It is tough to say that a story involving police brutality against African Americans and the subsequent acquittal of those involved is timely. We live in a country where this seems to be played out on a monthly basis; thus, even if the Freddie Gray acquittal results didn't line up with this comics release, we would only have needed to wait a couple of weeks for a similar story to crop up.
That is only one of points that this comic is making.
When last we saw Nighthawk, he was in the midst of breaking apart a white supremacist group who were dealing in meth and fire-arms in Chicago. With the help of his partner Tilda, Raymond Kane's alter ego found himself as much at war with the police at times as he was with criminals. Even Raymond's day job has him fighting against corruption. Businessman and would be politician Dan Hanrahan try's to "deal" his way into getting what he wants using Raymond Kane's "racial" influence. To top it all off, there is a serial killer on the loose whom the police have decided to call "The Revelator."
The second issue starts with a flash back. Nighthawk stops a police officer who was beating a suspect that he and his less than noble partner have apprehended. We never know why the police officer was brutally beating a young black male... and that shouldn't matter because cops shouldn't beat people they have apprehended. The officer's name is O'neil, and has a laundry list of previous complaints on his record. Nighthawk's lesson seems to go unlearned however, because a few months later he is brought up on manslaughter charges against another young black male and is about to go to trial.
Frustration is at an all time high for Nighthawk and he seems to be ready to just give up and watch Chicago tear itself apart, until he gets a text message from a detective inside the police force who has been working on The Revelator case. Detective Burrell's life was once saved by Nighthawk, and has kept the burner phone that was given him by the vigilante. Intrigued, Nighthawk agrees to meet with the detective Burrell who indicated he needed help cracking this case.
Detective Burrell spends the first half of this meeting tip toeing around the real issues surrounding the killings and Nighthawk is beginning to grow impatient. He needs to know that Burrell understands the world as he does, he needs to know that he will not turn a blind eye to the underpinning reality of the case because of what it might suggest. Nighthawk needs this meeting as much as Burrell needed it. He needed to see that their were good guys out there too.
Meanwhile, Hanrahan has been busy tying up his loose ends. Nighthawks raid on the white supremacist compound lost him more than just meth and men; it lost him weapons and secrecy. The surreptitious dealings with the union he has hired for his building projects has been brought to light. He has to cut ties with people that can't keep their mouths shut. With a gusto that is all to familiar to anyone who has watched the 2016 campaign, Hanrahan offers up this diatribe.
Back at "The Nest," Nighthawk is having a heart to heart with Tilda. The Revelator case is striking very close to home for him. All of the victims are people he would have personally liked to put in the ground. In a panel that sums up the thin line that Raymond Kane is walking, Tilda explains that the killer that they are after could be Nighthawk on "a bad day." Raymond states that he has never crossed that line, but he seems unsure of himself.
The book concludes with the results of the manslaughter trial of officer O'neil. He is cleared of all charges and we glimpse The Relevator preparing to go after his next target.
Sometimes a comic series comes around whose message transcends the medium and becomes part of the pop culture. Synder's Watchman, Morrison's Dark Knight, Ennis' Preacher. These have all had strong social commentary that spoke to their present day audience in terms that were blunt, honest, and at times revolutionary. I feel that David Walker has a chance to strike that same chord and make that same mark. He does not shy away from using strong and allusive language. The reader can easily draw real life parallels and can hopefully see the ethical struggle at play.
Even beyond the over arching political and social issues, Walker gives substance to his characters. Nighthawk may be an instrument of social justice, but where does justice end and vengeance begins? There is a struggle at play inside of Raymond Kane, one that Walker will no doubt play out over the next few issues.
Ramon Villalobos' art isn't as strong as Walker's writing. I'm not overly fond of some of the comical facial constructions. Maybe it's what the comic needs when some of the material is so dark and gruesome (a victim was made to eat his wife's fingers in the previous issue), but sometimes it is a bit distracting. Design decisions aside, Villalobos does nail the look and feel of Nighthawk which makes Owlman feel like a pansy.
Overall, this book may or may not reach the pop culture levels to which I alluded to earlier. Watchmen is appreciated more now that it was at the time of release, so maybe in five years time with some perspective we may appreciate this comic more. Yet, if it manages to make a few people think harder about race relations and police power, then we can still consider this comic a success.
Rating: 8.5/10 severed human fingers