Monday, July 28, 2014

My Characters: Nightfighter!

A Nightfighter illo I did back in 1988! Note some
Ditko influence here. The Ted Kord Blue Beetle was
some of the inspiration for Nightfighter's costume.
Originally, there were white stripes down the outside of
the arms to the glove stripes, as well as stripes down the
outside of the legs attaching the belt to the boot stripes.
With this posting, I start a new series of articles here, where I write about some of the various super-heroes and super-villains I created, some of which date way back to when I was in junior high! For the longest time, I've wanted to find a way to publish stories about each of these guys, but at this stage in my life, the chances of that happening are slim to none... so instead of holding back any longer, I'm sharing these with you guys!

First up is the man called Nightfighter!

Nightfighter was one of the first serious superhero characters I created as a junior high school student. I was probably in 9th grade when I came up with him, and in the years since, I've only added to his backstory and revised his concept.

Nightfighter is a non-superpowered crimefighter who uses his combat skills and specialized weapons to fight crime. Well... that's not entirely true. He does appear to have a "Crime Sense" that lets him know when a crime is taking place in his vicinity, but that can be explained away (and I will, further on in this article). His helmet/mask employs a pair of lenses that let him see perfectly fine in the dark, so long as there's any source of light. The lenses work on a similar principle as night-vision goggles, save that they automatically adjust to any amount of light. They always look black from the outside, however. These lenses, as well as Nightfighter's other equipment, were designed and built by an unknown benefactor (that is to say, I never really defined even for myself who built this stuff for Nightfighter).

A cover for a 1987 edition of "Parsec Panels," which was my contribution to the Young
Heroes Amateur Press Association, or "YHAPA," which I belonged to for a couple of
Worn on the sides of Nightfighter's belt are two other items he uses to fight crime. One of them is a collapsible staff. When collapsed, this is about the size of an average flashlight, and can be expanded to its full five-foot length at a touch of a button. A second touch collapses it down again. Incredibly strong and durable, Nightfighter can use this staff offensively as well as defensively, and has also used it for vaulting over an object. Looking nearly identical to the collapsed staff is another tool, a rope and hook which can be fired as much as 60 yards away with a compressed air charge. The rope is typically used for climbing up the sides of buildings or for swinging from place to place.

Nightfighter's combat skills are a combination of different martial arts styles. He doesn't tend to talk much at all when in combat, other than to perhaps offer his enemies the chance to surrender. The soles of Nightfighter's boots are specially constructed to allow him to move about making as little noise as possible. The costume is imposing enough that when he makes an appearance at the scene of the crime, Nightfighter is able to take advantage of the element of surprise in order to subdue the perpretrators of the crime with little or no bloodshed. Nightfighter has a personal code against killing, although if there were innocents endangered and killing the threat is the only way to preserve lives, he will kill.

Nightfighter's relationship with the police department of Seattle, Washington (where Nightfighter is based) is a troubled one at best. Technically, since Nightfighter is a non-sanctioned costumed vigilante, the police are supposed to be trying to capture and arrest him; on the other hand, many members of the police force appreciate the help Nightfighter's been to them in the capture of many dangerous criminals (it doesn't hurt that Nightfighter provides plenty of evidence to be used in the trials of these criminals).

Nightfighter has only one friend to speak of, a fellow crimefighter named the Ace (who will get his own entry next time). The Ace and Nightfighter are polar opposites in most ways possible: the Ace tends to be very theatrical, as if he's putting on a show for an audience, making jokes while fighting; Nightfighter is much more serious. The two originally met as enemies when the Ace was wanted for committing crimes and Nightfighter tracked him down to bring him to justice. When Nightfighter learned the Ace was actually innocent, the two teamed up to take down the person responsible. The two share a mutual respect for each other, as well as mutual admiration, as each sees qualities in the other they wish they had.

The most mysterious thing about Nightfighter is his origin. He was originally known as William Wilkes, and as a boy he was innocent and law-abiding. What he didn't know is that his father, who'd raised him since William's mother passed away, was actually a criminal with ties to organized crime. William learned this the hard way when he was witness to a crime and provided the police with a description of the criminal, leading to that crook's capture. When William's father learned about this, he was furious, and beat William, telling him that no son of his was going to help the police.

