While selling some books on Amazon, I came across an old 90s comic book that my cousin had collected, called ShadowHawk. I opened it and began reading…

It was New York City in the early 90s.

Crime was everywhere.

Police were either lazy or prevented from doing their jobs by the silly court rules and bullshit watchdog services.

Paul Johnstone, the protagonist, was a good kid. He stayed out of trouble even though he lived in Harlem. As a good black kid in a bad black neighborhood, he wanted to do something about the distraught social forces he saw around him. What can he do about it? He became a district attorney.

But one night a group of thugs beats him up, steals all his money, and then injects a syringe with HIV into his arm. That’s so fucked up! What’s he going to do about it?

In the early 90s people thought HIV was the most contagious disease on the planet. Hence Paul Johnstone looses his job after altercations with co-workers over the condition. The comic’s creator, Jim Valentino, spread HIV myths and misconceptions throughout the illustrations. Some issues of ShadowHawk were aimed at dispelling the myth that HIV only affected gays and IV drug users. The ‘progressive’ point Valentino was making was that it affects “innocent” people too.

Needless to say there were more myths about HIV that needed dispelling, but given the level of hysteria at the time I suppose all Valentino could do was point out the differences between guilty and innocent victims of HIV. But there is another hidden “narrative” I am trying to expose within this comic.

Back to the story: the courts had become an impossible environment to be in; Paul becomes severely depressed. While walking the streets to clear up his mind one night, gang-members jump him and steal all of his shit again. How fucked up can it get for this guy? When has he had enough?

He ends up in the hospital, where a friend from the police force comes to visit him. Christina, who was fired that day for “excessive force”, conspires with Paul about justice. They’re both fed up with the system, they can’t take it anymore. Driven by their desire to see justice prevail, they design a super exo-skeletal system that Paul wears at night when he becomes … “ShadowHawk”…

“You used to believe in the system.

You can’t anymore.”

“It has failed you.”

“You feel a certain amount of satisfaction as his spine breaks.”

“No matter what the courts decide…

You’re ShadowHawk.
And you’re taking back the night.”

Okay, okay, wait a second. What is the difference between superhero and vigilante, really? What is the difference between a freedom fighter and a terrorist? What’s the difference between ShadowHawk and Rudy Guliani?

This was the same time-period in New York City history when a new paradigm for crime intervention grew in support, the “zero-tolerance” policing that exists still today. Civil liberties were suspended and still are as the New York Police Department began a new campaign inspired by the “broken windows policing” theory. This was done under the reign of mayor Rudy Guliani.

In theory, by cracking down on all forms of “criminal” activity, such as j-walking, spitting, graffiti, ordinance code violations, littering, loitering, and the like, you would significantly decrease violent crimes and property crimes. The economic results are generally in support of the thesis and – whether causally-related or not – NYC has seen a decrease in crime since the early-90s. Sociological authors have cast serious doubt on the theory and its merits.

At the same time Rudy Guliani increased the number of police on beat patrol, the number of those working on the civilian complaint board decreased or were replaced by former police officers. Thus, the number of complaints and the number of cases brought against the New York Police Department have seemingly dropped. The police now enjoy superhero vigilante status, and with fewer oppositional forces within the city government, and less criticism.

Such that, when the NYPD see something they do not like in their city today, this is how they respond:

In Oakland last week – a white police officer is caught on tape executing an innocent black man, Oscar Grant. Several video angles of the shooting available on Indybay make it impossible to deny that the police officer in fact shot the man execution style. He was not resisting and was lying flat on his face.

These are the ShadowHawks of today: the spine-breakers who patrol the streets and are above the law. The courts and the system have “failed them”, and no matter what judges decide, they are ShadowHawks, and they don’t give a damn about “excessive force”. They enjoy, through widespread propagandistic media, a blanket of support from bourgeois society.

I have more comics to browse through. Batman is another example of a superhero rogue cop who, when the Joker and his bad guys do not admit the truth, tortures the lunatic criminals until they make a confession – with plenty of parallels to the War on Terror.

One thing the ShadowHawk comic was did brilliantly, however, was disguise a racist and anti-social tendency as something that looked at the time like racial and gender equality. By having crime-fighting ShadowHawk be a black man and by having his brutal sidekick be a woman who worked a traditional male job, it would seem to make criticism more difficult. As if having a Jew play the role of the SS would make Nazi Germany seem any more just. (There always has to be a Nazi analogy.)

Surely we have already seen parallels with this and the Barack Obama presidency.