Robert Venditti is not one to shy away from tough jobs. Not only is he the guy who relaunched the Valiant Universe after years of dormancy, but he’s also the guy who had to follow Geoff Johns on Green Lantern. He flourished on each, with long runs on both Green Lantern and X-O Manowar. But now he faces maybe his toughest task: restarting Hawkman.
Predictably, he knocks it out of the park. The first issue, which pairs Venditti with Bryan Hitch, is smart and fun in a completely unexpected way, and gorgeous in a completely expected one. We had a chance to talk with Venditti about his approach to such a many-rebooted character and working with Hitch. The following interview has been lightly edited for flow and clarity. Take a look!
Den of Geek: How do you reconcile the competing backstories, the variety of continuities that follow Hawkman when you’re trying to boil him down to his essence as a character?
Robert Venditti: Well, I think we do that very same thing in this issue. For me, it comes down to who he is internally, beyond all of the Thanagarian space cop or ancient Egyptian prince reincarnated as an archeologist. What are the core traits about him that sort of run through all those things? For me, the one that I really seized upon, and it’s really kind of the theme of the series, is the concept of exploration and discovery. Why does he go on adventures, and what is he seeking out and why is he so driven to far-flung locales? The kind of adventures that he has throughout his history are different than what you see from Green Lantern or Flash or things like that. They’re, I guess, much more, to put quotes around the word, “adventurous.”
Cosmic locations, whether … it could be an earthbound location, but they’re always sort of walking that line between fanciful and historic. The enemies that he combats do the same. For me, it was looking at those aspects of the character and then coming up with a way that all of it would link together into one unified whole. That’s what we’re trying to do with the series. That’s what we’ve tried to do with the first issue. By doing that, we’ll bring Carter Hall and Hawkman back to the center of the DC Universe where he really belongs.
By the same token, your Carter Hall feels more fun, more worldly and almost playful, a little bit, in a way that he hasn’t always necessarily been. How do you see Carter and how is he a distinct part of the Hawkman story?
I see him as a scholar. From his life history, living the many lives that he has, he is an authority on history in a way that no other person on Earth is. I see him as someone who has a great amount of respect and reverence for all cultures, all peoples, all languages. In some ways, he’s the walking museum. His memories are a walking museum of everything that he’s experienced and everywhere he’s been, but he’s also a very skilled warrior.
He’s a scholar and he might not hit you first, but he’s going to hit you last. That’s kind of the way I think about him. If you pick a fight with this guy, he has the skill and the mindset and the intelligence as a tactician to make you wish you had never picked that fight. It’s that interesting balance…Carter Hall the scholar versus Hawkman the warrior and how we weave those two things into the series that make him a character that’s unique in the DC Universe.
You say that Carter is kind of an authority on history, and it’s clear from the first issue that he’s got the ability to access in some small way the past lives. In addition to resetting Hawkman in the DC Universe, are you going to be using the series as kind of a Tomb Raider for the DCU or accessing the secret history of the post-Rebirth DC continuity?
Very much so. Tomb Raider is another good example, but the way I like to talk about the series is it’s part Indiana Jones, part National Treasure. Every single issue he’s in a new location, he discovers something new, and that propels him on into the next issue. In the beginning, what he’s seeking to discover are the secrets and the truths of his own past, because he finds out in the first issue that there’s a threat coming to destroy him and all of Earth. He had forgotten all about it until now. Now he wants to know what else about himself he doesn’t know and how, somewhere buried in his past, there must be an answer for how he’s supposed to fight this threat.
He’s on a race against the clock to uncover his own past and find these secrets in time, before the threat arrives. In doing so, we’re going to take him to places that are unique to the DC Universe. We have a lot of plans for them, and it is a bit of revealing of secrets pasts and things we never knew before.