This incident was a major mental blow to William, and almost overnight, he changed. No longer was William a nice boy, instead he started acting cruelly, and began committing a series of petty crimes. As he grew older, he adopted the nickname "Buck," because he would tell his criminal associates he'd do anything for a buck. What had happened was that the incident with his father had caused William to develop a split-personality, with his original personality being repressed and the new "Buck" personality taking charge. As an adult, Buck's crimes became greater and greater, and the police were constantly on the look-out for him.

Buck's luck ran out one night when a robbery went sour, and his intended victim had a gun that he used on Buck. The shot grazed Buck's skull, causing him to become groggy and bleeding, and fleeing the scene. Miraculously, he escaped the police that responded to the 911 call from the victim, and climbed over a fence to hide. On the other side of the fence was a hill that dipped sharply down towards the small home, almost a shack, at the bottom.

The commotion caused by Buck's fall got the attention of the owner, a queer old man, nearly a hermit. The neighborhood kids stay away from this house, they think it's haunted, and that the old man is some kind of witch or warlock. In reality, he's just been alone for decades, since he lost his family in a car accident. He's kept to himself all this time, but when he finds Buck, his head injured, something clicks inside him. The man drags Buck's unconscious form into his house and lays him down on his old, worn-out couch, and tends to Buck's head wound as best as he can. Leaving Buck on the couch to sleep, the man sits in his recliner and picks up the yellowed old pulp magazine he was reading, perhaps The Shadow or Doc Savage. Since he has a guest -- however insensate -- the man starts talking out loud about the pulp he's reading, talking about how back in those days, people really knew how to fight crime.

Those last two words echo in Buck's subconscious mind as he briefly gains consciousness, then passes out again.

Later that same evening, the man is watching The Wolf Man on television, and he starts explaining the story to Buck, even though Buck doesn't respond. However, during one brief moment of consciousness, Buck hears the words "full moon." These too echo in his subconscious... "Full moon... fight crime..."

Buck stays unconscious through the rest of the night and all of the following day. That evening, after the sun has gone down, the moon rises... a full moon. When the rays of the full moon pass through the window and strike Buck's face, he suddenly awakens. He sits up suddenly. This is no longer Buck, it's the William personality reasserting itself as he sees the full moon. He asks the old man where he is, and the man briefly explains as he gives William some soup, which he devours as if he hasn't eaten for weeks. Somehow, William's realized what's happened to him, and that he, William, will be dominant during the nights of the full moon. He has work to do. Despite his head injury (which appears to have not been all that serious), Buck rises from the couch, tells the old man he'll be back, and asks to see the telephone book. He finds an address, and is about to leave when the man tells William he can't go out dressed like he is, in the ragged clothes he was found in. The man finds a set of old clothes for William to wear, as well as an old hat.

William leaves and makes his way to a martial arts dojo, where he talks the sensei into training him three nights out of the month, his repayment being doing odd jobs around the dojo before his training. On his way back to the old man's house, William stops at a drug store, closed for the night, and breaks in, stealing some bandages and sleeping pills. Returning to the house, William has the old man promise to keep him bandaged up, as though his wound is even more serious than it really is, as well as to give him the sleeping pills ground up in his food to keep him groggy. He explains what's happened, and that he intends to make up for his past by fighting crime now, but he'll need help.

A month passes, then another. William has proven quite adept at learning martial arts, but Buck is growing restless, despite the pills. He finally removes the bandages to find he's completely healed, and leaves. He makes his way back to his own apartment, and makes some calls to his underworld contacts, so he can put together a job. Inside his head, William desperately wants to prevent this, but he's compelled to remain "inside" until the night of the full moon. Unless Buck plans a crime for the night of a full moon, William is helpless.

During the nights of the full moon, William leaves Buck's apartment and trains. The sensei of the dojo still doesn't quite understand why William can only train on those three nights a month, but still, William is learning faster than any previous student he's had. William asks the sensei if he knows anyone who can make some special equipment he needs, and shows the sensei some drawings he's done... the sensei nods, and promises to pass the drawings on to the inventor.

