For Those Who Came in Late: We’ve been hip-deep in Defenders around these parts lately, exploring the early history and membership of Marvel’s most casual super-team, the loosely affiliated Defenders. Last week we began looking at the new recruits to the Defenders, particularly the Asgardian warrior-woman the Valkyrie, who joined up early and stayed for the duration. As did another new member, who would cross paths with the Defenders just after the team’s first anniversary…
Next up to sign on with the Defenders would be Kyle Richmond, a.k.a. Nighthawk, whose backstory is almost but not quite as involved as Valkyrie’s, to be honest. But in a nutshell: a rich, bored dilettante who found himself plucked from obscurity and transformed into a supervillain by the cosmic gamesman known as the Grandsmaster (complete with a serum that would double his strength after sundown, hence the name Nighthawk), Richmond fought against the Avengers and Daredevil several times alongside his partners in the Squadron Sinister (a thinly disguised version of the Justice League, with Nighthawk taking the “Batman” role in the parody).
We first see him in these parts in DEFENDERS #13 (May 1974), in “For Sale: One Planet — Slightly Used!”, written by Len Wein and drawn by Sal Buscema. Nighthawk shows up at the Defenders’ doorstep (or more accurately, Dr. Strange’s doorstep, as like always, Hulk and Valkyrie are crashing at the Sanctum Sanctorum again), looking for assistance after being blackmailed back into the supervillain life by his ex-teammates Hyperion, Dr. Spectrum and Speed Demon. It seems the Squadron Sinister had sold out humanity to another cosmic type calling himself Nebulon, who wants to flood the Earth by melting the polar icecaps, making it more hospitable for his own aquatic race.
Nighthawk tries to alert the Avengers, but discovers that he’s been rendered invisible to the Avengers’ eyes as a precaution (as has the rest of the Squadron Sinister), but when he overhears Captain America talking about their recent tussle with the Defenders, he decides to try and enlist their assistance instead. Just as Nighthawk finishes his story, he vanishes, his betrayal somehow discovered.
Dr. Strange, the Hulk, Sub-Mariner and Valkyrie head to the polar icecaps to stop the Squadron from assembling their Giant Laser™ with which they plan to melt the icecaps. There, the Nighthawk joins up with the Defenders and they take on the Squadron and Nebulon, who in the tussle reverts to his true monstrous form:
It’s Nighthawk who saves the day here, jumping behind the controls of the giant laser cannon and opening up on the Nebulon creature, which implodes, taking the Squadron with it. Unfortunately, the stress is too much for the laser cannon, which explodes, mortally wounding Nighthawk in the process. However, his life is saved thanks to the Defenders, who agree to let Strange mystically imbue a portion of their own life-forces into his body.
Nighthawk asks to be allowed to join the Defenders, and despite Strange’s refusal to admit that they’re even really a team, Namor rather forcefully suggests they do so, since once more he’s had just about enough of these clowns, and yet again splits in a huff.
Thankfully, Nighthawk ditched his awful costume in the very next issue, replacing it with a snazzy red and blue number that he’d wear throughout the series’ run, complete with a miniature jetpack hidden beneath the costume’s scarlet wings.
Nighthawk’s presence added a whole new dynamic to the book, as he was always the most committed to the concept of the Defenders as a team, and spent the most time and energy trying to formalize the “non-team’s” status. Writer Steve Gerber especially took to the Nighthawk character, devoting whole issues to his backstory as a spoiled child of privilege, and the insecurities that led him to the superhero life, and his need for the validation that would come with the Defenders’ transformation to a bona fide superhero team.
Nighthawk’s presence was also helpful from a plotting perspective; to wit, it’s always convenient to have a millionaire on the team. Need someplace for Valkyrie to keep her winged horse? Need a new place for the team to hang out with Dr. Strange out of town? No problem — Nighthawk just buys a riding academy upstate that also doubles as the Defenders’ on-again/off-again headquarters.
Although I wonder about Nighthawk’s financial responsibility — was there really a need to buy a giant Adamantium chair for the Hulk to sit in? A custom job like that has got to be expensive, and I can’t imagine Adamantium is all that comfortable…
Still, that was one of Nighthawk’s most endearing qualities as a leader: his tendency to throw money at the problem. Need to convince a member to stay? Just buy him off:
Even better, is a member really pissing you off? Just pay him to go away, like Nighthawk did with perennial pain-in-the-ass Jack Norriss:
Probably my favorite Nighthawk moment, by the way, can be found in DEFENDERS 33 and 34 (by Gerber and Buscema), in which (and try to stay with me here) Nighthawk’s brain was surgically removed from his body and replaced with that of the villain Chondu. Upon learning this, Dr. Strange mystically transfers Jack Norriss’ soul into Nighthawk’s body, so that he can infiltrate the bad guys’ headquarters (a group of rogue surgeons called the Headmen. No, really) and retrieve Kyle Richmond’s brain. Which eventually gets us to this point: Nighthawk running around carrying his own brain in a pan.
God, I love comics.
Although Nighthawk eventually became the de facto leader of the Defenders, things didn’t always go so smoothly for him. At one point, the mystical connection between he and the Defenders that Dr. Strange created to save his life was severed, rendering him paralyzed during the day, but still fully healthy and active at night. Later still, he was thought killed in a madman’s scheme to launch missiles at the Soviet Union, only to in fact have been somehow blown to the parallel Earth of the Squadron Supreme. (Or was he?) Nighthawk later returned to the land of the living; following the breakup of the Defenders, Nighthawk had a long period of inactivity as a superhero, and in recent years has worked with both the short-lived Secret Defenders and the New Thunderbolts.
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