[16 September 2011]
When a comic struggles with the surface-level details – authentic dialogue and appropriate facial expressions – it can’t even hope to deal with the things that make for good storytelling. Hawk and Dove becomes an exploration in how to turn ripe conflicts – grief over the death of a brother and a potentially relationship-damaging secret – into cringe-worthy melodrama. Admittedly, writers have had difficulty in the past effectively dealing with two college-aged characters that embody the philosophies of war and peace. Yet the sheer number of things that fall flat in this issue makes it difficult to understand why this line was even part of The New 52.
The villain of Hawk and Dove #1 is a science terrorist named Alexander Quirk. Quirk has taken issue with the two-party political system and believes that only a zombie attack on the capital will “cut the rot out.” Yes, a zombie attack to cure the political system. It seems inexplicable that this plotline was greenlit by the Editorial, but quite as unbelievably, the zombie story is not the worst part of the issue.
The second page immediately delivers over-the-top action with Hawk fighting terrorists and zombies while Dove tries to land a plane without destroying the Washington Monument. From there on, the story deals with two internal conflicts with Hawk and Dove.
The central internal conflict revolves around Hank grieving over Don’s (Hank’s brother and former Dove) death and his anger with Dawn for becoming the new Dove. Although this conflict seems at odds with the brother-and-sister relationship Hank and Dawn had during the events of “Brightest Day”, it is still a reasonable conflict for the superhero genre. For example, Batman dealt with the death of Jason Todd and later the fear of taking on Tim Drake as the new Robin.
Yet somehow Sterling Gates makes the situation melodramatic, as when Hank yells “WHY, Dad?! Why did Don have to die like that? And why was SHE the one who had to replace him? Couldn’t’a been ANYBODY else?” This level of dialogue should be reserved for teen soaps on the CW. Also, although Hank is the “jock” of the family, he is still the son of a judge in Washington, D.C., and it still feels inauthentic for him to be saying things like “couldn’t’a” and calling terrorists “jerkwads.”
The second internal conflict is that Dawn is keeping a secret. She says, “If the world is going to stay safe, Hank can NEVER know about me and Don.” Again, a potentially interesting (if not cliché) plotline of a secret origin could be developed, but is immediately made unbearable by the excessive melodrama in the dialogue. It belittles the conflict to “will she/won’t she tell him the truth?” drama more appropriate for a romantic comedy.
If the lack of real, accessible emotion in the story weren’t enough, Rob Liefeld seems to only draw three types of facial expressions: open-mouth surprise, open-mouth anger and teeth-grinding anger. At least three of the four bystanders react to Alexander Quirk’s terrorist proclamation with open-mouth surprise. Hank holds a terrorist in the air, single-handed, with open-mouth anger. Hank and Dawn crash into the Washington Monument with teeth-grinding anger (not to mention that the bottom and top panels of the page are basically mirrored duplicates).This limitation of artistic range leaves the work emotionally flat. It should also be noted that the character of Washi Watanabe is drawn in an derivatively stereotypical manner, appearing with a perpetual squint.
The only redeeming quality seems to be that to a new reader of the series, the origin story flashback provides useful background on Hank and Don. In addition, there is potential to develop the relationship between Dove and Deadman (it seems that their relationship and at least some of the events of “Brightest Day” have made their way into the post-“Flashpoint” universe).
Ultimately, there are fertile conflicts and potent characters in Hawk and Dove, but so far overdramatic dialogue and one-note drawing are holding it back. Were Gates and Liefeld were late to the office the day they assigned who would produce which book? Did they draw the short straw? For these creators to meaningfully explore themes of war and peace, life and death, they need to convey what always lies at the heart of these issues: real human emotions.