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Jun 2

Daredevil Villains #25: Nighthawk

Posted on Sunday, June 2, 2024 by Paul in Daredevil

DAREDEVIL #62 (March 1970)
“Quoth the Nighthawk, ‘Nevermore!'”
Writer: Roy Thomas
Penciller: Gene Colan
Inker: Syd Shores
Letterer: Artie Simek
Colourist: not credited
Editor: Stan Lee

We’ve skipped issue #61, which is a rematch with Cobra, Mr Hyde and Jester. And that brings us to a guy who just marginally qualifies for this feature.

This is where I normally say: No, not that one. This is a long-forgotten one who appeared in one issue of Daredevil at the tail end of the Silver Age. But… yes, that Nighthawk. Kyle Richmond. The one who goes on to join the Defenders.

What’s he doing here? Well, at this point, Nighthawk’s only previous appearances were in 1969’s Avengers #69-70, as part of the Squadron Sinister. In that story, the Grandmaster alters history to create four supervillains that he can pit against the Avengers – Hyperion, Nighthawk, Dr Spectrum and the Whizzer. The Squadron are blatantly a knock-off Justice League of America, and the whole thing is just a thinly veiled excuse to have the Avengers fight the JLA.

Nighthawk is Batman with the serial numbers filed off, and a costume which evokes Batman while being legally distinct. Avengers #70 had simply mentioned that he used to be “Kyle Richmond, a bored and boring tycoon” – the implication being that until the Grandmaster came along, he had been Bruce Wayne without the inciting event. He had also mentioned “night-born powers”, without making clear what they were. Technically, he’s Batman-inspired rather than an outright Batman copy. But for the purposes of Avengers #69-70, he’s Batman. That’s the whole point.

Nighthawk’s next appearance will be in Defenders in 1973, where he immediately turns on his team, joins the Defenders and debuts a new costume that isn’t quite so Batman-adjacent.

But in between, there’s this politely forgotten issue, where Roy Thomas tries to retool him as a Daredevil villain. There are worse ideas. On a basic “who’d win” level, Daredevil and Batman are reasonable matches. Of course, the Daredevil of 1970 is a million miles down the pecking order from Batman. But this is his book. And Nighthawk does seem to lend himself to being a free-standing villain more naturally than other Squadron members.

This time, Nighthawk has an actual origin flashback. He was a playboy tycoon and amateur scientist; the Grandmaster placed an alchemy book in his collection, and he felt compelled to follow one of its recipes. By doing that, he produced a potion that doubled his physical prowess in moonlight. And after a few months of training with his new abilities, the Grandmaster showed up to get him. It’s all a bit token, but hey, it helps to shore up the idea that he’s legally distinct from Batman.

That said, there’s no point using Nighthawk – at least without radical retooling – unless you’re going to lean into the fact that he’s basically Batman. So Nighthawk is a rival superhero who wants to steal Daredevil’s fame. He has a device to make Daredevil dizzy, and uses it to swoop in when our hero is on the verge of catching criminals, before publicly defeating them himself. The plan is to make himself look more impressive than Daredevil. But because he’s not a real superhero, Nighthawk doesn’t actually hand the criminals he defeats over to the authorities. He just lets them go.

This is clearly meant to fit with the idea that he’s a fake superhero, but it makes no sense in terms of the story. The guys Nighthawk catches aren’t stooges – they’re real criminals. There’s some suggestion that Nighthawk is being overly aggressive in beating them up because he knows that’s what the public will like – he’s the edgy new superhero of the 1970s! But… if they’re not paid stooges, and you’ve gone to the trouble of catching them, why not turn them in? Wouldn’t the public like that too? Won’t people figure out at some point if none of Nighthawk’s targets ever get arrested or prosecuted? What’s the upside in letting them go? But… there wouldn’t be a plot if he didn’t.

Nighthawk’s wider plan is, let’s say, nebulous. He’s going to replace Daredevil in New York’s affections and then “make my bid for real power – political power”. Quite how those two ideas connect is left as an exercise for the reader’s imagination. Is he planning to run for President under a mask or something? There’s also a suggestion that he’s mainly by a desire for adulation, which is perhaps a stronger angle – if you were feeling generous, you could argue that that’s his real concern, and that everything else is just him trying to convince himself that there’s more to it.

On that reading, Nighthawk could have had all the public acclaim he wanted, if only he’d just fought crime for real. That might have been the thinking behind redeeming Nighthawk in Defenders, but it doesn’t seem to be the idea here. After Daredevil exposes his dastardly plan, Nighthawk makes a break for it, swearing revenge. The story seems to be setting up Nighthawk as a returning villain, which doesn’t happen at all. Instead, he vanishes for over three years.

