Retro-Review: Hawkworld Vol. 2 #1-9 By John Ostrander, Tim Truman, and Graham Nolan for DC Comics

Hawkworld Vol. 2 #1-9; Annual #1 (June ‘90-March ‘91)

Written by John Ostrander (#1-9, Annual #1), and Timothy Truman (#1-9)

Pencilled by Graham Nolan (#1-9), Gary Kwapisz (Annual #1)

Inked by Graham Nolan (#1-4, 6), Rick Burchett (#5), Gary Kwapisz (7-9, Annual #1)

Spoilers (from twenty-four to twenty-five years ago)

Following the success of the 1989 Hawkworld miniseries, a new Hawkworld monthly was released starting in the middle of 1990.  It took the revamped characters from the mini and began to look at resolving some of the dangling plot-threads, especially the escape of the villainous Byth.

Tim Truman continued with the book, but I think the lionshare of the writing was done by his partner John Ostrander, who is one of my all-time favourite comics writers (see Suicide Squad, Firestorm, The Spectre, and Star Wars Legacy to figure out why I hold him in such esteem).  They had their work cut out for them, as there were numerous continuity issues to address with these characters, as well as making them viable characters in the post-Invasion DCU.

Unlike other series that I’ve reviewed for this column, I didn’t actually buy all of these comics when they came out.  I picked up a few random and tie-in issues, and always liked the book, but it wasn’t until Tim Truman returned to art duties at the very end of the series that I began buying it regularly.  When I was looking for comics to reread for this column, I decided it was time to get the rest of the single issues I was missing, since they’ve never been collected anywhere else.  In this run, which encompasses the only issues that Truman co-wrote, I had originally only bought the first two.

Let’s look at the events of this series in detail, with some commentary as I go along:

