Last post, I wrote about the ways that David F. Walker’s Nighthawk lays bare the tendrils of racism that work at various levels to suffocate and oppress people of color in America. Today, I want to expand some on this and look at how Raymond Kane confronts issues of racism and subjugation. I want to explore, briefly, the moral tensions that Kane encounters as he works to combat and eradicate social injustices throughout the city. In many ways, Kane resembles Batman in his origins. Seeing his parents killed by white racists, Kane, as Walker says, “blames the racist ideologies that inform our society for their deaths” and his parents for their pacifism. As such, he becomes driven by rage, and he channels that rage in different directions. This is where the moral quandaries of killing or leaving individuals alive enters into the equation.
Like all superheros, Nighthawk skirts the line between law and order; however, he directly crosses the line to protect Blacks who the system oppresses. Speaking about Nighthawk with George Marston on Newsrama, Walker states,
Traditionally, superheroes act as extensions of law and order. They may act outside the boundaries of the law, but when all is said and done, they are at service to law and order, which makes them part of the status quo of the criminal justice system. The problem with this system is that it often falls short of adequately serving black people in America. We have seen this time and time again, when police officers kill unarmed blacks, and the court system fails to convict the killer. The two biggest threats to black people in this country are racism and the criminal justice system that is infected by the disease or racism. At some point, if you are a black superhero, fighting to protect black people, you are going to reach a crossroads where you will realize that you must protect them from the forces of law and order—from the status quo. And at that moment, you cease to become a traditional superhero, and enter into a world where roles are less defined.
Raymond Kane exists at the crossroads of adhering to the legal statutes of law or order or of protecting Black citizens from a legal system that does not support them. Kane, throughout Nighthawk, navigates this space.
The ambiguity of the crossroads takes center stage from the very first panels of the series. Here, as the True Patriots pack their illegal weapons, a news report flashes on the television. We begin in media res as the reporter says, “. . . grand jury hearing has begun to determine if Officer Randolph O’Neil will be indicted fr the killing of Latron Stanis earlier this month. . . ” The next panel provides further information on the case. It shows a television screen with O’Neil’s smiling face and Stanis’ face, opposite O’Neil’s, in a hoodie. The reporter continues, “The killing of Stanis is the most recent in a series of officer-involved shootings that have left unarmed suspects dead, sparking outrage within Chicago’s Black community.”
The opening foregrounds the decisions that Kane must make throughout the series. Does he work on the side of the law to maintain order? Or, does he protect the community? Kane protects the community, and in this way, he becomes akin to someone like Stagolee who becomes a symbol for the community. The myth of Nighthawk becomes apparent when he rescues a group of Black teenagers being beaten up by a cop. When Nighthawk appears, they exclaim, “Oh, man. . . he’s real.” and “Believe it, yo. That’s him.” While we do not see the construction of the myth, we get, from these exclamations, the importance of Nighthawk to the community as a symbol of hope against police brutality and racial oppression.
Running counter to Kane, we see the work of John the Revelator, a serial killer who murders powerful white citizens who perpetuate racism. While the Revelator’s actions are brutal, we must, seriously, ask whether or not he is justified in his actions. This is what Kane must ask himself as well at the end of the series when him and the Revelator stand in front of a dying Halrahan. Who was justified? Were they both justified?
Tilda, Kane’s sidekick and tech genius, gets at the answer to this question at various points in the series. Her and Kane talk about the riots after O’Neil’s acquittal as possibly serving as a way to rebuild after burning everything to ashes. However, they conclude that probably wouldn’t work because individuals like Halrahan would spearhead the operation and push the Black citizens out of the area. The most important moment in this reckoning occurs when Tilda and Kane are scanning databases looking for a match to the Revelator. Tilda asks Kane what’s he’s doing, and he responds, “Once I put together a composite of the Revelator, I’ll be able to identify him.”
Tilda answers back with questions: “Identify him? That’s your top priority?” This is an interesting query, especially considering that they want to find the Revelator before he kills anyone else. However, as Tilda explains, the Revelator’s physical identity does not matter because he exists within Kane, within Tilda, and within those that they strive to protect. She tells Kane,
Because I can identify him without any facial recognition software. You want to know who the Revelator is? He’s me. He’s you. He’s the father or the uncle or the older sister of Latron Stanis. . . or maybe the brother of someone the cops disappeared at Homan Square. He’s the guy whose wife was found dead in a jail cell after she was arrested for a traffic violation. He’s anyone who’s felt the sting of the whip, or the boot of their throat. . . and you want to identify him? Look around you, Boss. This city is filled with Revelators. We don’t need to identify him. We just need to stop him before he adds more fuel to the fire that’s burning this city.
The Revelator, as his name invokes, revels the truth to those willing to see. Tilda notes that he is not alone. Those kept at Homan Square in Chicago, Sandra Bland in Texas, enslaved individuals across the nation, those nameless individuals oppressed daily by police violence, and countless others reveal the truth to those willing to see. Sadly, too many, refuse to listen and acknowledge the system that leads to so many atrocities and so much violence. As Malcolm Jenkins wrote on a poster board last week for reporters, “You aren’t listening.”
Nighthawk calls upon readers to listen the voiceless and to illuminate the dark corruption. It calls upon readers to confront the systems that keep people of color subjected to surveillance, no matter their social standing. It demands that we acknowledge the interconnected systems of oppression that squeeze the life out of so many communities. It demands that we listen, see, and act. If we fail to do these things, the tendrils will grow, wrap themselves around the foundations of our society, and squeeze until the life fades away. We must eradicate these tendrils!
This is a lot to consider, I know, but the Nighthawk begs us to think about these aspects and much more. What are your thoughts? As usual, let me know in the comments below, and make sure to follow me on Twitter at @silaslapham.
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