In between reading issues of my Halloween reading of reprints of EC's Vault Of Horror (I do so love Johnny Craig's art -- there's a reason my handle on my old horror movie Geocities site was "Vaultkeeper Luke"), I have managed to get a rough start on my next Hawk-related project, which is a read-through of Volume 3. Now, I have covered some of these previously here, so I will not be getting into details, but like I did with Hawkworld instead give some overall thoughts of the series in the context of Hawkman's publishing history and where the character was at this point in the early 1990s.
Coming off the finale of Hawkworld, I read the first six issues of Volume 3, along with the infamous Annual which introduced the world to the New Blood character Mongrel. These seven issues represent the end of John Ostrander's run handling Katar and Shayera, and does a good job of tying a proverbial bow on the top of the characters (more on that in a bit). The tone is less thoughtful than Hawkworld, with more action, but overall it still shares Ostrander authorial voice for the characters and doesn't jam it up too badly.
The central conceit is that it has been nine months since the explosion in the Netherworld which ended Hawkworld. No one has seen Hawkman or Hawkwoman in that time, and when a "new" Hawkman appears, he looks and acts differently than the one the Chicago PD knew. He refuses to answer question about who he is, and, in private, he behaves a lot differently, talking to animal spirits and living in an abandoned brownstone. So immediately Ostrander sets up this mystery -- "Who is this new Hawkman?" -- which we, as the reader, assume will be the driving factor in the story.
And then Hawkman takes his helmet off in issue #2 and tells us -- and Green Lantern Hal Jordan -- that he's Katar Hol, and this whole new identity schtick is a ruse.
You get the feeling that Ostrander was not exactly thrilled with this idea?
In any event, Katar it is, so it does not come much surprise when Shayera -- whom we last saw being spirited away by some shadowy folks after the Netherworld explosion -- pops up again, albeit with her body being occupied by Count Viper, and Shayera being stuck in the body of a older, overweight man locked in a mental hospital. This too makes more sense having read Hawkworld this time around -- obviously Count Viper can jump bodies with his mind, and it's not that much a leap that he can also displace the current occupant. It also makes sense that Viper, whom we never got much of in the waning days of Hawkworld, would be the big bad here, as he tries to enact his scheme to save America from itself.
The main story from there -- Viper sending Meta/Tech assassins after Katar in order to body-swap with him, then going to New York to ensnare enough of the Justice League to have the power to take control of the federal government -- is simple enough, providing good guest spot opportunities for Wonder Woman, Bloodwynd, and The Eradicator. More interesting is the final piece of Katar's origin, as we finally meet his mother -- Naomi Carter, an Earth woman who married Paran Katar during his time on Earth as Perry Carter. It's a move which reminds me in no small part of Byrne's Man Of Steel revamp, where Clark was born on Earth; here, Katar feels his strong connection with Earth as he was born to an Earthling mother. It does further drive the Post-Crisis Katar farther away from the Pre-Crisis one, but at this point that boat has sailed.
This revelation allows us to finally fill in the blanks between the end of Hawkworld and the start of this series, as Carter Hall rescues the severely wounded Katar and brings him to Naomi for help. Ostrander also uses this to introduce the more mystical elements to Katar's personality, as it's pretty much Comic Book Law that any Native Americans characters have to talk about spirit animals and vision quests and sweat lodges and the like. I do have to admit, though, that Ostrander does tie this back to the Tim Truman miniseries, referencing Katar having to "sweat" out his addiction while exiled on the Isle of Chance.
Ultimately this leads to the finale, where Katar, Shayera, and Count Viper all do battle on the spirit realm. In a remarkably strange bit of foreshadowing, Katar is a Hawk spirit (natch) while Viper is a Snake spirit (natch again); Shayera, who does not figure into the Messner-Loebs Avatar storyline, is a Wolf spirit. In the end, everyone winds up back in the correct body, Count Viper is defeated, and the reunited lovers share a passionate embrace and kiss, rendered as a full page splash page by Steve Lieber (Jan Duursema having left the title by this point).
The final splash also features a farewell sign off from Ostrander, which is appropriate and well deserved.
With this reading, having the full weight of three years worth of, quite frankly, groundbreaking Hawkman stories as the build up, this final splash page really made me smile. This is what I mean above when I said that Ostrander ties a bow on Katar and Shayera. We, as readers, could put blinders on right there on the last page of issue 6 and live our lives believing that Katar and Shayera lived happily ever after.
I was immediately reminded of a similar final splash page by Alan Davis in Excalibur #67, which was Alan Davis' last issue on the title, and similarly leaves all of the loose ends tied up in order to show us one last shot of our heroes as a farewell image. The comparison continues, unfortunately, because much as Excalibur was radically overhauled started the next month, issue #7 of Hawkman begins the radical reinvention of Katar Hol, starting with the razing of Netherworld and then the removal of the Thanagarian trappings of the character in lieu of the Avatars. It's one of the truths of American comics, especially at this point in the 1990s -- the show must go on.
Overall I thought that while, on the whole, these six issues served as a fairly good -- if rushed -- finale to John Ostrander's Hawkman and Hawkwoman saga, and does a good job of tying up the loose ends and closing that chapter on the characters. the quality is, generally, a bit lower than Hawkworld, with a higher focus on action and some extreme new rogues (Airstryke, anyone?), but overall I still dug them and was glad to read them in such close proximity to Hawkworld.
Now, Annual #1... that's still a horse (or dog, if you prefer) of a different color. From a technical standpoint, aspects of the story work a LOT better for me, specifically the timeline of when things are happening. And considering when the Annual was released (the same day as issue #2, h/t to Mike at dcindexes.com), I am now of the opinion that John Ostrander may never have intended Mongrel to be anything more than a one-shot character. And given than -- even though at the time of publication, Katar's identity was still a "mystery" -- Hawkman continually pleads with him to act rationally and look out for the innocent people around him, I wonder if the idea was not so much that Mongrel was supposed to be an anti-hero but perhaps a counterpoint sort of villain to someone like White Dragon. White Dragon was a racist who spoke eloquently and had this facade of civility; Mongrel was a victim of racism who was all rage and histrionics. So the parallel at least seems to be there on the surface.
This doesn't change the fact that Mongrel is a lousy character, but the idea of him being a "shade of grey" villain rather than an anti-hero makes him somewhat more plausible. Annual #1 is still pretty rough going altogether, unfortunately.
All told, these opening salvos for Volume 3 are more of an Epilogue to Hawkworld than anything else. And taken in that context, I can dig that.