“It isn’t just one Hawkman they get to fight. They get to fight every one of me.”
Hawkman has done a great deal of things. He’s lived. He’s died. He’s been stuck between the two places. And, most importantly, he’s been reborn. He’s been reborn a lot; he’s kind of known for that. And now it all pays off in spades, as the penultimate chapter of the Cataclysm story-arc arrives. People have historically struggled to find the right voice and approach for the Hawkman title, whether it be the cast, character, identity or mythology or whether it be continuity. But the creative team of Bryan Hitch, Robert Venditti, Andrew Currie, Jeremiah Skipper and Richard Starkings (of Comicraft) has never faced such an issue and this issue is the ultimate showcase of that. Rather than be narrow and shrink down to subtract and choose, leading to division, the team’s effectively just multiplied things even further, making the character multiple choice. Want a Microverse faring hero? Well, you got it. Want a western cowboy? There’s that too. Want the egyptian prince? He’s there. And so is the Thanagarian Space cop. And there’s so many more, from a Kryptonian historian to a Rannian pulp hero.
This Hawkman run is, if nothing else, the ultimate explosion and display of the power of Hawkman. The ultimate universe power of this bird-hero, whose imagery transcends all of time and space, whose will defies all understanding and whose perseverance knows no bounds. He’s many things to many people and one need not reduce him down, but embrace him in all his dimension, in all his complexity, grandeur and failings, even. Here’s a man who’s seen it all, done it all, lived it all and he’s still standing. He can shoot like a cowboy, fight like a knight, teach like a kryptonian and hit like a kaiju dragon. And isn’t that special? What other character exists who can who all that? Capitalizing on the rich and distinct history of Hawkman and the DC Universe he inhabits has resulted in a wonderfully well-realized and uniquely textured individual that could not exist otherwise.
Being the penultimate issue, the issue clearly builds to something of a descent, so the finale can rise from that to a proper crescendo, so the pacing has to be just right. And Bryan Hitch nails that, moving from panel to panel, from the shapes and sizes to how he guides the reader through, the storytelling at play is astonishing. It’s done with confidence, clarity and there’s an elegance to its simplicity. For what is primarily an action issue, detailing the battle between the various Hawkmen and The Deathbringers, Hitch packs in a lot of meaningful characters at a quick pace, making every panel and moment with them matter. Each Hawkman gets only a few brief moments, but in every single one of them Hitch manages to succinctly capture and convey who they are, what makes them special and distinctive amongst a flock of other Hawkcharacters. You instantly get these figures and get the appeal.
Currie and Hitch’s inks, which move back and forth in places, also work really well together, seamlessly enough that they’re never disruptive. Skipper’s key visual identity also helps with this, as he brings the entire book together and the team creates a cohesive package that fits together perfectly. But the real standout of the issue maybe Richard Starkings, who does some wonderful, wonderful things with his lettering. Utilizing a different typeface, inner color, border color, size and look for each Hawkman’s SFX, Starkings really emphasizes Hitch, Currie and Starkings’ storytelling and punctuates it, to clearly showcase how different the various Hawkmen are. From Gold Hawk’s bent bulky red KRAK to Nighthawk’s tiny bullet-like POK or even The Dragon’s overwhelming and tremble-inducing THOOM, every effect perfectly represents the character, adding to the story and helping it tell it, which is an absolute joy.
And getting back to expansions and showcasing potential, the issue also reveals that Hawkman was once a New God from New Genesis, going by the name of Airwing. Sporting dual Kirby-aesthetic spheres and lines, the character is thrown in there by the creative team, almost with cool confidence. There’s a genuine sense of surprise that accompanies his debut, but it’s played with such ease and confidence, as if it was to be expected (and it was), that one can’t help but grin at the confidence and assured storytelling of Hitch and Venditti. Others might make a bigger deal of it, but not this team. They can play with it later and explore it in their own time, they’re in no rush, they just want to tell this story and will not be distracted.
And as the story progresses, a revelation is dropped. Unlike Hawkman, whose noted for his many deaths, the Deathbringers, after their descent into The Void, cannot die. They are immortal and unkillable. And thus the predicament. What can even an army of Hawkmen beyond time and space do against an unstoppable cosmic armada of immortal alien warlords? You can shoot them, cut them or stab them a million times and yet they’ll still rise, seeking to only bring about carnage and death. It’s the ultimate horror and terror of the past made real, given form. It’s all of Hawkman’s dreaded nightmares, the haunting history, the mistake that refuses to die, taken to the next level, to the greatest extreme. So the heroes fall, one by one and with the end, cosmic apocalypse of Earth is all but certain, with all the Hawkman praying to their respective gods at once, which is quite the cliffhanger. The challenge of surmounting his dark past is a tough one for Hawkman, both metatexually and now textually and there’s scarcely a more fitting story to be told with such a fitting character.
Hawkman #11 is a great penultimate issue that leaves things for a stellar conclusion. Robert Venditti’s mastery of characters with long histories, character arcs, Hitch’s mastery of the form, Currie’s inking which fits the story, Skipper’s colors which give it its unique visual identity and Starkings’ letter which can tell a story on their own and enhance the work, all of these thrown into a pot make for a deliciously exciting action blockbuster adventure.