Thursday, August 30, 2012

Read: Hawkman Annual #1 (1993)

Issue: Hawkman Annual #1
Title: "Bad Blood"
Published Date:  Aug 1993
Generation: Post-Crisis Katar (See Note)
Retcon Status: Out of Continuity

Summary: In Chicago, we are thrown into a seeming three-way fight between Hawkman, a horrific alien named Lissik, and a young man in street clothes who calls himself Mongrel.  Hawkman suggests that he and the young man team up against the alien, but Mongrel hears nothing of it and sends Hawkman reeling with an energy blast from his hand.

Flashback to Cambodia, 1970, where an Africa-American sergeant in the US Army calls in an air strike on his platoon's own position, knowing it is suicide, but having no other choice.  The sergeant is amazed when he wakes up in a small village, missing part of his right leg, but being nursed back to health by a young Cambodian woman.  Eventually, the two marry and have a son, and by 1976, he leaves his son with the Army to be brought back to the states.

Back in the present, Hawkman is on his way back to the fight when he runs into Chicago PD Officer Andrea Lencioni, although he doesn't recognize her, despite her insistence that they had several adventures together.  Hawkman blows her off and wings back to action.

Flashback to a Chicago high school, last year, where we see young Josh Xan (named after both of his parents) being a social outcast and a general bad seed, not accepted by either the Blacks nor the Asians for his mixed heritage.  He is suspended for a fight, but catches the eye of a girl named Nhu, whom he makes a date with.  Going back to his uncle's apartment, Josh is beaten savagely with a belt for the suspension.  That night, he slips out and meets Nhu, and the two of them head to the Netherworld, where they are denied entrance because they are a "Norman and Norma," and don't fit in.  As Josh bares his soul to Nhu on a rooftop, they bear witness to a sudden battle -- Hawkman and Hawkwoman fighting Count Viper, and a giant ensuing explosion.

In the present once more, Hawkman rejoins the battle against Lissik, but Mongrel is still not interested in teaming up.  The young man doesn't seem to care about much except killing the alien, causing plenty of damage in the process.  Lissik eventually flees underground to the subway, and Mongrel and Hawkman give chase.

Flashback to earlier that day, as a brooding Josh stalks around Netherworld once more, Nhu having finally had enough of his anti-social behavior and going to the school dance instead.  Josh is suddenly encountered with a beautiful redheaded woman, who quickly uses her wiles to get him in a compromising position... wherein she attempts to drink his spinal fluid.  The attack awakens Josh's metagene, and using is newfound energy powers, he chases the alien away.  Confused, he heads for the school, begging Nhu for help.  But when he is accosted by an old rival, he cuts loose, declaring himself to be be 'Mongrel,' and releasing a huge amount of energy, leaving the school a smoking wreck.  He then heads to his uncle's apartment, and pays him back for all of the abuse; Mongrel says that he always knew one day he would kill his uncle, and that day is today.  Before he can finish the deed, Mongrel catches wind of Lissik fighting Hawkman from a news report, and heads out to encounter her.

In the underground, Mongrel and Lissik tangle violently, while Hawkman tries to get the subway passengers to safety, fearing that the battle will bring down a wall and flood the entire area.  Hawkman clears everyone out, and just in time, as his concern comes true, and the subway station is flooded.  Lissik flees, and as Hawkman ponders if he has seen the last of the troubled young man Mongrel, he too arises from the murky waters...

Review: Well, as Mongrel shows up in the next issue in the stack for Hawkman Volume 3, now was the time to go back and read the Annual, which actually came out right after issue #2, according to Mike's Amazing World of Comics.  This timing explains the continued mystery of Hawkman's identity, which by that point was not revealed yet in the main book.  In fact, Hawkman asks Officer Leoncini "Why do you call me Katar?" at one point.

Anyway, getting to the story itself.  This is not really a Hawkman story, this serves as an introduction for the New Blood character Mongrel.  Whooooooa boy.  In an event (Bloodlines) primarily remembered for introducing some really lousy characters, Mongrel got to be the lousiest.  I can't imagine a less compelling character than this blowhard.  His personality is beyond hamfisted, his look is terrible, and his powers incredibly vague.  Understood that this was the 90s and anti-heroes were all the rage, but this is beyond ridiculous.  His main motivation is his boiling rage which stems from his mixed heritage and the lack of acceptance thereof.  For a villain, this would be passable, but for a hero it is merely laughable.

Furthermore, his actions go beyond the pale.  When he gets to the school dance, he is mocked by Nhu's date, then threatened by the princiapl, and then attacked by his rival, who somehow brought a gun into the building.  What is his response?  To go all Carrie White on everyone and destroy the school with everyone inside!  Ticket takers outside gasp at the carnage and wonder "Did everyone get out?" as Mongrel exits the wreckage.  Leveling a school filled with innocent students -- what a hero!  Yeah, people do begin to flee, but we don't see that many people fleeing, and there's barely a crowd outside.  Did Mongrel bring the building down on top of all the other students and faculty?  When he flies off to murder his uncle in revenge, at that point it's irrelevant because he just committed an act of attempted mass murder.  This is the character we are supposed to be root for?  Give me a break, guys!  

