Review: 'The Savage Hawkman Volume 1: Darkness Rising'

The Savage Hawkman Volume 1: Darkness Rising

Reprinting The Savage Hawkman #1-8

DC Comics, $16.99, color, 192 pages

Writer: Tony S.Daniel

Artists: Philip Tan, James Bonny

At the beginning of The New 52, there were some titles that, on the surface, didn't interest me and I didn't buy them. On Free Comic Book Day some of the trades of those titles were on sale at my LCS, and I picked some up.


When it comes to The Savage Hawkman, I should have listened to my instincts.

The series begins with Carter Hall burning his Hawkman suit, as he's quitting. Wait, he's been Hawkman already? So some of the pre-New 52 counts? I wonder which parts ...

... but I don't worry too much, because Hawkman is a pretty useless character. Like Marvel's Angel, who also traditionally had the power to fly like a really fast bird, I don't think "superhero" when I look at Hawkman, I think "target."

DC apparently agrees. so Hawkman gets a much-needed power upgrade here. (As did Angel over at Marvel, at least for a while.) Instead of the Hawkman's suit burning, it somehow launches itself at Hall, and somehow the Nth metal is absorbed into his body. So now he can "grow" the suit -- and weapons -- right out of his skin. (That should be handy.) And it opens the door to the Nth metal being more than we thought it was, and possibly sentient. So, Hawkman has the potential to get even more powerful.

But while Hawkman may seem somewhat familiar, this is an entirely new Carter Hall. And not a successful one. He is being thrown out of his squalid apartment for lack of payment, he lives off the charity of a scientist friend who hires him to translate stuff (even alien stuff, which he cannot possibly do), and he is prone to mysterious disappearances from whence he returns disoriented and exhausted.

Naturally, the scientist's daughter is intrigued and pursues him romantically. Because girls are always attracted to broke losers who disappear on what can only be assumed to be drinking or drug binges. Happens all the time. Why, when I was single, I pretended to be exactly that sort of loser to attract women!

Not.

I was able to swallow that bit of nonsense, but I never found any reason to be interested in the new Hawkman. For one thing, he's really unlikeable. Hot-headed, brutal and thuggish, it's hard to believe he's the hero. Well, OK, he fights the (mostly uninteresting) bad guys, but he certainly isn't an admirable sort.

There is the mystery of the Nth metal, but Thanagar gets exactly one name check, as does "Katar Hol." So there's a mystery, although not a very well-defined one, and it certainly isn't pursued in any way. Meanwhile, Hawkman plows through some meaningless fights issue after issue.

One bright spot: The Gentleman Ghost makes an appearance, and for a change there's an actual origin and story instead of the usual mystery. And it's a pretty good story, and gives the character plenty of motivation for the things he does. I always liked the "look" of the Gentleman Ghost, but I never found him a very interesting character -- until now. Evidently I prefer a solid back story to unending mystery and unexplained behavior.

But the rest of The Savage Hawkman left me cold. Even the art seems generic and uninspired. I would be disinclined to buy the next volume even if I didn't know Rob Liefeld was involved. But since I do know that, I suspect my Savage Hawkman reading is at an end.

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Hmm.  Both the Golden-Age and Silver-Age Hawkman had the ability to talk to birds, which I really thought made him much more useful than a a slowly flying badass.whose wife was much more fun and interesting. 

 I like the concept of Hawkman, and certainly Katar Hol had a great look, but I think they've never done a good job of making him truly interesting.  I can think of a few things they could do that could make Katar and Shayera more interesting, but I think Carter Hall is a lost cause.

As much as it kills me to say it, Geoff Johns run on the character seemed pretty good when I read most of it a few years ago.  He did a lot with all the bits and pieces that had gathered around the character, and made them into a cohesive whole.  Making the weird, slightly creepy romance with the youthful Hawkgirl the heart of it was a pretty good move.  Once that had run its course, he should have been put away for a while.

Johns himself emphasised Aquaman's coolness by having him partial to the odd fish supper instead of talking to Peter the Puffer Fish.  This New 52 Hawkman, rather than communicating with his avian friends, probably brains small birds in mid-flight with his club and eats them whole.  Grrrr!

Johns' miraculous feat with Hawkman was making him writable. According to rumor, the various post-Crisis revamps had been so many and so contradictory, that writers would actually refuse to use the character. Whether that was true or not, Hawkman really made no sense at all. Johns managed to finesse a lot of the damage and combine all the various origins into a cohesive whole that actually expanded the character. That was practically magic!

That's all been dumped by "The New 52," of course. As I noted, the first issue begins with Carter Hall having already been Hawkman for a while, with no origin story or reference to his pre-issue #1 activities, which is practically comic-book-superhero malpractice.

The character of Zauriel from Morrison's JLA was supposed to be called Hawkman, completely discarding the Carter Hall/reincarnation/Katar Hol/ alien policeman backstory completely and considerably boost his power level but DC considered the very name "Hawkman" so...tainted by continuity abuse that they nearly abandoned one of their own trademarks!

Actually the power-boosting/reimagining of Golden Age concepts was used with The Sandman (who went from a man in a gasmask to the Embodiment of Dreams) and Hourman (pill-popping strongman to time travelling android).

 

I didn't know that about Zauriel, Philip. Now that you say it, it makes sense of that character that seemed to come out of left field.

Figs stated that one of Zauriel's functions was to fill the "Hawkman-shaped hole" in the JLA.

