JSA Reread Part 7: The Return of Hawkman

This time, it is the four issues that make up the Return of Hawkman storyline, including Issue 22’s prelude. This is one of the better arcs on the series.

JSA 22: Lost Friends

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Goyer, Johns, Morales, Bair and Buzz

This issue, which really should have been its own entry with the previous one, has an excellent gimmick. The top half of each page, with art from Morales and Bair, continues the story in the present, with Sand and Hawkgirl trying to get to the bottom of what exactly is going on with her. The bottom half of each page, drawn by Buzz, stays in ancient Egypt with Flash. While the two stories do deal with at least tangentially the same subject, the Hawks and their history, they aren’t overtly connected. Still, it is a pretty neat little trick that makes for a memorable issue.

The top half starts with Sand tracking down Speed Saunders, Hawkgirl’s grandfather and the former Hawkgirl’s cousin. A quick note about Speed Saunders: he was one of the original detectives from Detective Comics, before Batman and other superheroes crowded them out. After that his disappeared pretty much entirely until he was dusted off and rectonned into being related to the former Hawkgirl. He tells Sand the story of Kendra Saunders. At the age of 17 she attempted suicide. After rushing her to the hospital, she was pronounced dead, only to start breathing again ten minutes later. At first, Speed is over joyed, but he notices that Kendra’s eyes have turned from green to brown, the same as his cousin Shiera’s. He didn’t tell anyone, but he arranged for her to join the JSA because he knew that if Shiera was back, then Carter couldn’t be far behind. John’s “fixing” of the Hawk characters is a great triumph, but the storyline is supposed to be a great romance and instead feels more than a little creepy. It is acknowledged in the story and pointed out more firmly in Hawkman’s series, not to mention in the Geoff John’s penned “” episode of JLU, but it is still played as some tome spanning love story that just doesn’t ring true. The big cog in the works is the Kendra/Shiera split. Is Hawkgirl his niece (by marriage) or his wife reborn? It is a strange question.

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On the bottom half of these pages, Flash is told the story of how the first Thanagarian ship crashed in Egypt. The pilot was dying, but she told them of someone called Synn and of the existence of Nth metal, which is what gives the Hawks their powers and powers the Thanagarian ships. So they took the ship back to their palace and retrieved the Nth metal from it. With it he crafts Hawk shaped medallions, which Khufu discovers gives him the power of flight. Nabu also prophesied a problem on Thanagar that they would need to face in the future and has them use the rest of the Nth metal to create the Claw of Horus.

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Back on top, Kendra is still talking with Zauriel from last issue. He suggests that she is Shiera and her memories are returning because her soul mate is returning, which you know from the title of this post is true. She leaves Zauriel, taking off on her own. With Sand, he asks Speed where she might have gone. At his suggestion, the whole team, Black Adam included, finds her weeping at the grave of her parents. She lashes out at them and attempts to run away again. As Black Adam attempts to stop her she flashes down to her bones, not unlike when Sinestro from Green Lantern would transport himself to the Anti-Matter Dimension, and teleports away.

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As the time tries to track where Hawkgirl was off to, Flash, sufficiently healed and with the help of Teth Adam, reverses the sun that transported him to the past in the first place. He crashes into Black Adam just after Hawkgirl has disappeared, just in time to tell them that Hawkman is coming back. The issue ends with Hawkgirl on Thanagar, which is of course where she went. Robed men call her Savior and shows her the planet.

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Outside of the neat trick of the top page, bottom page split, this issue is just a focusing of the previous, cutting it down to just Sand, Hawkgirl and Flash. Truly, the most interesting part is the past. Normally, the legacy and history of the JSA is an immediate thing. Each member is either an original hero or a descendant of one. The ancient Egypt parts take that to its furthest conclusion. Not only has the JSA been there since the rise of superheroes, the precursors to the JSA have been around since the origins of civilization. Much like the first trip to the past in issue 6, it is a place and time the series continually comes back to. This time it wasn’t much of a story. Luckily, the story it is leading into is a very good one.

JSA 23: Ascension

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Goyer, Johns, Sadowski, Bair

We start with Kendra on Thanagar. The planet is currently under the thumb of Onimar Synn, who is an Inhumi, an Eater of Souls. He has taken control of most of the planet. As the priests who summoned her explain things they are attacked by Dark Wingmen, corrupted Thanagarians. Kendra grabs the weapons they have available, and using Shiera’s memories she fights back against them. They nab one of the good guys and the rest flee with Kendra before Synn shows up himself.

