Recently, I read David F. Walker’s Nighthawk series “Hate Makes Hate.” This is the first time I had heard of Nighthawk (Raymond Kane), so I do not know much about his backstory except what I have looked up online. Even without that knowledge, Walker’s series can stand on its own because it focuses on current issues that plague our nation today: police brutality, the rise of white nationalism, class divisions, gentrification, and countless other issues. I do not want to delve into each of these topics today; instead, I want to look at a couple of aspects from the first few issues of the six-issue series that really stuck out to me. Ultimately, I do not want to give away the ending of the series because the ending, and the lead up to it, presents readers with very important questions about morality in the face of social injustice. The series never really answers these questions, and for me, that is a strength because it causes readers to decide what kind of superhero Nighthawk really is, which, in turn, makes readers question what kind of people they really are.
Nighthawk takes place in Chicago in the aftermath of a trial where a jury failed to convict a police officer who murdered an unarmed Black teen. Amidst this moment, a white nationalist group is bringing in illegal weapons and distributing meth, a wealthy, white businessman is working to take over the city and increase gentrification, and a serial killer is executing powerful white individuals in the city who suppress minority communities. As you can see, there is a lot going on, and Walker shows the ways that these various threads join together to highlight the problems facing our nation today are not easily fixable. They are so interconnected that fixing one problem does not necessarily solve everything. If we make education funding equitable across the board, that does not solve the problem of unemployment. If we increase the availability of affordable housing, that does not solve the problems of police profiling. As Walker notes, “There’re so many different factors, and when one thing falls apart it can lead to another thing falling apart, which can lead to another thing, which can lead to a domino effect.” These interconnections, essentially, are something we see in Nighthawk especially with the relationship between Dan Hanrahan and the leader of the New Patriots, Caldwell.
Hanrahan and Caldwell’s relationship is nothing new. Caldwell is part of the True Patriots, a white nationalist group that wants to rid the city and nation of people of color. Hanrahan wants the same thing; however, he does not spew vitriol online or in public appearances. He has money and power, so he seeks to achieve his goals by employing, under the table, Caldwell and the True Patriots. This, of course, is nothing new, and it is something I have written about countless times before. Hanrahan is stoking fires amongst poor whites to achieve his ultimate goals.
After Nighthawk disrupts the True Patriots’ operation, Hanrahan confronts Caldwell and breaks off their collaboration. Pointing his finger in Caldwell’s face, Hanrahan tells him, “I’m out a few million in gun sales, and now my plans are behind schedule . . . all because your best men couldn’t stay off Twitter and keep from talking about preserving the security of the white race.” When Caldwell asks what his group can do, Hanrahan tells him they do not have any more business together, and he launches into a monologue that sounds eerily familiar. He tells Caldwell,
I thought we could do business together because we both talk about the same goals. We want to take this city back. We want to make America great again. And we see who it is that’s keeping us from that greatness. They’re everywhere. . . standing in welfare lines, illegally crossing the border and committing crimes on every corner.
Announcing his candidacy for president, Donald Trump, speaking about immigrants, proclaimed, “When Mexico sends its people, they’re not sending their best. They’re not sending you. They’re not sending you. They’re sending people that have lots of problems, and they’re bringing those problems with us. They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists. And some, I assume, are good people.” Hanrahan’s words echo Trump’s, and he also plays into the stereotype of the welfare queen who lives off of government assistance while hardworking Americans provide her with that opportunity through their taxes. This, along with the comments about immigrants, plays into the fears and fantasies of those who fear that people of color challenge their very existence and stability.
Earlier, in Nighthawk #1, Hanrahan speaks with Kane about helping him gentrify parts of Chicago. They meet at Killien Fields Public Housing Projects, and their discussion illuminates that while Caldwell and the True Patriots use blatant comments and overt racist actions to project their white nationalist views, Hanrahan works to use his wealth and position to achieve the same goals. Hanrahan presents himself as a “civilized” businessman, but Kane sees right through him. Kane chooses to meet at Killien Fields to symbolize the fact that the space represents a battlefield; however, it does not represent a battlefield in the sense that crime and violence occur there. Rather than the citizens fighting over the space, they have no say because Hanrahan and Kane are fighting over it.
Hanrahan presents his plan as “visionary” and “civilized” because he frames it as improving the area. Yet, by “improving” Killien Fields and surrounding areas, Hanrahan will be, as Kane notes, “evicting the residents of public housing, tearing down their homes and building upscale condos.” In response, Hanrahan tells Kane that Killien Fields is “Chicago’s most notorious public housing project,” and because of this statistic, it has taken on he name “The Killing Fields.” Hanrahan then asks Kane, “And you want to save it?”
The next panel shows a closeup of Kane’s face peering through the chain link fence. He simply responds to Hanrahan’s question with one word, “Yes.” This panel is telling because even though Hanrahan and Kane are on the same side of the fence, we see Kane looking through the fence. As readers, we know he looks out upon Killien Fields. However, the positioning also places him as separate from Hanrahan and creates the image of Kane being subjected to the same racism, discrimination, and oppression as the individuals who inhabit Killien Fields. In this manner, we get a physical cue that Kane’s position as a wealthy Black man does not save him from institutional racism and systemic oppression. If we need a reminder of this fact, we need to only look at the way that Milwaukee police treated Milwaukee Bucks rookie Sterling Brown. This is nothing new, of course, we can look back at 11 time NBA Champion Bill Russell talking about keeping his hands up during a traffic stop.
Hanrahan laughs off Kane’s response, and he asks Kane to indulge him for a second. He proceeds to tell Kane, “This neighborhood is hopeless. Crime is out of control. And I’m not talking about drunk frat boys at Mardi Gras. I’m talking about animals with rabies.” Hanrahan’s comments here are important because they highlight the disparate treatment by law enforcement and the legal system on white and black youth. The “frat boys” fall under the moniker “boys will be boys,” yet the black youth become “animals with rabies.” Hanrahan’s statement legitimizes the “frat boys” while dehumanizing the individuals who live in Killien Fields. The people who live in Killien Fields are not animals; they are human, and they are working to survive in a system that routinely classifies them as a “problem” or as “animals.” Even though we do not see any of the residents of Killien Fields in Nighthawk, I imagine that we may see characters similar to the ones that Vern E. Smith presents in The Jones Men, residents doing the best they can to make it in a racist system.
Stay tuned next post for some more on Walker’s Nighthawk. Until then, I would love to hear your thoughts. As usual, let me know in the comments below. Make sure to follow me on Twitter @silaslapham.