Remember those old Gold Key books? If you weren’t around when they launched, go out and find some. They really feel like the last bastion of a different era, a kind of comics from long, long before even when they were first published. They feel like remnants, a dying breed, artifacts from a lost civilization.
The received narrative goes, that the Comics Code Authority really stymied the creative prospects of the industry. After just a handful of Senate hearings, genre comics all but vanished, and superhero books became little more than pablum. Those old Gold Key books really do read like an attempt to resurrect the spirit of the EC books while remaining within the confines of the Code.
Comics from a different era, remembering comics from a different era, Gold Key really seemed to speak to a simpler, more mythic past. Many of their heroes weren’t their own, many were. Looking back now, it’s easy to remember the standouts like Flash Gordon, or Turok. Particularly Flash Gordon and Turok.
They were both science fictional, but in vastly different ways.
Flash Gordon was about sudden contact with a technologically superior alien race. Yet, the world of Mongo that ruler Ming the Merciless had built was culturally far less sophisticated than our own. Slavery was not only rampant but desirable. Advanced technology was withheld from non-humanoid species ensuring a brutal, might-makes-right Iron Age of terror. Paradoxically, although set in the future, Flash Gordon was all about the descent into barbarism.
Turok on the other hand, although set in the past, was a civilizational narrative. Turok was very much about ecology, about surviving a harsh and punishing landscape. Turok and his young cousin Andar had found their way into the Lost Valley (or Lost Land, later books would call it). There they encountered dinosaurs, and peoples far more primitive than the America of the 18th century they left behind.
The focus on Turok was about engaging the primitive peoples of the Lost Valley and preserving their way of life, and possibly (maybe, maybe) uplifting them. The focus with Flash Gordon was ensuring that Flash himself, and Dr. Zarkhov, and Dale Arden defend against backsliding into barbarism.
It’s only a writer the caliber of Tony Daniel who could possibly have conceived of a way to convincingly marry together these two very different kinds of narrative. He does so every month in The Savage Hawkman, and now, with the first storyarc concluded, Tony’s ambitions for the character can really take flight.
It helps that Tony has been able to conceive of a Why, for Hawkman. Sure the character just intuitively seems cool, a human panzer-tank of a man equipped with alien technology that enables flight, strength, stamina, toughness, and maybe even a more brutal psychology. But what’s the story behind Hawkman? With all the changes wrought to DC continuity over the years, Hawkman’s backstory really has fallen between the cracks.
In the New 52 version that Tony helms, Carter Hall is human (not as Silver Age Hawkman was, Thangarian Katar Hol pretending to be Carter Hall). And he is an archaeologist with a flair for translation. But the archaeology Carter practices is not a dust-ridden excavation of the ruined civilizations of Earth, but the points where star-born races touched ancient human civilizations. Carter Hall, is a linguist, of alien languages, specifically the languages of aliens who had contact with lost human civilizations.
With Carter’s accidental contact with the fabled Thangarian Nth Metal (was it accidental, Tony’s certainly established a rich enough vein here), there is the aspirational element of Turok. Maybe, as we saw all those many years ago in Robotech, we can make ourselves better through mere contact with ruined alien technology. And yet simultaneously, there is the necessary defense against barbarism. This time, the barbarism is our own, presenting as dubious government agencies and shadowy defense contractors willing to unleash genocide to ensure their power.
And despite the relative ease with which Carter’s Hawkman was able to bring the Morphicius situation to a resolution, Tony was able to craft a truly unnerving cliffhanger to issue #4—the dead walk the Earth again, but only Carter appears to see them.
The Savage Hawkman is beautiful because it achieves what those old Gold Keys could not—a poignance of embracing the modes of yesteryear-storytelling by maintaining the relevance of today’s social milieu.
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// Notes from the Road
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