Though they’ve both led heroic careers on Earth, the planets that Hawkman and Adam Strange call home have a history of conflict. Way back before “Crisis on Infinite Earths,” the villain Kanjar Ro schemed to contrive a war between Katar and Shayera Hol’s Thanagar and Strange’s adoptive planet Rann. Years later, Rann was physically moved into Thanagar’s orbit, leading to the “Rann/Thanagar War.” But DC Comics’ latest exploration of the theme takes on the complexities of modern warfare and the cultural anxieties they engender.
In the two issues published to date, by writer Marc Andreyko and artist Aaron Lopresti, most of the story takes place in flashback. The scenes taking place “now,” however, show Adam Strange aiding a wounded Hawkman on a Rannian cityscape clearly devastated by war. Notably, the reader is not shown who the heroes are fighting, and we’re given little context for the extent of the devastation. Is this a planet-wide conflict? Confined to this city? Raging across Thanagar, as well? We only know that Strange and Hawkman fight side by side. This will become important later.
A coordinated suicide bombing attack wracks the capital city of Ranagar, killing Sardath, Rann’s leading scientist and Adam Strange’s father-in-law, with his daughter Alanna, Strange’s wife, narrowly escaping. The bombers who killed Sardath are dressed in Thanagarian garb and profess to be martyrs for their people. By the time Adam Strange arrives on Rann — following some trouble catching the expected Zeta Beam from Earth — Alanna is already leading the call for war.
Alanna has the Rannian people on her side, calling for reprisal against the terrorists — or, rather, against all of Thanagar. There is a not especially subtle parallel here real-world reactions to terrorist attacks, especially amongst Americans: the whole of a culture is blamed for the actions of a violent few, and so our retaliation ensnares a multitude of innocents. Here Adam Strange plays the unpopular role of “cooler head,” suggesting it may be better to fully assess the situation before forming a plan of action; and from what he can see, it’s not even clear the bombers were Thanagarian. The terrorists have stoked Rannians’ fear of Thanagarians to further their ends. And anyone who wants to pause, determine the true nature of the threat, and strategize a plan of attack against the true enemy is labelled soft on terror. This, too, should sound very familiar to those who have seen their neighbors, elected officials, and presidential aspirants demonize refugees, in accordance with our enemies’ plans.
Make Rann Great Again?
“Death of Hawkman” isn’t so painfully on the nose as this week’s “Catwoman Election Night Special”, but Alanna’s protectionism, her rush to judgement, and her hard line against dissent — even her husband’s — are a clear reflection of a contemporary American show of strength. The structure of the narrative, in which the conflict is built in flashback and the “now” has its two heroes under heavy fire in a decimated city, reveals things get worse before they will get better, but as yet it’s unclear what role Rannian bias — and, potentially, an anti-Rann prejudice amongst Thanagarians — has contributed to the destruction. Who is behind the misdirected Zeta beams, the suicide attacks, and freeing the villain Despero? What is his or her end goal? The questions are interesting from a plot perspective, but more intriguing is the parable — what does it mean?
Comics rarely change our worldviews, at least not directly. But superheroes can help us look at problems in a new way, defamiliarizing the familiar to help us see past our own expectations. This need not be heavy-handed moralizing; this miniseries reads like a pretty straightforward superhero story. The first two issues of “Death of Hawkman” present contemporary crises as a spacefaring adventure; the remaining four, in which readers will learn the identity of the villainous mastermind and the fate of the planet Rann, also have the opportunity to show that the simple solution is seldom correct, that decisiveness without wisdom is a vice not a virtue, and that the darkest evil is best confronted by people of different cultures working together rather than tearing each other down.
Also, Hawkman might die in it. If that’s more your thing.
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