Over the weekend I picked up several comics at Player’s Choice, a mecca for nerds of every stripe. Player’s Choice, Bass Pro Shop, and a high-end piano store are pretty much anchoring the one majestic Myrtle Beach Mall, which otherwise looks like the eerie mall level from Left 4 Dead 2. As I noted yesterday, the “resident comic book guru” took the time to walk me through some comic selections (which, to his credit, resulted in another $30 or so in sales for his store), but it was by complete happenstance that I stumbled upon Hawkworld, a three-book miniseries (later expanded into multiple issues), which I snatched up for $7.
Hawkworld‘s three initial volumes detail the rise, fall, and phoenix-like resurrection of Katar Hol, a Thangarian aristocrat and son of the man who invented the wings that allow Thanagar’s human overlords to fly from one high tower to the next. Because Thanagar is mostly water, the elder Hol realized the future for his home planet was in the sky, and personalized wings allow residents to glide from one lofty tower to the next.
The aristocracy in Hawkworld enjoys a life of leisure, recreational drug use, cheap foreign labor, and imported luxuries. Meanwhile, “Downside”—beneath the towers—teems an alien population drawn from dozens of conquered worlds, trapped in a world of brutality and exploitation. Some more promising aliens end up working in the towers as servants and waiters to Thanagar’s elite, but the slightest error can result in their expulsion back below (as seen in the unfortunate episode involving Toolo, an alien waiter who commits the egregious offense of spilling wine on a highly-placed government official’s daughter).
Though an aristocrat, Katar Hol rejected the easy life of a cushy “tower job” and enlisted as an Ensign in Thanagar’s brutal police force. This force regularly makes incursions Downside to track down alien arms dealers—and to keep the restless population in line. Hol is a true believer in the old ways of Thanagar, and decries his planet’s reliance on cheap imported goods and labor, as well as its seeming inability to produce anything of its own.
If Hawkworld is beginning to sound like a metaphor for the excesses of the modern Western world, supported on the backs of imported labor, that’s pretty much what the comic is intended to be. However, there’s more to it than a remarkably effective—and unsettling—glimpse into our own decadence: Katar Hol’s character arc is a fascinating, oft-grim ride to the bottom, then back to redemption.
Hol starts out idealistic and high-minded, dedicated to the glorious imperial past of his people. On his excursions Downside, he slowly begins accepting the mood-altering drugs his partner offers him, as it’s his only way to cope with the violent reality of his job. He slowly becomes enmeshed in the decadence of the aristocracy, taking their designer drugs and nearly succumbing to the temptations of the aforementioned aristocrat’s daughter, who is herself spoiled, brutish, and violent.
But from this fall—both personal and professional—Katar Hol rises, following a long period of enforced isolation on a distant island.
I don’t want to go into much more detail, lest I give away any spoilers. If you can hunt down these three volumes—and they’re fairly easy to find—I highly recommend picking them up. Timothy Truman’s storytelling in this Silver Age reboot of Hawkman is exquisite—unsettling, redemptive, thought-provoking.
As above, so below.
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