The next cycle of the full moon, William returns to the dojo with some of the money Buck's made from his crimes, so that he can pay for the equipment. But to his surprise, the sensei takes out a gun and points it at William, saying that he knows that William is Buck Wilkes, a wanted criminal (he saw a news report with Buck's photo). William explains his situation to the sensei, and then says that if the sensei doesn't believe him, that he'll have no choice but to shoot him or turn him over to the police. William turns his back to the sensei, having faith in his teacher, but still expecting to hear the clap of the gun. Instead, he hears the sensei put the safety back on. "Your story is too ridiculous to be anything but true, William," he says, and pulls out a large duffel bag, saying that all the equipment he asked for is there. Furthermore, he refuses to take any of William's money, for it is blood money and he wants none of it -- he'll pay for the equipment himself, and that William can give the money to some charity that needs it more. Outside the dojo, neither William or the sensei are aware that they're being watched by a criminal who works with Buck -- Buck's been missing on those nights of the full moon, with no explanation, and he's been curious as to what Buck's up to. He reports to his boss the next morning, who's used Buck in the past. and he figures something is wrong. He orders some of his men to trash the dojo and kill the sensei, but to make it look like it was some drug-crazed homeless people on a rampage (they're not sure what he means by that but agree to it anyway).

The next night of the full moon, William returns to the dojo and finds the result of the criminal gang's work, including the corpse of his sensei. William wishes to avenge the killing, but where to start? He begins searching for a clue of any kind, but finds none in the dojo. Outside the dojo, he spots something unusual... a cigarette butt, one of several scattered outside where one could see into the dojo without being seen. William recognizes the brand as a special import used by that one criminal, and realizes who is ultimately responsible. He then opens the duffel bag and pulls out the hood, which has a stylized "N" on it, with a similar "N" on the chest of the bodysuit as well as the belt buckle. A note from the sensei falls to the ground, and William picks it up and reads it. The sensei decided to have the insignia added, because his new identity will need a symbol... and since he plans to fight the night that's rising against the people of this city, William's new identity shall be named... Nightfighter.

Nightfighter's enemies during his first few years of action tend to be your basic criminals, with a special focus on drug pushers and their distributors. However, as we've seen in other comics, once you put on a mask, you tend to attract other masks. To be honest, I haven't put a lot of thought into what sort of costumed criminals Nightfighter would come into contact with. What I did put thought into was that as time went on, Nightfighter would realize that he is limited in what he can do by only having the nights of the full moon, and would seek help to change his situation. By this time, his occasional partner the Ace would be a full-fledged member of the super-team the Guardians of Justice, and so they would be able to reach out and find the help Nightfighter/William needs. A psychologist is found who can be trusted, and his therapy brings William and Buck together through hypnosis to find some kind of common ground. At first, William appears in this mind meeting as the young boy he was when the Buck personality developed, which lets Buck gain the upper hand, fighting his younger alter ego, but then William gradually shifts to his Nightfighter persona, and Buck is beaten back. He recognizes that Buck is a part of him, and that a balance is needed -- after all, there are things Buck knows about "normal" life that William has no experience in. The two personas merge into one. The next step is finding a new civilian identity for Nightfighter, but rather than hiding from Buck's past, Nightfighter decides that he should turn himself in and turn state's evidence, testifying against those criminal contacts he has. This makes him a target, and one night, after one of the many court trials has recessed for the evening, William is being escorted from the courthouse by a policeman when a shot rings out, and William collapses to the ground, bleeding. When paramedics arrive, he's pronounced dead.

As you can see, this illo of Nightfighter was done by Tom Mandrake. I met Tom
at the one and only San Diego ComicCon I was able to go to, probably in 1987 or
'86. Tom did drawings of two of my characters, while his wife Jan Duursema did
two others. I also had drawings done by a few other artists there. This one was
colorized by me back in the early days of the blog, and the background of an
alley added in. Tom did a great job, although he didn't quite get the stylized
"N" correct. He also missed the stripes discussed in the first drawing, but I
decided I liked this look better.
Of course, this is all an elaborate ruse on the part of the Guardians, with the assistance of their government liaison. William is rushed to a secret laboratory where he undergoes plastic surgery to give him a new face, while the government liaison works to give him a new identity, replacing "Buck" Wilkes' fingerprints in all databases with a different set (those belonging to someone long since departed) with William's fingerprints assigned to a different file. William's given the new last name of Knight, which by coincidence happens to be the same as the old man who provided the initial inspiration for Nightfighter (or is it just coincidence?), with a new background. William Knight takes possession of the old dojo he trained at, which has been abandoned since the old sensei was killed (the other staff members had found jobs at other dojos, but several return when the dojo is reopened, giving us a supporting cast). No longer bound to operate by the full moon, William Knight still serves the cause of justice after the sun goes down... as Nightfighter.

Eventually, I figure that Nightfighter will become a member of the Guardians, having already established ties with them, and some day, he would fall in love with one of their members... but that's part of their own story to tell!

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