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.

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