Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Read: Hawkworld (Ongoing Series)

In my quest to actually read all of my Hawkman comics, I started my read-through of Hawkworld a couple of months ago.  And this weekend, I finished the job, closing the book on Katar Hol and Shayera Thal and their adventures in and around Chicago.  Well, sort of.

After the three-issue prestige format miniseries, the Hawkworld ongoing series ran for 32 issues, along with three Annuals.  Across those 35 issues, scribes Tim Truman and John Ostrander (first jointly, and then Ostrader flying solo) handle the writing chores, meaning that the overall story remains remarkably consistent, as does the portrayal and voices for each character.  And there are many important characters here -- besides our two heroes, we also get various folks on both Earth and Thanagar who have their own roles to play and motivations to act upon.  Given this, titling the series Hawkworld makes perfect sense, as it is not just the story of Hawkman and Hawkwoman, but of all of the various players on both of the Hawkworlds.

As to be expected this post contains some SPOILERS for Hawkworld, so proceed with the appropriate caution.

--Character. As is to be expected, by having the same authors work on the entire series, the characters are all very consistent and generally well developed and portrayed throughout.  Having always heard that the Post-Crisis Katar was a bleeding heart liberal, I was surprised to find him to be much more well rounded than that description would have me believe.  He's a bleeding heart for sure, but overall he is very three dimensional.  I enjoyed his contemplations and musings on nature of liberty and freedom, and the comparisons of the American set of values with those of Thanagar.  Much like the Pre-Crisis Hawks would eventually leave Thanagar and take Earth as their "adopted home," so too does Katar make the journey here, first believing Earth to be little more than another Hawkworld, but slowly learning that the "inalienable human rights" guaranteed by the American Revolution may not be mere words on old paper.  It's a meaty and fascinating sort of character arc, especially given what we know of Katar, and the depths to which he sank, in the miniseries.

Shayera is a standout.  The entire modern concept of Hawkgirl/Hawkwoman comes from Shayera's depiction in this series.  Fans of Hawkgirl from her turns in Justice League, as well as fans of the Pre-52 Kendra Saunders version, would be well served to check out this series to see the genesis of the hard bitten, hard charging brawler.  (They might also check out this issue from Volume 4, featuring Shayera and Kendra tangling.)  To this day, the death of Shayera Thal remains one of the most frustrating events of the Pre-52 era.  As an aside, Shayera's borderline obsession with her firearms -- even as Katar starts to favor ancient or more simple weapons -- is also a nice callback to the Silver Age Hawks, where Shayera would routinely use Thanagarian high technology as a contrast to Katar's weaponry.  

--Silver Age elements. As I said when I checked in initially during my read-through, I had no idea so many Silver Age characters and concepts would crop up in Hawkworld.  We get characters such as Joe Tracy, Mavis Trent, Andar Pul, Shadow Thief, Commisioner Emmet, Hyanthis, and Dr. Moon, plus alien races such as the Lizarkons and Manhawks.  In addition, there is a decent amount of Golden Age characters appearing, including Carter and Shiera Hall (naturally) and GA Flash Rogue The Fiddler.  

--Retcons. This one I knew was going to be a relatively big part of the series. What I did not realize was that the Fel Andar stuff was essentially done in these pages to explain away the existence of "Hawkman" and "Hawkgirl" in the JLI.  Mind you, I did not know where I thought that would be explained, but I did not know it was in Hawkorld, whatever that's worth.  I guess I will need to track down those JLI issues and Invasion at some point.  

--Count Viper.  From having read the first 2/3rds or so of Volume 3, I had figured that the Netherworld as well as Count Viper played a bigger role in the pages of Hawkworld, but both are introduced only in the final story arc (the six part "Flight's End").  This is more my fault than anything else, as I did not realize that it was literally only 2 months between the finale of Hawkworld and the debut of Volume 3.  Furthermore, given his rapid introduction and push to the top of the villain heap, the changes which Bill Messener-Loebs makes to Count Viper are all the more odd: we didn't even get a chance to really examine the character before he was fundamentally changed.  All of this leads into...

