“What cataclysm have I become?”
Hawkman’s been known to have a complex history, to say the least. From the far-reaching corners of the cosmic Thanagar to the earthly tombs of Egypt, he’s a character that knows no bounds and defies all expectations. And it’s precisely this element that the creative team of Robert Venditti and Bryan Hitch have latched onto in their current run. Embracing Hawkman’s wide and rich history as one great tapestry, granting validity to nearly everything, they’ve built a cohesive and accessible interpretation of the character. But beyond just the reconciliation of the past, they’re forging forward into new spaces, unveiling new facets and layers of the fascinating mythology they’ve crafted for the character.
It’s an approach very reminiscent of Grant Morrison’s Batman and much like that run, it’s a rich buffet of tonalities, genres and varying stories, all unified under a central theme that pervades all. It’s an ambitious epic spanning all of time and space in the DC Universe, but it makes for an incredibly engaging read every issue. Structured as a quest for discovery, the series takes us to different periods and locales in DC mythology, from Egypt and Dinosaur Island to Thanagar and the Microverse. Each issue is a new realm to explore and discover, with its own cast of characters and mysteries to be uncovered. The wide array of tonalities and genres the book is allowed to explore gives it a thrilling sense of possibility that few have.
Hawkman #7 builds on the foundations laid thus far in the title while unveiling an all new origin for the character. The issue reveals to us the very first life of Hawkman, the one before his cycle of eternal death and rebirth began.
We meet him as Ktar Deathbringer, the leader and general of The Deathbringers, a race of immortals who, as their name suggests, bring about death and destruction. The Deathbringers serve a cosmic being dubbed ‘The Lord Beyond The Void’ and they massacre worlds, taking captives for their lord, so that he may consume them in ritualistic sacrifice. The Lord lacks sufficient strength to enter our universe from its own dark realm, with the sacrifices being the means by which the issue is remedied. Once it has sufficient strength, it plans on universal conquest, with Ktar being its prime weapon.
It’s a grim beginning and one heavy with death, as one might expect. But it serves a strong purpose, both narratively and thematically. From the very opening of the issue, it’s evident that Ktar is tired and burdened by all the carnage that surrounds him. He is weary, guilty and the burden of his blood campaign weighs on him. There’s a hollowness to him, as he cannot stand by his supposed purpose. We’re also introduced to Idamm, the second-in-command of the Deathbringers and old friend of Ktar. Idamm contrasts Ktar’s state with a gleeful passion for death and carnage, finding great honor and purpose in his role.
The story moves through various worlds across the DC Cosmos, whether it be Krypton or even Qward, as we’re given glimpses of Ktar after each massacre. We find him at these key moments contemplating, as the weight of his actions grows heavier and heavier. The recurring event across all of them is his encounter with a mysterious woman with brown hair. Only visible to Ktar’s eyes, she arrives at these key moments to watch him and at times even warns him (This is evidently Hawkgirl in her first incarnation and this reveal brings up a whole slew of fascinating questions, but those are for another day). And it’s ultimately because of her that Ktar takes action, choosing to betray the Deathbringers and his lord, unable to stomach their mission and actions. Ktar and Idamm battle, with Ktar managing to destroy their Deathbringer temple. He takes a trident through his chest for his efforts, but it pays off. The void leading to their Lord is sealed, with Ktar managing to trap the Deathbringers (including Idamm)in it. In his last moments, he meets the woman once more and she asks him to take her hand and so dies Ktar Deathbringer, for the very first time.
After passing beyond the realm of the living, Ktar finds himself in a realm of innumerable skulls. Greeted by a mysterious voice, he’s told that despite his sins, there was always something in him and that he now has a choice. Accept death as judgement and move on or choose to live and do so eternally, in order to save lives, for every single one he’s taken. Ktar chooses to live, being told that with every life he saves, he will approach his final death, as his power ceases once the debt is paid. Though his real mission is to defeat the Deathbringers and all they entail. And should he fail in that mission, he is informed his debt will never be repaid. Thus the Hawkman is born.
The origin firmly cements and explores some of the key themes and ideas throughout the book so far. Death is and has been a very important part of Hawkman, given how many times he’s died, for one reason or another. He’s had a strong tie to it for ages now. And nothing literalizes the horror of death and what it represents more than The Deathbringers. Here we have these giant, larger than life incomprehensible and advanced birds of prey, ever covered in shadows. Bryan Hitch’s storytelling and artwork are such a massive part of this title and the way he renders and presents the Deathbringers is a great example for just how and why this book is what it is. The Deathbringers are always seen from below, always presented as bigger than us, staring down at us, waiting to cast judgement, as they remain shrouded in mystery. They’re almost cosmic grim reapers in presentation, haunting our existence. It’s a great way to visualize death in the story being told.
