Writer Robert Venditti's run on Hawkman has undoubtedly been one of the most pleasant, comic book surprises in recent years for me. Venditti succeeds in providing a well-developed, modern portrayal of our titular hero while placing him in the midst of an adventurous, time-jumping narrative.
Today, our Golden Age hero's adventures only get wilder as Venditti's run enters its twentieth installment.
In the context of Hawkman #20, Carter Hall actually no longer upholds the mantle of Hawkman.
Well, it's kind of a long story that involves The Batman Who Laughs infecting Hawkman and, thus, causing one of his suppressed, past personas to take over his physical form. Unfortunately, this particular persona, known as Sky Tyrant, is one of pure evil. Thus, Carter Hall is left without a physical body, only a projection of his former self.
So, without further ado, let's traverse the events of Hawkman #20 and see what has become of Carter and his attempts to regain control over his own self.
The Legacy of Katarthul
Hawkman #20 opens with a flashback to one of Carter's past lives, that of Katarthul. In this flashback, Katarthul is mortally wounded and leaves his final words in the contents of The Black Journal.
He writes about a key that he has hidden away, a key that must be kept out of the hands of evil as the person who possesses the key will possess a power great enough to alter the universe.
In the present day, Sky Tyrant peruses The Black Journal aboard Carter's Soarship and fervently vows to find this key, wherever Katarthul has hidden it.
Ultimately, Sky Tyrant wishes to exemplify his own destructive nature and utilize the key to annihilate trillions upon trillions of lives across the universe. Unsurprisingly, Carter vehemently opposes this plan and pleads with Sky Tyrant to fall back.
Unfortunately for Carter, his current state of being prevents him from doing anything to stop Sky Tyrant from following through on his plans. So, Sky Tyrant travels to a remote land where he prepares to take the key for himself.
After a handful of decent, but not necessarily great, installments, Hawkman #20 pulls the series back into its solid consistency.
For me, this issue's highlight lies in the internal conflict Carter faces throughout its narrative. Ultimately, Carter is struggling to come to terms with the impulses of his counterpart. Sure, Carter has interfaced with various personas of himself that have not exactly been the most heroic individuals. However, those personas were still capable of, and even exemplified, remorse and redemption. Even his first incarnation, Ktar Deathbringer, repented for his heinous crimes.
Sky Tyrant on the other hand is just pure evil, though this should not be too much of a surprise considering his parallels with The Batman Who Laughs. Despite this awareness, Carter is still astonished by the fact that he is indeed capable of such base inclinations, inclinations by which Sky Tyrant feels no remorse but, rather, enjoyment and pride.
The Name of the Hawk
There is an ongoing debate on whether or not individuals are inherently good or evil, whether good is something that is learned or something that is acquired.
In the context of Carter Hall's experience as Hawkman throughout his various lives, heroism is a choice he makes daily. It is not a condition that is thrust upon him. Rather, it is an active choice, one that he must continue manifesting through his actions in order to successfully do good upon others.
Therefore, one could argue that it would be easier for Carter to succumb to selfish tendencies. His duty and obligation to save lives time and time again is, in a way, a burden upon his life. With this, Carter's interactions with Sky Tyrant reveal to him that he too is capable of becoming his own worst enemy. In doing so, he could literally harness the force of the universe in his hands.
Yet, this revelation does not captivate Carter in any capacity. Rather, it horrifies him.
Thus, one could argue that Carter's exposure to Sky Tyrant serves as a motivator. It reveals to him that his will, one that does not waiver and succumb to self-serving pursuits, is one that defines his nature.
Sure, Sky Tyrant is an instance of himself. However, Carter Hall is not defined by the qualities that define Sky Tyrant. Additionally, Carter actively lives to become the person that prevents individuals such as Sky Tyrant from wrecking havoc across the universe.
Of course, Hawkman #20 would not have been as excellent as an issue without its fantastic artwork. Fernando Pasarin‘s pencils are sensational. They comprise so much depth, and picking a stand-out panel is near impossible.
With this though, the opening sequence featuring Katarthul is absolutely stunning. Accompanied by Jeremy Cox’s beautiful juxtaposition of warm and dark tones, the sequence comprises a powerful and dynamic start to the issue.
The final sequence, featuring the emergence of Titan Hawk features a variety of gorgeous panels. Cox’s coloring stands out in particular throughout this sequence as he instills a verdant color palette that livens the setting of the story and transitions it from space to Earth.
Finally, Carter’s astral appearance in this issue is one that is quite notable. Despite not having a physical form at this time, Pasarin manages to depict a wide range of emotional reactions through Carter’s expressive presentation.
As a result, Carter operates as a visual barometer to the story itself, continuously reacting to the sequence of events via his own illustrations.
The artwork of Hawkman has been a highlight of the run since its beginning due to its intricate nature and overarching consistency in quality. Hawkman #20 only drives this perspective forward as it proves once again how talented the artistic team behind the scenes truly is.
Hawkman #20 is undoubtedly a holistic return to form for the series. One of my favorite aspects of Venditti's writing throughout this run is his character-driven narratives.
This particular installments demonstrates that method as we witness Carter's confrontation against Sky Tyrant and, thus, his darkest double. We witness Carter come to terms with his own nature and his potential to become something that contradicts the symbol he has built as Hawkman.
Additionally, the sequence between Sky Tyrant, Carter, and The Batman Who Laughs is a satisfying moment to read. The Batman Who Laughs is a completely deplorable character, but he is just so fun to watch. So, his brief cameo is one that is equally entertaining and supplemental to the plot.
As aforementioned, Hawkman has been a stand-out title from DC Comics' Rebirth line. I look forward to what lies ahead for Carter Hall and his adventures as the notable Hawkman in addition to the obstacles he will continue to face as he continues his duty in combatting those who wish to bring destruction to the universe.