What’s Next for Hawkman?
The Bryan Hitch era of Hawkman end, but the Robert Venditti era continues! We spoke to them about the future (and pasts) of Carter Hall.
Over the course of the last year, writer Robert Venditti and artist Bryan Hitch have made readers’ imaginations soar with their wondrous take on Hawkman. The creators have done the impossible and managed to explain the character’s impossibly complicated history, present a cosmic saga of an eternal conflict between Hawkman and the evil Deathbringers, and introduce a number of fascinating takes on Hawkman’s past lives such as the Hawkman of Krypton. With Hawkman #12, they will present the end of the Deathbringer saga as Hitch exits the book. We spoke with Bryan Hitch via email and Robert Venditti by phone about bringing this chapter of Hawkman’s story to a close…
What’s at stake in the end of your first year on Hawkman?
Robert Venditti: Everything we’ve built up to so far! We started the series with Carter Hall realizing something in his life was missing. He tried to find what has driven him to be this explorer, this adventurer. He’s always hunting; he’s always searching for answers. He’s starting to realize that maybe this outward exploration was due to something that was missing about his own history, his own self, that he’s being trying to discover. So he’s been on this journey for the first year of the series, really going across the whole DC Universe, going across time, going across space.
He ended up finding the meaning of his origins. He found out that his first life was as a marauding general of this warlike race that would go planet to planet and capture people to sacrifice to this dark god, the Lord Beyond the Void who has yet to be revealed. The source of his reincarnations is that Hawkman turned his back on his people and banished all of the Deathbringers into another realm. When he dies, he comes back and reincarnates as many times as it takes to save as many lives as he once was responsible for taking.
Once he found that out, it gives him this drive to atone. This is the heart of the character. Now, the Deathbringers have returned, and in issue 12, they come to Earth, not just for Hawkman but to lay waste to Earth and lay waste to any planet Hawkman has ever visited and reincarnated on. He’s what stands in the way of that. So, it’s not just the culmination of what we did on the first year of the series, for Carter Hall, what’s at stake is his entire existence. It’s all about him fighting for not only his actual history but his metatextual and publishing history.
What were your goals for your first year of Hawkman and did you meet them?
Venditti: My main goal for the whole series was to get rid of the idea and the stigma that the character has a history too confusing to understand. More than anything else, that was the part of the character that had to be corrected. All I knew about Hawkman coming into the series was this reputation he had that he had the most convoluted history in all of comics which became a dense continuity which became a barrier to entry for anyone wanting to read the character.
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What Bryan and I have hopefully done in the first year of the series was to give Hawkman a true origin which he never really had before and tie all the continuity together in a very simple way that doesn’t jettison any of it but pays respect to all of it and make sense of it all. And add space. He reincarnates across time and space which streamlined the entire concept. Now I hear from so many people that never understood Hawkman, or never wanted to read Hawkman, or thought Hawkman was too confusing. Now, they understand the character very easily. Whether we met all the goals, I don’t know. It’s creativity not math, you’re never going to solve for X. But the primary goal, the reason I took the job, was that Hawkman represented the ultimate puzzle. I wanted to see if could solve that puzzle and leave it there for the next eighty years.
Why do you think fans and creators are still drawn to Hawkman and his world despite the complex character history?
Bryan Hitch: He’s core DC. One of the earliest actually and their first flying character. He flew before Superman. He was also the first winged superhero and that visual, I think, is still a potent one from mythology. I wish far MORE people had been drawn to his adventures but he clearly does still have a very supportive group of core fans. The idea of Hawkman, the winged figure has been much copied, but he is the original one in comics. That’s pretty cool.
Personally, Hawkman has been one of my all-time favorites (I’m from the Super Friends generation), but to many he has not been exactly A list. What drew you to Hawkman after so much time on bestselling books like Ultimates and Justice League?
