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Jeff Parker Goes Old School in “Convergence” with “Hawkman” & “Shazam”

by  in Comic News Comment
Jeff Parker Goes Old School in “Convergence” with “Hawkman” & “Shazam”

The entire concept of DC Comics’ incoming “Convergence” event is based on “throwback” comics, but maybe no writer embodies the fun of that approach more than Jeff Parker.

Currently helming DC’s “Aquaman,” Parker has made his mainstream career telling imaginative stories that are built on classic comics style. And he’s bringing all of that energy to his “Convergence” contributions. In “Convergence: Hawkman,” the writer teams with legendary “Hawkworld” artist Tim Truman to revisit the largely forgotten event “The Shadow War” before pushing Hawkman and Hawkwoman into the world of Jack Kirby’s “Kamandi.” Meanwhile in “Convergence: Shazam,” the writer reteams with his “Flash Gordon” collaborators Evan “Doc” Shaner and Jordie Bellaire to deliver an homage to Captain Marvel creator CC Beck that clashes with the art of Mike Mignola from the Elseworlds story “Gotham By Gaslight.”

RELATED: Parker Socks “Batman ’66” With More Villains, and More Batgirl

With so many disparate pieces of DC history colliding, CBR News spoke with Parker about approach to the continuity-tweaking event. Below, the writer discusses why “Shazam” was at the top of his list, what makes Hawkwoman more popular than Hawkman and how entertainment trumps fan service (most of the time).

CBR News: Jeff, your part of “Convergence” was one of those instances where when I read the solicits I went, “The Hawkman story takes place during ‘Shadow War?’ I thought I was the only person who owned that!” I wonder if a lot of other readers out there aren’t experiencing a similar DC deja vu.

Jeff Parker: It’s true. It’s like, “Man, that was totally there!” [Laughs] The whole project seems very much about “Hey, we didn’t forget that we did this. Let’s revisit it!” It lets things still exist in some form to be enjoyed, because fans don’t like being told things never happened. They get upset about it.

I’ve heard that some of these series were assigned out and others were kind of pitched after. What brought you to Hawkman? Did you have an itch for that character?

Well, they had a list, and maybe it was because I was in Hawkmen mode from writing “Flash Gordon.” Actually, I think the very first thing that happened was that I jumped up and grabbed Captain Marvel as fast as I humanly could. Then I let everyone else speak again, and after that was done I went for Hawkman too. I like the old Katar Hol Hawkman where he and Hawkgirl are space cops but for some reason they also work in a museum. [Laughs] It’s like, “This is a great cover! We’re on a whole ‘nother planet and we’re working in a museum!”

It seems like the fun thing about that is that there’s really no definitive, iconic version of the character or run on that book that you have to play against.

Hawkman has always been a strange thing. It works when it works, and there’s never been one formula for what makes it work. Some artists and stuff seem to connect to it and make it work, and obviously Tim Truman is one of those main guys — if not the best one who’s still producing. I think he’s kicking ass even on his old work. He’s just gotten better.

Jeff Parker Throws “Aquaman” Into “The Maelstrom”

The hook to all the “Convergence” stories is not just the return of a given era or reality but also how they clash with other DC realities. With Hawkman, you’re stepping out of “The Shadow War” and then mixing in the cast of “Kamandi.” Is it tough to find a natural way for those disparate pieces to link up?

If someone says, “It’s got to be this kind of story set here,” it gives you a forum to work with, but right away there’s a danger of doing something that people have seen before. In this case, there were a bunch of weird parameters that made me say, “Yeah, I can do something new with that.” Kamandi land came in, and I immediately thought I had a thematic connection. A lot of times you don’t even need a hardcore plot connection, but you need a connection by theme. Here we’ve got hawk people going into a land of rat people and cat people. In that way, it makes its own sense. If you can accept one thing, you can easily accept the other. That’s all the fiction is demanding of you in one level. If you can buy into the concept, you go, “I’m ready for a story.” And I like to think that science fiction-wise we made this work too.

Like I said, Hawkman is a character with no real definitive run, but that also means he and Hawkwoman have very few definitive character traits. How do you play them as people in this story?

I kind of tried to treat them like classic ’60s DC icons. But I couldn’t help but be informed by the fact that over the years Hawkwoman or Hawkgirl clearly became everyone’s favorite touchstone on that whole concept. She’s the one who gets on the “Justice League” cartoon. I don’t know why that is. Maybe it goes back to when she showed up in Alan Moore and Rick Veitch’s “Swamp Thing.” They’re going through space and see — well, it’s not her but it is a Hawkwoman. And for some reason, that whole idea works.

