering characters. Blech.

It really really reminds me of Ennis’ Punisher. Of course, Dillon probably has a lot to do with that. I think Way was taking some light swipes at politicians and making some general comments on inner city culture, but there wasn’t anything particularly redemptive about the hero. I think it holds together better and is more grounded than any comparable Miller stuff, but I can see why you’d mention him.

It’s probably worth mentioning (correct me if I’m wrong) that the Supremes are Marvel U analogues of various DC characters. Nighthawk is the Batman analogue, and this book is supposed to be a grim n gritty Marvel version of Batman v Joker. It appealed to me as much on that level as any other. Way definitely didn’t miss many tricks making the villain an inhuman monster. If you like any of Ennis’ stuff, it might be worth looking through.

joshschr: Well, I’m not a big fan of Ennis’ Punisher, so there’s that. But I just think Ennis is a better writer, so he can make such a bleak story a bit entertaining, and I think Way couldn’t, at least with this one. I thought making “Batman” even grimmer and grittier was a bad idea!

Akaky Akakievich Bashmachkin

July 3, 2012 at 1:47 pm

@Greg Burgas

“This was after J. Michael Straczynski bailed on the book (imagine that!) and other writers were picking up the various threads of the series, and Marvel, in its infinite wisdom, released mini-series starring the characters.”

No, “Supreme Power: Nighthawk” was being published parallel with JMS’ mini “Supreme Power: Hyperion”, which was a direct continuation of his “Supreme Power” series. After the Hyperion and Nighthawk minis were finished, JMS wrote the new “Squadron Supreme” series and then left it unfinished at #7. Then came other writers who tried to continue the story.

Ha! If you don’t like Ennis’ Punisher, I definitely wouldn’t expect you to like Nighthawk.

As far as grimmer n grittier Batman being bad, I agree. But my justification is that this isn’t Batman, just an analogue not even set in proper 616 continuity. I could see this being the kind of “real world” super hero scenario that Christopher Nolan would get all slobbery over. No real super powers, the city gets the hero it deserves, etc, etc. The way they use kids in the book should be enough to completely turn me off from ever rereading the series again, but it’s the kind of red meat a writer can throw to me as the audience so I don’t mind as much that the hero is the judge, jury & executioner type.

Not trying to sell you personally on the series, and nothing to add to your analysis of the first page, this is just one of the first books I read by Way that convinced me to try more of his stuff. If everything after this was this relentlessly dark I probably wouldn’t have followed him much further.

Akaky: Thanks, sir. I got my chronology messed up. Sorry! I thought this came out after the “Squadron Supreme” series, but you’re right – that wasn’t a MAX book, so I should have remembered that.

joshschr: Oh, I see what you’re saying. I can understand that. It wasn’t for me, but I get your perspective!

Sure is a fuck of a lot of swearing for page one of a Marvel comic! Overdone swearing for effect is one sign of a sophomoric writer trying to sound gritty.

@Ganky: And that’s why this series (like its “Squadron Supreme” predecessors) belonged to Marvel’s MAX line.

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