Hitch: The simple matter of being asked to do it. Initially I was just having a bit of fun doing the Hawkman Found book with Jeff Lemire. I’d been writing, or writing and drawing exclusively for a few years, and honestly just wanted to draw something without any heavy lifting. Found was a hoot and, even though there’s not much of the classic Hawkman in the story, it got me thinking about how I’d handle the character in visuals and storytelling. It’s pure pulp, so tonally it suggested it would be a lot of fun, and when Dan Didio suggested I could launch the follow up series, I found myself saying yes.
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Who were some of your artistic inspirations on this project? I get a lot of Joe Kubert in the superhero type scenes but I also see some Al Williamson when things get sci-fi.
Hitch: Well Kubert defined the character for me and probably many others too so you can’t stray too far from that and keep it feeling right. I’ve always adored Williamson’s work and think he’s one of the very best artists the industry, strips as well as books, has ever produced. He wasn’t a direct influence but I’m sure much of him crept into the work just by default. Mostly though, once you get the right approach in your head, it takes on its own life and becomes a very automated process. Plot comes in, you tell the story visually as needed and the pages roll out. Monthly comics doesn’t allow for a lot on contemplation. You just have to get on with it and be as surprised as anybody else by the results.
Robert, Now that Bryan Hitch is leaving, talk about what he added to the book. What was the collaboration like?
Venditti: Oh wow, so much. The book wouldn’t be what it is without Bryan. I mean that not just from a visual sense. He’s an artist and a great draftsman and a great storyteller. His concepts and his ingenuity, his affinity for these characters, he brings all that to his story. He not only brings all that to the page, he’s quite inspiring as a person to work with because he’s a person of such phenomenal talent. You’re always trying to find a way to raise your writing to the level that earns that.
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If there’s a harder comic book series on the stand that’s harder to draw I don’t know what it is. In twelve issues, we’ve gone from Gorilla City to ancient Egypt to Dinosaur Island to the Microverse to Thanagar to different places and cultures. He can draw a T-Rex or the army of Carter Hall’s past lives fighting an entire army of Deathbringers. For him to be able to draw all those things, to execute them on the high level he does on a monthly basis on twelve issues in a row on an extremely complicated series. He has done every single page and all the covers, plus he has inked a lot of pages as well. It’s just phenomenal to have someone like that on the book. It challenges you as a writer to not only talk though story ideas, to bounce things back and forth.
He brings his own ideas to raise the stakes. It gives you the confidence to know that virtually anything you put on a page, he’s going to be able to draw it with supreme skill. I cannot say enough about the guy. I really love working with him. I hope I get to do so again on future projects.
Bryan, now that you’re wrapping up your time on the book, what are you most proud of?
Hitch: That I did it! To be honest, for varying reasons, by the time I could pick up the pencil for issue one, we had four weeks until the print deadline. Not a single day of lead time. Somehow, every month we got it done and never missed an issue or a sale date. So doing all 12 like that, even when occasionally to make the dates, I’d have to step in and ink a lot of pages in virtually no time, is a bit of an achievement for me. I haven’t been the most consistently reliable artist in my career but this has really changed my perspective about my work, my process and my career. There were issues I penciled and inked in 10 days and they weren’t just some of my favorites but got the best responses too. Honestly, I had more positive reactions to the work on Hawkman than many other things in years.
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I also think that’s down to the fun nature of the series and the big, unashamedly pulp nature of the book. It was pure action adventure. No crime fighting, no super villains, just adventure. I think just producing that series between us all is something I’m very, very proud of. Genuinely one of the best times in my creative life.
The biggest thing you have added to Hawkman is the idea of Carter Hall looking for redemption. Talk about the genesis of that addition to the classic character?
Venditti: We all have regrets in our lives and things we’ve done wrong. Hopefully, we use those experiences to be better people and continue to improve throughout our lives. Well, Carter Hall represents that duplicated thousands of times over thousands of years. So he, with all those lifetimes he would have, also comes many life times of regrets. It’s a very motive we don’t really see a lot.
