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Indie Spotlight
by yo go re

There's a joke about Image comics that says the company was founded by six superstar artists... and Jim Valentino. While the guys like McFarlane, Liefeld and Lee all had books that had sold more than a million copies, Valentino hadn't even managed half that. He was self-conscious about not being as big as the other guys, but it was his presense that helped deflect criticism that Image was all about ego. When it came time for him to contribute a book, Jim dug out his old rejected proposal for a revival of The Fox, polished it up, and gave the world ShadowHawk.

After a tragic scuffle with gang members Paul [Paul who? --ed.] contracted the HIV virus. One of his friends, a cop named Christina Reid said she and a man named Carlton Sun had been developing an exo-skeleton suit of armor that could help aid him in accomplishing his task of revenge against the men who gave him the virus. Johnstone [Is that Paul? --ed.] decided to don the suit, christening himself "ShadowHawk" after his favourite superhero, and was taught how to fight effectively with the help of Christine, promising to "take back the night". Johnstone also kept the pills needed to slow his reaction to his HIV infection in small pouches on his belt so he could take them as needed.

That's another "cribbed from Wikipedia" bio, and judging by the misplaced punctuation and the superfluous U's, it was written by a Brit. As you may be able to piece together from all that, ShadowHawk (yes, that's apparently how it's properly spelt) was really District Attorney Paul Johnstone, who was injected with HIV-infected blood as retaliation for not backing off on a mob case. The comic gave an honest portrayal of HIV and AIDS when they were still barely beyond being viewed as "the gay disease," and Johnstone was the first comic character to actually die from the condition.

ShadowHawk is no action figure novice: he had a figure in 1996's Spawn Series 4, and of course you remember 2004's metal cheerleader version. The '96 version was good for its time, but the '04 was a total joke, so Shocker definitely had some open space to run in. We've already seen (twice) how good they can make a female figure look - now let's see how they do with a man!

ShadowHawk uses what is presumably Shocker Toys' version of the generic male body: it's sculpted well, but may be a bit too slender for most superheroes; it's more Spider-Man than Daredevil, you know? ShadowHawk was a big guy, capable of breaking criminals' spines with a single blow - not something that's easy under any circumstances. He needs a bit more beef (though he's already packing more heat than any DC Universe figure).

The figure only does a so-so job of replicating ShadowHawk's costume. The design is right, in the vaguest sense, but the specific details don't match up with the costume worn by Johnstone: it's nothing major, and certainly not worth turning into a big list of inconsequential flaws, but an apt analogy is using your Classic Iron Man to stand in for your movie Iron Man; the colors are in the right place, but a lot of detail has been smoothed away.

Part of that is simply a factor of how the toy was made. Like we said, it's a generic male body, with most of the costume elements just painted on. Really? Just paint? Didn't that go extinct around the time of ToyBiz's first McFarlane-style Spidey toy back in 1998? Kabuki has sculpted details, but ShadowHawk doesn't. I know Mattel has gone the "paint only" route for DC Universe, but that's a failure on their part, not something to be emulated. Even etching in the lines of the costume would have been nice. The armor on his shoulders is actually separate, two pieces that clip loosely onto the balljoint. They fall off all the time, and really, a single piece that fit over the chest and shoulders would have been preferable. On the plus side, his utility belt is a separate piece, glued around the waist, and the painted lines are all crisp.

ShadowHawk's articulation makes up for the simple sculpt - or at least, the fact that you can actually move this version makes it a lot easier to overlook the lack of any raised elements beyond the bracers. He has balljointed ankles, double-hinged knees, swivel thighs, swivel/hinge hips, balljointed waist and torso, balljointed wrists, double-hinge elbows, swivel biceps, swivel/hinge shoulders and a balljointed head. Everything works well and holds tightly - you may expect some issues keeping him standing with those balljointed ankles supporting his weight, but I haven't had any trouble. The shoulder pads fall off too easily, but the figure is tons more dynamic than either of McFarlane's attempts, and for that, I like it.

The figure has one accessory: a wrist-grapnel of some sort. It's not the same sort seen in the comics, and the hooks on the end are thin enough that they get warped easily. However, the piece just clips onto his wrist, so you can safely ignore it if you want.

ShadowHawk includes an Is, like all the Indie Spotlight Series 1 figures: buy the whole set, and you'll have an army of Isz to bother The Maxx. ShadowHawk includes one of the fanged black versions, an Is brought out of the Outback and into the real world, where their colors reverse and they become carnivores. The Black Is is solid, and his little hands reach up to 2" tall - since the Isz are meant to be about a foot and a half tall, that's perfect! The spindly arms are truer to the art than McFarlane's version, too.

ShadowHawk is one of the figures in IS1 to get a variant figure. His depicts the second third subsequent man to bear the name, Eddie Collins. Since the back of the card just has the same (bad) Wikipedia bio, it refers to the wrong person. We'll make up our own.

High-schooler Eddie Collins and his widowed father James had just moved to New York City looking for a fresh start when the mantle of ShadowHawk fell into Eddie's hands - literally! Finding the ShadowHawk helmet in the aftermath of a brutal battle, Eddie put it on, and was shocked when the rest of the costume morphed around him, making him stronger, faster and more agile. With no idea what had happened, Eddie laid low, appearing as ShadowHawk only when he was desperately needed. While meditating with the helmet on, Eddie met the spirit of Paul Johnstone, who told him that the ShadowHawk was a timeless spirit of justice, and that Eddie was the reincarnation of an Egyptian shaman and the newest individual to be possessed by the spirit.

Okay, so the stuff we said about the costume having the wrong design? Forget it. We were wrong. The figure's design is based on the first costume Eddie wore, right down to the grapnel on his wrist. After learning more about the previous agents of the ShadowHawk spirit (the character having been reimagined by Kurt Busiek as a cross between Dr. Fate and Hawkman), Eddie redesignd his suit, and that's what the variant depicts.

The variant ShadowHawk is black all over, with thin silver lines mimicking the outline of the original costume. It's a sharp redesign, and it's duplicated here well. Again, none of the elements are sculpted, just painted on, but at least this version doesn't have the E-Z Lose Armor on his shoulders. He's got all the same articulation and even the same grappling hook thing. Big surprise? Different head!

What isn't the same, surprisingly, is the Is: the normal figure had a black Is, and the variant gets a white Is! Yeah, that seems like a minor thing, but anyone who's bought a Marvel Legends variant can tell you how annoying it is to have duplicate BAF pieces hanging around. If all you want is the ShadowHawks, you still get a complete set of Isz. Unlike McFarlane Toys, who used the same mold for both the black and white Isz, Socker has made them unique. Whitey, for instance, has a big smile on his football-shaped head, and his teeth aren't as vicious. Both Isz have a red paint app for the edge of their mouths, and the teeth are slightly yellowed.

Our final estimation for ShadowHawk is the same as it was for Kabuki and Katchoo: the figure isn't as good as it could have been, but it's better than you might think. In ShadowHawk's case, at least (both versions), he's much, much better than the previous toys. And when it comes to the Isz, Shocker's sculpting work is better than McFarlane Toys', because they actually paid attention to the differences. Keep moving forward!

-- 07/12/09

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