What Is Love?: Geoff Johns talks 'Hawkman'

[Hawkman]While Geoff Johns may be one of the hottest names in the comic industry today, showing he's a sales powerhouse with "JSA" (co-written by David Goyer), garnering almost universal critical acclaim for "Flash" and luring rising star Olivier Coipel to "Avengers," it seems as though some of his strongest work isn't being given as much notice. After making a stunning debut on the sales chart, "Hawkman" found a solid spot on the sales chart, but hasn't seemed to retain the attention that has been focused the other works by Johns. With the release of "Hawkman #8," (Johns co-plots the book with fan-favorite James Robinson) the series is once again creating a lot of buzz and CBR News caught up with Johns to talk about the titular Winged Warrior who just won't die.

"Two warriors, a man and a woman, from ancient Egypt, were murdered and their souls have been reincarnated life after life. The Prince (Hawkman) and the Princess (Hawkgirl) are destined to meet each other and fall in love, but in this life only the former has retained the memories of his past lives. While Hawkman is very much in love with who he thinks his Princess is, Hawkgirl has no love for Hawkman. That's the basics of the series," says Johns, kindly providing an introduction to "Hawkman" for new readers.

"First off there are four stars to this book. Hawkman, Hawkgirl, Rags Morales and Michael Bair. I think that 'Hawkman' appeals to a superhero reader, but at the same time it's not your straight superhero book either," explains the scribe. "I think you just saw that with issue #7, which James [Robinson, co-writer of 'Hawkman'] wrote solo, and it's a high adventure series where we also strive to really get inside the characters' heads. We're trying to hit both notes and satisfy both audiences, going back and forth, being really dyslexic and bipolar, because Hawkman's a bipolar character. When he has his helmet on, he's this unstoppable warrior and if there's a problem, he'll hit it. But take his helmet off, he's a man who speaks every dead language on Earth, he's been part of every race, knows every religion and even helped found many of them, his knowledge of fine cuisine & culture alone make him more refined than most. But he has a problem separating those identities, the warrior and the gentleman, and with that helmet on he instinctively goes back to his first lives when war and battle were a way of life, where he very much embraced his most primal instincts. It's only been recently that he's had to temper and control himself, so having this full awareness of all his lives is causing some problems in terms of his internal emotional balance, because he did some things before that he wouldn't do now."

[Hawkman #9]With so many superhero comic books on the market already, it is likely that some question the need for a "Hawkman" comic book series, but Johns contends that Hawkman and Hawkgirl represent something unique in the comic book world that deserves to be explored in a 22 page story every month. "They embody something that I don't think anybody else in the DC Universe or really the Marvel Universe has, in that the central idea behind these two characters is the bond of love between these two souls… and the tragedy behind it. Now I'm going to spoil something, but in issue #9, you find out that reincarnation and everlasting love isn't a blessing, it's a curse of sorts and you'll see what I mean by that. It's not as clear cut as people think it is- I think the themes behind Hawkman and Hawkgirl, the partnership and exploring love at it's most primal level make this something special. By love I don't mean 'Oh my god is Hal Jordan really Green Lantern, I have a crush on him'- we're trying to get as deep and poignant as we can with this series. This is a love, a passion that's been on fire for centuries and now it's been extinguished- how do you recapture that? How do you start over 3000 years after you first fell in love?"

While fans may be mulling over that question, they aren't working too hard on figuring out how to respond to the guest-stars in "Hawkman." After the initial story-arc, issue #5-6 featured the rejuvenated Green Arrow and #8 featured the Atom, with all three issues drawing rave reviews and Johns feels they also represent some high points in terms of creative synergy behind the scenes. "James and I definitely have fallen inside of Carter Hall's head [Hawkman] exploring him more as a person, which is a big part of what fans responded to I'm sure. Hawkman is an enigma to a lot of people, so seeing him play off characters we already know like Green Arrow or the Atom, and coming up Dr. Fate, it gives Carter more of a rounded personality. And the Atom's a great character, one I had a lot of fun writing, so he won't be staying away from this book for very long. I like the fact that they get along because they're just real people who can talk about football, food and women- there's no antagonism there. Atom approached him a lot differently than Green Arrow, which is why I loved having the two-part Green Arrow story. The reason that Carter and Ollie [Green Arrow] don't get along is because they're so alike, they'll never admit, they both have a problem with what love is, they're both trying to do the right thing and they're both trying to make up for their pasts. But they can't stand each other because there's no respect there, while the Atom and Hawkman respect each other, which includes their past. We also have plans sometime next year for Zatanna."

With the love story between Carter and Kendra Saunders (Hawkgirl) being so central to "Hawkman," it's reasonable to wonder if the "will they, won't they" aspect of their relationship will be resolved or if Johns plans to just let it be. "You'll see a big change next issue in #9 and then an even bigger change in #12," teases the writer. "There's two big moments there. We know where we're going and it's not a straight river- there are some bends, like #9 and #12, but where it ends….no one knows. I can say this much- I have an arc for Carter Hall and when he gets through that arc, that's the end of my arc."

