With all due respect, it's not much of a feat to say that Hawkgirl: Hawkman Returns is not as bad as the nightmarishly poor Hawkgirl: The Maw. But in comparison to some books I've read lately like Booster Gold and Green Lantern: The Sinestro Corps War, Hawkgirl: Hawkman Returns seems hardly worth your hard-earned cash. There's some nice art here by writer Walt Simonson, Joe Bennett, and Renato Arlem especially, and the story isn't egregiously bad -- but neither does it ever get off the ground in a meaningful way.
The main difficulty with the book is that the plot never quite raises itself above good guys-fight-bad guys, though this is likely as much Simonson's fault as it is DC Comics's very loosely defined Rann/Thanagar War. Even having read Rann/Thanagar War, it was very unclear to me what Blackfire had to gain by keeping the war going on; aren't here "people," whom we never actually see here, dead as of Final Night?
Similarly, I found it hard to believe that Thanagar is still in danger, a year after 52, because of a mistake the Green Lantern Corps made and didn't fix. It doesn't help that Simonson completely mangles Blackfire's origin, often treats Hawkman as if he's native Thanagarian, and that it's impossible to tell the Thangarians from the Rannians through most of the story. That leaves just the fighting, and while Simonson and company draw some nice action sequences, there's not much more here than standard fare.
To be sure, any book that centers on the female lead pining away for the male lead to return seems somewhat destined for trouble (I've lately been thinking this might be why the last two seasons of The X-Files bombed). Hawkgirl, simultaneously wishing Hawkman would return and also cursing him for leaving, isn't terribly interesting, and it only reinforces the reader's sense that Hawkman is the real protagonist in this tale. Simonson fails to make Hawkgirl Kenda Saunders interesting in her own right -- she mostly mopes around and thinks about finding a direction for herself -- and as such the scenes without Hawkman feel simply like passing time.
The one bright spot, perhaps, is the last issue, with the aforementioned art by Renato Arlem. Arlem has a detailed style that shines especially in the New Orleans-inspired backgrounds of St. Roch, and it gives some sorely needed atmosphere to the comic. Simonson returns in the last chapter returns to the Egyptian Hath-Set plot begun by Geoff Johns, adding a bit of Apokoliptian technology to the mix. It was only here that I felt the trade began to pick up (amidst another tired Hawkman/Hawkgirl break-up scene), and this plot plus Arlem's art might almost be enough for me to pick up the final Hawkgirl trade before this series' cancellation (see discussion on the cancellation with Graeme McMillan at Newsarama). Almost.
[Contains full covers]
On now perhaps to some Batman, and then maybe Justice Society. Be there!