‘I am changed.’
A long time has passed since Hawkman was first born. Numerous lives, numerous names, contradictions, conflicts and origins that span spaceways and the desert sands of earth. And yet, he’s still here. Despite all that people have to say of him and about him, he still soars. Over the course of these 12 issues, Bryan Hitch, Robert Venditti, Andrew Currie, Jeremiah Skipper and Comiccraft’s Richard Starkings have woven a complex web spanning every corner of DC Comics they can possibly include, all culminating in this final installment. The twelve issue story-arc is at an end and that means the long-running Deathbringer Saga must reach its natural end. But can there be a conclusion? And if so how?
For years, Hawkman has struggled to get past his great hurdle, the problem of his own history and the mistakes and errors it comes with. There’s a great deal of good, from Tim Truman’s legendary Hawkworld to Fox’s Silver Age work, but there’s also a good amount of bad, from Hawkgods and other overly messy choices that damn. And so we have this duel at the end of things, at the end of this quest Carter embarked upon at the very start of the book, to rectify the loss of his history. He’s close now, he’s the closest he ever has been, being aware of his beginnings and all they’ve entailed. He understands where things went awry and where they didn’t and he now hopes to face down the greatest errors of his past, of his history, for one cannot run. Running hasn’t aided Carter in the past and neither has forgetting. Avoiding the errors of the past or burying them leads only to repetition, to cyclical struggles. And they’re at the root of Hawkman, cyclical struggles. So how may he break the chains that bind and soar for redemption, truly? That’s what the story’s about.
Picking up with a flashback to Carter’s first life and then throwing the reader right into the battlefield, the book greets us with its mighty armadas of Hawkmen. Most of the issue is built around the action blockbuster approach Hitch and Venditti have cornered in the title, chock full of widescreen adventure moments, from crashing skyscrapers, celestial mechs of apocalypse to two men beating the snot out of one another. It’s a great deal of fun as the action is full of big moments for a lot of the characters, moving at a brisk pace and never staying steady to build the tension up adequately. This is a high stakes duel happening at great speed — there are no delays here and the intensity of that is captured fairly well by Hitch, who’s colored remarkably well by Skipper. The golds glisten without being too much, the darker parts of the page have all the blacks they need and the palette grounds a lot of the out there, wild ideas in pulp spirit to create a neat visual identity for the title. A lot of the restraint used by Skipper here allows the book to normalize its highflying adventure as the absolute norm for the winged wonder, because that’s just what his world is like. This is ordinary to him, it’s in his nature.
Venditti, ever aware of his collaborators, continues to throw in giant set pieces and moments for Hitch to pull off, including but not limited to a Hawkkaiju taking down a celestial mech. It’s this sort of silly wonder, played absolutely straight and serious, which grants the book its pulp charm. Starkings and Comicraft’s lettering, which has to move at this rapid pace of action, really does fun stuff here, as always, picking distinct effects for each big beat or occurrence, allowing for the key moments to be punctuated with the right touch, delivering story clarity. Though the absolute highlight of the lettering remains the Hawkkaiju, as the rich black and red combo with the words that cannot be contained by the balloon shriek loudly at the reader.
But the struggle still rages on and how can all of this come to an end? How can the past, history be addressed and done so in a way that helps truly, moving forward? Because, again, the past isn’t something to be dwelt in, it’s something that exists to help us learn and ultimately to move forward by doing so. Carter comes upon the answer here. He realized his errors and wanted to change things, but his solution? It was foolish. It was to choose death and sacrifice, a release, whilst casting away his peers, to try and absolve himself. But that doesn’t work. That didn’t work, as they’re all back here. One cannot run from their past, for it always catches up. And so he was given his offer, fall forever or choose to live out until his debt was paid and he made his choice. And over the course of various lifetimes, with this choice of life over death, he atoned for his first mistake. But he still has yet to correct it. He could have confronted his men and his choices head on and rather than flee or wish sacrificial death, as he’d inflicted upon so many, as comeuppance, he could have made better, more active choices to preserve the future and atone. But he didn’t.
Now, however, faced with his men once more, he has the choice. Having initially made the offer that he is slain while all others are spared, which is rejected, now he understands what he must do. Redemption isn’t just about doing things to compensate for past failures, it’s also confronting the past failures and correcting them, ensuring they cannot repeat. Both textually and metatextually, while the creators have resolved Hawkman’s reputation for being ‘confusing’, they must set down roots to ensure the errors cannot repeat. Hawkman must fight for the redemption of his history’s worst, weakest aspects, for his reputation and for the sake of his very existence and future. And so he does, stripping his old partner of the General rank and reclaiming it. The men serve him now and they will obey his commands and his command is that they be something else, something that isn’t a Deathbringer. To turn a weapon of death into an instrument of life in the hope of redemption, if that isn’t the most Hawkman thing, what is? And so The Deathbringers’ path for Fruitbringers is set, as Madame Xanadu jokes.
Finally, then, Carter meets his very first life, Ktar Deathrbringer. And he embraces him, truly. As the broken first life looks upon in wonder and gratitude, thanking Carter for all that he’s accomplished, for all that they have accomplished, he and the other lives decide to offer Carter the one thing he has been after all along: his history. Pouring it all into him in one blow, they make him whole and so Hawkman is reborn once more. But this time, not through death, but through life, acceptance and the will to live, which he has more than anyone. The knowledge settles in for the first time, Hawkman is whole again. He has his history. He isn’t absolved of it, he hasn’t run from it, he now truly owns it. He’s reconciled it, for the most part. And with his old foe locked away, a new dawn begins, as Carter’s exploration of the past is neverending, so he may find the path to the future.
Hawkman has been a hell of a ride. Hitch and Venditti have, month after month, delivered a pulp adventure in twelve installments without breaks. One creative team, no lead time. It’s wild that they’ve been able to work at the pace they have and provide a book of such quality on a consistent basis. Hawkman is, in his great entirety, captured here and given expansive potential to be anything, anyone, go anywhere and do anything. The sky is the limit and anything one can imagine, Hawkman can accomplish. They’ve left the character better, stronger and more hopeful than they found him and they made him simple enough to explain to a little kid. They solved the ultimate puzzle of comicdom. And if that isn’t an accomplishment, what is?