But really, despite all the deaths, the heart of the book is facing that death and finding your own meaning and choosing rebirth. Because for all the deaths Hawkman’s had, he’s also had lives, he has lived. Death can only exist when life does. Hawkman’s story is, ultimately, a celebration of life and all that it entails, in the face of the dread of death that haunts us. Rebirth is a core component to the story and it’s why the origin in this issue works so brilliantly- it grants Hawkman agency. Previously, he’s always been reborn without a choice, he had no say in it. But with this Hitch and Venditti’s work, he is granted a choice: be judged and fade or live and rise. Granting him that agency just makes the story so much more compelling and is such a powerful statement on the character. The idea that despite our difficult pasts, we can always choose to be better, we can learn, grow and soar forward to new heights is one that has great resonance. It works especially because we know who Hawkman is and what he becomes after these events, thus laying out a clear character arc for him.
Venditti’s always excelled at characters who have pasts that contrast immensely with who they are, from Aric in X-O Manowar to The Eternal Warrior and Hawkman proves to be a perfect fit for him. Though Hitch is very much the star of this title, doing arguably career best work at incredibly unbelievable speeds, he’s creating a definitive take on the character. The way he frames and depicts Hawkman and what it’s like to be a person that flies on the page is incredible. The aerial battles are perhaps some of the best in a comic, with Hitch choosing dynamic shots and angles to truly gives you a sense of the perspective these beings must have being in the air. While Hitch is beloved for his ability to bring cinematic scope to a title, he’s also brilliant with emotion and he loses none of it despite how big and grand Hawkman gets at times. His style is relatively simpler here in comparison to his more detailed work, but the storytelling clarity and all the brilliance is still present and the new approach aids his skillset perfectly.
Andrew Currie’s inks on Hitch’s work also bring the work to life nicely, albeit a bit differently from Nowlan’s work in Hawkman: Found. Jeremiah Skipper’s colors are also worth discussing as they’re really what unify and help establish the tone of the book, bringing together everything from trident and mace battles to sci-fi celestial hawkweapons and more. It keeps with the early work Alex Sinclair did while being very special in its own right. The way the rebirth sequence is colored, in contrast to the rest of the issue, is a gorgeous shift that really clicks and works for the story, selling the idea of a true change. The brightness of it puts a great emphasis on the entire scene in a very clever way, since it is now the most vital moment in Hawkman’s history. Richard Starkings is also an essential component here, as he elicits the most power and impact from each sequence via his lettering. From the black/white choice on The Lord Beyond the Void to the heavily outlined and more fluid bubble choices in the rebirth sequence, he really complements the artwork and lands every moment.
The team has thoroughly explored Carter Hall and all his various incarnations across all of time and space really nicely thus far. Exploration and discovery are the main thrusts of this title, as it takes us on a grand tour of the DC Universe, with the main character truly being an explorer. And that’s really the other commendable aspect of Hawkman. While it is very much a grand adventure story in the vein of Indiana Jones and National Treasure, it is decidedly not a story that could be told with those characters or any others anywhere else. It is distinctly DC-specific and that’s certainly the charm of it. Leaning into the pulp hero elements of the character, the creatives have produced something truly encapsulates the spirit of DC. It’s nothing like any other title out there and has more in common with Alan Moore’s classic Tom Strong run than an average ongoing in 2018. Every issue a big new idea, every time a grand new adventure, a story rooted in the past that firmly pushes forward.
Adding in the karmic debt element to Hawkman is truly inspired, especially with the ominous end that it heralds. With every life he saves, his final end comes closer and he’ll never know when it arrives until it truly does. It sets up stakes for Carter in a really meaningful way going forward and it provides creators room to go beyond the existing setup. And that’s what is truly fascinating here. Venditti, Hitch, Currie and Starkings are not just building a Hawkman story, they’re building the Hawkman story. It spans everything, the past, the present, the future and every corner of the cosmos you could imagine and it’s truly building a story engine for the character. It’s something that Hawkman has lacked and the team is setting up clear mechanics for how a Hawkman book can work, much like other famous talents have with their Batman or Spider-man stories for those respective franchises. Though more closely, the work is most reminiscent of James Robinson and Tony Harris’ Starman , which was a magnificent, all encompassing revitalization of a key and classic DC property. A distinct and definitive lens into the DCU by a creative team that tied together various disparate elements of mythology and had a grand story with beginning middle and an end.
The creative team showcases such range and so many threads of possibility in Hawkman that it’s truly exciting to even wonder about the wondrous legacy the team will leave on the franchise. It’s an incredibly exciting time to be a Hawkman fan. Carter Hall has long searched for the answer and now he finally has it and the real journey starts here now.
Hawkman continues to surprise and delight, as ever. It is a title where where anything is possible and it defies classification, much like its titular character. Join the journey and soar, for there’s a grand adventure ahead.