Also Tim Truman's exciting Hawkworld mini, instead of a revision of the Silver Age Hawkman's origins for which it was intended to be, became the first appearance of the Post-Crisis Hawkman and Hawkwoman.* This threw the Justice League's history into further disarray after they introduced the then current Wonder Woman and kept saying that Superman was NEVER a member.

*They did this, it should be mentioned, AFTER the Hawks with their SA/BA history intact had already appeared in the Post-Crisis DCU!

 

...Philip , I rather recall that the last installment of COIE showed people still living - who were later declared to have been eliminated by a never-depicted post-Crisis " second wave " , Captain Marvel for one .

Philip Portelli said:

Figs stated that one of Zauriel's functions was to fill the "Hawkman-shaped hole" in the JLA.

Also Tim Truman's exciting Hawkworld mini, instead of a revision of the Silver Age Hawkman's origins for which it was intended to be, became the first appearance of the Post-Crisis Hawkman and Hawkwoman.* This threw the Justice League's history into further disarray after they introduced the then current Wonder Woman and kept saying that Superman was NEVER a member.

*They did this, it should be mentioned, AFTER the Hawks with their SA/BA history intact had already appeared in the Post-Crisis DCU!

 

Figs stated that one of Zauriel's functions was to fill the "Hawkman-shaped hole" in the JLA.

 

I did?!? 

 

Oh, I see I did...  Whatdayaknow?

 

One casualty of all the dicking around with Hawkman before Johns was that Robinson did some foreshadowing of Hawkman to appear in his Starman, but that fell by the wayside, with Robinson apologising in the letters pages for not being able to follow through on that.

 

Another oddity was Hawkman's Deus Ex Machina appearance in an early issue of Animal Man to save the Earth by just pushing a button.  He was in his Silver Age get-up then, but as this might have been concurrent with, or shortly before the Truman mini-series, then perhaps this was his last appearance as the Silver Age 'Carter Hall'?  (Looking them up, Animal Man 6 would have appeared in late 1988, whereas Hawkworld #1 was dated August 1989.  FWIW, Starman didn't start until October '94.)

 

I don't see why Hawkman gets a hard time in general.  He's a hero that harks back to the pulps, and he's got a cool distinctive look.  Comicbooks are as much about eye-pleasing forms rendered in 2 dimensions as anything else.  Superhero comics area ll about being able to fly, after all!  (Although his mother must worry about him going out without a warm vest in winter.)

 

Regarding this Hawkman reboot, it sounds like getting 52 reboots up and running, all thought through and with something new and interesting to present with each case, was just too big an ask, when the whole thing was practically cooked up overnight and there was such a short run-in time to them all starting.

By and large, he's not that terribly interesting, at least not solo.  In the Golden Age, he worked reasonably well as that type of character had a great deal of mass appeal, but even then his stories were better when Shiera was around--despite the fact that she wasn't much as a crimefighter (not to say she didn't help out, but in the stories I've read she seemed to be more likely to get captured or make a mistake by trying to clear up a case without Hawkman).

In the Silver Age--once again, in the stories I've read--Shayera was the true appeal.  She was a no-nonsense butt kicker just as much as Katar was, and the stories suffered when she was off-panel, at least in my estimation. Couple that with the fact that the Hawks didn't really have many quality foes (Shadow Thief and I.Q. Quimby notwithstanding), and you were essentially reading a Green Arrow story with wings instead of arrows.  Very little was done to really play up the idea that the Hols were aliens from a culture that had to be radically different from Earth's.

I would call Hawkman a character with lots of potential that's never been reached.

Figserello said:

 

I don't see why Hawkman gets a hard time in general. 

I suppose that's all in the execution.  The character himself has a pulp potential, if handled right.  Wednesday Comics Hawkman was pretty good - for all of 12 pages, but still.  Johns did very well to highlight the 'eternal romance' thing.  It looks obvious in hindsight, but that's always the case with good ideas.

 

I'd also argue that Hawkman mightn't necessarily have to carry his own comic*.  He's an interesting visual, and such personality as he had worked well when set against other characters.  He can just be part of the texture of the DCU and a good guest character now and again.

 

Speaking of texture, I believe Robinson made the Dr Fate of Earth 2 an Egyptian.  Given his backstory, perhaps the new Hawkman should have had that kind of radical overhaul.  There's a big world out there to draw from, rather than using the stock Anglo-Saxon character-types that we've been reading about since the late 30s.  (Almost 80 years!) This iteration of Hawkman mightn't have seemed quite as tired as Cap illustrates it if they'd done something really radical with him.

 

*Unless maybe, you've decided to launch 52 comics overnight....

Oh trust me, I like the idea of the Hawks, but they have been poorly handled over the years.  There is a lot of potential there, I just don't think it's ever been realized.

And Johns' Hawkman?  Did you like it?  When I think about it, the only thing wrong with their arc is that it sort of fizzled out.  The way they left it before Infinite Crisis wasn't a bad ending, but then they brought Hawkman back for no real purpose.  Then the Hawks got a good send off in Final Crisis, even if it was as sketchy as just about everything else was in the final issues of that series, and then they were brought back to life again so that they could die all over again in Blackest Night.  That was a bit tawdry...

 

At least the Hawkgirl of the 90s was a step ahead of her male counterpart, leading the way in the cartoon and as a member of Johns' JSA.

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