“Impossibly, amidst all this ruination, you’ve given me hope.”
Hawkman has experienced something of a renaissance in the last year. Following his vital placement in Dark Nights: Metal, we were treated to the wonderfully ambitious revamp with the team of Bryan Hitch and Robert Venditti. Working alongside Jermiah Skipper, Andrew Currie and Richard Starkings’ Comicraft, they’ve built a rich and exciting portrait of the character that spans time and space and various life times.
The previous issue revealed his long-awaited origin, showcasing the beginnings of the complex man we now know and how his first life led to all the others. Issue eight picks up from the grand revelations and explores a man grappling with his past while struggling to find a path to the future. Can there be redemption considering his history? Could there be hope, beyond the dreadful doom? The choice to frame this dilemma through the tale of Krypton’s end is an inspired decision. The series’ debut revealed to us that Carter Hall, Hawkman, had also reincarnated on Krypton as a man named Catar-Ol and in this issue, we finally get to meet him.
Much like in the previous installments of the story, the meeting of incarnations across time and space is triggered by remnants of Hawkman’s past lives. The time slip, indicated by a blur and the arrival of ethereal lights, takes Carter to moments before Krypton’s end. And so we meet the Kryptonian Hawkman. Catar-Ol is a historian, running a museum and operating as a teacher. He looks out at his his doomed planet, as seismic tremors shake the world asunder and explosions erupt across its surface. Unlike Prince Khufu and Katar Hol, the two previous incarnations Carter met, Catar remembers a great deal more of his story and thus isn’t surprised by Carter’s arrival.
From here on out, the entire story is a conversation between the two incarnations of the same hero and this is where the team strikes absolute gold. Hawkman is a book about history, but not just Hawkman history. The character is very much an embodiment of the DC Universe’s grand legacy and represents all that which makes it special and distinctive. From worlds ending, worlds living, nothing being the same, yet things still being sort of the same to cyclical cycles as well as the the various rebirths, reincarnations and interpretations that vary but operate off the same core idea, in the vein of Elseworlds, it’s all at the root of the spirit that is DC Comics. Science fiction, fantasy, pulp adventure, mystery, supernatural, horror, it’s all there. As the living historical document of the DC Universe, Carter must remember and connect with history and that’s precisely what this issue is for. Carter is shown the magnificent history of Krypton by Catar, who has resigned himself to his people’s end. And this is where Venditti get to the core insecurity of the Hawkman character carefully- What, if any of it, is worth it? All those lives, all those deaths, certain doom ahead, will any of it matter or mean anything? Or is it simply futile? These are questions that play out through the conversations of the two Hawkmen, as they do their best to process their situations and help one another.
With the previous installment being so squarely focused on the telling of his first life and beginnings, the story allows the two men, these two historians, to somberly reflect on their roots, the past, that which they cannot alter and wonder about the fate of the future that is to be. Carter originally came to Krypton to seek out a weapon that may help him defeat The Deathbringers, but he merely finds a useless tool which will do him no good. And so the two historians talk through their struggles, doubts and hopes while marveling and acknowledging all that was, the good and the bad. It’s a beautifully touching mini-story that encapsulates and succinctly sums up the larger macro-story and struggle and blows things out to greater scope. Hawkmen across time and space, for a brief reprieve, must give each other other in the face of both their certain dooms. And the real magic of the story? They do.
Carter lets Catar know of Kal-El’s survival as well as Kara Zor-El’s survival, giving him hope of history’s enduring power, letting him know it’ll be okay. Catar, while he cannot provide Carter with a weapon, tells him that he must become the weapon that is needed. He is the history of the universe, but what use does history have if not to help us move to the future? If we don’t apply its lessons? Hawkman may be a man steeped in the past, but he excavates the past to uncover the possibilities of the future and that’s very much the reminder at the heart of this. The big epiphany that is granted to Carter, which may end up saving everything, is one that is a brilliant lesson. An incredibly clever and well thought out bit of storytelling, it’s something that re contextualizes the entire series thus far and implies an exhilarating finale to come. It’s absolutely something everyone should go seek out and read for themselves, rather than have it spoiled.
The team’s great adoration and deep care for history really enhances and imbues the book with a rich flavor in the story here. Whether it be Kryptonian Thought-beasts, Rao or Tomar-Re, it’s all there. Hitch’s dynamic artwork, which pioneered widescreen comics storytelling is in full force here, and alongside Currie’s acute inks and Skipper’s evocative colors, he crafts absolutely iconic and astonishingly epic imagery in the issue. A world at doom, with raging flames and dystopic imagery really looks like it and the horror really comes through, but so does the beauty of the history that the world once housed. It may be built around a simple conversation, but it’s never a visually boring issue, as every panel and every page are packed with powerful visuals that enhance the story perfectly. Every little nuance and reaction, conveyed through body language and careful framing grant it a level of complexity and a mythic scope that enriches the contents. Starkings and Comicraft, as ever, do a remarkable job of guiding the readers through this epic conversation which accentuating Hitch, Currie and Skipper’s work on every page. The issue is very much a creative team in absolute sync firing on all cylinders.
The lovely, easy-to-read journal entry captions by Starkings and Comicraft really provide a nice sense of intimacy to connect the grand story to the reader and in doing so, they contextualize its real nature, underneath everything. We’re right there with Carter and we’re reading his history, it’s a fitting decision that’s worked in every thus issue far but perhaps no more so than here. There’s a strong sense of pulp adventure in the story, which Skipper’s art really conveys with the palette choices. Every time golds or oranges enter a scene, with the radiant light sources taking center stage, the pages glow with glorious impact.
Hawkman #8 is a massive undertaking that delivers on every front. Following the explosive revelations of the previous tale, it’s a somber reflective breather than effectively packs even greater epiphanies heralding the future. Venditti and Hitch want us to look beyond the dooms ahead and use history to believe in possibility to have hope and find a way. It’s inspiring, it’s epic and it’s absolutely DC Comics in a way few things are.