Air Time: 'Hawkman's' Johns & Morales talk the 'Thanagarian'

One of DC's biggest launches of 2002 was "Hawkman," spinning out of the hit "JSA" series and bringing the winged hero back into the spotlight. But as writer Geoff Johns and Rags Morales told CBR News in no uncertain terms:

"You ain't seen nothin yet."

May 2003 sees the start of the three part "Thanagarian" storyline, which brings back the popular Hawkwoman character. Before getting into the details of that story, Morales and Johns help to get readers up to speed on what's gone on so far.

"The book's about two people with bad attitudes," says Morales of "Hawkman." "One thinks he's 'all that' and the other who could care less what others think. Hawkman tries to be authoritative and doesn't deal with failure too well, where as Hawkgirl is learning to care for the first time in a long time. She has a lot of inner conflicts to deal with while holding up the mantle of being a heroine. At times it can be a heavy thing to uphold. These two are headed for the same place, emotionally, professionally, personally, but are taking very different paths to get there."

Is that not enough of an introduction for you? Well, writer Geoff Johns chimes in with his own view of what the series is about. "Two warriors and lovers from Ancient Egypt found a crashed spacecraft from the planet Thanagar. A strange element inside called Nth metal changed their souls and since then they have been reincarnated life after life, destined to meet and fall in love. This time around, they are super-heroes. Hawkman and Hawkgirl. The trick is Hawkman remembers his past lives and his feelings for Hawkgirl. Hawkgirl does not. They've struggled through this and become partners, but it's a constant that won't disappear."

The cast of the series, while not very large, includes characters with a rich past, but Johns tries to sum them up briefly for new readers:

"HAWKMAN - CARTER HALL: Carter has the knowledge of thousands of years of living, he remembers his previous lives and experiences. But he has yet to figure out how life works. This frustrates him to no end, and relating to people is difficult. Respecting them even more difficult. And the problem lies in confrontations. Carter regresses to the warrior of the past very, very easily when frustrated. His primal instincts for violence take over, and this is something he can't control. Essentially, and in all honesty, Carter is constantly lying to himself. He's believes he is the most cultured and rounded person on the planet -- when he in fact is a primitive warrior waiting to explode.

"Carter's love for culture is evident, and what helps mask the warrior. Food, language, art. He has become an archaeologist to preserve this past...his past. To him, a five hundred year old bow is nostalgia -- like a Starscream Transformer is nostalgia to most of us. Carter has made a deal with the local museum of St. Roch, Louisiana. The Stonechat Museum. In exchange for room and board and access to their facilities, Carter teaches and acts as a for-hire archaeological field agent. With an extra-terrestrial anti-gravity element called Nth metal, from the planet Thanagar, Hawkman is able to fly, has increased strength, healing abilities and senses."

"HAWKGIRL - KENDRA SAUNDERS: Kendra has no knowledge of her previous lives, nor does she care to get any. For a time, she struggled with the unsolved murders of her parents but since the killer has been brought to justice, Kendra is looking at life with fresh eyes. She is a free spirit who constantly feels tied down because of Hawkman. She doesn't have much interest in learning to "care" about people, but it's happening anyways.

"Kendra is always scared to reveal her true feelings or get too attached to anyone, because she has very few close people in her life. Carter Hall is becoming one of those people. Like Hawkman, Hawkgirl utilizes the same Nth metal element to get her abilities."

"OLIVER AND DANNY EVANS: Father and son who run the Stonechat Museum Carter and Kendra work for. Oliver is a very hard worker, often pulling twenty-four hour plus shifts. Nothing is ever good enough. Danny, like Carter, is a field agent. Optimistic and enthusiastic, he loves nothing more than learning. Danny is also well-versed in the most modern archaeolgoical tools today. Danny likes working with Carter, though at times he does scare him.

"THE ATOM - RAY PALMER: An occasional guest-star. A former associate of Hawkman's when he was a member of the Justice League. Professor Ray Palmer is a physicist, divorcee and super-hero. He teaches at Ivy University but often ventures to St. Roch to have dinner, talk or just hang out with Carter. Out of all of the JLA members Carter associated with, the Atom was the only one that really talked to him about his personal life. Think of him as Carter's modern day conscience. Standing on his shoulder and trying to make sense of it all. They are the two most unlikely people to get along, and that's why they do.

"OFFICER ISABELLA: Good-hearted police officer on St. Roch's force. The liaison chosen by the Hawks, and the first cop Kendra Saunders has ever trusted. Isabella sees the shy girl behind Hawkgirl's mask and admires her and Hawkman to no end for what they do."

