Review: Hawkgirl: Hath-Set trade paperback (DC Comics)

Monday, December 07, 2009

One of many good things about walking in to the after-Thanksgiving sale at my local comics shop was the opportunity to purchase Hawkgirl: Hath-Set at a discount given that I was none too pleased with earlier Hawkgirl volumes. Hath-Set turns out to be proof positive that there's nothing harder to come back from than a rocky start -- even as writer Walter Simonson's stories picked up in the absence of earlier artist Howard Chaykin, the third volume of Hawkgirl still sees the end of the series. Simonson offers some good characterization of the modern Hawkgirl character, especially as seen through others' eyes, but the story spins its wheels in such a way as to signal that the end is necessarily nigh.

We learn from Hawkgirl that Walt Simoson should be writing Batman. Both here and in Hawkgirl: The Maw, Simonson presents a Batman who smoothly transitions from Bruce Wayne to Batman as a kind of slick playboy James Bondian-Batman, equally at ease at a dinner party as when fighting crime, and friends with the late night janitors of the Gotham museum. This classy Batman makes for an equally classy Hawkgirl Kendra Saunders, whose fighting style Batman admires even as he's impressed by her knowledge of ancient artifacts. No more the moody twentysomething from the early pages of JSA, this Hawkgirl -- the reader sees through Batman -- holds her own, and does so with a flair reminiscent of Barbara Gordon's days as Batgirl.

Indeed, Simonson -- and Brad Meltzer before him, in the pages of Justice League -- accepts that this new incarnation has been around ten years now (hard to believe), and it's time to stop treating her like a newly arrived stranger. Most of Geoff Johns' run on Hawkman presented Kendra in Hawkman's shadow, but lately she's in the Justice League, calls Batman and Superman "Bruce" and "Clark," and gives each kisses on the cheek to thank them for their help. This is a necessary change, I think; in the absence of resurrecting Shiera Hall (though Simonson does that briefly here, too), who was herself a cornerstone of the Justice League, it makes little sense to treat Kendra like a new character that no one knows. In that way, I enjoyed seeing Simoson plant Hawkgirl firmly in the center of the DC Universe (much as Peter Tomasi did recently in Nightwing: Freefall).

The six issues of Hawkgirl: Hath-Set, however, run about three issues too long. First, there's a two-parter in the beginning that pits Hawkgirl against the Female Furies and an Apokolyptian weapon; the lead-in to this in Hawkgirl: Hawkman Returns was considerably more interesting, and in the end nothing changes and everything goes back in its place. Perhaps the only benefit is reading Simonson writing the New Gods again, if only for a moment.

Second, the culminating battle between Hawkgirl and Hath-Set goes on at least one issue too long. Hawkgirl and the mummified Hath-Set spend nearly an entire issue standing in place, jabbing one another with swords, and trading insults; then they go on to do it again in the next issue. Simonson writes for the monthly reader and not the collection -- as perhaps he should -- with the effect that the narrated setting of time and place repeats itself rather unnecessarily seemingly in mid-scene. There's nothing bad here, per se, but just a sense of dragging that usually foretells a series about to be cancelled.

Surely one could argue that the cancellation of Hawkgirl (and Manhunter, and Birds of Prey) portends bad things for female-led comics in the DC Universe. That might be true, but rather I think Hawkgirl just started on the wrong foot and could never quite right itself. Pity that Simonson couldn't make more of a statement at the end of the book; the story ends with no real closure on Hawkman and Hawkgirl's relationships, likely to leave it open for the next writer to play with. This might've at least given the Hawkgirl series a place in history, if nothing else.

[Contains full covers]
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