--The Relaunch. Why was Hawkworld ended and restarted as Hawkman Volume 3?  I have a few theories.  One is the one which is stated on the letter column, that with a new direction the book needed a new title and a fresh start.  I don't know how much stock I put in this, because while the identity of Hawkman is under wraps at the start of Volume 3, it pretty quickly is revealed as Katar Hol, and the story itself continues from what went down at the end of Hawkworld, with Viper and Netherworld.  It's not until the two-parter by Paul Kupperberg in Hawkman v.3:no.7-8 which starts the book on a "new direction" which ultimately comes to fruition with the Messener-Loebs overhaul of Katar.  

(Side note: having read Hawkworld, I strongly suspect that my opinions of that overhaul will be much different on the coming read-through of Volume 3 than they were initially!)  

So unless the deal was "Let's have Ostrander finish his story and they we'll start this new direction," which seems unlikely, I don't think this theory holds up.  I put more stock in my other theory, that while Hawkworld was still chugging along, that sales were falling, so a relaunch with a new #1 with a fancy cover and a more marketable name (and the promotional push which accompanied those things in 1993) would help shore up the bottom line for the book.  Hence why Ostrander continued on as the writer, and Jan Duursema, who had started working on the title in the closing days, coming back on art.  And, after six months, I suspect that sales had not rebounded up to where DC had wanted them, so Ostrander exits the book, Kupperberg plays scorched Earth, and Messener-Loebs' new Hawkman makes a grand entrance just in time to be showcased in a line-wide event (Zero Month).  Heck, Messner-Loebs even takes Thanagar off the table a few issues after that!  So maybe it's a cynical line of thought, but it looks like the relaunch was an attempt to get the Hawkworld story to sell better, and when it didn't, DC threw the whole thing out.  I'd love to back this up with some sales figures, but Comichron only has detailed records dating to 1995 at this point.  

All told, I really enjoyed reading Hawkworld.  I have always said that the sign of a good comic book series is that when you finish an issue, you are eager to grab the next one and keep reading, and that was the case throughout this book for me.  

Coming soon: A closing post on some of the lessons learned in Hawkworld, and then a read through of Volume 3.  As I have already posted a good bit of the early parts of that series, I may do some link posts with additional comments.

Image: Hawkworld #32, 1992, Tim Truman.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Image: Reader's Hawkman Tattoo!

Got home from a family trip to the beach yesterday and found this email sitting in my Inbox:

Good morning

Greetings from a regular reader of your blog. Been enjoying your entries.
 
Thought you would appreciate a fan's effort - just had it done less than 24 hours ago. This is the just the first selfie taken immediately after the 5 hour session (ow ow ow ) - Will ask a buddy to take a better photo at a later time.  And will send that also.

Keep up the good work, you and the rest of the super bloggers
 
Regards
Angson (call me anson without the "g")
Toronto Ontario Canada

Wow!  Awesome stuff right there!  I have never had a tattoo, though my brother has several.  I cannot imagine a 5 hour session in the artist's chair, though -- yikes!  But, I have to say that the results are all right there in the work, though.  Hawkman looks a little worse for wear with all of the arrows through his wings, but you know that he's just biding his time to beat down hie foe.  I am not 100% sure but I am pretty certain that image is from the early days of Volume 4, where the Hawks and Green Arrow tangled with the Spider in St. Roch.  Am I close?

Thank you so much for sharing, Angson, and I hope you get tons of compliments on your fantastic new ink!

(This is really unrelated, but Angson's sign off makes me think of Lance Storm's classic "Calgary... Alberta, Canada!" line.)

Image: Hawkman tattoo, 2014, image (and arm) provided by Angson.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Read: Hawkworld Crossover Tie-Ins!