Now that the basics of "Hawkman" are out of the way, Johns is more than happy to spill the beans regarding the "Thanagarian" storyline... or at least as much as Geoff Johns is known for spilling. "The 'Thanagarian' will be taking a fresh look at the history of the Hawks and feature a character from Thanagar previously known as Hawkwoman. We'll be taking the readers through a trip through the DCU. Revealing a clear and concise timeline of the Hawks, spotlighting the characters throughout and telling an intriguing, emotional and action-filled story.

"Our goal is to present the mythology of the Hawks to new readers and old, and for them to see just why Hawkman and Hawkgirl kick so much ass."

Of major interest to fans of Hawkman, and all his many series, is the return of Hawkwoman, a character who's been in limbo till now. But as with so many characters in similar positions, some fans worry about how she'll be represented and if she'll be the same character fans knew and loved. "Geoff's picking up where the last Hawkman series left off," says Morales. "He has a take on Shayera as if he was with her from the last time we saw her, to now. They're gonna love it!"

If anyone's concerned that the reintroduction of Hawkwoman is a result of Johns' not being enthused about the character, one need only hear the joy in his voice when he says, "She's a brilliant character, and in my opinion she became more popular than Katar Hol in the previous 'Hawkworld' and 'Hawkman' series. Her personality was incredibly strong and well-defined. I hope readers really enjoy our take on Shayera. She's a tough, street-smart, cop from another planet. She's blunt and to the point, and she hides her emotions fairly well. I don't want to get into the where's and why's as we'll explore those in the stories. She will kick ass, that I can say with certainty. Especially with Rags and Michael on board."

With all the recent cast changes in "Hawkman," mostly due to some major cast death and identity revelations, one might wonder if all the "house cleaning" going on was in preparation for Hawkwoman's addition to the cast- permanently. "I hope not," laughs Morales. "That costume was a major pain in the !@#$ to draw!"

While the Hawk-artist can find humor in the question of Shayera's fate, the series' writer isn't ready to answer whether or not she'll be with the book past this three-issue arc. "I don't want to comment on that just yet -- what's in store for Shayera. There are plans but as far as the rest of the supporting cast go, two were killed in 'The Killers' arc just prior to this. Why did we do this? To keep everyone guessing. No one is safe here. The heroes, the villains, anyone. St. Roch is not a forgiving town. We will continue to see the Atom play a role in the Hawkman book as Carter's confidant. As for other supporting cast members, let's wait and see. The book will always focus on the Hawks."

One of the big appeals of "Thanagarian" is issue #15 itself, which provides the definitive timeline for the Hawk-characters in the DC mythos. But is all this continuity a bad thing?

"Some creators have made the mistake of seeming like they don't care about a characters past," answers Morales. "I think what they may be trying to say, at least this is how I approach it, is that we shouldn't let the reference use us, we should use the reference. There's always room for respect. And in the end if it's art, it grows and doesn't stay stagnant. Just keep the essence alive."

This is a subject that Johns is very passionate about, as many of his favorite comics are those with long histories and he works on series with rich mythos. "You want to get me started? All right...Continuity has been dubbed as one of the downfalls of sales within the past several years and a concept only 'fanboys' still adhere to. It's become a scapegoat in comics. Everyone talks about the 'new' audience. Finding that new audience. And having heavy continuity destroys the chances of that, right? I'm sure heavy continuity does negate the casual reader, but there aren't THAT many heavy continuity books left in my opinion.

"Look at all of the books out there today. There are an incredible amount of high-quality, accessible books. Super-hero and otherwise. 'Gotham Central,' ' Batman,' 'Ultimate Spider-Man,' 'Astro City,' etc. Dozens more from Image, Oni and Dark Horse. And Marvel's got those recap pages no one really reads. Are there other books that need to become more accessible? A few. 'JSA' is something we're going to try and focus a bit more on as far as accessibility goes. I believe in making the books new reader friendly but at the end of the day, 'JSA' is going to deal with legacy and history. It's going to have backstory. A lot of steps have been made to make mainstream comics accessible. I know that's one of DC's ongoing priorities and I completely support that. BUT -- Every book past #1 is going to have continuity. Because continuity is history. The Ultimate line already has it. And a year from now they'll have more of it. 'Who is Giant Man?' 'He's the Ultimate who beat up his wife.' 'Who's his wife?' 'Wasp.' Continuity. History. Can we make the books more and more accessible and touch on continuity at the same time? Hell, yes we can. Continuity got very complex several years ago, and some books suffered for it. But the history of characters and character relationships should never be forgotten. And just because a character hasn't been put on a lunch box yet doesn't mean they don't have potential and they should be locked in a closet.

"Jeph Loeb brought up a great point to me -- have you always started watching a television show from the first episode? 'Six Feet Under?' 'Sopranos?' '24?' 'Smallville?' What was your first comic? Was it a #1? Was it accessible? Go back and check it out. Mine sure as hell wasn't -- but it was cool enough to make me try another one.

