Every two weeks, Big Issues focuses on a newly released comic book of significance.
This week, it is Hawkman #11. Written by Robert Venditti (Wrath Of The Eternal Warrior, Green Lantern) with art by Bryan Hitch (Justice League, The Ultimates), inker Andrew Currie (The Ultimates, Fantastic Four), colorist Jeremiah Skipper (Harley Quinn, Suicide Squad), and letters by Richard Starkings & Comicraft (Elephantmen, Astro City), this issue brings an army of Hawkmen together across space and time for a fight that doubles as a journey through DC lore. Note: This review reveals major plot points.
Legacy has been a part of superhero comics since heroes of the Golden Age like The Flash and Green Lantern passed their mantles on to new characters in the Silver Age, but few characters represent the idea like Hawkman. Carter Hall has been reincarnating as different heroes for millennia, embodying the spirit of different pulp genres in his various lives. He’s been an ancient Egyptian prince, a medieval knight, a Wild West gunslinger, a scientist on Krypton, a flying cop on the alien planet of Thanagar, and even a giant hawk-monster in a dark dimension. His current form is Indiana Jones with wings, an archaeologist-adventurer who comes face-to-face with his past in the current Hawkman series.
Writer Robert Venditti uses the reincarnation concept to send Carter Hall across space and time to meet his former selves, encountering Prince Khufu in Ancient Egypt, Katar Hol on Thanagar, and Katar-Ol on Krypton. The concept gives artist Bryan Hitch, inker Andrew Currie, and colorist Jeremiah Skipper the opportunity to explore the aesthetics of different genres as Carter ventures into sci-fi, fantasy, and action-adventure scenarios. Hawkman isn’t reinventing the wheel—if you’re looking for that, check out the shape-shifting sci-fi crime noir of Martian Manhunter—but it hits the right buttons for a superhero book. The main character has a long, complicated history, and the creative team welcomes new readers into the sprawl of the DC Universe by delving into Hawkman’s past lives.
The broader strokes of Hawkman’s plot are pretty generic, with massive cosmic beings called Deathbringers coming to Earth to consume all life. The hero’s new origin makes him a former general of the Deathbringers, cursed to reincarnate until he saves as many people as he destroyed in his first life. Hawkman essentially becomes the Silver Surfer, the herald of a planet-devouring force making amends for the deaths he facilitated. It’s notable that Hawkman has largely ignored Hawkgirl, and while Kendra is off fighting the Legion of Doom in Justice League, the Hawkman series is establishing Carter as a solo hero. The updated origin gives Hawkman more motivation to save lives while adding connective tissue between his past selves, and the grand finale of the Deathbringers storyline brings all of these winged heroes together to stop the masters who doomed them.
All of these past versions of Carter flew out of a rift in space and time at the end of last issue, and this week’s Hawkman #11 shows them in action against the Deathbringers’ flying army, starting with a splash page that distills the superhero’s appeal in one jaw-dropping image. The focal point of the splash is the Golden Age Hawkman in his original look, surrounded on all sides by other versions in their own distinct costumes. The reincarnation angle added by Geoff Johns in 2002 made Hawkman a symbol of ongoing efforts to negotiate all the different versions of superheroes in their modern interpretations. Venditti builds on the work done by previous writers while making Hawkman an even more prominent player, introducing new past lives that expand his intergalactic presence.
When I was first getting into superhero comics as a pre-teen, I was fascinated by the scale of superhero universes and just how many different characters populate them. I was exposed to DC concepts through animated TV shows like Super Friends, Batman: The Animated Series, and Superman: The Animated Series, so when I discovered that there were decades worth of comics expanding on all the different characters in those series, I was eager to absorb as much as possible. The first comic I ever bought was Hawkman (Vol. 2) #3, so Hawkman has always been a character I associate with the expansion of my superhero horizons. It’s easy to imagine a like-minded young superhero fan picking up an issue of this current Hawkman run and having the same experience, discovering different corners of DC Comics through a hero connected to all of them.