    • This series opens with Katar narrating a recap of the mini-series, from the perspective of a few months later.  Katar is now a big hero on Thanagar, although he doesn’t really feel like one, suffering from guilt for the deaths of his father and the alien on the prison island, as well as for letting Byth get away.
    • We see that Byth is on Earth, where he uses his shape changing powers to kill and impersonate a would-be mugger.
    • On Thanagar, the new Administrator of Protection relays to Katar and Shayera that the Thanagarian ambassador to Earth wants our heroes to come to that planet to accompany an exhibit of Thanagarian items.  It’s not really clear how Earth has an ambassador from this world, but no other alien one, ever.
    • We are quickly given the notion that the Administrator doesn’t think much of Katar, who really, is an inexperienced Wingman, given to hot-headedness.  Shayera is basically his protector, and a mole for the administrator.
    • Katar goes to meet with the sentient in the Commission for Alien Affairs, Kanjar Ro (this name should be familiar to long-time DC fans), who has been working to help the Downsiders (aliens from other planets who live in squalor).  It would seem that Ro is jerking Katar along a little.
    • On patrol, Katar and Shayera come to the assistance of two Wingmen standing over bodies that were apparently skinned by Man-hawks.  Afterwards, they go to the clinic Katar was funding, and see that the alien in the miniseries has given birth.  We also learn that someone called Bladebat is running a crime ring, and that Hommy, also from the mini-series, is now working for him.
    • A confrontation between Katar, Shayera, Bladebat, and Hommy gets a little crazy when the Man-hawks, which are big birds with guns on their chests, wearing human scalps, attack.  Katar downs Bladebat, but Hommy holds a gun on him, at least until Shayera kills him.  This makes Katar angry, and he and Shayera argue.
    • Later, they leave for Earth.  The flight is long, and they will spend it in suspended animation, while learning English subconsciously.  A voiceover by the Administrator makes it clear that they won’t be upset if they never return.
    • Arriving on Earth, Katar doesn’t notice that there is a flashing light on the message center on his ship.  When he and Shayera touch down on Earth, the ambassador, Darl Klus, is annoyed that they are wearing their regular uniforms instead of being in full dress.
    • Later, at the Thanagarian Embassy (which I still think is a strange thing to have – what possible business could it conduct?  And only with the American government?), Shayera is surprised to watch colour TV.  They meet with their publicist, and the names Hawkman and Hawkwoman are agreed upon.  There is no mention of the fact that those names have been used on Earth by heroes before.
    • Apparently Byth also likes to watch colour TV, because he has a lot of screens, drools while watching, and grows extra eyeballs so as not to miss a thing.
    • In Chicago for their promotional tour, Shayera continues to enjoy TV, while Katar is unimpressed to learn about life in Cabrini Green, which reminds him of Hawkworld, his notion of world that feeds upon itself.
    • Katar gets invited to a party, while Shayera is invited to a ride-along with some Chicago cops.  It turns out that Byth was in the room all along, disguised as the couch (seriously), and that he and Ambassador Klus know each other.
    • Katar hangs out at the party.
    • Byth uses a drug called Krotan, the thing that gave him his shape-changing abilities, to change some gang members into winged dragonmen.  They attack the party, and rob some people.  Katar grabs some antique Earth weapons and gives chase.  Shayera learns that he’s going into Cabrini Green and goes after him to support him.
    • Byth’s gangster friends, The Furies, learn that they are stuck in their new forms.  When Katar arrives, they attack him, managing to rip his shirt and suit jacket off him without damaging his wing harness. Shayera arrives and manages to kill one of them.
    • The other Furies take their hostage (kidnapped from the party) to one of their ex’s place, where there are some guns stashed.  After fighting for most of the issue, the Furies are killed and the woman saved.
    • There is discussion in the media that the Furies were killed by cops from another planet with no jurisdiction on Earth.  Shayera is frustrated with that, as she’s used to being able to kill criminals.
    • This leads to a very strange sequence wherein Katar and Shayera are given the Declaration of Independence to read, and while they read it, Ostrander and Truman juxtapose it with a media report that the ex-girlfriend of the Fury is being evicted from Cabrini Green because there were weapons in her home.
    • While continuing to discuss politics, the publicist weighs in, giving a speech about such topics as Vaclav Havel singing ‘We Shall Overcome’, Tiananmen Square, and America’s refusal to extend the visas of Chinese students.  Katar gets even more philosophical, thinking that some of the principals in America’s founding document could be applied to Thanagar.
    • Later, Shayera is unhappy to see a newspaper editorial making fun of her. She argues with the Ambassador, who also mentions that the government has learned of the Thanagarian ship in orbit, and they raise the possibility that Byth could access the ship.
    • In Japan, Byth impersonates a businessman so he can arrange a deal that will ship colour televisions to Thanagar.  Seriously, we’re talking about colour TV again…
    • In Chicago, Shayera continues to work with the police, but is now barred from using any weapons.  I don’t know why she’s still with the police, but everyone seems to accept this as normal that an untrained alien would patrol with local officers for an extended period of time after shooting down mutated suspects.
    • Katar tours the museum with the woman he rescued last issue, and watches her argue with the head of the research department.
    • Shayera goes out for drinks with her cop buddies, and then goes dancing with one of them, and making out with him.
    • Katar thinks more about human rights, and visits a newspaper office to debate the Declaration of Independence with a columnist.  There are some critiques of American society here, but these sections have not aged particularly well.
    • Shayera rescues a couple of kids from a fire, and is declared a hero.  Her and Katar are now honorary members of the police force (despite the fact that Katar hasn’t even met them yet).
    • Shayera reads Katar’s diary, where he’s been writing about his doubts, and sheds a single tear.  For real.
    • Carl Sands, the Shadow Thief (who does not have any powers but is just a corporate spy ninja) invades the company that Byth has taken over in Japan because Byth has hired him to.  Really, it’s a test, because he wants Sands to steal Katar and Shayera’s ship.
    • In Chicago, Katar offers his home to Anna Taylor, the woman who helped him in the fight with the Furies, who is now homeless.
    • Shayera gets closer to her cop boyfriend.
    • The Shadow Thief steals the Hawks’ ship using a Thanagarian shadow generator, which turns him into a shadow that can’t be touch but that can still use tools and weapons.
    • The Hawks learn of this, and rush to New York to use the Ambassador’s shuttle to get up to space before Shadow Thief can steal or destroy their main vessel.
    • Byth tells the Ambassador that this has been his plan all along, so he can smuggle some Thanagarian goods onto Earth without the Hawks noticing.  Interestingly, had he left them to go about their days of charity, dating, and debating the Declaration of Independence, they never would have noticed this.
    • Shadow Thief destroys the shuttle, but the Hawks are in their space suits, and they board the ship.  Shayera detaches the command ship to go after the smugglers who have just arrived, while Katar goes looking for Byth (not knowing that it’s Shadow Thief onboard).
    • Everyone fights for a bit.  The smugglers try to warp away, which might destroy the whole solar system (although we don’t know why), while Katar figures out that the device Byth had Shadow Thief plant on his ship will destroy it.  He goes to stop it, but the ship turns white and emits blue bolts of light, and then disappears.