Reincarnated characters aren’t necessarily new. But to make that work and apply it to him through time and space, he’s not just an ancient Egyptian prince, he’s also a Thanagarian police officer, he was Kryptonian, he was Rannian, and he was in the Microverse. As we call him, Hawkman is the living historical document of the DC Universe which makes him of extreme central importance not only to his own series but to the entire DCU because he has been there and he has seen it all. His knowledge and experience far surpasses anyone else.
Without spoiling anything, what arc is Carter Hall completing now that the Death-Bringer saga is coming to a close? Who was he going into the sage and who might he be coming out?
Hitch: He’s himself now. There’s no confusion about his past. He’s aware of it wholly now whereas we started with confusion about his history. Now he’s fully embracing it as a strength and, as you’ll see in issue 12, by the nature of the conclusion and what he achieved getting to it, he’s a more powerful force than we’d previously seen.
Anything you wish you got to draw that couldn’t be fit into your first year on Hawkman?
Hitch: Loads of little things, sure but actually, I was only supposed to draw the first 6 issues and I stayed around so we could tell the story we set out to do, despite the bonkers schedule. I got to do much more than I intended so while there’s disappointment that my journey with Carter is over, I can’t lament any missed opportunities when I got to do so much.
Bryan, what was your reaction when you first heard or read the words, “Hawkman of Krypton?”
Hitch: Ah well, I came up with Catar-Ol so that’s a question you might be better asking Robert! He got the potential immediately. Many stories present themselves once you accept the conceit. Robert set up the core idea of all the stuff we’ve seen before and is part of his past in time and space and then it’s so obviously open to adding new stuff. A Kryptonian Carter certainly proved helpful in the final battles.
Robert, what was your reaction when you first heard the words “Hawkman of Krypton?”
Venditti: In my pitch, I sort of put together a four page document I sent to DC. It was my concept that I would take the reincarnation cycle and say it would no longer just be on Earth. It’s now across all of time and space and what that would mean for Carter. I mention him being a New God. I mention him being on any planet in the DCU. I mention him being on Rann.
When they gave the document to Bryan, he read it and seized on the idea. Bryan is an artist that can really draw anything, and he really does enjoy the earthbound but also the cosmic as well. That’s what I was really trying to embrace with the series. We have these characters like Hawkman and Green Lantern and it opens up the entire DC Universe. Reading Bryan’s Justice League series, you can see how much he loves capturing those grand ideas. So that was something that really made me happy.
When you have a character that has been around this long with a divided fan base, you have some that love the ancient Egyptian and you have some that love the Thanagarian space cop. I’ve been through that with Green Lantern where you have the Hal fans, the John Stewart fans, and the Kyle fans and they all have rivalries. I didn’t want to come into a divided fan base again; I wanted to unite the fan base under one umbrella. Whichever Hawkman is yours, it’s all the same Hawkman. That’s a risky thing to tamper with eighty years into a character’s history.
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For Bryan to be such a great storyteller and a high concept guy and such a fan of the DC Universe and its library of characters, for him to come in and say how much he liked that idea and bringing his own ideas to it, For me the Kryptonian Hawkman Catar-Ol is one of the highlights of my career. The cover of Hawkman #8 which is Catar-Ol is screen on my phone. To be able to contribute those kinds of things, hopefully it goes far beyond us. Maybe a new creator will pick it up and open it up to anything. We would love to see new people bring in their own ideas long after we’re done with it.
I need to see more Airwing, the Hawkman of New Genesis. Talk about his creation.
Venditti: Like I said in my original pitch, a New God version of the character would show how far this concept could go. We could do anything we want with it. I’m a huge fan of the Jack Kirby stuff, the Fourth World stuff. You can see that in my Green Lantern run how much I love those characters. I bring them in whenever I can. To have Bryan Hitch design a Kirby style, New Gods style Hawkman with the hovercircles around feet and the circles on the armor; it doesn’t get any better than that.
