Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Review: Hawkgirl: The Maw

It was so odd, so unusual and so brief that it seems a little like a dream: Did DC Comics really have Walter Simonson writing and Howard Chaykin drawing a Hawkgirl monthly series? The answer is, of course, yes; but only briefly.

It began in May of 2006, during a one-month, line-wide gimmick/promotion that, in retrospect, looks like one of several earlier attempts at a reboot that current co-publisher Dan DiDio had made on the road to fall of 2011's "New 52" reboot. This one was dubbed "One Year Later," and the idea was that after the multiverse-shaking events of Infinite Crisis, all of DC's books would jump one year ahead in time, giving creators an opportunity to do something fresh and new (and not dependent on the fallout of the just-completed crossover storyline) and readers the opportunity to jump on to any book in the line without worrying about joining a story already in progress.

For the most part, this meant new creative teams, new costumes, new team line-ups, new status quos, and so on. The Hawkman monthly received one of the most dramatic overhauls: It's title would be changed to Hawkgirl (although the numbering would start with #50, the month after Hawkman #49), it would now star Hawkgirl, the aforementioned creative team of Simonson and Chaykin would take over for the departing Justin Gray, Jimmy Palmiotti and Chris Batista, and as Hawkman's exact whereabouts would be a mystery; he was simply MIA after the events of Infinite Crisis).I read the first issue, maybe first two issues, and then abandoned it.
I remembered liking it okay, but I was trying a lot of DC comics that month, and it didn't strike me as one of the better ones. But given the rather quick cancellation of the latest Hawkman title, the New 52's The Savage Hawkman, which lasted only 20 issues, I thought I might revisit the series in trade paperback, given that it was almost as successful as the last Hawkman series, despite not starring Hawkman an not having the unprecedented PR push that The New 52 received (Hawkgirl lasted 17 issues).

What is immediately apparent about Hawkgirl, what differentiates it from Hawkman comics before and after, and from most of what one could find on the stands in terms of super-comics in 2006 was, of course, the presence of Chaykin's artwork. His big, expressive, cartoony faces, his blocky figures often half-frozen in hulking, Kirby-like poses, his obvious delight in rendering textures to the point of rarely letting a scene go by without including black lace in it somewhere...Hawkgirl had it's own, distinct visual look and hook.
Chaykin also drew his title character with clearly visible, apparently hard nipples straining against the fabric of whatever top she was wearing almost constantly, which seems like it must have been been pretty daring in DC's pre-rating system, 2006 line—hell, it's rare one see the outline of a nipple or the shapely bulge of a superhero's crotch through a costume in the T+ or M-rated books of 2012 or '13, this despite the fact that so many panels of so many comics seem composed around a female character's mostly-exposed, clothed only in spandex or silk breasts (I'm thinking specifically of New Guardians, at the moment).

Chaykin draws Hawkgirl Kendra Saunders as a cheesecakey heroine, and it works. Simonson's narrative is as pulpy as any involving the Hawks I can recall—she battles cultists, mummies and Lovecraftian space-gods, she explores hidden temples and shares panels with Egyptian deities. She sleeps in tiny, black lace nightgowns...
...takes showers...
...sometimes has her top torn off in battle...
...and wears a uniform so form-fitting it reveals her nipples. The sexual nature of Chaykin's artwork compliments rather than conflicts with Simonson's scripts.

One could argue if that's the best direction to go in with Hawkgirl, who as a star of Justice League Unlimited was, like Green Lantern John Stewart, a better known hero than the one she was technically a derivation from, and also a potential gateway hero for young would-be DC readers, but it's not a wrong direction, either and, unlike, say, Ed Benes' run on Justice League of America around the same time, he wasn't violating the spirit of the script with cheesecake.

That script finds Kendra Saunders working at the Stonechat Museum in St. Roch, Louisiana (which is to New Orleans as Gotham City once was to New York City), which she protects by night as Hawkgirl. In both identities, she has dealings with handsome men, like a museum co-worker (the son of the institution's director) and a police detective.
Some particularly brutal killings are afflicting the city, committed by a huge warrior woman covered in ritual tattoos and wearing only brass breast petals and whatever the crotch equivalent, something weird is going on in the basement of the museum and Kendra's not getting much sleep, which makes it difficult to determine what's real and what's not.

Meanwhile, Hawkman is still lost in space somewhere, and she's torn between holding a candle for him—something that makes her uncomfortable, because they were lover's in past lives, which he remembers more clearly than she does—and the attention of that handsome detective.

The immortal bad guy who is always hounding the Hawks is hanging around, and there's a e thingee in the basement that wants to devour her.

It's pure, unambitous genre stuff, but it's successful, and it all looks really great. Without Chaykin, this could easily prove tedious—as later volumes, collecting issues from after Chaykin's short run, will demonstrate—but for this volume at least, Hawkgirl is effective pulp heroine as old school superhero. Good writing, good art, good comic.

1 comment:

Dean said...

When I first read this trade, I wondered whether Hawkgirl's top got ripped off in the original script, or if Chaykin just drew it in because he wanted to.