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It then cuts to Dr. Fate and Dr. Mid-Nite looking over the comatose body of Fate’s wife. Mid-Nite is telling Fate what he can do for her, but Fate doesn’t like the medical explanation and wants to pursue a magical means to helping her. Fate starts to threaten him, but Sand walks in looking for help with Kendra and puts a stop to it. As they leave, her EKG monitor spells out ‘help me’ but it is not seen by the rest of the group. This plot, believed to be Mordru’s by Dr. Fate, is a long running, slow moving one.

In the meeting room, Sand outlines who they are taking to Thanagar to save Hawkgirl. It works as an update and roll call for the massive team. Sentinel is still injured, Wildcat and Black Canary are in Europe, looking for the Council from the annual and Geomancer’s attack of the team, Dr. Mid-Nite is going to stay to help with Fate’s wife and Star Spangled Kid is with her mother, who just went into labor. Luckily, Atom Smasher is back. Black Adam wants to go along and at the behest of Flash, who saw him in the past, he is allowed to join them. That still leaves them with the problem of how to get across space. But Dr. Fate has a plan for that.

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Back with Hawkgirl, she is being lead to the headquarters of the resistance. Synn has taken over the capitol city and taken every bit of Nth metal for himself, aided by his two heralds Phade and Crypt. It cuts to Synn, who is torturing the kidnapped guy from the start. He villain monologues about how he’s going to destroy the planet, and then kills the guy. They take him to make him into one of the zombie Dark Wingmen.

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The head Thanagarian, Zith Tarak, then tells Hawkgirl a truncated history of the planet and of Nth metal. Nth metal is made of an element that is unique to Thanagar and is “psycho-receptive,” meaning that it retains some of the memories of those it comes in contact with. That is how Hawkman and Hawkgirl can be continually reincarnated and how they have knowledge of Thanagar that they shouldn’t have. It is pure comic book hokum, but it is effective at slicing through the complicated sludge that had built up around the characters. He then explains why they went to all the trouble to transport her there. At the Well of Souls she should be able to pull back Hawkman, the prophesied savior of their planet.

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The rest of the team uses Dr Fate’s magic and the extradimensional properties of Fate’s Tower to transport themselves to where Hawkgirl is. As they arrive, Hawkgirl reaches down in the well and pulls out Carter Hall, Hawkman. That is what this issue was all about, taking the team to Thanagar and laying the rest of the ground work for the return of Hawkman.

JSA 24 : Icarus Fell

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Goyer, Johns, Sadowski and Bair

It starts with Hawkman meeting the team, who arrived just as he came out of the well. Hawkman now has memories of all his previous lives, so he knows all the members of the team, including Black Adam, except Mr. Terrific, who appeared after he died. Even more touching than his reunion with Hawkgirl is his with Dr. Fate since, as I’m sure you remember, Hector Hall, Carter and Shiera’s son, is the currently wearing the helmet. Everyone gets caught up quickly, with Flash handing Hawkman the Claw of Horus just as a ton of Dark Wingmen attack.

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He then shows what the Claw does; it renders Nth metal inert, causing the first wave of Dark Wingmen to fall out of the sky. The rest of the team jumps into action. While they fight, the dialogue also hits the big characterization points. Black Adam and Atom Smasher don’t get along, Hawkman is just assuming that he and Hawkgirl are going to pick up right where they left off, etc. Things are going okay until Phade and Crypt, Synn’s two lieutenant’s show up. Phade immediately severs Dr. Fate’s vocal cords, rendering him powerless, unable to cast his spells. Atom Smasher goes after Crypt, who swallows him up.

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Synn then makes his presence known, using his ill-defined Nth metal powers to take away Flash’s anti-friction aura. Without out that he runs fast enough to tear himself apart. He also reduces Sand to sand thanks to his silicon instead of carbon state. He then launches Black Adam into space with a backhand. Finally, he reverse Hawkman’s trick on him and renders the Hawk’s Nth metal inert. Basically, he single handedly tears the team apart.

The team is captured and in their prison awaiting execution, Mr. Terrific science babbles about the powers of Nth metal, which are basically whatever they are needed to be. As they try to assess their situation, Synn comes and takes away Hawkman and Hawkgirl, leaving only Mr. Terrific and the depowered Dr. Fate and Flash.

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Synn does a pretty great monologue to the Hawks as he prepares to make them walk the plank off the floating city. He is not a complex villain. As call himself a pervert and a sadist. He just wants to do evil for the fun of it. He is just your run of the mill Space-Hitler. He is at least somewhat intelligent, though. Not wanting to make a martyr of the Hawks, he is going to execute them like he has so many others, anonymously by dropping them from the city. No great show, no fanfare. And the issue ends with the Hawks plummeting from the city.

