Wednesday, June 8, 2011

The Classics: Hawkman #5

If you're looking for a good argument in favor of rebooting the DC universe, look no further than Hawkman.

This is a character whose history is a tangled maze for even longtime readers. In his first appearance in the 1940s he was Carter Hall, an archeologist who is a reincarnated Egyptian Prince who flies thanks to his knowledge about the mysterious Nth Metal. He teams with his reincarnated wife Sheira (Hawkgirl) Saunders and they fight the bad guys.

In the '60s the character was revived, but the science fiction elements were more prevalent. This version was Katar Hol, a policeman from the planet Thanagar, who chased a super-powered criminal to Earth, working alongside his wife and partner Shayera (Hawkwoman). They decided to stay to study Earth's crime-fighting methods (?), and disguised themselves as archaeologists.

When DC did a partial reboot in the '80s, Hawkman's life got messy. Through a convoluted series of stories, it was explained how Hawkman could be both a man of Earth and a Thanagarian of the same name. There was also some business with a Hawkgod, but I've blocked that out of my memory.

Then we found out that Hawkman and Hawkwoman were eternal lovers who fought evil and died together, only to be reborn and love again in the next generation. Then Hawkwoman was killed and reborn as Hawkgirl, whose memories of a previous life were scrambled, and she fooled around a lot before realizing her love for Hawkman - and then she was killed.

And I'm sure I'm leaving lots of stuff out here. Needless to say, it's a continuity mess that could use one more good descrambling.

But back to this issue. Released in 1964, this was the Hawkman whose adventures I loved. The stories were written by Gardner Fox and drawn by Murphy Anderson.

If I had to name a favorite artist from DC's Silver Age, it would be a tough call, since the list would include Gil Kane and Carmine Infantino - but I'd put Anderson at the top of the list.

His classic style was stunning - his heroes were perfectly proportioned, his women were stunningly beautiful, his layouts dynamic and clear, and his action scenes were powerful. He probably did more work as an inker than as a penciler, and he was certainly proficient at both - but I was always delighted to see his art, and he did some of his all-time best work on this series.

The story in this issue doesn't live up to the art, as the Hawks take on the Shadow Thief, a wonderfully designed villain who was ultimately kind of boring - he robs banks, the Hawks try to stop him, he escapes, plans a trap, the Hawks escape, the day is saved.

I get the feeling Fox thought he was a limited character, too, because he kept building in story points that made the character's return improbable. In his first appearance, we discover that the device that allows him to transform into a living shadow is also about to unleash a new ice age on the Earth! In this, his second appearance, he discovers the true identity of Hawkman and Hawkgirl.

But whatever the story's shortcomings, this issue is well worth tracking down for that incredible art by Anderson.

I see where the hero will be back soon with a new title, The Savage Hawkman, so we'll see which version of the character shows up (or if it's a new version altogether).

If only they could get Anderson to come out of retirement long enough to do a cover! And if the new version ends up "just" being a policeman from Thanagar, that would be ok, too.

Grade: B+



Anonymous said...

I loved the Silver Age Hawkman as
much as you, Chuck, but I know that
we will never see his like again.
SAVAGE Hawkman is one clue. And you
just don't have talents like Gardner Fox and Murphy Anderson to
give Hawkman that touch of class,
and panache.

Sam Kujava

Chuck said...

Sam, I fear you're right - and certainly the "Savage" doesn't offer much hope. But I'll buy that first issue hoping for the best and fearing the worst.