So I really let her character assert itself in the story. This also may have naturally spun out of the fact that I’ve been writing Aquaman and Mera having adventures, but she’s not his sidekick. They’re partners. They work really well together — better than they would with anyone else.

On the other side of the event, you’re doing a Shazam story with your “Flash Gordon” collaborator Evan Shaner, and I feel like this is really just you guys joining the club of people who want to make a comic as close to CC Beck as humanly possible.

[Laughs] Yes! This was as close as we could possibly get. I also really enjoyed the “Multiversity: Thunderworld” issue that Grant Morrison and Cameron Stewart just did. It was like, “Here’s one I didn’t write that I can just enjoy reading!”

But yes, to me the classic Captain Marvel stuff with the Monster Society of Evil and Mr. Tawny and all that stuff is just so pure comics. It’s almost like crack for someone who loves comic books. It embraces everything that we applaud manga for. Manga never just gets hung up on the superhero stuff but involves all these wacky, cool ideas, and Captain Marvel did that years ago. There’s a talking tiger in a suit! The most powerful villain is a worm with a radio around his neck! If that’s not amazing, I don’t know what is.

And the other great part of that tradition is that those books always had amazing art. CC Beck and whoever else worked in that studio had better covers than “Superman.” It all went great, and so we had to say, “Who is great among this generation?” Well, that’s Evan Shaner. He’s so purely in tune with all that stuff that it’s incredible.

And it must make it easier to pull off that kind of crazy world with a person you’ve been working with the whole past year on “Flash Gordon.”

Yeah, we’ve all got our short hand down. It’s me and Evan and Jordie Bellaire. We can all practically just make grunts and whistles, and the others understand exactly what that means and how to take it even further. That was a pretty neat move on the part of the editorial team. At first they had me, and they approved my pitch, and then they said, “Well, we’ve got an artist and a colorist.” I was like, “What? Nobody even asked me my opinion!” But then it’s just the same people I’ve been working with. You can’t ask for better than that. Sometimes you can get some magic out of the box with a brand-new creative team, but usually I feel much better working with someone I’ve worked with before — especially on something that has to be just right. I want to know what everyone is going to do and not have any weird growing pains. We’ve only got two issues to do a Captain Marvel story that works right… and it’s going to have “Gotham By Gaslight” Batman in it!

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I was going to ask about that! Of course, people remember that Elseworlds series in part because Mike Mignola drew the hell out of it. Have you been talking with Evan about mixing up his style here to make the Batman look more in line with Mike’s stuff even as the Marvel Family are a little more classic?

I don’t say anything to Evan about it because he knows exactly how to get that stuff done. The most important thing is that he likes it. If he likes it, it’s going to work. And it does! All this stuff has to rub up against each other and feel of a piece, and clearly he’s the artist for the job. It’s impressive.

Ultimately, the job for an event like this is to mash these disparate parts together and make them work, like you said. But for you personally was there anything else you set as a personal goal for your work on “Convergence”?

That stuff is always only a facet of what you have to do. There are so many goals on books like these. Yes, you have to make all these ideas make sense as a story, but the first and most important thing is that these have to be entertaining. That has to supersede every other goal that you have. It can’t just be “We’ve got to put Dr. Sivana in there too!” I mean, I’m not above doing some fan service in a project like this. [Laughs] That’s especially true when people don’t see this stuff that much. I’m saying, “Someone might want to see Mr. Atom. Let’s get him in there but do it in a very cool way.”

But above everything, these stories have to be entertaining. If I have any other goal to achieve beyond that, I just want to show people that you don’t have to change what it is about these characters that made them appealing back then. You can jump right in and show them as they were, and people will accept it. I always learn this lesson watching my kids read old comics. They’re never thrown because they’re reading a reprint of something made 50 years ago. That never messes with them. They just accept it. They don’t care that the characters don’t have cell phones. People have really weird ideas when they say, “This book is so dated because they’re riding skateboards” or whatever. That stuff never matters. What you do is strip down to the classic things we all relate to. All the basic humanity in the world doesn’t change, and everything else is just some weird dressing. That’s what we did in “Flash Gordon.” It was all about stripping the concept down to its roots and letting the characters tell the story. Because that’s what people care about — not whether a guy is wearing a certain type of hat or whatever.

“Convergence: Hawkman” #1 debuts April 22 and “Convergence: Shazam” #1 follows on April 29 from DC Comics.

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