Saturday, April 29, 2006

Justice League Unlimited—Ancient History

The Upshot: Hawkman returns with Shadow Thief and discover the true nature of his relationship with Hawkgirl.

When Hawkman was first introduced into the JLU universe in last year’s “Shadow of the Hawk” episode, we were excited at first but the winged wonder’s initial introduction proved to be a disappointment and Saturday’s “squeal” Ancient History which again featured Hawkman fell equally flat with us—despite the fact that Ancient History was co-scripted by DC Comics’ reigning “continuity doctor” Geoff Johns.

By way of background: Before Johns came along, the entire Hawkman franchise was stuck in continuity limbo and risked oblivion or worse…another reboot…following DC’s inexplicable and unexplainable transformation imposed on the Hawkmen—both the Golden Age Carter Hall and the Silver Age/Modern/Post-CRISIS Katar Hol—during the events of 1994’s Zero Hour and later in the Hawkman title of the mid-1990s.

In 2001, Johns rescued the Hawkman character in the pages of JSA by brilliantly incorporating the Carter Hall’s origin of a reincarnated warrior/lover to Hawkgirl with the Katar Hol’s background of the alien from Thanagar while preserving the existence of both Hawkmen within DCU continuity.

It was a bitter disappointment to find what worked in the pages of JSA and later Hawkman’s own book failed so badly on screen in Justice League Unlimited.

In JLU, Carter Hall discovers he and Hawkgirl/Shayera Hol are reincarnated lovers—two Thanagarian law officers who crash landed in Ancient Egypt some 8,000 years ago. Using their technology they became rulers of Egypt with eyes on the rest of the world.

Ancient History unravels this concept a bit more. The episode opens with Green Lantern chasing the Gentlemen Ghost before he was quickly captured with the help of Hawkman. It was cool to see the Ghost…even if it amounted to just a cameo.

Before you know it, the Shadow Thief has captured Green Lantern, prompting Vixen to gather Hawkgirl and round up Hawkman at the Midway City Museum. There captive GL is held like bait and the Shadow Thief attacks….quickly capturing the two, plus Hawkman.

Tied to the Absorbacon, that piece of Thanagarian technology introduced in Shadow of the Hawk, its telepathic interface gives them a vision of Ancient Egypt under the rule of Katar and Shayera Hol.

As the Hawk Pharaoh became wrapped up in his kingdom, Shayera fell in love with Katar’s top general, John Stewart’s ancient counterpart. Discovering the affair by seeing them together from afar, Katar storms off muttering 'I wish they were dead.'

Hath Set, Katar’s chief advisor, voiced expertly by Hector Elizondo, promptly dispatches the lovers via poison. When Katar found the bodies, he promptly drank the poison (Kool-Aid????) as well.

The “transmission” completed, Hawkgirl appears to believe what Carter Hall had been telling her. It turns out, however that the Shadow Thief was really Carter Hall’s dark side—which took form when he first touched the Absorbacon back in Shadow of the Hawk.

Hawkman fights and reincorporates the Shadow Thief into himself and flies off thinking he and Shayera aren’t destined to be together after all.

Back on the satellite, GL finally tells Shayera about his trip to the Batman Beyond (alternate) future when he and Batman met Warhawk—their son in that (alternate) timeline. Shayera looks very hopeful thinking this means they'll get back together—But John Stewart says he “wont’ be destiny’s puppet” and declares he’s staying with Vixen.

In a touching ending, Shayera goes to see Batman and asks him 'tell me about my son...'

Ironically, the worst thing about the Hawkman JLU episodes has been Hawkman himself.

Actor James Remar’s flat rendition of flowery dialogue that may have worked on the printed page but not spoken aloud was just the start of the problem.

The main problem was that this Hawkman with this Hawkgirl just didn’t work.

JLU’s Hawkgirl was introduced and has acted as a solo character from the start—the writers built her up not as the female version or counterpart of “the hero” (which is half a step above sidekick) but as a fully formed individual. And it worked.

Shayera’s romance with GL John Stewart also worked for this reason—it was believable because it was based on the personas and the character development advanced during the series.

In the “real world—DCU continuity—we can’t even recall a single scene (pre or post-CRISIS) where John Stewart and Shayera Hol (or even the Golden Age Shiera Saunders/Hall) so much as shared a scene, let alone had met and knew each other.

And now, it appears they never will since Shayera/Hawkwoman was killed off so needlessly during the Rann-Thanagar War. More’s the pity given the DCU John Stewart’s eye for the alien (read extra-terrestrial) babes—first his wife, fellow GL Katima Tui and later the Darkstar Merayn Dethalis.

One more thing that nagged us: In the JLU universe, Thanagar is an actual Hawkworld—Hawkgirl’s wings are real and a part of her, not artificial wings on a harness using the gravity defying Nth Metal (like her mace). Yet Carter Hall, an Earthman, developed Nth Metal wings and donned a harness (the classic look) without explanation or comment.

File JLU’s Hawkman under “nice try.”

As we keep count, the Ancient History marked the 11th of the 13 remaining JLU episodes before the series goes dark—next comes the 2 part series finale Alive and Destroyer. Stay tuned.


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