As I continue my read through of Hawkworld (I'm right in the middle of Escape From Thanagar right now), one of the oddities of the early 90s DC cropped up, as the book was a part of not one, but two line-wide crossovers at the same time.  Hawkworld Annual #2 (street date 6/25/91), issue #15 (7/16/91), and #16 (8/13/91) made Katar and Shayera a part of both Armageddon 2001 and War Of The Gods, in the span of less than 8 weeks.  I ended up reading them a little backwards, but I will address that below.  (h/t to Mike over at dcindexes.com for the street dates!)

One thing which benefits all three of these issues is that, despite their "crossover event" status, John Ostrander still handles the writing chores on them. So in the end they feel very much like part of the ongoing Hawkworld narrative despite the external elements.  Of course, War Of The Gods is a bit more intrusive in this respect; the very nature of Armageddon 2001 is more of a wrap-around story anyway.

The first War Of The Gods tie-in issue, #15, is the better of the two because it embraces the "tie-in" aspect -- by being a side story it allows Ostrander to tell a Hawkworld story which just happens to feature the milieu of War Of The Gods as the driver.  Given what has already been established about Thanagarian mythology -- specifically, the curses "Seven Devils!" and "Seven Hells!" -- resurrecting the Thanagarian pantheon on Earth is a natural choice.  Add to this that the resurrection occurs at the already very well established Thanagarian museum exhibit run by Mavis Trent, and the entire story ends up feeling... I hate to use the word "organic" because it is overused in discussing comics crossovers, but in this case that is the best fit.  After reading this issue, I thought to myself that with some very minor tweaks, it could have been just a done-in-one Hawkworld story with no connection to the crossover, and that is high praise indeed, considering.  

Issue #16 is more what I think of when it comes to these 90's crossover tie-in issues -- moving the main characters (in this case, Wonder Woman), to where they need to be with a minimum of actual story for the "host" characters (Hawkman and Hawkwoman, of course).  And that's exactly what we get, as the Hawks play a small but pivotal role in getting Wonder Woman where she has to be for the next part of the crossover.  To be fair, Ostrander does deliver on what was set up previously (as well as on the cover), and has Shayera and Diana tangle.  That fight, short though it is, is worth the price of admission as far as I am concerned.  The modern idea of Hawkgirl/Hawkwoman as a no-nonsense, smash first ask questions sometime next week character (hugely popularized on Justice League and Justice League Unlimited) all stems from Truman and especially Ostrander's depiction of Shayera in this series, and this little subplot is a great example.  Shayera is champing at the bit for a chance to go toe to toe with the Amazonian, and when she gets her chance, she goes all out.  Of course, Katar plays the level head and everyone works it all out in the end, just in time for the next installment, which according to Wikipedia is Animal Man #40.

Tellingly, shortly after I read these issues, I came across a couple issues of War Of The Gods in a dollar bin, and left them there without much deliberation.  

Annual #2 was released before #15, but I ended up reading it after #16, which made for a nice bit of symmetry because the ending of the Annual is picked up at the beginning of #18, so I thought it read very nicely with that pacing.  In any event, while I have not read anything of Armageddon 2001 beyond this issue, I felt very comfortable with the crossover aspects of it due to the presence of Waverider, a character I got to know very well when I got into the DCU in 1994.  So I knew his deal, and we get a good explanation of why he is seeking out heroes and looking at their potential futures to start things off.  From there, Ostrander tells an action-packed story of the return of one of the Hawks' greatest foes, the seemingly unstoppable robot Attila!  

Wait, who?

Exactly.

Ostrander's story is what a Doctor Who fan would call "wibbly wobbly timey wimey," as it features the "return" of a character who had not yet been introduced.  The strength of Ostrander's writing here allows the reader to simply go along for the ride.  It's a good fit for an Annual, showing us glimpses of where the characters might be heading but focusing on the action, giving the buyer some fun "summer reading" as it were.  Given that a lot of times this series tends to get a little heavy on the pontification, sometimes fighting a big robot is the way to go.  (As an added bonus, we also get to see the Hawks take out a minor foe named Ricochet, who I am downright amazed that Geoff Johns didn't bring back at some point. Also, his name makes me think of the legendary Ricochet Barbecue Sauce segment from Mystery Science Theater 3000.)  And the ending, as I said, sets up the origins of this character who we just saw return, giving us a tease of filling in that story.  I was unsure if this was going to be an intentionally dangling thread by Ostrander or something he intended to get back too.  So I have to admit I was pleased when Attila showed back up so quickly, as I said.  