    • Left to her own devices, Shayera waits for the smugglers to drop their shields so they can jump, and then disables their jump drive with a few well-placed shots, buying herself time to stop them, so long as she can avoid their fire.
    • On Thanagar, the Administrator and another bigwig discuss the problem of Katar’s apparent betrayal of thought.  They don’t want to arrest him for treason, because he’s a hero.  Kanjar Ro suggests using the Hawkman name that Earth has provided to Katar as a planetary champion kind of thing.  The others like this idea, and make plans to hold a contest, thinking this can divert people from admiring Katar.  In exchange for this idea, Kanjar Ro wants control of some outer planets.
    • On Katar’s mothership, he and the Shadow Thief come to, realizing they are out of phase with reality or something.  This is caused by the shadow generators they were both wearing.  This has also caused some of Katar’s doubts and regrets to take shadow form and pursue them.
    • Katar abandons the Shadow Thief to go to a different part of the ship to blow up the shadow generator (which, earlier, he was wearing), and bring the ship back to reality just in time to stop the smugglers from shooting down Shayera.  This makes Byth angry.
  • The first Hawkworld Annual is designed to help solve some of the continuity problems caused by rebooting the Thanagarian Hawks and bringing them to Earth a few years after Crisis, when they’ve already been shown in that time.  The Annual came out between issues 6 and 7, and appears to best fit in that space, story-wise.  I’m going to leave my discussion of the Annual in italics, so it’s easier to situate it.
  • The book opens in India in 1934, where Isaac Bowin has been imprisoned by the British.  His cellmate is an old Indian man who he refers to as a fakir.  The fakir teaches him how to build his own fiddle and use its music to control others.  He does this in return for Bowin’s soul, but Bowin uses his fiddle to free himself and murder the old guy.
  • In the present, the Hawks tour Belle Reve prison to learn about incarceration in the US.  This is after Ostrander’s Suicide Squad run was completed, and there is no sign of Amanda Waller or the gang.  Instead, we see that a metahuman named Janus, with multiple personality disorder uses his abilities to escape, turn into a winged dragon-like creature, and run amok.
  • The Hawks put him down.
  • Bowin, now known as the Fiddler, is in Belle Reve as well.  The fakir’s ghost comes to talk to him, and transports him out of the prison.
  • In Chicago, at another gala, the Hawks meet Wally West and Linda Park.  Wally is rude to them, because they aren’t his Hawks, and he gets into a fight with Shayera.
  • Later, confused about reference to an earlier Hawkman, they go to Central City to visit the JSA Museum.  They notice similarities between Carter Hall and their iconography (although they never notice how close their names are), and decide to visit Joan Garrick (wife of the original Flash) to learn more.
  • She tells them that the Halls had a close friend, Perry Carter, who Katar recognizes as his father (who invented the anti-gravity metal used on Thanagar for flight, and who started the Wingmen).
  • The Fiddler attacks, wanting to use Joan to hurt Jay (who has, with the rest of the JSA, disappeared).  The Flash (Wally version) shows up to stop him, but ends up getting used to form a time portal with his vibrating body, into which the Fiddler takes Joan.  The Hawks go after them.
  • They find themselves in the past, and pay a visit to Katar’s father, posing as Thanagarians checking on his secret mission.  They end up knocking out the Halls and taking their gear, to go stop the Fiddler, which they do, with help from the Flash (Jay version).
  • They come back to their own time, bringing Joan with them, and more or less establishing that Carter and Shiera Hall have been the only Hawks in the DCU, with them helping out the fledgling Justice League.  I’m sure that left some other continuity issues, but it was good enough I guess.
  • The Annual ends with the suggestion that the ghostly fakir was about to bestow his gifts on another American in prison, this time in Turkey.
  • We learn that Byth’s crew, captured on the freighter, are being held in Belle Reve until they can be extradited to Thanagar.  Byth appears, eats one of them, and then busts the rest out by giving them the shape-changing drug Krotan.
  • Katar has figured out that Byth will smuggle more drugs through the regular courier from Thanagar, and so the Hawks follow him.  He meets with Byth and his new crew to hand over the drugs, when the Hawks raid their meeting.  A number of the Krotan-enhanced thugs are killed, but Byth and Jarl (the brother of the ambassador) escape.
  • Byth makes plans to get more Krotan, since this shipment was lost to Shayera.
  • Shayera reads Katar’s diary some more, and learns that he was upset that the tenant association of the building where the Hawks are living want Anna Taylor, the woman that Katar provided housing to, out.  They don’t trust people from Cabrini Green.  Katar is confused because the man at the door is black, as is Anna.
  • When Katar discovers that Shayera has been reading his diary, he gets angry and they argue.
  • Shayera calls Jonesy, her cop friend, and they go out to a diner to talk about Shayera’s choice to not pass on reports about Katar’s beliefs to Thanagar.  Later, they go back to his place.
  • The next day, everyone at the police station is amused to see Jones and Shayera arrive together.  There is innuendo, until the point when the Sergeant is revealed to be Byth, and he shoots Jones before turning into a bug creature and flies away.  Shayera vows to kill Byth.
  • Later, the chief of police grills the Hawks for information about Byth, who has killed two of his officers (the sergeant’s body was later found).  They are reluctant to help, wanting to get Byth themselves, but they end up betraying each other and arguing again.  Shayera storms out and punches a reporter.  Katar continues to provide information to the cops, although the ambassador, who would also know a thing or two, doesn’t.
  • Katar gets into another lengthy conversation about human rights, this time with the lawyer who is representing him.
  • Byth attacks a news helicopter reporting on a burning oil tanker that has hit a bridge.  Byth attacks in the form of “a giant man-sized hawk”.  Let’s unpack that one – Byth looks like the Man-Hawks from Thanagar, but is bigger than the helicopter, so I don’t know why he is referred to as ‘man-sized’.  It’s weird, and he looks dumb.
  • Shayera flies over to attack him, shooting wildly in rage.  Police, on top of the Sears Tower, worry that they will have to shoot Shayera, because they want to take the giant Man-Hawk in themselves, using pistols.
  • Katar appears, also trying to stop Shayera from killing Byth, just as she stopped him back on Thanagar in the mini-series.  Byth returns to his normal form while the Hawks argue and fight.  She shoots Byth, and is then knocked out by Katar, and handed over to the Chicago police.  It’s not clear what happened to Byth.
  • In the aftermath of this event, we learn that Katar has been recalled to Thanagar, while Shayera is being left to the justice system.  The Thanagarian museum exhibit is to be closed.
  • Travelling home, Katar realizes that it must not actually be Byth who was shot, and that he was setting the Hawks up for something.  He requests permission to return to Earth, and when it is denied, he turns around anyway.
  • The Ambassador is told about Katar’s betrayal, and he calls the American president to have the military shoot Katar down.  That doesn’t work.
  • We learn that Byth, going through severe Krotan withdrawal, can’t keep control of his form.  He sends Jarl to go get him some.
  • Katar breaks into Jones’s partner’s house, to get her to help him.  They watch video footage which shows that Byth may have swapped a doppelganger in before Shayera shot him.
  • Katar starts to follow Jarl, which leads him to where Byth is hiding out (in the middle of Wrigley Field).  The cop shoots Jarl, while Katar shoots Byth with small amounts of Krotan, so he takes a proper form.  He then knocks him out.
  • The charges against Shayera are dropped, and the two Hawks work out some of their mutual mistrust issues, and even embrace.  Instead of talking to the press, they fly off together.

