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In which I fall in love with a brushstroke: Graeme in a tree with Kubert, Hawkman.

Graeme McMillan

So last night, I had a dream that proved that my subconscious was frantically grabbing what little pieces of pop culture that I’d exposed myself to over the last couple of days – My life was being narrated by This American Life’s Ira Glass, and illustrated by Joe Kubert. Needless to say, everything was much funnier than it is in real life, and looked beautiful.

Kubert’s art was pretty much the main reason that I picked up SHOWCASE PRESENTS HAWKMAN VOLUME 1, the phone-book-sized collection of the first Silver Age stories about the man with the feather fetish. I’ve never been a major fan of the character or the concept, but the idea of getting lots of prime Kubert art in black and white for relatively cheap was a very easy way to get me to part with my money. Having read the book, it’s easily the best thing about it – As much as many artists of the Silver Age had an ability and strength (to say nothing of work ethic) that many of today’s Young Guns and Ten Terrific could learn from, Kubert is one of only a handful who matches that to a style that’s breathtaking even today. Even though he only handles a few stories at the start of the book (The series obviously had a rocky start, running three issues in Brave and Bold before disappearing for awhile, before another three issue run, then another disappearance, then a run in Mystery In Space before finally graduating to its own title; Kubert was only on the strip for the Brave and Bold issues), it’s Kubert who you’ll remember when you’re finished with the 500+ pages: His lush brushwork, his mastery of the balance of black and white on the page, the care and attention he takes on things that other artists would’ve just hacked out without a second thought… It’s impossible to read this book and not be convinced each and every page that he worked on, that he’s one of the greatest comic book artists of all time. Completely amazing, beautiful work that makes the normally-competent Murphy Anderson (who handles the remainder of the series in this book) look stiff and lifeless by comparison.

What you may be missing in the afterglow of that love, though, is the lowkey charm of Gardner Fox’s stories. Yeah, it’s definitely one of the lesser of DC’s Silver Age books but, just like his Justice League stories, you can’t help but be swept along with the old-fashioned “adventure with a lesson built in” nature of the whole thing – Look at Hawkman use that old-fashioned weapon from his museum and learn the name of said weapon and as much of its history as can fit in a caption! The science-fiction aspects are enjoyably campy in retrospect (We don’t celebrate “Independence Day,” but “Impossible Day”! We Thanagarians don’t use wedding rings – We use wedding earrings! But only for women! We have our own words for “hour” and “week,” but like using “day,” if that’s okay with you!), which kind of sums up a lot of what makes the stories as enjoyable as they are – it’s not that they’re good, per se, but they’re funny and charming for maybe the wrong reasons. It doesn’t stop them being entirely readable, of course, even when Murphy Anderson is drawing. For the first third of the book, though, you’ll barely notice that there are any words; your eyes will be fixed on the shot of the talking bird in the beautiful pen-and-ink tree. Or the staircase rendered in loose, thin brushstrokes. Or the profile shot of Carter with his helmet, where the shadow falls perfectly to draw your eye across the panel. Or… Well, you get what I’m saying. It’s enjoyably Okay overall, but worth it for the opening stories alone.

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