(Aside: See folks?  DC has done one-off issues looking several years ahead at possible futures of their heroes before.  Please stop losing your mind over the Futures End issues.)

Hawkworld has remained a very fun read for me.  I had some concerns with the crossover tie-ins (and I still hold some concern for the upcoming Annual #3, which ties into The Darkness Within... as much as I like Eclipso, I am just downright wary of the crossover...), but these books were all pleasant surprises.  Issue #15 was a solid story delving with more detail into the mythology and religion of Thanagar (which would become more important shortly in the series), #16 gave us a fantastic confrontation between Hawkwoman and Wonder Woman to elevate beyond it's "move the pieces" editorial direction, and Annual #2 gave us a big smash-up with some intriguing glimpses at a future whichi would never be.  All told , I have to say that I came out ahead as a reader through this patch.

Image: Hawkworld Annual #2, 1991, Graham Nolan.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

DragonCon 2014 Hawkman and Hawkgirl Cosplay

As it is every September, I was unable to attend DragonCon down in Atlanta over Labor Day weekend.  And as it is every September, Shag (of Firestorm Fan fame!) was able to take plenty of pictures of the various cosplayers who assembly themselves at "Geek Mardi Gras" and share them with all of us!  So without further adieu, let's see some pictures!

This Hawkman and Hawkgirl cosplaying duo have a sort of "primitive punk" or post-apocalyptic vibe to them, almost as if they had to pull their uniforms together from whatever he could salvage. The makeshift wings amuse because I am reading Hawkworld right now, and Ostrander makes several remarks to the point that the wings are only their for gliding, so as long as they are aerodynamic, material doesn't matter.  Hawkgirl's biker helmet is a nice, Mad Max sort of element. Hawkman's hlmet looks like a nice mix of the classic Hawk helmet and a Weaponer of Qward!



These two also took part in this neat JSA photoshoot!  


Shag also snagged a great shot of this Justice League Unlimited style Hawgirl!  I have always been partial to this look for Shayera because she is essentially wearing Brice Lee's famous yellow and bike suit, and like Lee, she likes to kick butt and take names!  The wings are also pretty spot on for the Bruce Timm-style wings we got on the cartoon.  Great costume all around!

It looks like DragonCon was a great success from a cosplaying and costuming standpoint once again!  I would like to thank Shag for taking all of the great pictures you see, plus countless more.  If you want to check out some more of the great cosplay from DragonCon '14, you are in luck because a whole gaggle of my fellow bloggers have gotten in on the act today!


So check it out and enjoy!  

Monday, September 8, 2014

The Fire & Water Podcast Episode 100!

Most people who read this blog know of Rob Kelly (he of The Aquaman Shrine) and The Irredeemable Shag (he of Firestorm Fan), and their podcast, The Fire & Water Podcast, which covers their respective heroes -- Aquaman and Firestorm, natch -- as well as anything else which seems to get their geek goat.  Rob and Shag have hit a major milestone today, with Fire & Water reaching the century mark... and doing so in spectacular fashion!

To celebrate the big One-Oh-Oh, the guys have grabbed up a veritable bevy of bloggers and podcasters -- including Diabolu Frank, J. David Weter, Doug Zawisza, Chris and Cindy Franklin, Siskoid, Chad Bokelman, Ryan Daly, Michael Bailey, and of course yours truly... and a surprise in there as well --  to give some love to Justice League of America #200, featuring the new Justice League fighting the original Justice League and more heroes than you can shake a stick at.  It's a celebration of centennial proportions, so why not click here and give it a listen!

Fan the Flame and Ride the Wave, boys -- here's to a hundred more!

