Graphic Novel Friday: Hawk & Dove, Guilty Pleasures Revisited
In the late 1960s, Steve Ditko and Steve Skeates created the original pairing of Hawk and Dove—two brothers, Hank and Don Hall, who were entrusted with superpowers and represented diametric ideologies (Hawk: a hot-tempered conservative; Dove: a passive liberal). Together, they fought crime and often one another. It was a fun, unique concept--plus, it had Ditko's art to support even Dove's ridiculous outfit. The two would later join a Teen Titans farm league, Titans West, and they remained in just about every hero’s shadow until Don’s death in 1985’s Crisis on Infinite Earths.
To re-establish the character balance, in stepped writers Karl and Barabara Kesel to revitalize the Hawk and Dove heroes in a five-issue miniseries in 1988. The Kesels introduced Dawn Granger, a bookish college student and the latest incarnation of Dove. Her addition would prove to be a winning one, given that Dove's costume tended to lean a bit feminine anyway. Dawn wasn't plagued by the same self-doubts that struck Don, and she didn't serve as simply a foil to Hawk; rather, she guided him and focused his aggression.
The Kesels were joined by a very young artist named Rob Liefeld, who would later establish himself as one of the most successful and later derided comic artists of the 1990s. What’s interesting about his work in this series is that it displays very little of what would later be known as his trademarks: a disregard for anatomy, an over-reliance on cross-hatching, and splashy page layouts. Instead, his work here is very restrained and pleasantly traditional. Liefeld’s expressions are clever, his characters’ faces are full of nuance, and he shows no fear in drawing feet (which would later prove to be an infamous avoidance). Much of this restraint--and possibly the bulk of the backgrounds--must be attributed to Karl Kesel, who inked Liefeld’s pencils in this series. Kesel has a deft hand for keeping figures tight on a page, and he possesses an economical sense of action. Much like Dawn to Hank, Karl could channel Liefeld's budding talent in the right directions. The pairing proves to be a sustainable one, as the pages hold up almost 25 years later.
Those five issues were such a hit with fans that DC gave Karl and Barabara Kesel a regular Hawk & Dove series (Liefeld departed after the mini), which lasted almost 30 issues before cancellation and remains uncollected. What made the mini and regular series so special was the Kesels’ ability to tell creative, genuinely humorous done-in-one stories that featured not only Hank and Dawn as heroes but also as members of a tight-knit group of college friends. They had lives outside of their costumes. Both series feature a sense of self not unlike the "Bwah ha ha!" days of Justice League International, where dialogue balloons brim with quips and plenty of wink-winking. The focus lies in the characters, not the exceptional circumstances with which they always find themselves.
Hawk and Dove were then dormant for over a decade until the big DC reboot, when it was announced that they would once again receive their very own series. To prep newcomers, DC released a fancy hardcover, The Steve Ditko Omnibus Volume Two, highlighting the first appearance and early adventures of Hank and Don, as well as the long out of print miniseries (re-titled Hawk & Dove: Ghosts and Demons) by Barbara and Karl Kesel and Rob Liefeld. The Ditko omnibus is a great look back at their origins and the reproduction is fantastically crisp (plus there are about 350 more pages of quality Ditko zaniness). The recent miniseries collection, unfortunately, does not fare as well. The reproduction is a mess of bleeding colors and coloring errors. Karl Kesel is credited as “Karl Kese” on inks, and DC somehow chose the worst front cover image--where Hawk and Dove appear to be impaling themselves on the Washington Monument. Nevertheless, the story is what’s most important, and it’s nice to finally have such a deserving, rewarding one back in print.
Despite the latter’s production flaws, both books are worthwhile reads for fans who don’t mind a little goofiness in their superheroism. Revisiting the Kesels’ whip-smart wit was a treat, especially when considering their bold re-imagining of the two heroes. They added depth to their origins (replacing the politics with Chaos and Order), and infused a breezy nonchalance to crime-fighting in what was an otherwise grim and gritty period for comics. Who knows if we’ll ever see an omnibus of the Kesels’ regular series that followed the mini, as the recent reboot was mercifully cancelled after eight issues (and let us never speak of it again). Far better to spend time hunting for the former’s backissues and poring over these two welcome collections.