This series is all over the map.  There are some interesting things that the writers are trying to do, but they come off feeling very heavy-handed and unsophisticated today.  Katar’s interest in American viewpoints on human rights and freedoms, especially as they compare to life on Thanagar, is a rich vein for storytelling, but it’s not handled well, with those scenes coming off preachy and a little confused.  The base prejudice shown against the woman who lived in Cabrini Green is awkward, and doesn’t really work (especially since she is not often seen around the apartment).

The relationship between Katar and Shayera is an interesting one, because this is the first time when Hawkman and Hawkgirl are not automatically in love with one another.  Having Shayera spy on Katar is a nice touch, although her characterization is all over the map – one moment she’s a tough killer cop, and the next, she’s shedding tears because her partner (who is basically a stranger, and who she’s spying on) doesn’t trust her.

I also don’t really understand Byth’s motivation.  In the miniseries, he was an evil man who manipulated his way into power.  In this series, he’s a shape-changing drug addict who is pulling the strings of the Ambassador, but to what end?  It mostly seems like he’s just after revenge on the Hawks, but that doesn’t make a lot of sense, since he was on Earth ahead of them.

Still, for all its flaws, this was an interesting book to read.  Graham Nolan is a very good, house-style artist.  This is definitely an early-90s book, as shown by Katar’s awful pony tail, but Nolan does good work with his storytelling.  I feel like he’s trying to work in a style informed by both Joe Kubert and Truman’s work with these characters, but as the run continues, he became more comfortable moving towards his own style (or that could be the influence of inker Gary Kwapisz).

One thing that really stands out in this run is just how bad the covers are.  They often look like interior panels that have just been blown up, with thicker than normal lines outlining the action.  They might be part of the reason why I didn’t buy this comic regularly.

One thing that I found particularly entertaining about this book is the variety of letters that were printed in the letters pages.  Clearly, this book was seen as controversial when it was published, as there are a lot of complaints about how these aren’t the ‘real’ Katar and Shayera.  In the internet era, it’s very easy to go on-line and complain about a comic, but to actually sit down and write, then post, a letter is a strange thing to me.

It’s interesting that Ostrander and Truman took such long-standing DCU characters, and put them in a book that barely interacts with the rest of the shared universe.  Sure, the Annual is used to address continuity and features the Golden Age Hawks and a couple of Flashes, but in the monthly book, the Hawks are very much on their own.  They are not superheroes in this book at all; they are police (it’s weird how this is the second DC superhero book I’ve chosen to write about that’s really about cops, isn’t it?).  Those lines became more blurred as the series continued, as Ostrander had to manage some line-wide crossovers.  We’ll take a look at that in my next column, which will cover his solo writing run.

If you are interested in my review of the miniseries, it’s here.

Tags: , , ,