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Tuesday, January 09, 2007


DC Comics's pricey archives editions churn along like clockwork, no matter how doubtful a customer's expenditure of fifty bucks on hardcover collections of mostly badly-drawn comics from the dawn of comics up through the 1980's may be. Sure, there are rabid completists out there and fifty bucks is a bargain compared to the hundreds/thousands that the original issues would garner, so I guess it all makes sense — especially when you can find the archives for around $20 off cover price on Amazon — but there really is a good reason that much of this stuff has not seen the light of day since back in the days. Seminal though much of it may be, the simple truth is that a lot of this stuff just plain sucks. I have read a lot of the Golden Age collections of the Flash, Green Lantern, Superman and so on, and much of it is hideously painful to behold and/or written by people who may have been escaped mental patients. However, for me the stories scribed by those apparent loonies are the most interesting to read thanks to their utter disregard for basic logic or sense, instead aiming for balls-out, anything goes fun, and for sheer unadulterated superhero lunacy, it's hard to beat THE GOLDEN AGE HAWKMAN ARCHIVES VOL. 1 in terms of art and loopy storysmithing.

The first page of the very first Hawkman story from FLASH COMICS #1 (January, 1940). Check out Hawkman's buttock-constricting shorts!

Hawkman is Carter Hall, "wealthy collector of weapons and research scientist," who discovers in a dream/recollection that he is also the reincarnation of the murdered blonde (?) Egyptian prince Khufu, who must defeat the reincarnation of the evil Hath-Set, the douchebag who killed his ass millennia ago. Taking a walk around the block to clear his head after that revelation, Hall runs into Shiera, the reincarnation of his murdered lover, after she escapes from a subway that was electrically sabotaged by the reborn Hath-Set, now named "Hastor" and looking like a red-headed Irish guy. Hall traces the source of the deadly electricity using his "dynamo-detector" and then emerges in full-blown shirtless garb that's supposed to represent "the hawk god Anubis" (yeah, yeah, I know...), complete with winged flying gear powered by "the secret of the ages — the Ninth Metal — which defies the pull of the earth's gravity," and goes forth as the garish Hawkman to put much boot to ass. Hastor is tits-up by the end of the tale, Shiera is installed as love interest and future Hawkgirl, and Hawkman's ancient weapons fetish is established, thus setting the basic template for the character that continues to this day.

And as if the origin yarn wasn't crazy enough, the early Hawkman stories not only mangled well-documented mythology, but also plundered every other thing one could think of for story fodder. Cowboys, futurist cabals, talking alligators (!!!), costumed would-be conquerors, horny Mongolians out to get their hump on with white chicks (can't have that!), mummies, evil Alaskan Injuns, mad scientists, giant space aliens, and even a yellow-skinned Poseidon — who grants Hawkman the ability to breathe underwater and asks him to drop by any time — infest the stories, rendering them virtually nonsensical but never boring.

Was this drawn by Hal Foster? Alex Raymond? Um, nooooo...

The other thing that makes the book is the artwork. Dennis Neville's passable-to-sloppy skills handle the first four stories, but the rest of the book is by Sheldon Moldoff and his contributions are a goldmine for those who love to spot "swipes," an industry term for stealing from other comics to create visuals and pass them off as your own. Moldoff endured endless — and frankly well-deserved — criticism for his flagrant plagiarism from the popular newspaper strip artists of the time. Familiar panels from FLASH GORDON, PRINCE VALIANT, TARZAN and a host of other strips were copied and only marginally altered in Moldoff's offerings, and it gets so outrageous that it's downright hilarious and distracting to those of us who have a good working knowledge of American comics history. There were moments when I stopped dead, doubled over cracking up at the really obvious ripoffs and when that kind of hilarity is coupled with narratives that are just a hair away from being non sequitors, you have a real treat. Recommended, if you can spare the scratch.

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