Monday, April 01, 2013

Review: Hawkgirl: Hawkman Returns

The seventh issue of 17-issue existence of Hawkgirl, the one that makes up the first chapter of the second collected volume, is where the series started to crumble visually, as that's the point at which artist Howard Chaykin the interiors, never providing anything more than cover art for the rest of the series' short run.

Why did Chaykin leave after only one arc? Was the book not selling well enough that DC could afford to pay someone of Chaykin's stature the page rate he demanded and/or deserved? Did the return of Hawkman mentioned in the second collection's title threaten fewer opportunities to draw the title character fighting crime in her lacy black bra? We may never know.

Well, I suppose we could ask Chaykin or someone, but that would assume we care to go to the trouble, and we don't. The fact of the matter is, Chaykin left after six issues, and the quality (as well as the noteworthiness of Hawkgirl as a 21st century super-comic by two legendary creators of the 1980s) took a swan dive.

For issues #7 and #8, 52 contributor Joe Bennett took over art chores (Bennett would later be one of the several artists drawing Hawkman in the just-canceled New 52 Savage Hawkman series), and then Renato Arlem would take over art chores for the remainder of the book. This second collection also features artwork by Simonson himself, however; sandwiched between issues of Hawkgirl are two issues of JSA: Classified written and drawn by Simonson, dedicated to following what exactly Hawkman was up to in outer space while he was MIA from this book (Short answer? Space stuff).

Visually, this collection is all over the map, then: 44 pages of Bennett, 22 pages of Arlem, 44 pages of Simonson and then another 22 pages of Arlem. Additionally, much of that artwork is fairly terrible.

Simonson's clearly the best pencil artist and the best visual storyteller of the three. His figures are big and muscular and always in movement; even in conversation, they're tilting or at least emoting like crazy. It's the sort of over-the-top artwork that makes for pages of story that could be just as easily read were all of the dialogue and narration boxes stripped from them, with nothing but the characters' actions and expressions to go on.
His action scenes are naturally explosive, full of big, violent John Workman sound effects and whirls, whorls and diagonal lines shooting across the pages as explosions, beams, rays and arcs of energy.

I'm not terribly fond of Bennett's work, but there's nothing terribly wrong with it, either. I think it's perfectly acceptable super-comic art, getting the job done without calling much attention to itself either positively or negatively.

Arlem's art on the other hand...

It's not impossible to envision how an editor might have looked to Arlem as a decent replacement for Chyakin. Like Chaykin, Arlem uses a lot of photo reference and seems to incorporate photos and/or filtered versions of photos into his work to add texture to it. Arlem goes much, much further than Chaykin though; while Chaykin draws his figures and uses effects occasonally for their clothing, or to, say, put the bricks on a brick wall or the grooves on an ancient column, Arlem uses such effects for everything, and the characters and figures look like altered photos themselves.

Look at this panel, of Kendra "Hawkgirl" Saunders having dinner with a friend:
Nothing in the whole image seems to have been drawn by human hand, and using photos and computers doesn't even seem to have gained anything in terms of versimilitude—it actually looks less real. See those "drawings" of glasses in the foreground...?

I don't really like comic book art that uses all these little tricks or shortcuts, but Arlem compounds that by using them badly and, apparently, extremely lazily.

Here's a climactic scene from this volume, where Kendra tells Hawkman they are never ever getting back together again (because of an ancient curse generated by their foe Hath-Set, who murders them each time the two constantly reincarnating lovers find one another in new lives):
Hawkman's in four panels, but Arlem only had to draw him twice! Hawkgirl's in five, but Arlem got away with only drawing her three times. He got a lot of use out of that first panel; by cropping it differently, he used it three times on the same page. So what if it implies that Hawkman was frozen in a single gesture for the entire length of a conversation?
Arlem keeps Chaykin's sexualization of Hawkgirl going, but, like everything else about his art in this volume compared to Chaykin's in the first, it looks lazier and less elegantly.

For example:
Did he draw some somewhat saucy cheesecake, or Google Image "lady with not pants," cut-and-pasted a favorite result and have her butt colored green and throw in some shading...?

Simonson's plotting remains fine, but now that we get to the solution part of the "Where's Hawkman?" riddle, it gets a bit more needlessly complicated and confused. This volume is mainly about problems form outerspace visiting Kendra in various ways.

Blackfire, the evil sister of former Teen Titan Starfire, sics a Thanagarian killer on Hawkgirl and, when our hero kills her would be killer, Blackfire arrives herself, wearing Hawkman's wings and boasting that she's killed Hawkman and will do the same to Hawkgirl!

Then we backtrack to the JSA: Classified issues, and learn that Hawkman's been hanging out on Rann, trying to get enough legal proof that Blackfire is evil to present to some space cops or whatever and bust her, and then he rejoins Hawkgirl on Earth to finish off Blackfire (Well, they let her live, but Hawkman depowers her).

The final chapter is the talky one, in which the Hawks have conversations with the supporting cast and one another, essentially deciding who will continue to star in the book, which used to be called Hawkman but was changed to Hawkgirl as part of DC's "One Year Later" promotional effort. There's also a bit of set-up of a conflict that will come into fruition in the third and final collection of Hawkgirl: A Parademon from Apokalips escases to ancient Egypt with a weapon of mass destruction, which Hath-Set puts in a jar and then forgets about.

The third volume, Hawkgirl: Hath-Set, features guest-stars galore—Batman! Superman! Oracle! The Female Furies!—and has lots of full-on crazy superhero madness, but even more poorly drawn than this volume (It's all Arlem, save for about an issue's worth of Dennis Calero art). We'll discuss that tomorrow night, though.

1 comment:

JohnF said...

Renato Arlem doesn't catch nearly enough flak for being an even lazier version of Greg Land.