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Read: Hawkworld Annual #1

One of the constants in the first few months of Hawkworld was a repeated plea in the letters page to "read the Annual," as it was promised to answer all questions, concerns, and complaints about how Hawkworld rectified itself with the Pre-Crisis Hawkman stories.  So, as a dutiful Hawk fanboy, I snagged the Annual from the pile and read it right after issue #5 as directed by series editor Mike Gold.  The book itself is written by John Ostrander (sans Tim Truman, a first for the series), and the art is by Gary Kwapisz, an artist I sorta previously knew from his work on Save Sword of Conan over at Marvel; Kwapisz would move over to be the inker on Hawkworld for a run starting with #7.  His style is different from Graham Nolans, but not so different as to be distracting or off-putting, so the artistic change didn't phase me much.  

More interesting to me is John Ostrander "flying solo," as it were.  The series' tone and look both came from Tim Truman, and as the initial storyline of the ongoing was directly tied to the end of the miniseries (The Hunt For Byth), it made sense for Truman to continue working on the versions of the characters he had created.  So that makes me wonder -- why didn't Tim Truman contribute to this Annual, except for his wonderful cover?  The speculatory fanboy in me suggests that perhaps Truman wasn't interested in rationalizing the continuity between the Pre- and Post-Crisis Hawks, while DC obviously was, if the amount of published mail was any indication.  (And to be fair, it might not be, but it seemed like there was a legitimate groundswell of readers who were enjoying Hawkworld but wanted to know how in the world it fit with the older stories.)  So, to continue the line of speculation, maybe DC wanted to tell this story, asked the series writers to tackle it in the Annual, Truman balked, and so Ostrander handled the chores.

Of course, the chances of that seem somewhat unlikely.  It seems like a more likely scenario was Ostrander being able to pick up the book without negatively impacting his other workload.  Or that Ostrander took sole writing duty on the Annual as a sort of "warm up act" before taking on the ongoing solo a few months later.  Or that the schedule didn't allow Truman any time to contribute significantly to the Annual.  Or any number of more mundane reasons which are all more plausible than Truman turning up his nose at a retcon story.  Especially considering that Truman did the cover, after all!

And you can tell it's going to be a retcon story because we start out learning the origin of Golden Age menace The Fiddler, whom every time I read his name I am tempted to say it in a style like Method Man on the Batman Forever soundtrack, "Tha Fiddlaaah!"  From there the story fairly deftly weaves the two timelines together (using Wally West as the conduit for Hawkman and Hawkwoman to travel through time, nice!), giving Carter and Shiera Hall an heretofore unknown Thanagarian-posing-as-Earthling compatriot in the form of Perry Carter AKA Paran Katar, Hawkman's father and the founder of the Wingmen.

The retcon itself is sort of a mixed bag for me.  I've never had too much of a problem with the idea that Nth Metal is Thanagarian rather than terrestrial.  That makes sense to me from a psuedo-scientific standpoint -- if this was a terrestrial elemental metal, why has it only ever been found that one time?  So making it alien works for me.  Similarly, while I don't love the idea of the Golden Age Hawks taking the place of the Silver Age Hawks in both Volume 2 and Justice League of America -- mostly because there are entirely too many science fiction stories in Volume 2 which rely on the Hawks being aliens -- I can at least understand that one because their looks and personalities were "close enough" (thank hashut for DC's Silver Age) that if you squint at it, you can buy it... especially in the JLA.  (To this end, making Carter Hall a brunette and Shiera Hall a redhead is also reasonable, especially considering the relative difficulty even now of getting those Golden Age Hawk stories, even though it is jarring if you are reading multiple runs at once.)

But the timeline of this story is suspect to me.  Essentially, Paran Katar travels to Earth shortly before Carter Hall becomes Hawkman.  he helps Carter create the anti-gravity harness for his wings, without Paran's help Carter never would have been able to accomplish.  He then returns to Thanagar and creates the Wingmen, who by the time of the beginning of the Hawkworld mini, are well established as the law enforcement arm of the Thanagarian government.  But all of this happens really quickly.  Given that this is the Post-Crisis DCU, date and time seem fairly sturdy.  So if one considers that the Golden Age Hawkman first took flight in late 1939/early 1940 (Flash Comics #1 being cover dated January 1940), and then Hawkworld taking place roughly in the time it was published (1989), then we have to accept that it took almost not time at all for the Wingmen to become such an integral part of Thanagarian culture.