I don’t know what else to say about it except that it’s the absolute most fun a superhero comic can be, not just from the audience’s standpoint. When you see a panel of Nighthawk talking like an old Western character and Silent Knight talking like someone from Arthurian legend and it’s all in one book, it’s so much fun as a creator to do those kinds of things. Where else in comic books can you do something like that and people will accept it?
I love that you used Silent Knight and Nighthawk. Any plans to explore some of the genre Hawkmen?
Venditti: I would love to. Issue 13 is going to be a standalone issue where we spend time with one of Hawkman’s past lives. It’s a life we haven’t experienced yet in the series. I think that baked into the character’s concept is the opportunity for those standalone issues. I would love to do one with Airwing of New Genesis. I would love to do one with Avion of the Microverse. It really just matters where those opportunities are and when you can do those standalones.
But if DC came to me tomorrow and said, “Want to do another Hawkman series and every issue would be about a different life?” I would be all over it. It’s just a matter of fitting them into the schedule around the other larger stories we want to do.
Bryan as a part of the Hawkman pantheon, where do you hope the future takes the character?
Hitch: Uncharted and exciting territory. Given what we’ve brought to his story, he is literally unlimited in the kinds of stories you can tell with the character. You can do any sort of adventure from SF to fantasy, crime, historical, straight Superhero to big mythology. Sky is, pardon the pun, the limit.
Any other unexpected DC heroes you would like to tackle?
Hitch: Oh sure, loads of them. I have a Creeper story I want to tell, I want to play with DC’s Western-era character library. I grew up on DC exclusively so there’s honestly not much in their catalogue I don’t have ambitions for. See, sky IS the limit!
You’ve worked with some of the biggest writing names in the business, what are some of Robert Venditti’s strengths as a writer?
Hitch: I’ve known Robert for a few years now and we’ve come close a couple of times at DC. For a week a few years ago, we almost did a JSA relaunch. I worked with him briefly on an 8 page X-O short for Valiant before I started JLA too so it wasn’t like we were strangers. We were on the same page from the first chat and ideas quickly flowed between us so I knew it would work. Robert wrote me fairly loose plots and was always open to suggestions so we had a very good rapport in trying to always find the best way of telling the story.
The story was always Rob’s. We didn’t co-plot but he had the generosity to give me such open plots that always allowed me to visually work the story my own way. He’s very good at giving you all the pieces you need to make it work but also very flexible and open, or at least that’s my own experience of working with him. Not many writers are that good or that easy to work with and this was one of the easiest working relationships I’ve had. It was a lot of fun, every single issue. So many big pulp and sci-fi ideas to play with. I could have done it for years really and never got bored with it. That’s as much to do with working with the right creative partner as anything.
Robert, What’s next for your second year? What artist or artists are coming on board and where does Hawkman go next?
Venditti: Issue 13 is a standalone issue and Will Conrad will draw that. Issue 14 begins our involvement in the big Year of the Villain storyline that DC is doing across the line. The villain we’re working with is Shadow Thief. So we’re going to get to use Shadow Thief in the series. Much like we did with Carter Hall, we’re going to stay very true to the character’s history and make some changes to it that makes total sense. It will increase his threat level and push him in a new direction. The art team on that will be Pat Olliffe and Tom Palmer.
This first year was a twelve issue major arc and hopefully each individual issue stands on its own because each individual issue went to a different location and at the end of the issue, it wrapped up that location. It had more of an episodic feel. Moving forward, the storylines will be more what I did with Hal Jordan and the Green Lantern Corps. A three or four issue storyline or two part or one part storylines, but held together with a common theme with different locations and different adversaries.
If you could say one thing to Mr. Hitch about this past year what would it be?
Venditti: Just “Thank you.” Thanks for coming on board. He’s an artist that literally can take any project that he wants. He is truly one of the most important visual masters of the medium of his generation. His storytelling, his worlds, his concepts, plus all the things he brings as a writer beyond just drawing. He helped me solve the puzzle of continuity and became a good friend.
Hawkman #12 hits on May 8.