Monday, October 20, 2014

Hawkman v.3:no.1-6, Annual Re-Reading Thoughts

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, 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.  

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Upcoming: LEGO Hawkman Minifig

As we move into the Fall, it's time for the toy companies to start making noise about their upcoming releases, both for the holiday season as well as next year.  LEGO is no different, and has recently begun rolling out information on their upcoming sets, including their DC Comics related ones.  You might have seen this wonderful Flash-centric set, or this Aquaman fan's dream set, but today I am going to talk about the big release LEGO has announced.  I, of course, am talking about set #76028, "Darkseid Invasion."

You see, this set not only includes Superman, Darkseid, Green Arrow, Cyborg, an Apokoliptian vehicle and the Javelin, it also includes the Winged Wonder himself, Hawkman!

In the picture of the front box art above, you can see winging his way towards the evil New God, his trusty mace in hand, ready for hand to hand (brick to brick?) combat alongside his Justice League allies.  You can see a breakdown of the set here, giving a better look at Hawkman and the other components.  It's hard to tell at this size, but I think the helmet has a definite New 52/Joe Bennett vibe to it.  Similarly, Green Arrow appears clean shaven and in his New 52 costume, as does Cyborg and Darkseid.  Interestingly, Superman has red trunks; I am pretty sure the LEGO Man Of Steel sets had him with no red trunks.  

Hawkman is making his debut as minifig in this set, along with Cyborg and Darkseid.  Evidently there was a Green Arrow minigfig as an exclusive a while back, so him being available at mass market retail will surely please his fans, lonely weirdos that they are.  

Unfortunately, this set is going to be a big price point, with 500+ pieces, so I am going to be hard pressed to purchase it and not just get the Hawkman minifig off of The Ebay.  But the inclusion of Big Blue in his classic duds, an oversized Darkseid, the awesome Javelin, and That (Formerly) Goateed Moron all in one set is going to make it very, very tempting!

Image: LEGO Set #76028 "Darkseid Invasion" box front, 2014, image obtained from Bricks And Bloks.

Monday, October 6, 2014

Hawkworld Drinking Game

To Play: Grab your copies of the Hawkworld prestige format miniseries, the Hawkworld ongoing series #1-32, plus Hawkworld Annuals #1-3, grab a large decanter of your favorite beverage, and then start right at the beginning!  

Take one drink whenever:

-Someone calls Thanagar a Hawkworld.
-Someone calls Earth a Hawkworld.
--Take a second drink if they then explain what a Hawkworld is.

-Katar discusses Earth politics.
--Take a second drink if he doesn't understand or questions the political issue.
---Take a third drink if Shayera doesn't care about politics.

-Katar adopts Earth political beliefs to Thanagar.
-Katar shows off his knowledge of Thanagarian history or religion

-Someone takes an exotic drug.
--Take a second drink if someone says to "Lip" the pill.

-A Silver Age supporting character shows up (per issue).
-A Silver Age villain shows up (per issue)

-Someone says "Jam it"
-Someone says "Meat"
-Someone says "Downside" or "Downsider."
-Someone says "Seven Hells!"
-Someone says "Seven Devils!" or "Devils!"
-Someone says "Flashzone."

-Katar uses an ancient weapon
-Shayera shoots someone

-The Hawks spaceship shows up
--Take a second drink if the command module seperates from the rest of the ship.

-Someone from the DCU with "hawk" in their name or affiliated with a group with "hawk" in the name shows up (per issue).

-The Letters Page says "Read The Annual"

-Shayera's past is brought up.

-A "Shadowlord" appears (per issue)

-Bladebat appears (per issue)

-Sunderland Corp. is mentioned.

-Netherworld is mentioned (per issue)
-A Netherworlder has a pun for a name (per issue)

Winning: The winner of the game is the last one able to physically remove the next comic from the bag and board without getting tape on the cover.  And be sure to leave your additional suggestions in the comments!  

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Acquired: Hawk Intermezzo Books

I have been reading Doug Zawisza's excellent Hawkman Companion this week.  I've read pretty much the entire book already, but always jumping from place to place; this time I am reading it all the way through.  I'm about halfway through, including having read the chapter on Hawkman's appearances between the end of The Atom And Hawkman in 1969 and the debut of The Shadow War Of Hawkman in 1985.  

These intermezzo stories are almost a complete blind spot for me.  I have the three issues of Showcase featuring the Rann-Thanagar War, The Brave And The Bold #186, and I did pick up DC Comics Presents #74 at HeroesCon, but that's about it.  These tales have, unfortunately, almost completed avoided being reprinted over the years (Oddly, one of the tales from Super Team Family, of all places, was reprinted in one of the 80-page Countdown Presents: The Atom specials, of all places...), so I knew I was going to have to re-sharpen my back issue diving skills in order to locate them.  Yeah, I could just order them all online, but I at least wanted to attempt to buy local before resorting to the Internets.

So part of my lunch break today involved heading over to my one-time LCS, Borderlands, to check out the selection in the back issue bins.  They are typically pretty well stocked, at least for a store of their size.  They don't have the sheer real estate that Heroes & Dragons does down in Columbia, but as a trip to the capital was out of the realm of possibility over lunch, Borderlands it was.  So how did I make out?

The Brave & The Bold #139 -- I normally hunt Marvel team-up books more than DC ones, but the DC ones I have read are generally cut from much the same cloth as their cross-town brethren.  The relationship between Batman and Hawkman is an odd one -- both are intimidating figures who don't play nice with crooks, but I've always wondered about how Hawkman's position as a policeman would jive with Batman's operations outside the law.  Of course this being 1978, Batman wasn't exactly on the outs with the GCPD, I don't think, but it's food for thought anyway.  I found a good looking copy at $5, which was my ceiling that I wanted to pay for the book.  But, as I said, I figured I would throw some money at the local shop, so this was a good candidate.  Doubtless I will break this out at some point when I next guest star on Back To The Bins, as was the style of the time.

Detective Comics #500 -- This one was something of a surprise.  Not that they had it in stock -- I figured, a big, oversized anniversary issue like this, surely they will have one -- but rather the price: a measly $4.  Considering that the 80 Page Giant barely seems to want to fit in its bag and board, that seems like, if nothing else, a good cost-per-page return.  The Hawk story in this issue is of interest to both Hawkfans and backers of the Martian Manhunter, as the Pinioned Powerhouses investigate whatever happened to good old Dr. Erdel.

Non-Hawk Related -- I rounded out the trip with a few unrelated titles.  First was (Adventure Into) Fear #26, featuring Morbius, The Living Vampire.  I had picked up a couple of issues if Fear at HeroesCon and for $3 I thought, 'Why not?'  Then, a quintent of dollar books: Avengers #222, 231, and 331 (part of my slow attempt to actually collect Avengers outside of simply buying the Essentials), Creatures On The Loose #28 (a Steve Gerber penned tale of Thongor), and Kong The Untamed #5 (because I will always buy DC Explosion era S&S comics).  

I ended up leaving a good number of issues of Detective Comics behind, because while I like to shop local, I won't spend $15+ for a single book; it's just not in my budget.  Still, good to know the stock is available locally, to keep that in mind for FCBD, the Big Annual Sale, or even when they have a booth set up at HeroesCon or the upcoming SC Comicon.  

And so begins the hunt once again.  It's weird to go to these sections of the back issue bins -- unfamiliar territory for me to look through Batman comics! -- but as the journey into Hawk fandom continues, the path stretches ever onward.

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.