The writing is credited to John Ostrander, and the mechanics of the story are fine.  The flashbacks are easy to follow and the actual action is quite nice.  And the bits which feature Hawkman (including a short scene of him talking with some Netherworlders) are on par with the regular series.  Unfortunately, the character of Mongrel is so off-putting and egregiously bad that any scene he is the star of just bogs down.  There's also an odd amount of references to Hawkworld with no explanation or even editorial notes; seems odd for an Annual which is part of a big crossover, where (assuming) non-regular readers would be picking it up.  Although, this does set up a very cool cameo from Shayera, which is always welcome.

Jan Duursema's art does shine in places.  Her Hawkman still looks excellent and I liked her work on the alien Lissik, both in alien and humanoid forms.  But unfortunately, Mongrel simply doesn't work.  His look -- torn jeans, mullet, fingerless gloves, trench coat -- was cliched in 1993, and it has not aged well at all. He is a ridiculous character who also looks the part.

As I was writing my notes, I asked myself, "Is this a story I would have liked when I was 13, when it was released?"  I suspect that at that age, I probably would have bought into the concept of Mongrel as a character.  (The costume I still would not have liked.)  I am not proud to say that and can only blame the fact that I was 13.  Then again, at the time this issue was released I was very down on Bloodlines to begin with, despite having never read any of the series.

See, I was working at my local comic shop/video store at the time, and I remember a conversation I had with another employee.  He held up a copy of Legion of Super-Heroes Annual #4, featuring Jamm.  And he said "Look at this crap.  'Jamm?'  I don't even want to read this."  And so in my mind, all of Bloodlines was awful from that moment on.  Due respect to the creators, but this book did not change my opinion on the story.  And to add insult to injury, the story continues over into the Deathstroke Annual.

I liked reading a nice long Annual, something which I typically enjoy.  But man, this was just not all that good when you get down to it.  Hopefully Mongrel will be more palatable in the regular series, but I am not holding my breath.

Note: I am going to be revising my Generation tags once more.  Mainly, this will impact the "Modern" items, which will now be changed to "Post-Crisis" as we see in this post.  This is to reflect the Post-Crisis/New 52 schism and hopefully keep the various Hawkmen straight for those reading the blog.  At some point I will revisit my old Generations post and post an update.

Image: Hawkman Annual #1, 1993, Jan Duursema.


Mr P said...

I never read that one. I missed it when it came out* and certainly did not care enough about Mongrel from what I was reading in Hawkman Vol. 3 to make me want to go track down his origin story.

*My collecting around that time was pretty spotty as I *was* thirteen when this came out.

Luke said...

*My collecting around that time was pretty spotty as I *was* thirteen when this came out.

Dude, so was I. The first time I read this was this week! :)

Diabolu Frank said...

I haven't read this issue since 1993, but nearly twenty years later, I find you had the exact same reaction. I disliked Mongrel a great deal, and assumed he was going to be a bad guy. When he kept popping up as an anti-hero, I hated and resented him that much more. If opposing racism means embracing Mongrel, pass me a pointy hat with SPF-50000 sunshade. Just a wretched character; Ostrander's final "gift" to Hawkman fans on his way out the door.

Luke said...

Mongrel is a character who screams to be put in his place by a character who had an actual difficult life. Dick Grayson, for instance, is a good candidate to floor him in One Punch.

To paraphrase Faulkner, he is full of adolescent sound and fury, signifying nothing. I am sure Ostrander intended him to be an "in your face" character meant to turn the mirror of intolerance on other characters, but he is such a ridiculous pile of cliches that it all falls apart.

Say what you will about Geoff Johns, but he did kill off Mongrel, so that's something we can all be proud of!

Diabolu Frank said...

Yeah, but he went after some of the mo' gooder New Bloods, and he was responsible for the bouncing head of Pantha. BOOOOO!!!!!!

By the way, because I'm in a mood over word verification mishaps tonight, combing it with comment moderation is like wearing a belt and suspenders.

Luke said...

I think that "mo' gooder New Bloods" is an extremely perilous distinction, but I can dig that. Pantha, though? Still wondering why I am supposed to care and/or feel bad that she ate it.

I didn't realize I had them both on; word verification should be disabled now. Thanks for the heads up!

Diabolu Frank said...

God bless you sir! Word Verification makes me want to slit my comments.

Did you read New Titans anytime from "Titans Hunt" through "Total Chaos?" Pantha was my favorite character from the Jonathan Peterson-edited high water mark, if only for the literal laugh out loud line "Dick, you slut!"

Luke said...

I can count on one hand the number of issues I have read of every version of the Teen Titans combined, excluding the Tiny Titans. The only one which stands out in my mind is the one which crossed over with Batman And The Outsiders. So... yeah. Still don't care that Pantha got hers.

Now, had Superboy Prime punched the head off of Technocrat...