Legend of the Hawkman
(2000 - 3 issues, prestige format,, published by DC Comics)
Writer: Ben Raab. Artist: Michael Lark.
The advantage (or disadvantage) to posting reviews on a website is that you have the luxury of revisiting, and revising, some of your comments. A review written in a newspaper, for instance -- well, once it's written, it can't be unwritten. Even if a reviewer changes his mind later. Granted, one could argue that if one finds one's opinion changing, then maybe one shouldn't have been so quick to pass judgment at first. But I'm also inclined to say everyone -- everyone -- has been in a similar situation. Going in to a story, with boundless expectations, you can expect more than it delivers, and be disappointed. Read a second time, you can enjoy it for what it is.
All this is a pre-amble to saying I'm modifying my review of this mini-series which, the first time through, I was more dismissive of. Sure, some of my original comments remain just as valid, but a second time through I was more easy going and enjoyed it more.
The Silver Age versions of Hawkman and Hawkgirl, in what would seem to be the early days of their career (though it's never stated as such), discover a crypt on earth built millennia ago by people from the planet Thanagar, Hawkman's homeworld. The crypt holds Thasaro -- basically the Thanagarian equivalent of the Devil -- who gets free. Although the Hawks initially defeat Thasaro, cultist worshippers from Thanagar help free him again, leading the Hawks to Thanagar and back to earth, following a trail of destruction, eventually culminating in a Godzilla-like showdown with a gigantic Thasaro.
When I was a kid, I thought Hawkman and Hawkgirl were cool. Maybe it was 'cause they had the most idiosyncratic costumes in comics, or maybe it was the neat art by the likes of Joe Kubert and Murphy Anderson (that I'd seen in reprints), maybe it was the use of medieval weapons or the unusual idea of a husband and wife team. Whatever. As I got older, my interest waned, but I've retained a certain affection for them.
The first issue starts off well and is relatively self-contained -- not only do the Hawks defeat Thasaro, but a character arc, with Hawkgirl wanting to return to Thanagar, begins and ends here, too. The first issue is worth buying on its own, just to see if you want to get the rest. Although some narrative weaknesses arise, like the Hawkgirl-wanting-to-go-home-thing, since it's unclear why she's had a change of heart by the end, and there's a plot point relating to the Hawks' ancestory that's kind of confusing. I guess you can infer the significance, but it should've been articulated. But overall, the issue is moody, set eerily in the Tibetan mountains, all lushly delivered by Michael Lark's elegant, detailed art, artfully shadowed, and nicely coloured by Lee Loughridge. Lark's (slightly) unglamourized, blocky figure work is maybe a bit curious for characters who should be areodynamic, but it's generally quite effective, even breathtaking with some of the full page spreads.
Writer Ben Raab employs the cinematic style common today where there's no thought balloons or text captions. Although it's common now, I find it can often render a comic a bit...aloof, not really allowing the heart and emotion of the characters to really spill off the page. He tries to throw in some emotional stuff, as the Hawks have a spat or, conversely, profess their love, or engage in debates about faith (Hawkgirl is religious, Hawkman isn't) -- but a lot of it seems perfunctory. And Hawkman seems an oddly, uh, wussy character at times. And yet, a second time through, I appreciated it more, realizing some of the ideas Raab was going for, even if he doesn't exactly succeed. And the religious debate is kind of awkward in a story where Gods appear and have conversations, kind of negating the notion of "faith"...though, conversely, Raab doesn't turn this into a (metaphorical) religious parable. Hawkman still remains, apparently, secular by the end.
The climax smacks a little too much of putting the themes and ideas ahead of literal solutions, which is a shame on more than one level. As noted, this is intended to evoke the early, Silver Age versions of characters who have undergone some massive changes over the years -- although it's more violent and with a higher death toll than Silver Age stories. But those early stories were often about problem solving, seeing how the Hawks outwitted their opponents, often using (vague) scientific principles. But the action scenes, though nicely rendered by Lark, don't always form a story in and of themselves. They defeat a horde of zombies in one scene simply by force of arms, rather than any clever strategy.
The series could've been better, more complex, the scenes better realized, but I enjoyed it much more a second time through: the moody, elegant art of Lark; the larger-than-life plot, taking our heroes from Tibet to American, to Thanagar and back; the ambitions in Raab's ideas. Although I still question whether a climax battling a giant god is really suited to small scale heroes who, after all, can only fly.
So, after all is said and done, this may not be the best Hawkman story it could be...but as it may be the only chance to see the Silver Age versions in a lushly coloured, prestige format, it's moderately enjoyable.
It was published in an expensive prestige format (ie: square spined, graphic novel format) which might've been a last minute publishing decision. Each of the 48 page books is divided into two chapters, making one wonder if it was originally written as a six issue, regular format series, then released as three issues of a prestige format series, either because the editors thought it was that good...or, the opposite, because they had doubts and thought it'd read better as a shorter series.
A final note: To be "Hawkman-ed" is a term I once saw used referring to DC Comics' constant attempts to "fix" their continuity in the wake of their "Crisis on Infinite Earths" series (which was, itself, intended to clarify the DC universe). Apparently Hawkman has been "fixed" so often, most fans have long since given up trying to figure out what is, or is not, supposed to be considered part of the character's history. As such, I'm not sure how or where this mini-series fits into things. For one thing, I thought Thanagar had been reimagined as a dark, racist society...but that doesn't seem to be in evidence here. And the current Hawkman series (begun in 2002) seems to use the Golden Age, re-incarnated Egyptian prince version of the characters...so where these guys, Katar and Shayera Hol, aliens from the planet Thanagar, are in current DC reality, I don't know.