Monday, March 11, 2013

DC Showcase Presents Hawkman Volume 1

DC Showcase Presents Hawkman Volume 1 (1961-66/2007) - Gardner Fox, Joe Kubert, Murphy Anderson, et al.
Trade paperback, 560 pages, DC Comics
ISBN 9781401212803
Retail price $16.99

Back in January, I decided to take up Chris Marshall’s challenge over at Collected Comics Library to adopt a comic book character or creator in 2013. I chose Joe Kubert, an artist I’d had very little exposure to over the years. So a few months ago, I picked up DC Showcase Presents Hawkman Volume 1, knowing that Kubert didn’t draw all the stories in the collection, but that was okay; I had some vague memories of reading Hawkman as a kid, so I figured why not? 

Like the Marvel Essentials series, the DC Showcase series brings you mammoth phone-book sized editions of black-and-white comics for a pretty reasonable price. If you’re on the fence about a character or title, this series is a good way to get your feet wet without spending a whole lot of money. 

Realize, however, that although these stories were first published in the early 60s, this is not the first appearance of Hawkman. He was originally a Golden Age character dating back to 1940 with Flash Comics #1. Hawkman has a much-recycled and convoluted history. In the Golden Age, he was the reincarnation of an Egyptian prince. In the 1980s and beyond, other Hawkman characters appear (sometimes with different names) and disappear, but the Hawkman in this volume is Katar Hol, a policeman from the planet Thanagar. Katar and his wife Shayera (a policewoman) have come to Earth to capture an escaped criminal from Thanagar (all of which is related in the volume’s first story, “Creature of a Thousand Shapes!” from The Brave and the Bold #34). After solving the crime, Katar and Shayera decide to stick around and learn about Earth police procedures while posing as museum curators Carter and Shiera Hall. 

                 Kubert art

Most of the stories involve some detective and/or science work, but are mostly backdrops that provide a springboard for Hawkman and Hawkgirl to do their thing - catching the bad guys. The Gardner Fox stories usually aren’t that great, but they’re Silver Age fun and if you can put yourself back in that early 60s era, you’ll have a good time with this volume. But the real reason to buy this collection is the Joe Kubert artwork. Although Kubert’s contributions stop after page 162 (of 560), those first 162 pages are stunning, even in black and white. Kubert’s world is one of darkness, which is reflected in the characters, particularly the villains, who appear far more sinister and cold-hearted than those drawn by Murphy Anderson. Kubert also has an impeccable eye for bodies in flight, a skill he developed to an extraordinary level on Enemy Ace several years later. (I’m looking at pages 129 and 130 from “Masked Marauders of Earth” from The Brave and the Bold #43 as just one example.) The perspective and angles of his point of view panels give a real sense of wonder to the world of Hawkman. 

               Anderson art

You miss most of that when Murphy Anderson takes over on page 163. Anderson’s a fine artist, don’t get me wrong, but he has a different set of skills. In his hands, Gardner Fox’s stories are, for the most part, drawn as run-of-the-mill comic book stories. There’s not the same sense of wonder, the same tone of underlying darkness, the same risk-taking that you have with Kubert. One of the biggest gripes I have with Anderson is his overuse of long vertical panels. Kubert uses them sparingly; Anderson all the time. I don’t mean to slam Anderson. Again, he’s a fine comic book artist. His biggest problem is he followed Joe Kubert. (You want to be the guy that follows the guy that follows Kubert!)     

I plan to keep this volume, but will probably limit myself to re-reading only the Kubert-drawn stories. If anyone has read the Grant Morrison run or the Geoff Johns omnibus, please let me know what you think. 


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