I was lucky to have a public library with a graphic novel section that became increasingly robust over the years, and I had access to a lot of comics that revealed new aspects of these superhero worlds. It’s easier than ever to explore the breadth of superhero comics thanks to digital comics, and both DC and Marvel have streaming services that offer up huge digital libraries for a reasonable monthly fee. Last month, DC announced that DC Universe would be adding the publisher’s entire digital comics library, giving DC fans their version of Marvel Unlimited. New DC titles will be added a year after publication rather than Marvel’s six months, but DC Universe also includes a vast collection of movies and TV shows that make it a multimedia package while Marvel Unlimited is strictly comics.
I can see this Hawkman run gaining a lot of fans once it becomes readily available on DC Universe, particularly because it maintains a high level of consistency that you don’t get very often in contemporary superhero comics. It’s uncommon to read 12 consecutive issues of a superhero series drawn by one person, and it’s downright astonishing that Bryan Hitch produced a full year’s worth of Hawkman comics. He’s not an exceptionally quick artist, and his commitment to getting the book out on time shows his passion for the series, which has given him a lot of really fun stuff to draw like a flying stone gorilla, rampaging dinosaurs, monsters of the Microverse, and a rain-soaked aerial chase through a futuristic sci-fi city. Hitch also positions Hawkman as a superhero sex symbol, drawing an extremely handsome Carter Hall and embracing the beefcake-friendly elements of his costume, with its X-shaped harness across a bare chest. Hitch is leaving Hawkman after next month’s issue #12, and while it’s definitely a loss for the series, 12 issues is a lot of content to get from an artist who could easily be working on characters with much higher profiles and sales numbers.
Hitch is one of the most influential artists of the Modern Age of superhero comics, with his work on The Authority and The Ultimates setting a visual template for superhero stories in the new millennium, both on and off the page. Cinematic is a word tossed around a lot to describe Hitch because he traffics in highly detailed spectacle on a massive scale, but that makes it sound like he is trying to replicate the visual language of another medium when in truth he’s reinforcing the value of the comic-book form. The splash page of all of the Hawkmen flying into battle would be chaotic on screen, and even with a Zack Snyder-style slow-mo shot, those finer details are going to get lost in the action.
Hitch has to imbue a static image with multiple levels of movement, a task made even more challenging by all those pesky wings crowding the space. This requires a precise eye for creating visual compositions that are packed with visual stimuli but still flow clearly, and this issue is one long showcase of Hitch’s talent. He doesn’t rely on stylized exaggeration to depict bodies in motion, bringing momentum and power to realistically rendered forms by putting them in dynamic poses and understanding how the body shifts when specific muscles are activated. Hawkman #11 has Hitch delivering two different types of action sequences. The first is the large-scale battle between the Hawkmen and the Deathbringers’ soldiers, which puts a lot of figures on the page and jumps between different heroes to give them quick spotlight moments. The second is a more intimate fight driven by a long-simmering personal conflict between Carter and his original comrade-in-arms for the Deathbringers, and Hitch gets in close to heighten the emotional beats that drive the action.
Hitch splits inking duties with Currie, his long-time collaborator, and while Currie’s linework isn’t quite as finely detailed as Hitch, he still does remarkable work sharpening Hitch’s pencils with clean inks that add clarity and definition. When working with a meticulous artist like Hitch, there’s a tendency for colorists to intensely render the linework to make it look even more photorealistic, but Skipper takes a flatter approach, particularly when he’s coloring characters. This helps them stand out against textured backgrounds, and the bold pops of color from the different Hawkman costumes energize the linework and emphasize a classic superhero tone. This creative team pairs exquisitely crafted superhero spectacle with an ambitious and satisfying personal arc, using the grandiosity of DC mythology to enrich Carter Hall’s character and turn him into a living gateway to different points in this expansive universe.