Comic Book Review – Hawkman by Robert Venditti

Hawkman: The Awakening (2019)
Reprints Hawkman v5 #1-6
Hawkman: Deathbringer (2019)
Reprints Hawkman v5 #7-12
Written by Robert Venditti
Art by Bryan Hitch

Hawkman: The Darkness Within (2020)
Reprints Hawkman v5 #13-19
Written by Robert Venditti
Art by Pat Olliffe, Tom Palmer, and Will Conrad

Hawkman: Hawks Eternal (2021)
Reprints Hawkman #20-29
Written by Robert Venditti
Art by Fernando Pasarin

How do you solve a problem like Hawkman? As I laid out in my Superhero Spotlight on the character, when you take on Hawkman, you are taking on a writing chore. There have been so many conflicting attempts to “simplify” the hero that led to him being a toxic continuity bomb. DC Comics are obsessed with continuity, so this results in a conundrum. I can’t say I am a fan of Robert Venditti. I read his X-O Manowar revival for Valiant, which was fine. I definitely didn’t enjoy his Green Lantern run, but he immediately followed Geoff Johns, who raised the bar so high it was nigh impossible to top. As this Hawkman series went on, I began to hear some surprisingly positive buzz, and when it was announced, it was coming to an end; I realized it was the perfect time to read through it.

Carter Hall has decided he needs to come to terms with the strange past lives that haunt him and, using his archaeological skills, goes after an artifact that will unlock his most remarkable secrets. Carter learns that he has reincarnated across space and time and not always in a linear fashion. His soul jumps around in time, and he’s spent time as a Kryptonian, a Rannian, a medieval plague doctor, and even a villain on Earth-3. This begins a quest to get to the bottom of who Carter started as; what was his first life, and why did it lead to this endless existence? The truth has something to do with large kaiju-like beings called Deathbringers and a dark god of the void looming just outside the DC Universe.

Venditti has an interesting hook here and a pretty damn good solution to “the Hawkman problem.” Where it goes wrong is the execution. Instead of feeling like one cohesive narrative building in a clear arc, we get lots of episodes and divergences. The conclusion happens a little early, and then we’re left with what feels like a filler story that, while nicely reinserting the Hawks as a part of the Justice Society, doesn’t click with the rest of the events that took place. Venditti also has trouble with dialogue, with it often feeling very wooden. Everything is exposition that serves the story but doesn’t give Carter Hall an exact personality. I was reminded of the criticisms of Hal Jordan in Green Lantern as having zero personality. In JSA, Carter has a clearly distinct persona from his teammates, but he’s as bland as they come in this book.

We also didn’t much detail about Carter’s previous incarnations. He makes little one-off pop-ins to the past, but they needed more room to breathe. Venditti does manage to handle an editorially-imposed crossover pitch-perfectly. In the third volume, Hawkman crosses over into the Year of Evil event. This storyline was that The Batman Who Laughs, a Batman/Joker hybrid from a darker timeline, infected characters in the DC Universe. Hawkman was one of those infected and transformed into The Sky Tyrant. Instead of letting this just be a lame tie-in, Venditti manages to incorporate it into his ongoing plot.

Carter has been reincarnated multiple times in the Earth-0 universe, but he also lived on Earth-3 as part of the reverse world where the Justice League is the Crime Syndicate. Part of Carter’s damnation is that he must save as many lives as he killed in his first incarnation. Sky Tyrant knew this and added so many more deaths to the tally is set Carter back for eons. This was a moment where the book started to get very interesting. Carter’s consciousness is fully aware of what Sky Tyrant is doing when he inhabits the body and has to struggle to stop him. There’s an evident clash of ideologies here, and it makes for some interesting reading.

I think Venditti didn’t know which traits of Carter to grasp onto, which resulted in the bland, flavorless character we got. He has him team-up with The Atom, but that doesn’t last long enough for us to see that friendship develop. Venditti features past lives but only briefly, so we don’t get to know them that well. He brings back The Shadow Thief, one of Hawkman’s main villains, but really doesn’t develop the character much further. Shayera shows up in the second half, but Venditti doesn’t have enough quiet moments for her and Carter to reconnect. My conclusion is that Venditti while having some excellent plotting, could have used someone else handling the scripting. I had the same sense when reading X-O Manowar: This is a good, thoughtful story, but I don’t feel anything for these characters.

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