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Winging It

  Hawkman: Endless Flight

 

Geoff Johns, James Robinson, writers

Rags Morales, Patrick Gleason, artists

DC, 2003

Rating: 3.8

    JSA: Fair Play

 

Geoff Johns, writer

Rags Morales and various others, artists

DC, 2002

Rating: 3.0

Posted: May 27, 2003

By The Gentleman (exclusive to Shaking Through)

When he resurrected one of the DC Universe's most under-used characters in the stirring JSA story arc The Return of Hawkman, Geoff Johns (Flash) helped to cement his standing as one of the most popular writers of superhero comics working today. After all, the character's past incarnations (such as the one introduced in Tim Truman's seminal Hawkworld miniseries) had become so conflicting that when he disappeared during DC Comics' mid-'90s continuity retro-fit Zero Hour, fans were as relieved as they were disappointed.

But Johns, who has long seemed destined to become the Roy Thomas of his generation (happily mining for ore in the deep, dark trenches of Golden and Silver Age continuity), fixed all of that. In concocting a plausible (and deceptively simple) version of Hawkman that made room for the best parts of his previous selves, he did much more than shake the dust off of a beloved and slightly aged character concept (as had previously been done in JSA with the new Dr. Fate); he revitalized a classic character, giving him the perfect foundation for claiming his rightful place among DC's most iconic figures.

And to his credit, Johns seems to know it. In JSA: Fair Play, the fourth volume to collect the adventures of the reborn Justice Society of America, Hawkman steals the show. The new JSA was intended to restore that revered superteam to its past luster, introducing younger readers to both the original versions of popular stalwarts (the Golden Age Green Lantern -- now renamed Sentinel -- and Flash) and modern-day updates of characters like Dr. Fate, Mr. Terrific and Dr. Mid-Nite. But the title has never quite managed to accomplish its mission -- in its second collection, Darkness Falls, it seemed locked into the role of a nostalgia comic. And for most of Fair Play, there's little to challenge that perception...until the new Hawkman and Hawkgirl come into play.

The central storyline of Fair Play revolves around members of the team getting captured by agents of a sinister figure named Roulette, who pits costumed heroes against each other in a super-powered version of Celebrity Death Match in The House, a den of iniquity where supervillains come to drink, unwind and gamble on the outcomes of said contests. This is where Johns' reliance on superhero convention lets him down. It's a vaguely interesting but completely implausible (even for superhero comics), update on Marvel's Murderworld concept. Glimpses of DC characters from Deathstroke to Mirror Master, just sitting around and taking in the spectacle, flirt with utter ridiculousness. And wouldn't you know it? In the most book's most obvious setup, bitter rivals Atom Smasher and Black Adam, forced into mortal combat, learn to put aside their differences and trust one another.

Such paint-by-numbers plotting pales in comparison to the tension-building triangle that unfolds when Hawkman, attempting to court the reluctant Hawkgirl, spies her in an embrace with the team's leader, Sand. The two Hawks, you see, are reincarnated lovers whose bond has held strong across several centuries, but Kendra Saunders, doesn't have the complete recall of her past lives that Hawkman does, and particularly rebels at Hawkman's attempts to rekindle their love. Of course, soon the brash and often violence-prone Hawkman is forced to save Sand's bacon, and it's only in these scenes that Fair Play rises above the level of a comic book content to relive past glories.

It's fair to say that by contrast Endless Flight, the first collection of the ongoing Hawkman series (also written by Johns), succeeds ever so slightly where JSA fails: in creating new glories from the raw material of glories past. That it does so imperfectly is leavened by the imaginative scope Johns and co-writer James Robinson (Starman) display. That imagination leads them to ground Hawkman and Hawkgirl by giving them a home base in the fictional city of St. Roch, Louisiana, a town so obviously modeled on New Orleans one wonders why they even bother disguising it. In any case, St. Roch -- the "city the saints forgot" -- is home to the Stonechat Museum, where Kendra goes in search of clues to the mysterious deaths of her parents years before. Seems that Danny Evans, an employee of the museum (and the son of its curator, Oliver Evans) sent the Saunderses a cryptic note some time back, which Kendra finds while sorting through her old things. Hawkman, who just so happens to be friends with Evans senior, shows up to offer his assistance, and soon the pair is off to India in search of Evans the younger.

Danny, as it turns out, is in search of an ancient artifact, and pursued in turn by a trio of super-villains whose mysterious employer wants said diamond for his own purposes. With the help of a guide named Jayita Sahir, the Hawks track Evans down just as the bad guys do. In the ensuing melee a mystic portal is opened, which pops Hawkman, Jayita and one of the villains into "the battlelands," a dimensional hideaway created by the god Shiva. There Hawkman gets caught in the middle of a rivalry between different factions, including a race of walking, talking warrior elephants who worship the god Ganesha. This turns out to be the highlight of Endless Flight, a flight of fancy leavened a bit by the follow-up tale, in which DC stalwart Green Arrow shows up in St. Roch on the trail of a killer, and imparts some advice to headstrong Hawkman in the process.

Endless Flight's wings do come in for a bit of a clipping due to some eye-rolling clichés (notably the appearance of a Carnival celebration in the streets of St. Roch, and the character of Kristopher Roderic, the oily, slightly Gallic art trader behind the hiring of the supervillains in pursuit of Danny Evans. Roderic's past-life ties to the Hawks prove a bit convenient, given his modern-day role as an antagonist in conflict with the Stonechat museum. But Johns and Robinson give the proceedings the adrenalized feel of an old Republic movie serial, and even the obligatory guest appearance by Green Arrow doesn't detract too much from the new mythology they're clearly building around their central pair. (A small but pleasing monkey wrench of a surprise development in the Hawks' romantic puzzle also proves laudable). That sense of adrenaline also infects penciler Rags Morales, whose artwork in the Battlelands arc in particular recalls that of Pat Broderick (as opposed to his workmanlike work in Fair Play). And it proves more than enough to make the ongoing Hawkman title one worth watching, a distinction that sadly enough can't be shared with the hidebound JSA.

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 Ratings Key:
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 4.0-4.9: First-rate
 3.0-3.9: Solid
 2.0-2.9: Mediocre
 1.1-1.9: Bad
 0.0-1.0: The worst

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