Hawkman: Awakening brings a fresh spin to a venerable character with a tangled history.
An encounter with a mystic artifact causes archaeologist Carter Hall, a/k/a Hawkman, to come to some crucial realizations. He knew he’d reincarnated many times across history, but now discovers that he’s also reincarnated across space and dimensions and that his original life well pre-dates the time of Ancient Egypt he’d long associated with his origins. That sends Hawkman on a quest through his past lives, moving through Egypt, Monster Island, Thanagar and even the Microverse on the trail of clues he’d left for himself in the past to help prepare him for the arrival of a menace that could threaten the entire universe.
Hawkman can be a difficult character to get a handle on, both for creators and fans. Various attempts to “straighten out” his origins over the years often have only made things more confusing. Writer Robert Venditti succeeds by leaning into that inherent obstacle and making it a strength. By embracing all of the disparate versions of Hawkman spun out over the years and using them to create a historical jigsaw puzzle for the hero to unravel, Venditti honors the past, but does so in a smart way that’s accessible and entertaining, providing narrative momentum that helps illuminate the strengths of the character.
Venditti’s Hawkman is heavily rooted in a pulp, or neo-pulp, aesthetic. Indiana Jones is the obvious touchstone here, as the writer shrewdly blends the superhero aspects of the character with his vocation as archaeologist and scholar, using both halves of his persona as part of an inspired jaunt through time and space. Venditti also borrows from the old Doc Sampson stories, including the globetrotting adventures and that Hawkman has an extensive support network comprised of the descendants of people he’s helped across his various lives. It’s a smart idea that provides an elegant solution to the logistical support the plot calls for on occasion. Venditti effectively demonstrates how Carter’s past lives inform and interact with his present incarnation, making the most of his checkered past but in a manner that’s sensible and opens up the character in a way that’s rarely been seen in recent years.
Venditti’s character work is strong, making Carter as relatable as he’s ever been. For a character known more for his physicality, Venditti deftly demonstrates how Carter’s intellect is as big a piece of his puzzle. He tones down some of the more strident aspects that other writers have focused on, instead making Carter intellectually curious, more thoughtful and far more likeable. He can still be impetuous, willing to jump into dangerous spots with little hesitation, but it’s all harnessed toward the goal of Venditti’s long-term plot. The writer also gives Carter some quality interpersonal reactions, whether it’s connecting with members of his network, interacting with suspicious past selves, or bouncing off guest stars, like colleague Madame Xanadu or best friend Ray Palmer (a/k/a the Atom). It’s the most human readers have seen Hawkman since Geoff Johns wrote him.
The series significantly benefits from having superstar Bryan Hitch on pencils, working with a small team of talented inkers (himself included), plus ace colorists Alex Sinclair and Jeremiah Skipper. Hitch’s style is a great fit for this approach to Hawkman, providing a deft blend of superhero dramatics, with action/adventure, sci fi and fantasy elements tagged in as needed. Hitch gets to construct some high impact settings, giving him the opportunity to let his imagination run wild as he designs fantasy vistas like a subterranean tomb, a palace in ancient Egypt, the soaring cities of Thanagar, the jungles of Monster Island or the bizarre planetscapes of the Microverse. This is a story that calls for the dramatic splash pages that Hitch does so well, with a two-page spread of Carter “falling” through his past lives, set against an array of older characters flying across the background, being a particular standout. Hitch also does some first rate character and design work. He leans into the Indiana Jones reference, making Carter resemble a young Harrison Ford, giving him a more streamlined and graceful depiction than the hyper-muscled maniac that’s become common in recent years. Hitch’s take on Hawkman’s costume does a nice job of paying homage to the character’s classic look while updating it in sensible ways that make the hero’s visual presentation modern without sacrificing familiar, favorite elements. Hitch clearly has fun with crafting the different looks for Carter’s various incarnations over the centuries (the Kryptonian look is especially notable). The colorists do an excellent job of giving Hitch’s work depth and feeling, wrapping the art in a warm glow that’s inviting and attractive. The art is just what you’d want for this kind of story and the book was lucky to not only land Hitch but actually keep him around for the first year.
Hawkman is a highlight of the current DC line, a book that rewards long-time fans but is an accessible, logical jumping on point for newcomers. Awakening is a strong start that sets the character on a compelling new path.