Rock with the Hawks: Justin Gray & Jimmy Palmiotti talk "Hawkman"

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The Egyptian prince and princess dying, only to be reborn time after time, finding love with each other. The man and woman who could never be anything but heroes in over a thousand lifetimes. You know the basics of DC Comics' "Hawkman," but when CBR News spoke with series co-writers Justin Gray and Jimmy Palmiotti, we learned that everything's about to go to hell for the birds.

"As of issue #34 we have begun setting up the pieces for a long story arc that consists of short stories that fit together like a puzzle," hinted Gray. "Hawkman and Hawkgirl are going up against a number of 'forgotten' villains setting the stage for our mystery play. We're setting aside all but the most basic elements of these characters to make them accessible to old and new fans. Hawkman and Hawkgirl were born in ancient Egypt and have been reincarnated countless times as warriors and ill-fated lovers. Everything else you need to know is in every issue."

With the death of a new lover- and her possible return as an undead creature- as well as the struggle to find love with his "one true love," Carter Hall (aka Hawkman) has been put through the ringer more than any other superhero lately (except the victims of DC Comics' "Identity Crisis")- so will it ever stop so Carter can catch his breath? "The short answer is no. I'm of the opinion that people need to be broken and rebuilt, and have the scars to prove it. Hawkman's life is much more violent and dangerous than ours, he chooses to live this way; in fact he's been living like this for centuries. He's a warrior and there should be repercussions. He's not invulnerable like Superman or cold and emotionally detached like Batman is so often portrayed. One of the most important aspects of Hawkman is that if you strip away the Nth Metal and wings, he's just a man."

Palmiotti added, "Do you really want to read a comic where the main character has a normal life without anything major going on and whose only confrontations are late FedEx deliveries to the museum? Really, its our job to create drama in the hawks lives and if you have been reading, we gave Kendra and Carter time off to catch two movies, enjoy a costume party , grab some dinners in-between and even got Carter to have a short fling. Hell, that's more of a break than I get, but that all is going to end."

Last time CBR News spoke with Palmiotti & Gray, both writers said that Kendra- Hawkgirl- would find her role expanded in the book and while fans have seen her grow, the best is yet to come according to the scribes. "We have big plans for Hawkgirl, I really like her character, and these events are going to unfold naturally over time," hinted Gray. "This is not to say we'll be dragging her story out to the point of frustration, but we're working out Hawkman's trial by fire, so to speak, before we get to Kendra."

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According to Palmiotti, Kendra's trials and tribulations will be part of something much bigger, though he's loathe to use the word "Countdown" (please see CBR's earlier story on this DCU event). "You will see some major events happening this year in the book that deal directly with Kendra and the events leading to 2005's big event for the whole DCU. More than that, we cannot say because our editor will brain us with a hammer, but it's all pretty exciting."

Having worked on the books for over six months now, the writers are finding their bearings on "Hawkman" and Gray says the character himself makes the writing very interesting. "When Stephen Wacker first approached us he was looking for a specific kind of fill in arc, one that reflected some of the characterization we developed in our WildStorm book, '21Down.' When he called back and offered us the chance to take over, I think it took a few issues to get our footing. On a personal level, Hawkman was a radical shift in philosophy from doing books about characters we created to working on a DCU hero with decades of history behind him. I wanted to avoid writing stories that we plugged Hawkman into, rather than building stories around him. I can honestly say that from a creative and character standpoint, we have a great story laid out that anyone, not just Hawkfans can enjoy."

But the previous creative team, who had earned accolades from all corners of the industry, were both a curse and a blessing says Palmiotti. "For me, dealing with the fact that we had to follow one of the biggest writers in comics today was a major issue. I think all the work became easier once Geoff read the books and gave us his blessings. Every issue we learn a little bit more what people are looking for in the book by the feedback on the DC boards and on our own forum at Paperfilms.com and fan reaction at the various cons. The easiest part of the gig is that we are blessed with a couple of the best artists in the fields. First Ryan Sook and Mick Gray, and now the new team of Joe Bennet and Ruy Jose. Every page we get back from these guys makes us look so good. We are blessed with this level of talent."