"Continuity is not a tool or a weapon but a resource. When it comes down to it it simply refers to the history of the characters. Everyone has history, and we touch upon our past at certain times to reflect what's happening to us now. That's how I try and use it. Bendis does a great job in 'Daredevil.' You see Stiltman or Gladiator or even Kingpin, and the character and the relationship is quickly and effectively introduced. He used fucking Speedball and that weird Spider-Woman in 'Alias' and made it work for God's sake.

'So, yes let's make the books more accessible. Make them new reader friendly. Add those recap pages if you want. Make them as best as we can, strive to constantly improve your writing, art, production values, marketing, yourself, whatever. But please, don't blame the problems with comic sales on referring to a character's history or using a character that the general public doesn't yet know. Blame it on the folks who destroyed the newstand market."

On a different note, many of the recent stories in "Hawkman," the relationship between Kendra and Carter, exploring the facets of their love and its very nature. Though fans have been enjoying the story, some have commented that they'd like to see more time devoted to character development for each character separately. But Rags Morales says that he feels the relationship story is showing a lot about both the lead characters that fans may not realize. "I don't think love has anything to do with it. It looks to me that they understand each other's needs and how it 'should' be dealt. If it turns to love, they seem to want to do it in the natural sense. But they also try to 'tweak' each other's heartstrings from time to time. I think they try to say 'I love you' in the schoolyard sense. You know, when we would punch the other person to let them know we like 'em."

Johns agrees and says for fans that want some more straightforward character moments, you can expect to see some of that too. " We'll be focusing on the ever-evolving relationship between Carter and Kendra, as well as their personal evolutions. There are lots of changes in the air as they begin to find their separate paths. Their goals and individual aspirations will begin to emerge and we'll see them not only as effective partners and friends, but also individuals. I'm very, very happy in how the book has progressed and where the next year is taking us."

Speaking of revelations, Johns has been revealing quite a lot about the Hawks' past in "Hawkman" and he's not about to say that the secrets are done and over with. "There are always more secrets and elements to their previous lives that can be explored. A few major ones I have waiting in the wings, and others that will be developed as we move onward. It will play a role in the book, but we are striving to add to their mythology in the present day. New challenges, both physical and psychological, new villains, new settings."

The theme of maturity, especially the idea of personal responsibility, has really been stressed throughout this series and especially in the last story arc. Both creators feel it's important to this series because it helps differentiate Hawkman from the multitude of other costumed crusaders. "What I dig about the characters, especially Carter, is how they try to behold the legacy of Hawkman/girl," explains Morales. "Characters like Wally West or Kyle Rayner, or even Kendra, can make mistakes and we accept them as long as they try their best. Like watching baby steps. But Carter IS his own legacy. And his failure is more concerning and disturbing. Shouldn't being yourself be easy? Not if you have lifetimes of knowledge and only 24 hours in the day to express them. Carter has forgotten what it's like to be naively human. His lack of patience is interesting."

"It's important because it gives us hope," adds Johns. "Hell, Carter Hall has had a thousand years to figure out how life works and he still can't do it. He still struggles with himself and others. Because in the end, maybe Carter needs to learn that evolving to have a perfect life is impossible That becoming a perfect man and hero is impossible. It's frustrating for him, because he sees everyone make mistakes he made and has now avoided. But then he makes a new mistake. Says the wrong thing. Or in a fit of anger or adrenaline, as we all do, he regresses to his primal instincts. He lashes out."

Fans got a bit of a break from Morales' artwork for the last few issues, and while people reacted to the fill-in artists with enthusiasm, it seems that many wondered where "their" Hawkman artist had gone.

"I was catching up," says Morales. "What some folks don't realize is although I don't appear for an issue, it doesn't mean I'm off on some island sucking down Mai Tais. I'm actually working simultaneously with the fill-in artist. Two issue's being done at the same time. We try to get that gap that we have at the beginning of a title, before life gets in the way."

Though he missed having Morales on the book with him, Johns said he was able to continue work on the book smoothly with the help of some great fill-in artists. "The book continued with the great work of Ethan Van Sciver and rising star Don Kramer. Rags needed a jump to this arc after completing the first 12 issues. The fact that he got that far without a fill-in was amazing. After these three issues he'll be jumping ahead 2 more to 20 since we need him in full gear for the JSA crossover next year.

"Rags is always terrific to work with. He has a passion for the characters and stories, always helping me push myself and we've come up with so many ideas we're often stacking them up on the sidelines. There are a lot of stories we want to tell, it's just a matter of getting to them."

