Review: Hawkworld trade paperback (DC Comics)

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Another book that caught my interest as I've been updating the DC Universe Trade Paperback Timeline is Timothy Truman's Hawkworld. Just the sheer mention of this book sends shivers down the spine of anyone who values DC Comics continuity -- as this Comics Alliance cartoon wonderfully demonstrates, Hawkworld catalyzed the sheet implosion of Hawkman's history to such an extent that it's still not fixed twenty years later. So my question -- was it worth it? Resoundingly, yes.

[Contains spoilers]

To explain further, Hawkworld represents an ad hoc reboot of DC Comics's Hawkman continuity. Earth-born Carter Hall and his wife Shiera fought as the Golden Age Hawkman and Hawkgirl; at the start of the Silver Age, DC reintroduced a more science-fiction based Thangarian Hawkman and Hawkwoman, Katar and Shayera Hol. That Hawkman made appearances through to a few years after Crisis on Infinite Earths, when DC updated that Hawkman's origins Hawkworld. So popular was Hawkworld that DC decided to continue the story in the present continuity, requiring some heavy lifting to explain the Silver Age Hawkman's appearances between Crisis and Hawkworld. This has lead to a general confusion over which Hawkman is which that continues to this day.

If one ignores that confusion and just takes Hawkworld as a story on its own, it's a mighty fine story. Truman's art is beautiful, giving depth to both the dirty Thanagarian slums and also the excesses of the Thangarian towers; he draws dozens of alien races and perfectly expresses beauty, fear, anger, and sorrow on humanoid and alien faces alike.

Hawkworld might serve as a model for current storytellers in that it contains a number of scenes of startling violence, but none of it feels out of place or gratuitous. Even as Truman's main character is one of DC Comics's superheroic icons, Truman is unafraid to let Katar Hol sin in any number of ways -- we watch Katar worn down by the corruption around him until he starts taking drugs, and later commits a bloody murder in a misguided attempt to escape from prison. All the while, the reader understands Katar's nobility and how circumstances have brought him to these actions, and one can't help be moved throughout.

And this is letting alone that halfway through the story, Truman actually kills Shayera Thal, whom the reader expects would become the new Hawkwoman. Personally I thought it was a trick, and that the identity of the ending's mysterious figure was too obvious, but Truman concludes with a number of twists I never saw coming. Even if you had some experience with Katar Hol and Shayera Thal later on in the Hawkworld series, trust me when I saw you don't know everything until you've seen how they came together in the original Hawkworld miniseries.

Granted I imagine DC Comics pretty much wants to sweep this period of Hawman history under the rug, how ever entertaining it is, in favor of what I believe is a clearer Hawkman continuity post-Blackest Night. But among collections I'd like to see -- and maybe this is one for DC's digital comics intiative -- is a collection of the "Escape from Thanagar" storyline, Hawkworld #22-25, which tried to put a cap on Hawkworld's continuity problems by converting the original Silver Age Hawkman to a Thanagarian spy named Fel Andar. This is not, granted, the cleanest continuity patch ever, but it's a story that offers a re-explanation of some earlier stories and also guest-stars Amanda Waller and the Justice League International, so hey -- sounds like a party to me. But I'm not holding my breath ...

[Includes introduction by editor Mike Gold]

Thinking back on it, in what limited issues of Hawkworld that I've read outside the collected original miniseries -- couple of annuals, couple of crossovers -- I find Katar Hol and Shayera Thal much more interesting than Carter and Shiera Hall. The latter, I'm guessing, is what I'm stuck with, but if DC could bring the Thangarian Hawks back without destroying continuity again, I'd be all for it.

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8 comments:

  1. A real unexpected review. Thanks for your thoughtful review of an overlooked gem. The series that followed was terrific and "Escape from Thanagar" was a real highpoint (not least of which because I had letters published in the back).

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  2. Seeing the cover has a DC spin emblem and not a Dc bullet got my hopes up....is it by any chance reprinted or getting ready to be reprinted ?

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  3. I didn't even know this book was out there before the review, so thanks for opening my eyes. But I'm going to have to just clap my hands right back over my eyes because this embodies everything I don't like about Hawkman - the homework.

    Don't get me wrong; I love complex storylines, and I'm just gobbling up the slightly esoteric work Grant Morrison is doing on Batman. But with Hawkman (like that cartoon brilliantly illustrates), sometimes it seems like even the creators aren't really sure where Hawkman comes from. Just when I thought I got a handle on Hawkman in JSA, Blackest Night comes up and I'm lost again. I haven't read Brightest Day yet (trade-waiting), but what I've heard doesn't seem to clear much up for me.

    Which is really too bad, because there's something so gosh-darned appealing about a guy in hawk gear and a Neal Adams chest smashing a villain's head in with a mace. Over at Marvel, Wolverine has an incredibly layered backstory (and futurestory, too), but at the end of the day he's just a gruff son of a gun who slices and dices through the baddies. Hawkman's stories always seem to get bogged down in "So who the heck is this guy anyway?" when creators revolve his adventures around his origins.

    Maybe it's time for one final retcon like Bane got in Infinite Crisis, where he just breaks Judomaster's back and says, "I finally know who I am. I am Bane. I break people." I think at this point I'm not the only fan who wants Hawkman to pull a Frank Miller, growl "I'm the goddamn Hawkman," and smash in the face of a character who symbolizes continuity.

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  4. What I like about the Hawkworld collection is that it filters Hawkman down to the basic elements (in service of the origin) such that it can be enjoyed without knowing all the history; at the same time, there's no practical application for the reader of the story information post-Hawkworld, as Zach mentions.

    Possibly I think DC's mistake is hewing to this Golden Age Carter Hall version of Hawkman, either just because he was first or because Geoff Johns happened to be on JSA at the time. I find JSA-era Carter Hall far less interesting than the mid-1990s reckless-but-honorable Thangarian Katar Hol, and if someone was going to survive all the merging and re-merging, at times I wish it had been Katar.

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  5. Again, as memorable the HAWKWORLD title was (I do remember the storyline you are referring to, I have not yet read it) the chances of it getting reprinted are very slim.

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  6. I can genuinely understand why DC wouldn't want to go back to this period. The snarled web of continuity surrounding the Hawks is a part of why I don't like them. Even reading Rann/Thanagar War, I ended up with questions I'd rather I hadn't needed to ask when Shayera showed up. The Hawks are pretty daunting.

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  7. Hawkworld suffered from the monthly series that followed being in current (at the time) DC continuity while picking up directly from the mini. In other words, the Hawkworld mini was perfectly serviceable as a 'year one' type of story that somehow got ramrodded into the 'present'. The monthly that followed then eventually had to address who the satellite-era Hawkman was in a way that satisfied only those in favor of the most convoluted and nonsensical historical patches available (wheel-spinning and tail-chasing), and was a disservice to the title's otherwise solid run. That's a shame because Hawkworld is not only a tremendously compelling story, but it also contains the best realization of Thanagarian culture, technology, and mythos ever produced. And did I mention the art?

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  8. Thanks for this review. Because of it I just read Hawkworld and it is great and original story.

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