Ok, I’ll admit it. I have like a dozen copies of Youngblood #1. They’re all tucked away (mint condition!) in some corner of my parents’ house, waiting for the day they will accrue the value promised by mail order catalogs back when they came out. Speculation fueled the initial Image Comics boom, but it’s sometimes difficult to remember from hindsight that the entire Image experiment brimmed with a ton of creative energy. The founding partners of Image were the hottest artists in the industry. There was Jim Lee, of X-Men fame, of course. And Todd McFarlane, the guy who made Spider-Man cool again and got his own Spidey book to show for it.
And there was Rob Liefeld. The X-Force guy. The Spike Lee Levi’s commercial guy. The guy who somehow managed to make New Mutants a hot book.
Today Rob Liefeld’s name conjures images of Captain America with an absurd missile-tit chest, but back in the day, this guy was one of the top talents in the industry. His many, many artistic faults have been cataloged ad infinitum on the internet, and looking back he has always kind of sucked in a lot of ways.
Mostly, he’s lazy. Rob Liefeld is certainly capable of putting together a cool-looking image—in fact does so regularly—but his attention to detail is so lacking that he routinely draws characters different from page to page (or panel to panel), draws characters off scale relative to one another, and skimps on background details.
That said, I fell for his earnest enthusiasm back in the early Image days. Even though almost all of his comics petered out after a few issues due to lateness and eventual abandonment (again, laziness), and even though most of his Youngblood-universe characters were direct ripoffs of popular Marvel and DC characters (laziness again!), I read an awful lot of his work in the 90s, and I didn’t read all of it at gunpoint.
Whatever spell this guy was weaving back then worked on me. I still kind of like the character design of his super-archer, Shaft, and I liked the way he wrote his “kid in the body of the Thing” character Badrock. I also liked his Superman ripoff Supreme, and the one robot dude from Youngblood, who I think was called Diehard.
I read Brigade.
So anyway, when it comes to Rob Liefeld, I wouldn’t call myself a fan, necessarily, but I do have a certain affection for the guy, and I was generally interested in seeing how he would handle himself in his small part of the New 52 relaunch, probably his biggest stage in several years.
If anyone is poised for an in-your-face comeback, it’s Rob Liefeld. I mean, it’s not like the dude hasn’t googled himself. It’s not like he doesn’t know there are whole blogs dedicated to what a shit artist he is. If ever there was a time for him to stand up and say, “You know what, fuck you!” it’s now.
In Hawk & Dove. It all makes a sort of poetic sense, too. Before Rob hit it big with New Mutants, he had a well-regarded run on a Hawk & Dove series. The narrative here builds itself, and the comeback of Rob Liefeld was in the hands of Rob Liefeld. It was his to claim, or his to lose.
Oh, the comic was written by a guy named Sterling Gates, whom I’ve never heard of.
Before I get to the issue, a word about Hawk & Dove in general. These characters have been more or less abused time and time again by DC. The original Dove died the death of a throw-away character in Crisis on Infinite Earths. The original (and current) Hawk was made into the surprise villain of a major summer crossover in Armageddon 2001. This was done at the absolute last minute, after readers connected “subtle” story hints early on that would have revealed the traitor to be Captain Atom. Instead, DC played a switcheroo, and even had Hawk go insane and murder Dove to seal the deal. This necessitated the cancellation of the ongoing Hawk & Dove series, and it has taken an absolutely ridiculous amount of retconning to get these characters back into their original shape.
These guys have been jerked around editorially a LOT by DC. In a way it’s easy to look at the New 52 as just another summer mega-crossover. And if that’s the case, Hawk & Dove better look out, because they will probably be getting killed shortly.
Well, they probably won’t be killed, but I’m willing to bet it won’t be long until they’re canceled, because there’s something you need to know about this new incarnation of Hawk & Dove.
Things start out pretty good in a frantic opening scene. “Science terrorist” Alexander Quirk has threatened to destroy Washington DC with his “monsters of mass destruction,” and the media is reporting that he’s commandeered a plane in the city’s airspace. Cut to the plane’s interior, where the burly, aggressive Hawk is whooping ass on some terrorists dressed like SHIELD agents. Dove is at the plane’s control stick, frantically trying to gain control of the plane.
At exactly the worse moment, Quirk’s zombie monsters pop out of their vats and start smashing up the place. As the heroes beat up the zombies and try to keep the plane from crashing, one of its wings grazes the Washington Monument. The heroes win.
Liefeld’s pencils range from rushed and awkward to frankly pretty cool-looking (the zombies are neat), and the action-packed script hums along.
Hawk is violent and aggressive, and harangues his new partner for not being as good as her predecessor. Dove is more collected but not super capable. Perhaps she really is as much of a rookie as her partner makes her out to be.
Liefeld is up to his old tricks. When Dove first grasps the plane’s controls, they are U-shaped. Later, a zombie crashes into them, partially shattering the “prongs” of the controls. A few pages later, when Hawk has taken the controls, they form an intact rounded rectangle.