Fans have been able to preview some of the art from "Hawkman #15" and the response has been ecstatic, with many saying it's Morales best work ever. "Again, with Ethan Van Sciver and Don Kramer helping out, it gave me some time to really pursue this storyline with my guns smoking," says the artist in response to such praise. "Every scene popped into my head like it was etched in stone. Geoff and I became 'one' on this one. I've often said that if I didn't work on deadline, folks could really be surprised with what I can accomplish from nuts to bolt, storytelling to rendering. I was trying to do this here because Geoff really wrote a great arc and I wanted this one to be for the ages. I would be very proud if this arc became a TPB all on its own. I think it's that good. People are really hyped by this little 6 page preview that was out. I can only say, 'HAH!!', just you wait!!"

It might stand to reason that a series featuring a half naked barbarian with wings and some pretty advanced technology might not be the easiest series to find real life images from which to draw inspiration. But Morales says that Johns writes the kinds of scripts that never leave an artist uninspired. "He's like a cook and I'm the stew. He stirs, I simmer, and before you know it the aroma is all in the air, drawing you into it. Besides, with a character that's lived forever, it's too easy to add on. It just makes sense."

While not a penciller himself, Johns feels the most difficult aspect of the visuals is nailing the look for one specific character. "I think the hardest part has been really figuring out who Carter Hall is. He's an incredibly complex character with two sides to him, and we'll be continuing to explore that in both 'The Thangarian' and the upcoming issues. I'm very happy with the way 18 is coming out.'

When Morales tries to isolate a specific character and figure out the perfect look for the character, he has a simple philosophy: "Get to the human first. Let that sense of familiarity carry the scene then add the heroic stuff. The contrast of reasonable doubt and super human confidence is what it's about."

Fans have come to expect a lot from Morales and inker Mike Bair on "Hawkman," so it's often a daunting task to try and meet expectations, but Morales feels that hard work will pay off. "If you care, it shows. It's not difficult to impress when you do. Mike Bair and I care to a fault. To the point of needing fill-ins from time to time. I wish we could grind it out every month, but to do that would require super human strength. Luckily we've been there more times than not. We try to make the fanbase happy."

In a series like "Hawkman" that features two attractive leads, people often want to see provocative and titilating poses of the characters, but thus far the series has steered clear of such decisions. "Ha! Well I've been accused of lewdness as well. I just roll with the visual as I read it. For the most part I think that if a character is casually confident, that's the sexiest thing in the world. If you're in the story, then anything overdone can be distracting. But hell, sometimes an ass shot is just an ass shot, I guess."

As Johns mentioned, Morales has been able to stick to all of his deadlines for "Hawkman" and not fall behind like many "superstar" artists. "Wow. Ok. First I don't always meet my deadlines. Secondly I'm not a 'superstar.' If an artist is so good that you gotta have 'em on your book, then go with God, man. Run with it. The medium has gotten to be so competitive that it's unreasonable to ask an artist to work 10 to 16 hours a day, give it your all, and ignore the important things in his life. On the other hand some artists are hard to motivate.

"I think that if you hit 75 to 90% of your run, then it's ok. Me, I have a responsibility to my family personally and financially. It's all about the balance. If I'm gone I hope it's not for a while and the fans understand. If I can't uphold my end of the deal, then I understand that it jeopardizes my job and ability to support my family. If a book is better off without me, then I'll be gracious and leave.

"But at the end of the day, I happen to like my job."

While "Hawkman" has been selling well, it has met with some mixed reviews of late from critics and fans, though both creators say that's just par for the course with any comic book series. "It's not from a lack of effort," contends Morales. "I don't expect everyone to be enamored with us, but I do expect people to realize that we as a creative team care. Respect that, and you can have your opinion good or bad. Personally though, I think that some people are impatient. Like they expect a 10 issue run every month. But you can't do that all the time. Stories have to grow, and that needs a little time. 'The Thanagarian' is the pinnacle of all those growing pains. I think we can finally go forward now."

Johns admits that like any writer he does make mistakes, but he also believes that he's given his all on this series. "I'm always trying to learn from what I perceive as my mistakes, to better myself as a writer in character, dialogue and pacing and I believe that's my big lesson there with the first four issues. Characters are always the most important element of the book and I feel I could've focused on character more than action and plot. I think we've grown quite well and, as I said before, I couldn't be happier with how the series has progressed. I know we've improved with every issue as a team and the responses to the book have gotten better and better."

Aside from the upcoming "Headhunter" arc and "JSA: Black Reign" crossover, neither Johns nor Morales will say much more about specific events in the future of "Hawkman." "Not me man. I'm no stool pigeon," smiles Morales.

Johns simply said one thing, "We're building to something very, very big. There is a plan. And it's going to effect much, much more than just the world of Hawkman."

PREVIEW: Batman #77

More in Comics