Another central aspect of the Hawk-mythos is the notion of reincarnation, already explored in great detail in "Hawkman #7" and Johns says that we'll be seeing a lot more glimpses into the Winged Warriors' pasts. "We're gonna explore their pasts as it ties into the story, as it does with #7- it ties into the story coming up in #13 and #14, and a subplot coming on right now. Whenever there's a 'Times Past' issue of 'Hawkman,' that's because it's tying into an upcoming plot and because it will have immediate ramifications. It always means something- it's never just for the heck of it. We've got Gentleman Ghost coming up and his origin story. We're also going to analyze reincarnation from different points of view in an upcoming story and see if Hawkman is the only one being reincarnated. And more importantly….WHY?"

When Hawkman returned in "JSA," he brought with him the memories of the Silver-Age Hawkman Katar Hol and if you're wondering how that'll affect Carter, Johns says, "You'll find that out when Hawkwoman shows up." He also clarifies that Hawkwoman will not be showing up in "JLA" as has been reported by other news sites and Johns "can't say when she'll be appearing in 'Hawkman,' but soon."

[Hawkman Secret Files]As with all his work, Johns feels that "Hawkman" has matured and cites examples of how his time on the book has led then down paths they hadn't considered before. "The story we have with Gentleman Ghost has taken a life of it's own and tied in with the Hawkman mythos more than I ever planned. The culprit behind Kendra's parents death will be revealed fairly soon and that tied in to something else we set up in 'JSA.' It's just all falling into place easily these days and as time has gone on, and we've been under the helmet, we've begun to understand Carter and really like him. In issue #12 we have a fairly poignant talk between Hawkgirl and Carter, that defines who he is, what he's doing and where he's going. We were on the third script and when I saw Rags' [Morales, artist on 'Hawkman] work it made me reconsider everything I was doing, because the art just puts everything in a new light. Then the guest spot with Green Arrow really made me examine Carter harshly and that only made me understand him better. The more I see Carter on his own or smashing a wall because he can't find Shadow Thief, for example, or when in the 'Secret Files' he threatens to destroy a priceless statue if Roderic doesn't offer up the information, I understand the character better. It all begins with Hawkman being an enigma under the helmet, a major plot point in the series."

The success of "Hawkman" isn't all a result of the writing- "As I said Rags and Michael are the real stars here." The artwork turned in by Rags Morales, now exclusive to DC Comics, has been turning heads and hooking lots of readers. "Rags was born to do Hawkman," says Johns, with the pride evident in his voice. "He's a Frazetta fan and Hawkman's Conan with wings, it's as simple as that. When Hawkman slaps Green Arrow, that two-page spread is one of the most beautiful spreads I've ever seen in a comic book. That 'Hawkman Secret Files Cover' is nothing short of majestic and it's amazing, it's powerful. Michael Bair and Rags together make you feel every punch and smash in the series, but at the same time convey the utter beauty of Hawkgirl, who's graceful but is also very vicious. Rags is great to work with- he's an idea guy too. He has an appreciation for the subtext and deeper meaning of the characters: he goes beyond the exterior and gets into the psychosis, which gets me revved up. Just keep an eye out for everything- #9 has beautiful Hawkgirl stuff; #10 has kick-ass battles on the mountains of Tibet.

"Rags has managed to illustrate a beautiful 12 issues and then he'll be taking a 2 issue break. Fortunately, we have 'New X-Men' artist Ethan Van Sciver coming in to do a two-part story entitled 'The Killers.' It's Hawkgirl's subplot, her hunt for the one that murdered her parents, coming to a head. It's a re-examination of her past, and the Hawks' past together. And exploration of karma. Ethan has already turned in some beautiful pages. Hawkman and Hawkgirl battling in the sky. He's amazing. Rags returns for issue #15, featuring the most requested guest-star to date."

[Hawkman]The typical workday on "Hawkman" is pretty fun, admits Johns. "The easiest part is Hawkman's reactions. The hardest part is everybody else's reactions to Hawkman, he's very subtle and when he's Hawkman, he doesn't talk a lot, he acts. It's hard sometimes to figure out how comfortable people are around Hawkman, with Green Arrow and Atom it wasn't so bad, but with Dr. Fate it's a whole other ball of wax because he's Hawkman's son."

While Johns is normally loathe to give away too many spoilers for upcoming issues, he will let a few things slip and offers CBR News a few exciting tidbits regarding the future of Hawkman. "Issue #9 features Dr. Fate and explores something that Kendra's been struggling with since she was introduced, namely why she hesitates to return to Austin. Issue #10 has us off to Tibet where the Hawks face their oldest foe but not in the way people will expect and then in #12 we come back to St. Roch where we kick off the search for the killer of Kendra's parents. In the 'JLA/JSA' HC, Hawkman kicks ass without taking names. In 'JSA,' he's taking a central role when Mordru returns and beyond that, and they're traveling back to ancient Egypt, so that means Hawk-mythos exploration. And Hawkman will have a lot to say about Black Adam's latest plans…"

Before getting back to his Office of Solitude to write more comics, since Johns does treat writing like a serious 9-5 job, he has some parting words for all readers and fans of his work:

"Enjoy life, cause it's too short. And Hawkman would say the same damn thing."

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