As Gray mentioned earlier, there's a big storyline rearing its head in "Hawkman" and he explained, "Without going into too much detail and spoiling anything, this is the story we started kicking around with Steve back in January, a revamping of Hawkman's rogues, many of which haven't been seen in ten or more years. The idea was it had to be epic, a tightly woven story with many threads being pulled together in the end. You say Hawkman and really, the villain count is a small one. You can only use Hath Set, Shadow Thief and Gentleman Ghost so many times. We're slapping a new coat of paint on characters like Fadeaway Man and Lion Mane, it's not a radical change but they are being brought into the 21st century. We also wanted the story to be a mystery. Villains attacking heroes randomly is an overused plot device; we needed a good reason for these rogues to return and to work together. Along the way some people are going to be enraged because we're not always going to play by the rules. I do think that when it is all said and done people are going to be very surprised."

Palmiotti smiles with that trademark grin, that delights many a fan, and says, "Yes, totally surprised to see who we, ah, I can't say yet. No one will see this coming."

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From the sounds of the comments, one can expect that this story will be fairly intense and chaotic, a direct contrast to the very pointed and "small" stories that Gray & Palmiotti have told in the past. "Its time for Hawkman to grab some of the collective spotlight and to do that he needs to expand his appeal, establish his enemies and stand out as his own character," says Gray of why this was the natural story to tackle. "The same can be said of Hawkgirl. Geoff set up all the pieces, brought Hawkman back to the DCU brilliantly and we feel this story builds on and expands his role beyond that of being a team member to the JSA."

It may seem like an ambitious task- perhaps too ambitious- but Palmiotti says that's all part of the appeal. "We really want to make our mark in the history of these characters, so this new storyline is us trying to do just that. It's really an ambitious undertaking, but we feel the audience deserves no less of an effort from us."

A lot of readers don't seem to find interest in Hawkman's rogues gallery or find the characters a smidge dull and uninteresting, claims that Gray responds to by saying, "Untapped potential and the opportunity to differentiate Hawkman's rogues from other heroes are big factors. We essentially have a group of characters that have been unused, sure some are hokey and very much a product of their times, but the fundamentals are sound. There's also an air of creepiness to guys like Fadeaway Man, Lion Mane and so on. Personally I like evil characters and poor Hawkman is going to find out why very soon."

The rich layers of the mythos should be enough for fans to see just how compelling the villains can be, purports Palmiotti, adding, "Not interesting? You have got to be kidding. There are so many fun and out there villains to chose from and the fantastic part of writing this book is that we get to revive and update a couple here and there that need some help to work in this day and age. Hawkman has been around for over 60 years, that says it all. I personally love Lion Mane, he cracks me up."

Though this story arc is going to be about a year long, don't accuse Palmiotti & Gray of "decompressing" the story to pad issues or "writing for trade." "Ahh, decompression, it seems like this annoying buzzword continues to gain mileage while running on fumes," says Gray. "Here's my take on decompression as it relates to Hawkman-it don't work. Hawkman has to be high octane, your ass strapped to a rocket speeding at one thousand miles an hour toward a cataclysmic explosion. As a side note since we're chatting…what is most amusing about this decompression debate is the reaction when it is put to use. If you do a single issue story there's always going to be someone that says it felt 'rushed' and if you do a six issue story someone is going to say it could have been done in one. Paying attention to that is the road to madness my friends! All we're doing with 'Hawkman' is packing as much story into each issue as 22 pages allow. As of issue #35 the philosophy has been to have something interesting or dynamic happen every 3-4 pages not just at the end."

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Similar sentiments are echoed by Palmiotti, who says "decompression" just isn't part of the "Hawkman" vocabulary. "'Hawkman' has never been a book with slow pacing or where nothing ever happens, it's a full blown superhero action adventure and we think it should be written as so. The decompressing thing works on some books, but for me, it's not fair to give a little to the reader at a time…comics are not cheap and I really like the idea of a fan sitting down and reading the book and digging in and enjoying the fact that something has really happened. Granted, with the new storyline, we are writing a mini epic, but each chapter tells a lot of story and in a way can stand alone at the same time. I think this storyline is epic in its content and drama… and it's not about its page count."

