by Doug Zawisza
For an anchor of DC Comics’ Golden Age, Silver Age, Bronze Age, Modern Age, and what-have-you age of comics, not to mention one of the more visually distinctive characters in superhero funnybooks, Hawkman has never quite risen to the level of first-tier mainstays like Batman, Spider-Man, and Superman. Hell, with the Robert Downey Jr. factor, Hawkman’s even second fiddle to Iron Man and the Hulk. For every conceptual pro — he’s been drawn for relatively lengthy runs by titans like Shelly Moldoff, Joe Kubert, and Murphy Anderson, starred in an early, influential graphic novel, and fights crime with a fucking mace — there are copious cons. He can’t sustain a comic title on his own. His continuity is so convoluted that even revamp-wonk Geoff Johns couldn’t fully sort it out. DC Comics’ editorial has just been unable to capitalize on the character’s latent appeal. Is he an Egyptian immortal, an outer space cop, a masked Western gunslinger? Why can’t he just hit baddies with his mace over and over again?
And now comes the Hawman Companion, a tome dedicated fully to the Winged Wonder, and, geez, the guy still can’t catch the break. At first glance, with Cliff Chang’s crisp, colorful John Romita Sr.-by-way-of-Alex Toth cover, featuring every single incarnation of Hawkman and Hawkgirl/Hawkwoman flying in formation straight at you, housing a dense collection of essays devoted to Hawkman’s exploits on the printed page, it’s so far, so good, y’know? First time author Doug Zawisza (also a guest reviewer and interviewer at Geoff John’s comicbloc.com Web site) doesn’t quite cut the writerly mustard in the way that Twomorrow’s’ fellows Roy Thomas and Mike W. Barr have in previous volumes. There are several grammar and word usage errors that should have been caught in the editing; rather embarrassing in a volume like this. Several of his articles/premises are half-baked, like the really-reaching comparisons of the Hawkman mythos to the Star Wars mythos. Though Zawisza’s selection of interview subjects is impeccable and the access he had to them is admirable, the interviews as they appeared on the printed page could have used some editing. They tend to veer back and forth between subjects and wander thematically too much. The summary sections on particular runs and storylines are almost incomprehensible in parts — though to be fair that might be because Hawkman writers had an almost self-destructive obsession with making his backstory as messy and incompatible with previous versions as humanly possible. To add insult to injury, DC and Marvel.com writer Jim Beard shows up and pens a couple of short pieces that leave one wondering why he didn’t write the damn thing.
But it’s not all bad, there are scads of original art, rough sketches, cover reproductions, and penciled pages — which of course means a visual feast of great Joe Kubert Silver Age material. His Hawkman is so fluid and elegant, yet caveman-rough at the same time; it’s no mystery that nearly all the pros interviewed pointed to Kubert’s Hawkman as THE iconic version. The Palmiotti and Gray interview was of particular interest to me, as their Hawkman run a couple of years ago was, for my money, one of the strongest takes on Hawkman in many years. The profiles on Hawkman’s obscure and fantastical Rogues Gallery — Fadeways Man, Lion-Man, Matter Master — are top notch and the article at the end on Hawkman toys is cute and enjoyable. By the end of the Hawkman Companion, his tangled history is only slightly less impenetrable.