I suppose that a culture such as Thanagar, where alien ideas and concepts are readily mined for anything of value and the rest cast Downside, could accept and then embrace the Wingmen concept very readily.  But it still seems a little cramped.  I think in this sense Geoff Johns did things a little better, introducing the Nth Metal to Earth back during ancient Egypt, suggesting that the Thanagarians had a long history of using bird motifs and anti-gravity long before they got in touch with Earth.  Of course, this eliminates one of the subtle ties which Ostrander introduces here -- that while Paran Katar grants Carter Hall the gift of flight, it is Carter's exploits as Hawkman which inspire Paran to create the Wingmen -- a mutually beneficial relationship between the "classic" and "modern" Hawks.

In the end, it's a good, exciting story with a good amount of twists and action, and it will keep your interest for it's double sized length.  The retcon is not perfect, but really, what retcon is?  It makes good on the promises to explain how things fit, even if the fit is not an exact one, but at least Ostrander and company addressed it.  Hawkworld has so far been a superlative read for the most part, and Annual #1 fit right in with that level of quality.  

Image: Hawkworld Annual #1, 1990, Tim Truman.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Variant Play Arts Kai Hawkman

I have been busy reading away at the ongoing Hawkworld series (just finished up Annual #2 this morning, which for an Armageddon 2001 crossover was better than it really deserved to be), marveling at how much Pre-Crisis stuff Ostrander and company have managed to work into this decidedly (and doggedly) Post-Crisis series.  But here's an intermezzo, in the form of a high end Japanese Hawkman toy which decidedly more well-off Hawkfans than I can now drop some cash on.

Play Arts Kai is one of several super poseable, and very pricey, Japanese toy lines going a the moment.  Produced by Enix, these guys first made waves here in the States among non-tokusatsu fans for their Man Of Steel toys, featuring Superman, General Zod, and Faora.  They would later release more PAK figures for DC heroes, and I came across four more DC related Play Arts Kai figures this morning while heading over to my import toy website of choice, HLJ.com.  And wouldn't you know, among the lineup is Hawkman!  Here is the official description:

The mighty Hawkman joins the Variant Play Arts Kai lineup! With majestic metallic wings and armor, Hawkman is ready to defend against evil! Fully posable (including the wings, of course) and accessorized with a knife, axe, mace and four extra interchangeable hands, Hawkman stands almost 30cm tall!  Add this iconic hero to your collection now!

The Winged Wonder is suitable beefy in his PAK rendition, as expected.  The design itself is a sort of hodge-podge of various eras of the character/  His half-armor immediately calls to mind the New 52 Savage Hawkman look, but the metal wings make me think of Hawkworld and Volume 3, as does the 3 pronged claw.  The weapons -- an axe, a mace, and a knife -- fall somewhere in between Philip Tan's organic looking weapons and Joe Bennett's more ornate designs.  I like the accessory array, with the swappable hands to give Katar some options for how he wants to tear into his enemies.  The helmet is totally out there, looking more like a manga or video game design than anything from the comics.  Overall it is a striking look and a unique amongst the multitude of different appearances which Hawkman has had over the years.

Also included in the new wave are Darkseid, Aquaman, and Cyborg.  As of my writing this, only Hawkman and Darkseid were currently available at HLJ, the other two being on Order Stop (meaning that they are not taking any more preorders at this time).  As much as I would love to add this figure to my collection, I have sworn off high end import toys because they come out with far too much regularity and too much awesomeness for me to afford. And at 10200 yen (or about $97) before shipping, PAK Hawkman is way out of my range.

Still, a cool figure and a cool design, so for those of you who might never have seen this figure otherwise, I hope you dig this new Hawkman figure.  

Image: Variant Play Arts Kai Hawkman, 2014, image obtained from HLJ.com.