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This issue is mostly a fight scene. It is the middle issue of a three issue arc. Things have to look bad before the good guys can triumph, so the fight effectively deconstructs the team. Once Hawkman gets his short reunion with his old teammates, it moves right to the action. Like most of this series, it is really well done and a ton of fun.

JSA 25: Seven Devils

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Goyer, Johns, Sadowski, Bair Meikis, Neary and Leigh

This is the final, double sized issue of The Return of Hawkman. Last time left the team scattered and beaten, with Hawkman and Hawkgirl plummeting from the flying city of Thalrassa to certain death when they hit the surface.

Hawkman doesn’t give up, though. He breaks free from the ropes that are tying the two of them together and dives purposefully at a group of flying Dark Wingmen. In mid fall, he manages to knock out then break the neck of a one of the fliers before stealing his wings and managing to catch Hawkgirl just before she lands on a pile of bones. It is a really neat sequence, that does its job of showing just how cool Hawkman should be, even if it does it at the slight expense of Hawkgirl, who just passively falls to her death.

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Of course, after being cool for a couple of pages, Hawkman goes right back to being creepy, telling Kendra how like her old self she is, despite the fact that she still thinks of herself as Kendra and not Shiera. It is a weird situation, no doubt, but Hawkman seems determined to force the issue. Of course, to him she is the same person as not just his wife but his wife over many lifetimes. It is going to be weird. Back in the prison, Mr. Terrific is looking for a way out. Flash can tell something is wrong with Terrific, who tells him it is that he is having a hard time buying reincarnation stuff since he doesn’t believe in souls. He hasn’t believed in any sort of higher power since his wife was killed by a drunk driver. Flash tries to comfort him, telling him about how he lost a child years ago and ending with the thought that no matter what anyone believes, they are a team and are in this together. So they will have to get out together.

Back with Synn, Zith Tarak is now the receptacle for his monologues. He is going to use his Nth metal powers to turn the whole planet into zombies like the Dark Wingmen. He then going to use them to conquer other planets until he has conquered the whole galaxy. You know your usual Space-Hitler stuff. As he talks, a Sand storm starts raging. In the middle of the storm, the Hawks steal some uniforms from Dark Wingmen and then fly back to the city.

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In the prison, Mr. Terrific finally finds a weak point in the walls and Flash vibrates through it, despite the great pains it causes with friction burns. D. Fate quickly subdues the guard and they make their escape. Outside, the growing Sand storm allows Hawkman and Hawkgirl to take out Phade and get close to Synn. His raging at them about his power is cut short by the return of Black Adam.

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As Black Adam tangles with Synn, the team regroups, catching each other up until the sand storm eventually coalesces into Sand, having pulled himself back together atom by atom. Crypt springs into action, only for Atom Smasher to tear him apart from the inside. Black Adam is having trouble with Synn, but the rest of the team arrives just as Synn gets the upper hand. Seeing the JSA in front of him again, he pulls all the Nth metal around them to him, making him a giant made of stone. Atom Smasher attempts to grow to match his size, while the rest of the team scatters and gives Black Adam his second awesome moment of the issue.

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One of the things this title is great about is that no matter how big and unwieldy the team gets, every character gets their moments and rarely do they feel forced. Atom Smasher get his as he grows to giant size and punches Synn’s rock head off. Of course, he just reforms it and lays Atom Smasher out, but it was still a good spot for him. The real stars of this issue are the Hawks though, who defeat Synn by wresting control of the Nth metal from him with the power of their love and cause Synn to explode.

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After Kendra again rebuffs Carter’s advances, the grateful Thanagarians transport the team back to the Brownstone, where Carter is overwhelmed to find out the team is now based out of a museum. In the Golden Age, Carter Halls day job was as a museum curator, that is how he came to possess the ancient Egyptian hawk relics that let him fly. The issue ends with the four remaining Golden Age JSAers: Wildcat, Green Lantern, Flash and Hawkman, wondering about the teams place in the world. Completely devoid of subtlety, they make their case for the JSA. They lay it all out, how they are the heroes that inspired the other heroes, that is why so many of them took their names; why there are so many Flashes and Green Lanterns. While the Justice League and Teen Titans are the famous heroes for civilians, the JSA are the heroes the other heroes look up to.

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With that, Sand leads them back inside for a team photo. The Return of Hawkman pays off a lot of the early groundwork of this series, though mostly just that of Hawkgirl. It is also just a damn fine comic book punch up. And while the JSA never has a completely stable roster, but this does add another major player to the team. The first two years of JSA were largely very good, but a lot of it was spent getting characters where they needed to be. I would say that the Return of Hawkman is the first great JSA story.

Next time: Our Worlds at War

 

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