27 August 2018

Review: Hawkworld by Timothy Truman and Enriqué Alcatena

The usual notice: my review of Bernice Summerfield: Venus Mantrap, where Benny's pants play a key role in an unfolding nuclear crisis, is up now at Unreality SF.

Comic trade paperback, n. pag.
Published 2004 (contents: 1989)

Acquired and read May 2018

Written and Pencilled by Timothy Truman
Inked by Enriqué Alcatena 
Colored by Sam Parsons
Lettered by Tim Harkins

Hawkworld is definitely of its time. Like Green Arrow: The Longbow Hunters (1987), Black Orchid (1989), Adam Strange: The Man of Two Worlds (1990), Twilight (1990-91), and probably others I don't know about, Hawkworld was a miniseries of three double-length issues that dusted off a slightly moribund character (or characters) for a new era, by going darker and more intense. All of these series except Man of Two Worlds resulted in follow-ups, if not ongoings, so clearly something about this formula worked.

Hawkworld is a little different from the formula, though. Longbow Hunters, Black Orchid, and Man of Two Worlds all acknowledge the history of their characters, even as they tweak it-- they're more what we might call re-origin stories, crucibles that take pre-existing characters and give them a new set-up for ongoing adventures. Hawkworld, however, presents a new origin for Katar "Hawkman" Hol. In fact, strictly speaking, there's no superheroics in this book at all, as Hol adopts no secret identity; the book is entirely set on his homeworld of Thanagar.

Make Thanagar Great Again.
from Hawkworld vol. 1 #1

I don't know much about Hawkman, to be honest, but this is the most intrigued I've ever been by him, and I found the depiction of Thanagar much more interested than what was seen in some of the 2000s space comics I've read. Thanagar is the capital of an interstellar empire, but one where cultural rot has set in. It's a morally complex set-up: our protagonist is the one who's afraid of outside cultural influences! The Thanagarian elite no longer produce anything worthwhile themselves, but depend on other worlds for their food, music, and entertainment, especially mind-altering drugs. They also import slave labor, but when the laborers have served their purpose, they get dumped onto the surface, the "Downside" away from the towers where the elite fly. Katar is a Thanagarian police officer, the son of Thanagar's foremost scientist, who asks for a job patrolling the Downside even though he could have had a cushy desk position. Unlike others, Katar cares about the history of his people-- a consistent mark of the story are monuments to Thanagar's past that only Katar cares about.

Well at least someone is.
from Hawkworld vol. 1 #2

As you might imagine, Katar discovers more and more about the rot of his civilization, even as he rots himself, tempted into taking alien drugs by the attractive Shayera, the intriguing daughter of one of his father's friends. The story itself is pretty standard stuff, to be honest, but writer and penciller Timothy Truman elevates it by telling it well, with lots of details of writing and art alike. We actually don't know a whole lot about Thanagar beyond the broad strokes, but it feels like a fully lived in, real world. My only real objection is that Katar's principal opponent, Byth, seems a little conveniently too responsible for all the evils of an entire decadent civilization. Though one of the things I did like is the extent to which Katar himself is shown to be culpable, and how he spends a long time coming to terms with that culpability and making restitution for it. Until he's forced to fight again, Katar doesn't want to take down the government or anything; he wants to supply medicine and food to the inhabitants of the Downside.

I don't think she uses that nickname in the Hawkworld ongoing, but she sure comes up with her fair share of other ones.
from Hawkworld vol. 1 #3

The story ends with a set-up for new adventures; Katar and Shayera learn Byth has escaped to "some small green planet far beyond the borders of the empire." It also ends with Katar attempted to improve the plight of the Downside by working the society from the inside. All of this was followed up on in the Hawkworld ongoing; I've read the first issue thus far, and I look forward to seeing how the world introduced here is developed, though I'm disappointed that Katar heads off to Earth in issue #1, as I'd like to see more of this Thanagar. I know Hawkworld is notorious for its continuity issues, but as a story on its own merits, it's a solid re-imagining of a character I didn't care about, and I can see why a follow-up was commissioned.

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