But there’s a clear disconnect between art and dialogue. This is yet another issue that spends an absurd amount of time on the opening scene and has to rush the ending, so that could be part of it. Still, the final three panels show Nighthawk falling in front of an oncoming subway train, the train speeding by, and Daredevil looking dramatically down at the tracks. The captions, in contrast, assure us that there is no body, and that the echoing voice of Nighthawk is swearing revenge.

It certainly looks like Nighthawk was meant to die at the end in a way that was rather too gruesome even to imply in a Code book in 1970. Or maybe Colan just got carried away and went beyond what Thomas originally intended. Or maybe somebody thought that throwing Batman under a train might annoy DC a little too much.

The idea of Nighthawk as a narcissistic villain who poses as a hero isn’t such a bad one. Nighthawk as a bombastic but aggressively serious “hero”, in contrast to Daredevil’s more swashbuckling persona – a sort of prototype post-Silver Age hero – might have worked. Still, in the long run, he was better off in Defenders.

Bring on the comments

  1. Yes, he was indeed a better character in Defenders!

  2. Thom H. says:

    There sure is a lot of emphasis in Silver Age comics on who is the most well-known and/or popular superhero. I’m sure that’s an angle that appealed to a lot of kids.

    The Nighthawk/Son of Satan/Hellcat/Valkyrie era of Defenders is one of my favorite iterations of that team. I had no idea Nighthawk appeared here first.

  3. The Other Michael says:

    And for all the times they’ve tried, for all the variations on the character, Marvel has never managed to make Nighthawk anything more than a C-tier hero and sometimes antagonist. Not in the 616, not in any of the Squadron Supreme takes, certainly not the Ultimate version. Same with their other Batman knockoff, the Shroud.

    In a world with Daredevil and Black Panther and Moon Knight, there’s just no room for something closer to a Batman, I guess. And there’s nothing truly catchy about Nighthawk, especially the 616 Defenders-associated one. He’s a bored rich guy with vaguely defined powers and a costume, desperately looking for friends to support his hobbies and usually willing to sponsor any team that will have him… which means he was ideal for the Defenders at the time.

  4. CalvinPitt says:

    Nighthawk’s past history with Daredevil gets used a couple of times later on. There’s a Defenders story, I think by Steve Gerber and Jim Starlin, where the Defenders are caught in some game between the Grandmaster and a super-computer dr. Doom created and they need one more guy on their side, so Nighthawk picks DD. Ostensibly because he’s one hero Kyle has some personal experience with, but mostly so Daredevil can outwit Grandmaster using his super-senses to win a coin flip.

    Then Nighthawk gets a 3-issue mini-series in ’98 where he’s dead and Mephisto tricks him by posing as angel. Kyle gets precognitive visions and in an effort to be a true hero, starts using them to stop crimes before they happen, which gets him crosswise of Daredevil who is, of course, not OK with beating people for things they haven’t done yet.

    I first saw Nighthawk in the Busiek/Larsen Defenders run, which I guess was not well-received critically, but I enjoyed it, and Busiek seemed to clearly like Nighthawk as the guy who really believes in the idea of the Defenders and sees it as the one place where he actually does something that makes a difference.

  5. Mark Coale says:

    My favorite version, prob like a lot of people, is the one from Gruenwald’s Squadon Supreme mini. But I like the classic Defneders version too.

  6. Michael says:

    Matt defeats Kyle this issue by creating an antidote for the dizziness serum Kyle’s using. Since when is Matt a chemist?
    Gerber’s origin for Nighthawk was odd. Nighthawk killed his girlfriend driving drunk and it’s treated as just another one of his screwups. It’s partially reflective of the more permissive attitude of the 70s toward drunk driving. So shortly after MADD was founded, DeMatteis did stories revealing his girlfriend had survived and was insane and having Kyle have to face the consequences of his bad behavior.
    The member of the Squadron Sinister that became a truly recurring villain was Whizzer, who became Speed Demon.
    Shroud’s problem was that the two major aspects of his character were duplicated by more popular heroes. If you wanted a Batman knock-off, you had Moon Knight or Nighthawk. If you wanted a Darkforce manipulator, you had Cloak. The really unique aspect of his character was that he was a hero pretending to be a criminal and that’s long since fallen by the wayside.

  7. Zoomy says:

    I’ve always liked this one. Probably because I didn’t read it until I was already a Defenders fan, but looking at it in the light of how Kyle later developed, it’s fun to see him as the bored playboy who’s been turned into a supervillain and decides to go out and have fun with it with a plan basically revolving around making people think he’s great.

