Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Hawks of the North Star

Showcase Presents Hawkman Volume 1: written by Gardner Fox and Bob Haney; illustrated by Joe Kubert, Murphy Anderson, Gil Kane, and Carmine Infantino (Collected 2008): While he was never an A-List hero at any point in comic-book history, Hawkman nonetheless wears one of the five or six best-looking costumes a superhero ever put on.

Initially designed in the 1940's by Sheldon Moldoff doing a fair imitation of Flash Gordon writer-artist Alec Raymond, the costume would be tweaked a bit by the great Joe Kubert when Hawkman was rebooted in the early 1960's. Every re-design after Kubert has been a falling away from greatness.

DC Comics editor Julius Schwartz, the guiding light behind DC's 1950's and 1960's 'Silver Age' reboots of 1940's 'Golden Age' superheroes, does with the 'new' Hawkman something similar to what he had his writers and artists do with the reboot of Green Lantern: he switches the character's origins from magical to science-fictional. Instead of a reincarnated Egyptian hero, Hawkman is now a police officer from the planet Thanagar, which orbits the North Star.

He comes to Earth with his wife and police partner Shayera (then-Hawkgirl) in pursuit of a dangerous criminal and subsequently stays on Earth to study human police methods. Schwartz and company preserved some of the flavour of the Golden-Age Hawkman by having the new character's secret identity be a museum director, and by having Hawkman and Hawkgirl fight many criminals using ancient weapons rather than scientific ones, with the explanation being that the two police officers don't want to run the risk of having sophisticated Thanagarian technology fall into criminal hands.

So the Hawkman costume, once an emulation of the hawk-headed Egyptian god Horus, becomes the standard uniform of the Thanagarian police officer. Schwartz and Fox are to some extent borrowing from another of Schwartz's Silver-Age reboots, Green Lantern, whose one-off Golden-Age costume would be reimagined and redesigned to be the uniform of an entire galaxy-spanning Green Lantern Corps.

In several issues, they also borrow from the Silver-Age Flash's idiosyncratic method of costume storage, as Hawkman gains a ring from which can expand an entire uniform, wings and all. This last borrowing is one of those things that we should pretend never happened, and never speak of it again.

Fox's stories are his loopy brand of faux science-fiction that often works a lot more like fairy-tale magic. They're fun without being memorable for the most part. Kubert's art on the first ten appearances or so of the new Hawkman, though, is terrific -- he makes even fairly dopey concepts such as the Man-Hawks look believable and strangely menacing, and another Hawkman villain, the Shadow Thief, is a weird triumph of comic-book design and execution. Once Kubert leaves, the solid and dependable Murphy Anderson takes over. The flair is gone, and the series really becomes a fairly standard DC offering for the time.

One of Kubert's original designs -- that for Hawkgirl's costume -- is also quite striking, possibly because the eyes of her mask make the character look insane. It's a design that has persisted into modern-day comics and animated cartoons with fewer alterations than Hawkman's. Though she does wear more clothing on top than Hawkman's X-crossed, wing-bracing belts. Recommended.

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