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At first, he appeared to be a particularly brutal vigilante, moving through the shadows of the New York City night. Wearing a silver helmet, clawed gloves, and a dark armored costume, and with a propensity to break the backs of those who had murdered others, everyone wondered, “Who is ShadowHawk?” Not even the readers of the ShadowHawk comic knew the answer to that question at first, as writer/artist Jim Valentino had created the series with a mystery at its core. Coming off successful runs on Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy, What If?, and other series—and with the legendary superhero spoof normalman (1984–1985) behind him—Valentino joined six other popular creators to form Image Comics in 1992.
The debut book to appear from Valentino at Image was ShadowHawk #1 (August 1992), the first of a four-issue miniseries. The initial storyline set up the mystery of who the character was, providing lots of supporting-cast suspects for readers to choose from. In ShadowHawk vol. 2 #1-#3 (May-July 1993), the secret was revealed. ShadowHawk was really Paul Johnstone, an African American man who had been infected with the HIV virus. Johnstone used the suit to avenge those who had been killed unjustly. Villains that ShadowHawk fought included a racist named Hawkshadow, the hedonist group Regulators, an acidic alien named the Liquifier, and a female kingpin of crime known as Vendetta.
Although AIDS had been seen in comics before—Megaton #4 (April 1986) contains the comics world’s first reference to the disease— ShadowHawk was the first superhero to suffer from the disease. Valentino chose not to sensationalize the subject, and actively tried to dispel stereotypes and misconceptions about AIDS while telling his stories. Johnstone succumbed to the illness in ShadowHawk Vol. 3 #18 (May 1995), the final issue of that series.
The New ShadowHawk #1 debuted in June 1995, written by Kurt Busiek. In it, the “ShadowHawk energy” was dispersed between three people and a robot. Combined with a tale told by superstar writer Alan Moore in ShadowHawks of Legend (November 1995), Busiek’s stories noted that there had always been ShadowHawks throughout time, in different lands and eras. The energy was actually the essence of an ancient Egyptian shaman who worshipped Horus (an extraterrestrial from Sirius). When the shaman was murdered, his spirit became ShadowHawk and sought revenge for those murdered unjustly. The ShadowHawk essence lived within the silver helmet that Johnstone had worn.
In a series of stories that ran through various titles from Extreme Studios (an Image sub-imprint run by Rob Liefeld), seventeen-year-old Eddie Collins became the latest ShadowHawk. Able to channel power from the gods, and sharing the memories of all the previous ShadowHawks, Collins is also aided by the morphing suit; it enhances his strength and agility, gives him infrared vision, and allows him to shoot grappling hooks from his gauntlets.
Two new ShadowHawk comics series were launched in the new century, Jim Valentino’s ShadowHawk Vol. 2 (2005–2006), and ShadowHawk Vol. 3 (starting in 2010). The character has appeared on numerous licensed products, including two action figures, card sets, posters, T-shirts, statues, hats, and even a full-cast audio drama. —AM