By Jim Beard
When THE LAST DEFENDERS writer Joe Casey scoured the Marvel Universe to populate his limited series telling the ultimate adventure of everybody's favorite "non-team," he never had any doubt who would land smack in the center of the story: Kyle Richmond, aka the high-flying Nighthawk.
Possessed of a rich and lengthy career, the cowled hero brings with him an element of storytelling the writer finds vitally important, an aspect that makes him stand out among the chaos that fuels the Defenders:
"In a team of mostly odd characters, Nighthawk is the most 'normal,'" notes Casey. "That makes him the best reader identifier."
From villain to hero, Kyle Richmond's leap of faith tells the tale of a man conflicted with indecision yet dedicated to justice. Beset with a world of problems he's endured to the point of unnatural heroism, Nighthawk's a role model for overcoming obstacles.
"For me, it feels like Nighthawk has been in just about every kind of story, from the strangely surreal to straight up super hero tales," comments Casey. "For a character that's always been a little under the radar, he's had a pretty colorful history."
Richmond began life as the stereotypical rich kid: spoiled, bored, and with little to no sense of responsibility or interests. Kyle made sure to put the finishing touches on the car crash his young life seemed destined to become by actually totaling his motor vehicle, but the drunk and disorderly debutante walked away unscathed while his girlfriend lost her life to the accident. Soon finding himself saddled with his deceased father's company and bum ticker, Richmond thought his life had sputtered out before coming anywhere near the finish line.
Two important catalysts then appeared on his horizon: an ancient alchemical formulae and a "cosmic gamesman" called the Grandmaster. The former granted Richmond
night-borne strength, the latter a vehicle to utilize it. The young man became Nighthawk, counterpart to an other-dimensional hero of whom the Grandmaster desired to formulate his own version of for a bizarre "game".
Teamed with other powerful players empowered by the Grandmaster, Richmond and the newly-minted Squadron Sinister battled the famous Avengers, and Nighthawk tasted his first of what would be many defeats at the hands and shield of Captain America.
A bollixed brouhaha involving Daredevil soon followed, then a reunion with the Squadron Sinister who this time somehow managed to sell the Earth to the alien Nebulon. The original Defenders looked disdainfully on the deal and brought it back for a refund. Nighthawk, sick of criminal behavior, sacrificed his life to save the day and Dr. Strange and the Defenders returned the favor-and Richmond's pulse-with a bit of their own heroic essences. Nighthawk lived, and wanted nothing more than to switch teams.
"Becoming a Defender is very important to me," Kyle announced to the motley crew. "I
only hope I never give the rest of you any cause to regret it."
He didn't. As the years wore on, Nighthawk grew into his new career, the adventuring hero of the world's most infamous "non-team." Boldly and brashly into battle he flew, against Headmen, alien Badoon, Bozos, and assorted bad guys; sometimes grouchy, sometimes focused, but always desiring to do the right thing, often to a fault.
Richmond gifted the Defenders with a headquarters and financial backing, and ultimately stepped into the role of team leader-if a loose-knit group such as the Defenders could truly be said to have a leader.
Nighthawk's interest in gadgets exploded during his Defender days, a tech-geek craving the latest jet-powered flying apparatus and offensive weaponry. A whole lot of money went a long, long way, and though the IRS had a few questions concerning his battle-suit, Kyle flew on. Only death could stop him at that time.
And stop him it did, for the second time in his life. The girlfriend he believed killed in his youthful auto accident appeared very much alive, not to mention insane and psionically-powered. This led Nighthawk into a series of shenanigans involving
Spider-Man, a U.S. super-patriot named August Masters, a cadre of telepaths, and deadly plan of psychic assault on Russia. For Russia it went well; the country survived. For Kyle it went poorly; he valiantly sacrificed his life-again.
As these things often go, Nighthawk got better. The evil Mephisto mucked around with the hero a bit after that, the Defenders seemed to reform and break apart again, the so-called "Civil War" forced Richmond to chose sides, and the Squadron Sinister reared its collective ugly head ad once more.
And now we come to THE LAST DEFENDERS-Kyle Richmond and the concept of the Defenders: reunited and it feels so...good? Drafted by Tony Stark and the Initiative to represent the state of New Jersey as its champions, the newest Defenders lineup defines "eclectic." Led by Nighthawk, the former "non-team" now includes the X-Men's Colossus, She-Hulk, and the enigmatic and possibly psychotic Blazing Skull.
Casey has his own agenda for Nighthawk, his faithful followers, and the uninitiated multitude.
"As with all the characters I get to write, I have two goals" explains the writer. "To satisfy the die hard fans of that character and to pull in new fans that might not have been aware of the character before. For instance, if you read something like CIVIL WAR and was wondering who this Nighthawk guy was that appeared on just a few pages, well, here's your chance to see how cool he is."
Kyle Richmond: villain and hero, corpse and crimefighter, loser and winner. Interested parties can absorb the nascent days of Nighthawk and the Defenders in the three existing volumes of ESSENTIAL DEFENDERS. There one can uncover the beginnings of Kyle's particular brand of cool.
Then, the new LAST DEFENDERS limited series explodes monthly in the here-and-now, issue #2 due April 9 in which Nighthawk's team discover that the Sons of the Serpent play for keeps-and aim to make the title of the book a reality!
While you're waiting for April 9 to roll around, swing over to Marvel Digital Comics Unlimited and take a gander at the last DEFENDERS limited series.