Saturday, August 11, 2012

Rare View From the Top

History hasn't been kind to Hawkman (or Hawkgirl for that matter). With one of the most painfully convoluted origins in comics, he's never quite reached the heights of other Justice League members like the Flash or Green Lantern. His essential facts are: he was born during Ancient Egypt's 15th Dynasty as the Prince Khufu. He and his lover, Chay-Ara, were murdered by a sorcerer named Hath-Set. If not for the alien Nth Metal, found by Khufu in a ship crashed from the planet Thanagar, their story would have ended.

The Egyptian lovers were reincarnated, multiple times, in the twentieth century. And because even a basic summary of their adventures (and identities) to date would require its own post, I'll focus on Carter Hall and Kendra Saunders, the Hawkman and Hawkgirl that writer Geoff Johns streamlined for DC in 2000.

Their flight empowered by Nth Metal, Carter and Kendra serve as St. Roche, Louisanna's aerial judge and jury. A fantastic, atmospheric tale from 2004 sees a mutated maniac, who calls himself St. Roche, trying to frame Hawkman for several grisly murders. While writers Jimmy Palmiotti and Justin Gray give a third tier hero what he'll always need more of, iconic storytelling, artist Ryan Sook proves himself the big ticket reason to read.
Compared to most sequential artists today, Sook's work is hard to find. His expressive, sloe-eyed figures and sense of shadow-play helped him graduate to "cover artist" in just a few years. He has great company in legends like Adam Hughes and Kevin Nowlan (especially the former, whose eye-candy approach to Catwoman helped fill-out Cover Run, a brilliant coffee table book). His rendition of the Hawks, as they investigate murders where the victims have had wings and a red X placed on them, is beautiful and bold. Kendra, like most of Sook's women, looks like an art deco chanteuse. Carter is stoic, square-jawed, and scary as hell when he needs to be.

Wonderful mileage is pumped from the fact that the Hawks are destined for each other, and destined also to die again. Carter purposefully walls himself off from Kendra, stumbling into the arms of torch singer Domina (of whom Bette Davis would approve). Kendra's attempts to reach Carter, even as a friend, are emotionally pitch-perfect. Convincing romantic tension is one of the best ingredients for an addictive, long-running comic, and few writers do it well.

Thankfully, this tale's long on the gothic horror, too. When Hawkman catches up with the killer, he finds a deranged zealot who's been bathed in experimental viruses and anti-viruses. The result, a lopsided green troglodyte, believes himself to be the reincarnation of St. Roche. He deems his victims diseased and "cures" them. At least until the Hawks exercise their maces on his lumpy skull.

Sadly, DC hasn't collected Hawkman 28-31 into a graphic novel. They're an incredible find for readers willing to browse their comic shop's back issue bins. Sook does leave the series soon after, though, so try not to fall too hard for him.

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