You’ve just got to go with it.
Despite minor flaws, this scene hums along nicely. If the whole comic had been like this, I’d probably be posting a mostly positive review, cheerfully commenting that if Rob Liefeld hadn’t met the challenge, at least he showed he was (mostly) willing to try.
But you’ve got to keep turning the page to get to the end of the comic, and almost everything that comes next is just plain old stupid.
After landing the plane, Hawk and Dove meet Washi Watanabe, an agent of the DCPD’s Special Crimes Unit. He mentions that Hawk and Dove once worked alongside the department with someone named Captain Arsala. This seems like a nod to some past Hawk and Dove story, and I’m sure the hardcore Hawk and Dove fans (let’s face it, these people stay loyal through thick and thin) appreciated that little shout-out, but as a new reader, Hawk and Dove are standing there talking to a cop. Why bring some other offscreen cop from a past series into this?
And also, if Hawk and Dove have been together long enough to have a prior relationship “once upon a time” with the DCPD, then how come Hawk is berating Dove for not being as good as her predecessor? Doesn’t that make him kind of a giant grudge-holding asshole? Is that what writer Sterling Gates is trying to imply? That the main character is a grudge-holding dick?
Then we cut to a scene with Hawk in his civilian Hank Hall guise, hanging out with the old man at his house on Bannerman Road (a Sarah Jane Adventures easter egg that pulls you right out of the story, but whatever).
This is the scene where the dialogue shifts from stuff like “It’s coming this way! Run! Run!” and “Dammit! You freaks need to learn an important lesson” to an actual conversation between two people, saying the sorts of things that people say to each other. Gates’s script is not up to the task. Here’s the best example:
Hank: “Do you remember a criminal named Dargo?”
Dad: “How could I forget? He tried to kill me before I could send him to jail.”
People don’t talk like that. For starters, this presumably isn’t the first time these guys have discussed this pivotal moment, when Dargo locks Hank and his brother Don in a storage room and Don wishes he had the power to escape, granting the duo their powers as avatars of war and peace by “the gods”. This Dargo guy tried to kill his dad, too. So Hank’s question is almost like, “Mr. Preseident, do you remember a criminal named John Hinkley?”
Oh, and also, lame origin. My brother and I were trapped in a room and we wanted out real bad so we got powers.
Holy shit, that is a bad origin. I dunno if that’s Gates’s or original to the characters or what, but hooo boy. In the spirit of the reboot, Gates could have done anything with this. Forget radioactive spiders. I’m going to go lock myself in a room and start wishing real bad.
So anyway, Hank explains his origin in minute detail to his father, who must be thinking in his head “Again with the origin story, Hank. Jesus Christ, how many times do I need to hear this?”
After the origin we get more about Don as the original Dove, and how he died trying to save people during “the worst crisis the world’s ever seen” (i.e. Crisis on Infinite Earths). So I guess now we know the Crisis really happened in the New DCU, but new readers will surely be like “Whut? Why are we picking up the story two partners in. I thought this was supposed to be the first issue.”
Then we cut to a scene with Dove flying through the city with her boyfriend, Deadman. I shit you not. This light-hearted white haired sprite of a Rob Liefled character is in a romantic relationship with Deadman, a skeleton in bright red footie pajamas. Deadman belongs nowhere near this comic, and is an absolutely jarring presence here.
I mean, seriously. I strongly suspect that Deadman and Dove had some prior relationship from some ill-considered series in the old DCU, but the whole point of this reboot is to jettison lame bits of continuity and get back to basics to make the comics more accessible to new readers.
New readers probably don’t know who Deadman is, or what he is doing in this comic about two destiny-linked characters starring a couple of college students. I mean seriously, what is Deadman doing in this comic at all?
Then back to the conversation between Hank and his father. Hank gets mad and throws a glass on the floor in his father’s study. It really comes across like Hank’s powers give him the equivalent of roid rage. I mean he starts trashing his dad’s house immediately after recounting his origin story. This adds to the character’s unlikability.
So, as the comic winds down, our two leads are:
1. Hank Hall. Hawk. Super roid rager who is a dick to his partner and his father, who is always gritting his teeth, and who whines incessantly about his brother, who died ages ago (26 years ago, in real life).
2. Dawn [No Last Name Given]. Dove. Incompetent rookie in a committed loving relationship with a flying zombie from a different comic.
In the end we get a last-panel reveal of a new villain that looks exactly like Hawk except he is orange instead of red. They are so identical that it takes a second to realize that you’re not actually looking at Hawk under a weird lighting effect.
Although I went in wanting to like it and it opens with a fun, energetic scene, I’m sorry to report that Hawk & Dove is the worst comic of Week 1, and my candidate for early cancellation.
I’m willing to give all of these books two issues to try to hook me, but if I had to start culling in Week 1, Hawk & Dove would be the first title on the chopping block.
Status: On the Bubble.