For example, where he ends up at the open of the first issue, he’s at a location that’s unique to the DC Universe dealing with a culture that’s established in the DC Universe, but showing you an aspect of it that we’ve never seen before. We’re going to be doing a lot of those sorts of things. I would even say that, while a lot of what we’re doing, especially in the first issue, is very earthbound, Hawkman is one of those few characters that is a perfect blend because of his diverse history, that’s a perfect blend of the earthbound and the cosmic. When I say DC locations, I don’t necessarily just mean places on Earth, but the entire DC Universe is a canvas that we’re going to be able to play with.
The new incarnation of Hawkman is rooted firmly in the reemergence of the Dark Multiverse. Are we going to be bouncing around in the Multiverse at all? Is there a chance that he’s been reincarnated, not just in time and in space, but on alternate Earths also?
You can expect a lot of exploration, and that’s kind of what I was saying earlier, beyond just the earthbound. It’s important, I think, that we drill in on something you just said, which is, speaking of Metal and the Dark Multiverse and how much what we’re doing is picking up from what was done in Metal and by the expansion of the character’s history beyond what we normally knew of it as being in ancient Egypt and the thousands of years that have been added to the character’s history. That’s an awful lot of time and an awful lot of lives to fill that space.
I couldn’t even tell you how many plotlines and how many story ideas are packed into this one issue that might not be immediately apparent, but as the series progresses and we follow Carter along his journey, you’ll see how many of them we seeded from the very, very earliest pages.
That’s really interesting, because most people, when they’re trying to reinvent the character, they try and get right down to the core of it and really narrow the scope to redefine the character from scratch. But it seems like you went in the absolute opposite direction with Hawkman. It seems like you decided to go as big as you could possibly get. Do you ever step back from that and say, “Wow, what did I do?” Do you ever get worried that you made it too big?
(laughs) I have not. As I started reading the stories, that was what spoke to me about the character, that was where the opportunity was. I didn’t sit down and say, “I want to do this type of story. How am I going to make Hawkman fit into that?” That’s not what happened at all. It was the reverse, with me learning about the character and realizing that this was the type of story that I felt the character was suited for.
I also feel it’s something that is wholly unique. This isn’t the type of story and this isn’t the type of character that you can really see anywhere else in comics. The kind of things we’re going to be doing are things that Hawkman could only be doing. I think that just speaks to who he is a character, what makes him so unique, and how we get him back to that place of prominence that he deserves in the DC Universe.
Did you find yourself changing what you wrote or the way that you wrote it to match his abilities? For example, did you put a chase scene in between Hawkman and a giant winged stone gorilla because you’re working with the original widescreen comics guy, or did the giant stone winged gorilla just come naturally?
It’s a bit of both. (laughs) I’m very fortunate to be working with an artist like Bryan whose style is so expansive. There’s art from much more than that already that’s been turned in from future issues. He can draw anything, and his approach to the character, even something as, I don’t want to say small, but something as confined and singular and just the character of Hawkman himself, how he renders Hawkman in flight, the motions of the wings, the poses. The skill with which he does that, and then the way he renders giant settings with hieroglyphics in the smallest detail written on every single square millimeter of the background … He’s able to do all those things.
A lot of what you read in this first issue and a lot of what the series is is me coming in with a plot and then him reading it and us talking about it, and as he’s drawing, he’ll even come up with ideas that hit him in the moment. He’ll send me an email and say, “Hey, what about if all of a sudden the statue has wings?”
I think that’s the creative energy that you can feel, and that’s what you want. I don’t want it to feel like a chore when I’m writing it and the artist doesn’t want it to feel like a chore when they’re drawing it. If you’re working on something and the ideas are coming as they’re drawing and they’re coming up with new inspiration, that’s exactly what you want. As I’m looking at his art and I’m doing the dialogue, seeing what he does gives me different inspirations as well, so it’s very much this back-and-forth collaborative effort that I feel is really the best of what a working relationship in comic books could be. I couldn’t be happier than to be working with him and to be building this whole thing with him together.
Hawkman #1 by Venditti and Hitch is out on June 13th. For more on the fallout of Metal or for more on Hawkman, stick with Den of Geek!