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.

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