    In the same vein, his classic line in Avengers “My friends would call me NIGHTHAWK – if I HAD any friends!” really fits his later personality in retrospect! 🙂

  8. Chris V says:

    You get three characters in one with the Shroud. His origin is a mash-up of Batman and the Shadow, plus there’s some DD crossover considering he was blinded. Although, today, Batman has long since picked up the “travelling to Asia to learn to become a hero” aspect of the Shadow’s origin that Englehart added to the Shroud, so most fans would see that as making the Batman duplication even more apparent. Still, it’s been mostly forgotten that the Shroud had the distinction of the “studying in Tibet” origin detail before Batman (I guess DC originally had Bruce travel to Korea), even if both copied it from the Shadow.

    You’ve got to love the ending of Gruenwald’s Squadron Supreme with Nighthawk, “We’re going to reopen all the prisons! Bring back the armies!” The guy is practically giddy about it.
    I greatly enjoyed the David F. Walker Nighthawk series. I thought it was an interesting way to do the Batman-pastiche with a twist. It only lasted six issues though, so I guess that version didn’t catch on either.

    Of course, I love the Defenders comic, and thereby, that version of Nighthawk. I always felt like the Defenders were my superhero team after I found some classic issues in a 25 cents box around 1987. People talked about the Avengers, the FF, the X-Men (which I, obviously, was reading)…but no one seemed to talk about the Defenders. Plus, Dr. Strange would eventually become one of my favourite Marvel characters, so there was also the angle of the Defenders being Strange’s team. Not to mention the even later revelation of the discovery of who that Steve Gerber guy was who wrote two of the Defenders issues I discovered in 1987.

  9. Mike Loughlin says:

    Nighthawk botching his fake hero scam by not doing the work (in this case, turning in the crooks he caught) is totally in-character. I can totally see a clueless rich guy failing to do the clean-up. In Gerber’s Defenders, he was often hapless and pathetic. If not for his money and the “non-team” nature of the group, I bet Dr. Strange would have kicked him to the curb after a couple days.

  10. The Other Michael says:

    Nighthawk and Shroud are both “I coulda been a contender” level heroes in that they just never found the right angle to become bigtime. (Until we got the Mephisto doppelganger where reality was literally rewritten to make him a major player.)

    The Walker version, who of course was a transplant from Supreme Power, was interesting but given that he was unceremoniously murdered, practically offscreen, during Secret Empire, he failed on some level.

    (Tilda Johnson, the former Nightshade, taking up the identity was cool but again… didn’t make a splash.)

    Honestly, it’s sad how many Nighthawks and Hyperions there have been across multiple realities, timelines, and worlds… and how rarely any of them register. At this point, Kyle could literally sell the identity as a franchise–a Nighthawk in every state–and it wouldn’t change a thing. He’s basically still a hapless rich guy trying to buy friends (and there was the time the Thunderbolts used him for his money and he got offended…)

    Needless to say, I like both Nighthawk and Shroud on a conceptual level.

  11. Si says:

    Yeah I don’t know, I feel that if people want to read DC comics, they’ll just read DC comics. Maybe if the comics were 1/3 the cost or something there’d be a market.

  12. Omar Karindu says:

    I wonder if part of the problem here is Roy riffing on the mid-1960s Batman right as Denny O’Neil and Neal Adams were spearheading a new direction for the character.

    More broadly, it seems tough to make an arrogant showboat ‘hero’ work as a recurring antagonist without pushing them into cartoon supervillainy. It doesn’t work with Nighthawk here, with the second Crimebuster created by Kurt Busiek in Power Man and Iron Fist, or with Dan Slott’s Alpha character in Spider-Man’s books.

    Instead, you mostly get killer vigilantes who go too far, something that was harder to make work before the later 1970s 9as we’ll see with an upcoming Daredevil villain in just a few issues’ time).

  13. Michael says:

    @Omar- I think the problem is that writers like to do stories where our heroes lose their temper, use their powers recklessly, etc. So the result is that it becomes hard to distinguish between arrogant “heroes” who are antagonists and our protagonists having a very bad day unless you write the “heroes” as cartoonishly evil.
    Take the Alpha story you mentioned- after Alpha causes an incident during a battle with Terminus that causes planes to lose power and “permanently” cripples Aunt May, Spider-Man takes away Alpha’s powers. Except that there’s plenty of times when heroes other than Alpha have behaved recklessly. Alpha Flight caused a bilzzard in their first appearance that could have killed countless people. Did Peter sneak into Canada and try to take away their powers when he learned this? It’s especially ridiculous since Carol Danvers in this story and she knocked a plane out of the air herself.
    It’s a similar problem with Civil War. We’re supposed to believe the New Warriors are reckless because they tried to arrest 4 villains who escaped prison. Except there are plenty of heroes who have done something similar- it only went bad this time because Nitro had his powers boosted unbeknownst to the Warriors.

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