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Flying High

  JSA: The Return of Hawkman

 

David Goyer, Geoff Johns, writers; Stephen Sadowski and various others, artists

DC, 2002

Rating: 4.0

 

 

Posted: December 9, 2002

By The Gentleman (exclusive to Shaking Through)

Now this is more like it. Darkness Falls, the second collection of the current JSA series released earlier this year, suffered mightily from a reliance on the reader's knowledge of, and love for, ancient and obscure DC superhero arcana. To a very large extent, that's also true of The Return of Hawkman, the third JSA volume. But whereas Darkness pointed up the perils of trying to rationalize the existence of heroes from the 1940s in the present day, creating a thorny tangle of continuity issues, The Return of Hawkman actually attempts to resolve a similar sticky wicket. And while at heart it's still a contrived attempt to bring a classic DC character (Hawkman in this case, if the title didn't spell it out for you), it works that fact to its advantage, turning the titular character's reappearance into the DC universe into a slam-bang superheroic epic of the kind that the genre was made for.

Before we go any further, a little catch-up: the character of Hawkman had his wings clipped long ago, a casualty of the post-Crisis on Infinite Earths retro-fits that attempted to change the backstories of primary DC characters within the context of the comics line's ongoing continuity. In some cases, as with the re-imagining of Superman, this was carried off with a minimum of hitches; in others, as with Donna Troy (Wonder Girl of the New Teen Titans), things got messier and more convoluted the more writers tried to fit their square pegs into the round holes of the new, post-Crisis DC milieu. Long story short, by the time of the ill-conceived Zero Hour event -- an attempt to correct the bugs created by Crisis -- Hawkman's history had become so contradictory and complicated that any explanation of just who he was seemed hopeless.

Back to our review: The first half of The Return of Hawkman follows fairly closely in the footsteps of Darkness Falls, given that it involves a return match-up with the cleverly-named Injustice Society, the JSA's villainous opposite number. The plot, involving the machinations of one Johnny Sorrow on behalf of a Lovecraftian beastie known as the King of Tears, is standard boilerplate, notable only for the seeds of what's to come sewn into its folds: Kendra Saunders, the current Hawkgirl, intermittently talks and acts in foreign ways, as if channeling a personality not her own. And Jay Garrick, the Silver Age Flash, inadvertently ends up in ancient Egypt, where he meets a trio of somewhat familiar faces: Nabu, guiding spirit of mystic hero Dr. Fate; Teth-Adam, known in the present day as Captain Marvel's sometime nemesis Black Adam; and Prince Khufu, one of Hawkman's many incarnations. These three proceed to give Garrick a shard of the precious Nth metal, taken from a downed Thanagarian spacecraft, which will prove crucial in an upcoming battle.

What follows is a classic adventure story, as a secretive sect on the planet Thanagar summons Hawkgirl -- who's just learned that, like Swamp Thing in Alan Moore's "The Anatomy Lesson," she's not really Kendra Saunders at all -- to help summon Hawkman back to our reality (something about Saunders being the reincarnation of the original Hawkgirl, and her connection serving as a beacon to help Hawkman's soul push through from the "nether regions" -- don't ask). With the aid of Dr. Fate (currently Hector Hall, son of Carter Hall, another of Hawkman's incarnations), the JSA mystically travels to Thanagar in time to join their winged comrades in pitched battle against a standard-issue despot bent on galactic conquest.

Sounds pretty formulaic, doesn't it? Well, yes. But frankly, that's a large part of the appeal of The Return of Hawkman. The difference between this tale and its predecessors is that writers David S. Goyer and Geoff Johns have found a way to turn the minus of pre-Crisis DC's hopeless continuity snarls into a positive. In untying, once and for all, the Gordian Knot of DC's conflicting versions of Hawkman, they craft a compelling, page-turning epic. In employing some of the most basic elements of -- reincarnation, the discovery of one's grand destiny, time travel, spacecraft, even a good old-fashioned sky-faring slugfest -- Goyer and Johns spin a yarn certain to push the "Gee whiz" buttons of inner adolescents everywhere. Yes, in the end, it's all rather predictable and perhaps a bit, well, hokey. But the hokiness is employed in the service of a reminder that even the most formulaic tale can take us back to the world of unbridled imagination of classic film serials and sprawling sword-and-sorcery epics; the childlike sense of wonder of the best '30s and '40s comics from which JSA takes its inspiration.

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