Mar 4, 2019

Retrospective: Hawk and Dove

In my never-ending quest to spread my unbridled enthusiasm for the world of comic books, I’ve somehow neglected to share with you one of the earliest loves from the company that is known across the globe as DC Comics.  That love, the special forbidden love between an underaged boy and fictional characters, the kind of love that is only legal in the great state of Illinois, was for Hawk and Dove.

Retrospective: Hawk and Dove
Ben Smith

I have absolutely no idea how I happened upon the characters of Hawk and Dove, or why I gravitated towards them, because here’s the funny thing about those characters: they’re both unlikable.  I’m going to assume I gained an interest in them based on the same thing that most of my adolescent preferences toward superheroes were based on "they look pretty cool. " My requirements as a kid were not strict.  It could be their involvement in the Crisis on Infinite Earths, or maybe I was led to them by backtracking to find early Rob Liefeld art, because believe it or not, once upon a time that was a thing that was enticing.

Hawk and Dove were created by the legendary Steve Ditko, along with Steve Skeates, in Showcase #75.  (Creating Hawk and Dove may not have wound up as impressive an achievement as co-creating Spider-Man, but you shouldn't hold that against them.)  The original duo was made up of brothers Hank Hall and Don Hall.  The pair were granted their powers by the Lords of Chaos and Order, so that anytime danger was near, they need only speak their superhero names to be transformed into Hawk and Dove.

(All of these special powers granted by ancient beings is a little bit too much like a guy in a van with the word “candy” spray-painted on the side.  The wizard Shazam is a little sketchy, let’s be honest.  “C’mon in kids, you’ll get special powers.”  It’s a little suspicious is all I’m saying.  Kids, don’t ever get into a van because of the promise of candy or superhuman abilities, unless the candy is Butterfingers.  Butterfingers are worth the risk.)

Hawk and Dove were one of the most literal translations of Ditko’s political beliefs he ever created.  I’m no expert on the teachings of Ayn Rand, so feel free to ignore or correct me on these facts, but my understanding is that one of the aspects of her philosophy was that the world only exists in terms of “black” or “white.”  There is no gray area.  This manifests itself in the characters as Dove exclusively representing reason and nonviolence, while Hawk is nothing but force and aggression at all times in all situations.

In the first issue of their self-titled series from 1968, Hawk dives headfirst into a fight against a crew of idiots calling themselves the Drop-Outs, while Don refuses to use his powers as Dove to help him.  Don is terrified of their father, an influential judge, finding out they were the vigilante heroes Hawk and Dove, because Judge Hall disapproves of their unsanctioned crime-fighting ways.

Hawk takes a “terrible beating” at the hands of these beatnik stereotypes, and gets away just in time before his identity is discovered by his father and the police.

Hawk continues the search for the rogue gang, finally discovering the location of their secret hideout.  Dove finally is forced into action, to save his brother from another likely beating at the hands of these ridiculous villains.  Dove arrives just in time to save his brother, and together they defeat the gaggle of clowns before they can cause any more low-impact trouble.  Hawk uses his typical two-fisted violence upon the ineffective thugs, while Dove uses evasion, trickery, and agility to subdue the misdemeanor menaces.

Shockingly, a comic book series starring a character that is so aggressive he’s annoying, and another character that is so passive that he is annoying, didn’t rocket to the top of the sales charts.  So it was that many years later, in the game-changing maxi-series Crisis on Infinite Earths, Don Hall was mercifully put out of his misery for good, by the natural enemy of the Dove, a shadow demon.  The news reporter on the scene shouts, “Now he’s dead, gone, as if he never existed!”  If only that were true. If only.

One of the more admirable aspects of the Crisis on Infinite Earths event was to use it as a means to try and troubleshoot the roster of the DC universe as a whole.  This gave us such successes as Wally West as the Flash, or a George Perez Wonder Woman.  It also famously made a mess of the Superman franchise, and gave us a new Wildcat that nobody wanted.  The killing of Don Hall was a necessary one, because you can’t have a superhero partnership where both members are unbearable idiots.  Thus, in 1988, a new Hawk and Dove debuted.

This mini-series was written by Karl and Barbara Kesel, and most notably penciled by newcomer Rob Liefeld, with inking from Karl Kesel.  The art from Liefeld is actually not that bad.  I know, that is a shocking twist on the level of The Sixth Sense.  Only instead of seeing dead people, you see somewhat passable artistic representations of human beings.  However, I’m going to attribute that all to Kesel making Liefeld look better than he is, or maybe a young and hungry Liefeld was spending more time and effort on doing a good job.  Regardless, he’s not the Don Hall of art in this comic series the way he eventually would be.  Though, I guess he technically would be the Hank Hall of artists, because of the aggression and anger.  Either way, don’t get in a van marked “candy” kids, unless it’s got Butterfingers.  Or Reese’s.

The story begins with an unhinged Hank Hall unleashing the full fury of Hawk upon local criminals, no longer tempered by the incessant whining of his now dead brother as Dove.  Hawk typically finds himself once again outnumbered and likely outmatched by a gang of gun-toting villains, when a new Dove suddenly appears to help him, and this time it’s a woman!  This new Dove was really Dawn Granger, who received her powers the moment Don was killed, as she was attempting to save her own mother from terrorists.  Dawn was an immediate upgrade from Don, but really, who wouldn’t be?

Several different combinations of characters with the names and powers of Hawk and Dove would eventually follow, but I believe Hank Hall and Dawn Granger to be the best incarnation of the concept.  If you’re inspired at all to seek out the madcap adventures of this unusual duo, that is the version I would recommend most.  However, you can’t ever really go wrong with a Steve Ditko still at the peak of his prodigious powers as a writer and storyteller.  There’s also early Rob Liefeld at play here, if that’s something that does it for you.

Whichever series you try, it’s clear that Hawk and Dove was an interesting concept that never quite reached its full potential in execution.  Unlike the sweet and tasty combination of chocolate and peanut butter you’ll find in a delicious Butterfinger candy bar.  Enter abandoned subway tunnels or rusty old vans at your own risk.  But always do it with extreme anger or extreme passivity in your heart, there’s no room in this world for complexity of character or appropriate reactions based upon each unique situation.  That’s the kind of crazy talk that’s thrust upon us by a reasonable and civilized society, and has no place in this all-or-nothing age of social media.

Yes, that last part was sarcasm, just to be clear.

Go buy some Hawk and Dove.   

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