As a young comic book reader, one of my favorite comic books was the ShadowHawk series with Paul Johnstone as the protagonist. I was captivated with the series because the hero’s origin story was so unusual. Johnstone was a deputy district attorney before criminals injected him with H.I.V. Johnstone gets ridiculed at the District Attorney’s Office for being H.I.V. positive, and he is fired after he punches a colleague out of frustration. Afterwards, he dons a metallic suit and fights crime as ShadowHawk. Throughout the series he battles the progression of H.I.V., and he ultimately dies from A.I.D.S. I was fascinated by the idea of a hero with a literal fatal flaw, especially one that was often discussed in the classroom and on the news.
I revisited the series as an adult when I found my ShadowHawk collection at my parent’s house. I noticed that, in addition to H.I.V./A.I.D.S., the series touched upon other social issues relevant in the mid-1990s that are still relevant today. For example, Johnstone was an African-American deputy district attorney, something that was uncommon in 1993 and is still uncommon in 2015. This challenged stereotypes of Johnstone’s background as a young black man from an inner-city, single-parent household. Johnstone’s narrative of overcoming, however, didn’t ignore relevant economic and social issues such as crime, drug addiction and racism. Although ShadowHawk may not have addressed the aforementioned topics in great depth, the relative complexity of the hero’s narrative is something I doubt my parents imagined when they bought me my first issue.
Rereading ShadowHawk made me realize that the comic books from my childhood could provide grounds for valuable exploration as an adult. I became curious how comic books impact the worldview of younger readers. After all, ShadowHawk provided a medium for a H.I.V. positive, black male from Harlem with no superpowers to became a favorite hero of a white Iowa farm-boy. I also wondered in what ways comic books could be used to discuss social, political, economic, or legal issues for readers of all ages.
ComicCritter is my critical exploration of comic books. I plan on discussing the content and structure of comic books, the impact of comic books on readers, and the comic book industry itself. I hope this blog can be used as a springboard into critical analysis, discussion, and exploration of comic books for others with similar interests. I welcome and appreciate any feedback from fellow ComicCritters.