Monday, November 14, 2011

The Savage Hawkman #1

DC Comics, 20 pages, $ 2.99

Writer: Tony S. Daniel
Artist: Philip Tan
Colorist: Sunny Gho
Letterer: Travis Lanham

Hawkman is one of the DC characters that arguably have much to gain from any given overhaul of their histories, and very little to lose.

Since the character was created by Gardner Fox and Dennis Neville in 1940, he went through so many revisions and retroactive changes to his history that much of his fictional past had become an irreconcilable mess by the mid-1990s. Is he the reincarnation of ancient Egyptian royalty, as the original version has it? An alien policeman from the planet Thanagar, as established in the 1960s? Or rather a god-like hawk creature, as in the 1990s version?

In this new revamp, Tony Daniel doesn’t hit you over the head with who or what the character is meant to be, sensibly. He’s a scientist named Carter Hall, he’s been Hawkman for some time, and he would like to get rid of the Hawkman identity—that’s about the extent of what we learn about him here.

It’s a good approach, in principle, but the execution is middling at best. Not frontloading the book with the protagonist’s history is one thing, but this story also omits anything that tells you anything about the character at all. Hawkman remains a generic cypher who’s going through the motions.

What kind of person is Carter Hall? Why does he want to get rid of his Hawkman duds? All Mr. Daniel provides here is a lot of mind-numbingly generic and often cringe-inducing exposition, delivered as inner monologues that read like parodies of 1990s issues of Wolverine.

To properly summarize the story, it’s fair to say that Carter Hall does a load of random stuff, and then there’s a fight about something. And that’s about it. The hero himself, the supporting cast, the plot, the villain (a guy named, I kid you not, “Morphicius,” who seems to have escaped from an episode of The X-Files)—it all seems desultory, random, uninspired. You could replace the title character with any random superhero, and it wouldn’t affect the story.

The aspect of the book I was most skeptical about beforehand was Philip Tan’s art, though. I mostly recall Mr. Tan’s work from his tenure drawing Uncanny X-Men about 10 years back, and it was very obvious back then that he wasn’t ready to draw superhero comics professionally.

The good news, now, is that Tan’s art has improved since then. He’s developed a much more homogeneous style that makes the story look like it’s of one piece, visually, and his storytelling capabilities are now such that he can communicate the plot without difficulty. Believe me, that’s not supposed to be sarcasm: It really is a leaps-and-bounds improvement for Tan.

The bad news, though, is that Tan still isn’t particularly good. His drawings rarely hit the kind of Liefeld-esque awfulness that’s evident in the cover image (look at Hawkman’s right arm with the weapon; the perspective is all over the place), but overall, his art still isn’t what I’d call distinctive or esthetically pleasant. It tells the story—no more, no less.

Ultimately, there’s nothing here that makes the book stand out in the market. In its best moments, The Savage Hawkman is a serviceable but completely generic superhero comic. Mostly, though, it’s a blandly written and sometimes ugly-looking affair.

Grade: D

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