Axel-In-Charge: Waid & Samnee on "Black Widow" and the Dawn of the All-New, All-Different Era
A column in which Matt Derman (Comics Matter) reads & reviews comics from 1987, because that’s the year he was born.
Hawkman #11-17 (DC) by Dan Mishkin, Richard Howell (#11-16), Ed Hannigan (#17), Carlos Garzon (#11-16), Don Heck (#17), Michelle Wolfman, and Agustin Mas
Despite his old-school style, Hawkman has never been my thing. Whenever I encountered him as a guest star or in the pages of a team book, he seemed overly serious in his personality and approach to crime-fighting, which didn’t quite fit with the way he looked or the little bit I knew about his backstory. A shirtless alien with detachable bird wings ought to have a sense of humor about himself, is what I’m saying, and as far as I could ever determine, Hawkman was missing that. And reading these old issues Hawkman the series hasn’t changed that perception of Hawkman the character in the slightest. But I mind him a great deal less now, mostly because of the awesomeness that is Hawkwoman. Without her presence, I think this run might’ve met my worst fears of being a dreary, heavy superhero melodrama. Instead, it’s a zany superhero adventure, still plenty melodramatic due to Hawkman’s slow and steady nervous breakdown, but with bursts of levity thanks to Hawkwoman’s high spirits and genuinely funny battle quips. They’re a strong duo, and even though only one of their names is on the covers, they share this comic equally, and without either of them it would be a highly imbalanced story. Not only does Hawkwoman provide the laughs, she is the voice of reason when Hawkman goes off the rails. She can play absurd to his straight man or calm to his crazy with equal skill, which is a dynamic that has a lot of room for all kinds of fun stuff to go down.
There are several smaller arcs contained in these issues, but the unifying throughline centers on Hawkman falling apart at the emotional seems little by little until he freaks out fully and tries to defeat a hurricane on his own. Which is an awesome scene, by the way, really demonstrating the potential of a stoic, excessively stern character like Hawkman in a way I don’t see often enough. Long before that, though, Hawkman’s decline begins when he and Hawkwoman return to their homeworld of Thanagar, only to discover it’s been irrevocably corrupted in their absence. They do manage to oust the current ruling tyrants, but come to the conclusion in the aftermath that the citizens of Thanagar are too used to and dependent on dictators now to be ruled by anything else. It’s a bit of a hand-waving explanation for why Hawkwoman and Hawkman return to Earth and leave Thanagar in the hands of a military general (so that it’s kind of a police state now). But to be fair, I don’t know enough about what Thanagarians used to be like to say for sure whether or not any conclusions were reached too hastily.
What matters is that Hawkman believes Thanagar is wrecked beyond repair, and having to walk away from his home is the first trauma he suffers on his road to full-on meltdown. He reacts by overcompensating on Earth, telling Hawkwoman never to call him Katar, his given name, but only Hawkman, because that’s his name here in their new home. She doesn’t listen to this insane request, partly because she can’t help but call her husband by his name, but also because she recognizes right away that this is unhealthy behavior, and tries to convince him of the same. He stubbornly refuses to hear it, so she focuses instead on watching his back and keeping her cool for both their sakes, which mitigates things for a while. The two of them successfully help their cop friend Captain Stewart Frazier solve his ex-wife’s murder, a nice classic mystery story to follow the epic battle for the fate of Thanagar. At the end of the case, though, Hawkwoman is suddenly tricked into another dimension by some nameless, faceless evil entity that wants her soul in exchange for that of Frazier’s wife, Lorraine. It’s a bizarre twist, introducing a powerful supernatural/magical element so late it the game, but it works because Hawkwoman doesn’t let it rattle her. She keeps her wits and gets to work on an escape plan immediately, with help from Lorraine and The Gentleman Ghost (another fine source of comic relief, whose name pretty much says it all). At the same time that Hawkwoman’s keeping her shit together, Hawkman is finally losing the rest of his. Having spent the entire murder investigation mourning the loss of his planet, he then loses his wife, and it is more than he’s able to bare. A hurricane shows up and, as I said, he fights it, flying all over the city to save as many people and prevent as much damage as he possibly can. He actually does an impressive amount of good, considering his state of mind.
In the end, Hawkman only snaps out of it after nearly killing himself by flying right into a burning building. It explodes and he pulls away at just the right time, and the force of the blast knocks enough sense into him to make him realize that the whole battle-a-natural-disaster thing was really just a cry for help and/or misguided suicide attempt. Then, because he’s the luckiest, right when he regains his sanity Hawkman hears Hawkwoman calling to him from the nightmarish world where she’s trapped, which she’d been doing unheard for most of his rampage, too, since she’s the one with the level head. He quickly figures out how to bridge the gap between them, and they’re reunited just in time for the series to be canceled. It’s a tight narrative, only seven issues for Hawkman to go from normal to batshit to normal again. Yet with the possible exception of the somewhat hurried departure from Thanagar, everything is paced quite well in that relatively small space. There’s room for a handful of B-plots, Frazier gets his own meaty character arc, Hawkwoman has several solid jokes thrown into every issue, and nothing major is left hanging when it all wraps up. The words themselves didn’t ever blow me away, but the timing of everything was superb, which is rarer than it ought to be.
It should also be mentioned that, in addition to being a good pair by bringing complementary points of view to the story, the Hawks are a couple worth reading about and investing in on a romantic level, too. Their chemistry was natural and their affection was sincere but never saccharine. They had mutual respect and concern for each other, each working to protect the other while at the same time trusting them with their own lives. The strength of their relationship added loads of credibility to Hawkman’s ultimate tantrum, and, as corny as it sounds, their love was key to bringing them back together across dimensions. It’s essential to everything that happens, and it makes them both more likable and relatable as leads to see their genuine romance in action.
Am I a huge Hawkfan* now? No. I’m not going to track down all the back issues of all the volumes and become an expert in the history and mythology of the characters. This was an unexpectedly enjoyable read, but not my new favorite comic by any stretch. I may try to get all the 1986 issues eventually—I have the 1987 issues that came out before #11 but they tell other stories and are for another time—just for the sake of completing the volume I already have, but beyond that I think I’ll continue to mostly keep my distance. Hawkman didn’t convert me, but it did make me appreciate the incessant seriousness of its title character. And better than that, it gave me my first proper taste of Hawkwoman, who won me over right away and only got better each issue. She’s the energetic goofball I always thought should be under that garish hawk helmet, and I’m glad I finally looked in the right place to find her.
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