Also arriving on the book with issue #35 is new penciller Joe Bennett (who spoke with CBR News earlier) and Gray can't stop raving about him. "Have you not seen the magnificence that is Joe Bennett? What about the styling's of inker Ruy Jose? My god man what fiendish creature keeps you locked away in a cave? You may very well die of depravation. When people talk about rising stars I hope the name Joe Bennett is on the list because it should be. Joe is kicking ass up and down the block on this book! Even if you hate us, yes I know who you are and your phones are tapped, it would be insanity not to check out this art team."

As you might expect, Palmiotti is in full agreement and says, "These guys are an impressive team that will guarantee us that people will really start looking at the book. We got them because the DC crew went after them and stole them away from the competition. Their loss, our gain! Check out issue 35 out now and prepare to be amazed. The amount of detail in every panel and the spectacular storytelling in each issue is mind-boggling. That and the fact that we have the amazing John Kalisz coloring the book each and every month makes it a sure fire hit."

Reported in Rich Johnston's "Lying in The Gutters" and fueled by the latest DC Comics solicitation for "Adam Strange," there's a rumor of a war between Thanagar (the homeworld of Hawkman, sort of) and Rann (the adopted homeworld of Adam Strange). Any truth to that, guys? "I'm not all that familiar with Rann Thanagar, isn't he a Viking porn star?" smiles Gray.

"Yes and no. Or is that no and yes?" asks Palmiotti facetiously. "You people and your rumors."

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With events such as "War Games" and "Identity Crisis" affecting the DCU in such big ways, it seems the entire tone of the DCU is darkening and Gray, for one, feels the change is for the better. "I say evolution is good. The characters are becoming more complex and well rounded. Sure it may seem dark at times, what with the arson and the hangings, but at least we're looking at making the dangers these characters face more honest and threatening. As far as Hawkman is concerned, there's always been a dark and violent tone to his character. That isn't going to change any time soon."

Palmiotti goes one step further, saying that the DCU is even better for these events and those planned in 2005. "I think the DCU is in better shape than it has been in years and as a group, the editorial staff seems to be really on the mark with the decisions they have been making lately and the fans have been digging the close knit continuity that has always been a staple for these great books. The talent roster right now is probably the best it has been in ten years and it is really showing in overall quality. I think everyone is on the same page and competing to make their specific title the best one coming out and that kind of competition is a healthy thing.

"As far as 'Hawkman' goes, we are giving it our best and future events in DCU continuity will be directly affecting our title. The changing intensity of the characters is just a sign of the times and a realistic reading on what the fans want. Look at DC's top 10 books. Look what is going on in them and you will see exactly what sells to the public. It really is a good indicator."

Never ones to rest, Gray and Palmiotti have some other projects coming out from DC very soon. "'The Twilight Experiment' is a six issue miniseries that begins shipping from Wildstorm in February," explains Gray. "With Art by Juan Santacruz it's everything we love about superhero comics, the kid underdog, the super powers, the crazy multidimensional alien civilizations, dinosaurs, cataclysmic battles seventy stories above the earth, it is all in there so check it out!"

Palmiotti's excited by the series and has some words about one of their concluding series as well. "'The Twilight Experiment' is a totally different project for us and I am so excited to see it finally making it to print. It is a sweet, over the top, full blown superhero adventure, drawn by one of the coolest new artists in the field, Juan Santacruz. We also have the last two issues of the most overlooked series in comics, 'The Monolith,' coming out and a final issue that will make everyone out there, we hope, beg for more one day."

If you're a current reader of "Without giving too much away, this is a good time to get in on the ground floor. St. Roch is going to suffer massive casualties when zombies overrun the city this month. Deadman arrives in issue #36 to try and help stop the hemorrhaging. Because we're bringing in Hawkman's rogues you'll be seeing a lot of developments surrounding the central core of this mystery. Hawkgirl is in for some major revelations and the Fates Warning arc comes into play more and more as we move forward. A lot of people have been asking about Katar Hol, members of the JSA and so forth…these are all strong possibilities, but to confirm or deny would ruin many of the surprises we have lined up. Oh and there's some guy named Golden Eagle in issue #38."

If that wasn't enough, Palmiotti says it is time to believe the hype- things will change. "We are going to drop a couple of bombs in the next year that will change the lives of the main characters. I am not kidding…your not going to believe what's going to happen. [laughs] I know, I keep saying this, but by issue 40 you will understand."

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