Reader’s Guide to the New DC Universe

Reader’s Guide to the New DC Universe: Hawk and Dove

Each weekday, Tim will take a look at what we know about each of the upcoming 52 new comics from the September DC relaunch, one series at a time. Today: HAWK AND DOVE!

The Concept and Characters: Created by Steve Ditko and Steve Skeates in 1968, the original Hawk and Dove were two crime-fighting brothers who symbolized the social tensions at the height of Vietnam-era America. Hank Hall was Hawk, a muscle-bound conservative who was in favor of military-style demonstrations of violence as a means to an end. Don Hall was Dove, an agile liberal who advocated pacifism at every turn.

Though the best superhero comics embody strong symbolic underpinnings, the Hawk and Dove stories turned the symbolism into their explicit reason for existing, and with the reactionary Ditko and bleeding-heart Skeates as the creative team, there was as much friction behind the scenes as there was on the page. Ditko left the Hawk and Dove series after only two issues, and Skeates left shortly after.

The Hall brothers, with their strikingly-designed costumes, continued to appear in the DC Universe into the Bronze Age, as infrequent members of the Teen Titans, until Dove died in the cataclysm that was Crisis on Infinite Earths.

Somehow, in the post-Crisis DCU of the late 1980s, the concept of Hawk and Dove found a bit of a foothold, and a new mini-series was launched, featuring Hank Hall and a new, female, Dove by the name of Dawn Granger. The miniseries led to an ongoing series which lasted a healthy 28 issues before its demise.

In that new version, writers Barbara and Karl Kesel rebranded Hawk and Dove as emissaries of the Lords of Order, giving their once-dated brand of social symbolism a larger cosmic scope. The 1980s revamp foreshadowed what has now become the signature Geoff Johns approach to reviving limp superhero properties: add something epic to the characters origin (turns out the Halls had been working for the Lords of Order all along, without knowing it), and give the heroes a villain who is their clear antithesis (the vicious Kestrel, minion of the Lords of Chaos, with the combined powers of Hawk and Dove, but with an extra-sinister smile and pointy claws).

After bopping around the DC universe for a while, during the 1990s, things get really confusing with the new Hawk and Dove, with the former turning evil and dying, the latter dying, maybe. It was all revealed to be a cosmic magician’s hoax, and then the characters came back to life after the Blackest Night event a couple of years ago. None of that really matters, since it seems like the September relaunch is taking the Barbara and Karl Kesel version of the characters and plopping them into the present day DCU.

I doubt the new series will talk about that one time Hawk turned out to be a supervillain known as Monarch when DC editorial got annoyed at fans guessing who the supervillain really was. (It was supposed to be Captain Atom gone bad.)

No, this relaunched series will be Hawk and Dove, crimefighting duo, “avatars of war and peace” and their attempts to “root out hidden forces who look to plunge the country into a deadly civil war.” Presumably it’s Hank Hall and Dawn Granger, by the looks of the cover image. And that bit about the secret civil war seems like good hook for a comic that won’t dare to touch on the real wars raging around the world, for fear of upsetting the media.

The Creative Team: Writer Sterling Gates is a Geoff Johns protégée and a fine comic book writer who revived Supergirl with an extended run beginning in 2008 and gave her series texture and purpose when most readers had given up hope that anyone could make that continuity mess interesting. Gates, still relatively young, has produced an impressive amount of high-profile work at DC, and even co-wrote the War of the Supermen mini-event with veteran James Robinson.

He’s been relatively quiet lately, with only a Flashpoint tie-in comic to his credit this year, though he was recently announced as the writer of a new Captain Victory series for Dynamite Comics. He’s good, and I always look forward to more of his work.

Now, the artist of this series? That’s where things really get tricky. Because it’s Rob Liefeld, the very artist who drew that seminal Barbara and Karl Kesel miniseries back in the late 1980s. The very artist who spun his work on New Mutants and X-Force at Marvel into a role as one of the founding fathers of Image Comics. The very artist who has not launched an ongoing series in 15 years, and that was his aborted run on Marvel’s Captain America, where he only drew a handful of issues before being pulled from the series due to his missed deadlines.

Liefeld, over the past decade, as become the internet’s punching bag for the excesses of the 1990s. He’s the punchline when it comes to late shipping comics and, more frequently, “bad art” associated with exaggerated superhero anatomy.

But over the past year, Liefeld’s reputation has begun to change, however quietly. He’s penciled a dozen issues of Deadpool (a character he created, in his early days) at Marvel in twelve month’s time. He has rededicated himself to honing his craft and his drawing speed. He has challenged himself to produce two monthly comics, beginning this fall. Some of the more astute young critics have gone back to reflect on his work with fresh eyes.

The truth is that Liefeld has a bombastic drawing style, eschewing backgrounds for dynamic poses and vigorous action. He began his career by freely swiping poses from other artists, but his style has been, for a long time, distinctly his own. This comic will look nothing like the rest of the DC relaunch titles, that’s for sure.

Recommendation: Listen, this is going to be a comic very few readers will publicly admit to liking. Liefeld has been the subject of ridicule for so long — for basically the entire time websites have been around to write about comics — that the prejudice will be difficult to overcome. Long-time readers have a bias against him, and new readers will have trouble adapting to something that looks as “unrealistic” as Liefeld’s drawing.

Gates will surely bring an interesting story to each issue, but Liefeld’s in-your-face artwork will be the dominant presence. I’m personally going to be buying the heck out of this series, out of complete fascination with how unique it will look, my nostalgia for the 23-year-old Hawk and Dove miniseries (in which a teenaged version of myself had a fan letter published), and a curiosity of how well the Liefeld/Gates chemistry will work. But if you’re an average reader, new or old, you’re better off with me saying Skip It. This one’s not going to appeal to most.


Tim Callahan writes about comics for Tor.com, Comic Book Resources, Back Issue magazine, and his own Geniusboy Firemelon blog.

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