Hawkman Resurrected

Category: Hawkman
Last article published: June 23 2020
This is the 35th post under this label
I think he cracked it, personally. I'm talking about Robert Venditti on Hawkman, a character who, while he's had some good runs and been on the Super-Friends roster, is by most considered a B-lister, way at the back of the bench. A big part of that is how the character (and Hawkwoman) was treated by Hawkworld. While that story reinvigorated the character for many readers, the continuity-obsessed DC kept trying to make the pre-Hawkworld stories fit with the new take, never mind the fact that the Golden Age version was also around with a very similar name (Carter Hall to his Katar Hol, it's not a case of Jay and Barry being very obviously different people) yet a completely different origin. By Zero Hour, they'd also muddled Hawkman up with Native American lore, then merged the Hawks together, and none of it really worked. It was so confusing, it kind of poisoned the character for a while. Grant Morrison even put a Hawkman stand-in (Zauriel) in his JLA rather than bring back the real deal (cuz which deal WAS he, actually?). After that, we get years of absence, or of Hawkgirl holding the baton alone, and finally all sorts of reincarnation shenanigans with the two heroes kind of dying on one another to keep it all so tragic. I didn't like it.

What Venditti decided to do with the Rebirth Hawkman (he doesn't get that banner, which is ironic given the nature of the character) was get at the core of the character (all of him) in a way that I don't think had been done before. What is he ABOUT? And for all I know, some of these ideas may come from Bryan Hitch, a top-level artist who committed to doing the first year of the book, so it was obviously a passion project for him. Let him have part of the credit. What these two guys told us Hawkman was about was HISTORY. Think about it. This hero is an archaeologist/museum curator, who has had other lives, and uses ancient weapons despite being in the modern era, or as part of a space police. Flight, birds, sure. But one is pretty standard for superheroes, and the other is a motif more than a core value. So they would tap into the reincarnation thing, but also fill the book with ancient mysteries and artifacts, and attempt a more thorough and consistent history of the character himself. In other words, Hawkman is the archaeologist who studies HIMSELF.
The other thing they did was ask a question that I don't think really was asked before (or if it was, just wasn't answered satisfyingly), namely, why ARE the Hawks reincarnating? Justice for two Egyptian royals? That's mummy stuff. No, you reincarnate because you have to atone for something in a past life. And so Venditti takes Hawkman back to the beginning, and makes him part of a crime so monstrous, he never COULD. And so he reincarnates with a similar motif over and over, across time and space, which meant you could have hundreds of Hawks in the DCU and they didn't have to be all in the past. In fact, Venditti keeps the Hawkman of Thanagar as a contemporary of Carter Hall's - a contemporaneous reincarnation. And now it's all falling in place. You can have these disparate Hawkmen in the same timeline and just decide who had which adventures. Venditti uses the Atom as a recurring guest character, implying the Hawk/Atom friendship was Carter's, while the Hawkworld version came to Earth eventually and had his Chicago adventures, but is now back on Thanagar. In the art, you sometimes see the Silver Age versions, so maybe they existed too as separate people. The current Carter may be remembering a certain friendship and adopting it. It's quite clever actually.

And Venditti gets a LOT out of it. The first year of the series has these mysteries unfolding and Hawkman learning the truth just as his original sin comes home to roost. The second year is mostly taken up by Year of the Villain nonsense (they weren't kidding, sheesh) but the series makes it its own, and uses another of Hawkman's lives to drive the story, by the end reuniting him with Hawkwoman so we can learn why SHE is reincarnating with him. The latest issue (and I hear there aren't many left) really brings closure to this epic story and maybe a reader could stop there. It undoes much of what I presented above, which is a shame, surely, though Venditti still has some space to work some of the elements back in. Still, knot untangled. My favorite bit of it all is that twice in the series to date - and this could have become an annual feature - we're told a story of a Hawkman of old. Specifically, there's Carter reincarnating over and over in a centuries-long war, on both sides, and another set during the Plague, making good use of the doctors' bird masks. I love this kind of stuff. It's what made Immortal Iron Fist so great for me, for example, tapping into what I call a Bubble World Theory.
By the time the series ends, it's my hope that Hawkman and Hawkwoman will have been purged of whatever toxicity they've accumulated and that the characters can be used without anyone have to reinvent the wheel--I mean, the wing--all over again. Because this is it. This is Hawkman.


Tony Laplume said...

A hugely underappreciated run. Thanks for writing about it.


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