When asked what is the major difference between Marvel and DC Comics, some creators would state that Marvel has the best stories while DC has the best characters. Whether you agree with this or not, DC started getting lots of attention after mining Marvel for their top talent in the 1980′s. Adding John Byrne and Frank Miller to their already impressive bullpen of Marv Wolfman and George Perez, the mid 80′s were a good time for DC Comics to reinvent itself. They revived the sagging Superman title, gave Wonder Woman the most impressive run of its existence and delivered Batman: Year One on the doorstop of the culture vulture residence. Even the Flash and Green Lantern enjoyed a slight revival under a grittier and rougher regime that wanted its heroes dirtier and more street-wise.
The dark and gritty approach could easily be attributed to Alan Moore’s Watchmen which surprised everyone as being published by the same company that printed the big blue boyscout known as Superman. However, the comic book reading demographic was shifting, growing more enamored with video games than comics. As the graphic novel started to gain its cemented place on the tip of every comic book fan’s tongue, so did its association with all things violent and edgy.
This approach had its successes and failures. Making Catwoman a former prostitute was one thing but putting Wonder Woman in bicycle shorts and a leather vest is something wholly other. Whatever the case, this new approach resulted in the first Hawkman comic I ever bought and it has spoiled the character for me ever since.
Who is Hawkman?
Created in 1940 by former lawyer Gardner Fox (also creator of Sandman, The Flash, the Justice League and Society of America), Hawkman could very well be one of the more bizarre comic book heroes. Archeologist Carter Hall receives a glass dagger which sparks off a deep memory revealing that he is the reincarnation of Prince Khufu. Donning the mantle of a hawk, he uses an amulet composed of ninth metal to soar as the mighty avenger called Hawkman.
While the superhero craze waned and these beloved characters eventually disappeared, there came a time for them to return. In 1956, DC editor Julius Schwartz experimented with a book called Showcase and introduced a new version of the 1940′s speedster, the Flash. It was a hit and what is now called the Silver Age of comics began. Soon several characters that were once popular in the 40′s were dusted off and reinvented for a new generation of readers. Everyone from Green Lantern to the Atom to even Hawkman was back and boy were they different.
This new version of Hawkman was a space cop from planet Thanagar. A spaceman from a far-off planet was such a hip angle for the 1960′s that this approach would have worked all by itself but Gardner Fox and young artist Joe Kubert added a twist by making their spaceman use medieval weapons instead of futiristic ones. This became part of the hook of the character, as the winged avenger used a variety of ancient weapons each month. Hawkman also worked with his wife rather than a sidekick, which also made the comic very unique.
Enter Tim Truman
Famous for working on pulp heroes such as Grimjack for First Comics and later Scout, Airboy and the Heap for Eclipse, Tim Truman could be said to be a modern Joe Kubert in some ways. One of my personal favorites of Truman’s works, the Spider, is just so raw that it stands on its own! He definitely has the distinctive line work down and his characters are so vivid that the practically come off the page. In reworking Hawkman for a modern audience, Truman gave the series something it never had before… a story.
Visually interesting, Hawkman had always been just too bland in the end. To make matters worse, he had no real origin story. You could summarize the Silver Age Hawkman’s origin in one panel!
To fix all that, Truman’s series delved into the world of Thanagar, showing it as a planet where the ruling class live in high-rise cities towering over the ghettos where alien refugees from a hundred conquered world live in squalor. Drug-addicted wingmen patrol the streets armed to the teeth with rifles and vicious blades, cutting down crooks in cold blood in what is called a ‘flash point’ where all targeted are viable. Most of the Thanagarians turn a blind eye to the reality of their world and prefer to live in their excesses while the wingmen ‘protect them’ and take advantage of the free reign the police are given.
Young officer Katar Hol starts to see that his world is built on brutality, specifically the double-dealing of his super officer Bith, but not before he is framed for a terrorist attack. Left marooned on an island far from civilization populated only with a pair of strange robed aliens as fellow inmates, Katar vows revenge. One morning he catches one of the aliens building a set of wings. Jealous, he cuts the alien down only to learn that the the being’s robes covered a pair of wings. The devices were intended as a gift for him. Shamed by his actions, Katar finally bonds with his one remaining companion and finds a way back to the city, learning not only compassion for the aliens subjected to live like third-class citizens on Thanagar but that he has it in him to be just as hateful and destructive as the rest of his race.
The story of Katar’s awakening and maturing is folded rather brilliantly into the revenge tale providing just the right amount of drama and action.
The last issue sees Katar’s confront his former leader now a twisted freak drunk on power. However, Bith’s drug addled body has mutated into some new shape-shifting form, making him into a kind of monstrous creature. Bith attempts to escape to another planet but Katar finds that it is far too important that he face judgement and follows him to Earth where the ongoing series picks up.
A tale of crime, redemption and social corruption, Hawkworld remains the most impressive Hawkman comic book I have ever read. Spanning a too short run of three issues, it was followed by an ongoing series that failed to capture the passion and sophistication of Truman’s three-part story. Part cyber-punk, part fantasy, Hawkworld: As Above So Below is a hidden gem in the 1980′s comics hidden somewhere between Watchmen and Maus. But it is well worth a read. Just don’t expect to ever be impressed by the character again because this is his one shining moment.
With the success of the recent DC Animated movies starring Green Lantern and Wonder Woman, I think that Hawkworld would make for an excellent adaptation.
Hopefully someone at DC Comics agrees!