Robert Venditti has been writing for DC Comics for over five years, including runs on The Flash, Demon Knights, and an impressive tenure on Green Lantern. He helped to introduce a new character with familiar roots in Damage and is currently spinning up to a dizzying universe-spanning finale in Hal Jordan and the Green Lantern Corps. His writing is intense, large scale and heartfelt, with a real talent for honoring the history and lore of existing characters while bringing them to new and exciting places. I had a chance to ask him what we can expect from his next project: a newly reincarnated Hawkman series.
As a longtime Green Lantern fan myself, I can tell that you’re a creator who does a ton of homework before taking over an ongoing series. What stood out to you as you were researching Hawkman. Were there any surprises?
Yeah, I want to say I’ve read over 200 Hawkman stories at this point, from the various different eras of the character. Some of it’s easier to come by than others. This is really the first time that I’ve had to do a lot of longbox dives to try to find some things because there’s just a lot of stuff that hasn’t been collected, or has been collected and is out of print, or things like that. What really struck me about the character- you know, you’ve got the two most well known incarnations: the original Golden Age Carter Hall archaeologist incarnation and the Silver Age Katar Hol Thanagarian police officer incarnation. What really struck me about them both was that I didn’t really prefer one over the other. I found commonalities between the version of the character that I felt made a throughline across the various eras of him and there are stories from all of the eras that I really, really enjoyed. I think if there was one that took me by surprise the most, just because I wasn’t really familiar with the content ahead of time, it would be the original Tim Truman Hawkworld miniseries. Just the scope of that and the amount of creativity, the sheer number of ideas on every single page really impressed me in a lot of ways and I felt like, even reading it now, it still feels ahead of its time. So I really, really enjoyed that one.
So what struck you as a defining characteristic?
I was looking at the character of Hawkman and sort of the high concept, and again there have been different versions, but what I like about the Golden Age and the Silver Age (as I was saying before about the through-lines and the commonalities I could see between the characters) is you have one that’s very earthbound and one that’s very cosmic and I like the idea of both of those things inhabiting the same space. That’s not something you get very often with characters. They tend to be one or the other. So for me that’s one of the great appeals with working on a character like Hawkman is that you’re able to have that sort of best of both worlds. You know quite literally there’s not a single aspect of the DC Universe that isn’t on the table with this character and that opens it up to a lot of storytelling possibilities that a purely cosmic character or a purely earthbound character wouldn’t have.
Hawkman has a complicated history (to put it lightly). Of all superheroes, his continuity is notoriously difficult to make sense of. Did you find that you needed to willfully ignore pieces of his backstory in order to create a coherent version of him for your book?
I mean, I knew that going in. I’d always heard those kinds of things about Hawkman. I wasn’t familiar with the character a lot from firsthand reading experience. But I knew that the character sort of had that reputation. To me that was one of the appeals of working on the character, which I know may sound crazy, but I think I’m a good puzzle piece writer. And by that I mean that I’ve had some pretty crazy puzzles dumped onto my desk and I’m proud of the way I’m able to organize things and find stories and find ways to make sense of it all. That’s just kind of the way my mind works. So tackling a character with a continuity like that, I liked the idea of that challenge. And as I was reading the character and doing the research, I kind of formed my initial ideas on what my direction would be and how I would bring a lot of the elements together under one umbrella. I didn’t really want to do it at the expense of, like I was saying earlier, you know… choose ‘A’ and throw out ‘B’, or choose ‘B’ and throw out ‘A’. I kind of want to take ‘A’ and ‘B’ and find a way to make a ‘C’ and make it all go together. Now having said that, there’s certain things — and again I haven’t read every single appearance of Hawkman or anything like that — but you know there’s always going to be things in comics that don’t necessarily line up. In the same way that Dick Grayson is a grown adult Nightwing now, but Batman’s still kind of the same age that he was when Dick Grayson was a kid, you know? Those things I think are always going to be there but for the most part I didn’t want to go in looking at cutting out large sections in order to make my idea fit. I wanted to see what the character had and see how I could make all of it kind of go together.
But would you say that the “DC Rebirth” banner gives you creative leeway to rewrite some of that if you want to? Like could you say (for example) that Zero Hour didn’t happen because we’re in Rebirth now?
I don’t know if that’s so much true. I think for me the biggest opportunity really came from Dark Knights:Metal. With what happened in Metal and the expansion of Hawkman’s history much farther into the past than what we had known to that point, which you know his origin was in ancient Egypt with Prince Khufu. Well Metal took that much farther — thousands of years beyond that into the past. I really saw that as an opportunity to just have this wide open canvas. That’s a lot of lives. Where has he been during that time, what has he done, what would he remember, what would he not remember? As someone on Earth, as a human, how would his brain even try to process and make sense of all of this, which is counter-intuitive to the way humankind operates? To what extent has he been an unreliable narrator of his own life, and what are the mysteries that he would harbor, and how and to what extent is he really the living, historical document of the DC universe? If you know what I mean. The DC universe has been around a really long time and he’s been there since the dawn of man, so — more so than him even being an archaeologist and preserving history in museums, he is that history. And to what extent can we take that idea of him being the “living, historical document of the DC universe” and really build that out, and not just add to his own mythology and reveal secrets about his own mythology, but do those same things for the wider DCU as well?
Since you brought up Metal, How much did Hawkman Found factor into what you’re doing on Hawkman now?
Yeah actually it’s interesting. And I want to word this carefully… I saw a lot of similarities in Hawkman Found and in what I…[pause] You sit down as a writer and you already have the ideas in your head and what your direction is for the character, and I had done all that and sort of already turned in my initial pitch and my initial core concept to the editors prior to reading Hawkman Found. So then as I read Hawkman Found, it was just another instance where I was reading a Hawkman story that not only did it not contradict what I wanted to do, but it actually bolstered what I wanted to do. So I think we came to a lot of the same conclusions about the character in some ways, not in every way, but there were definitely commonalities there that we came to independently. And so I just really saw what I was reading in Hawkman Found was a reinforcement of what I wanted to do with the character and where we were going to take it. After my initial pitch ideas were turned in and then I started working with [series artist] Bryan [Hitch] and we started discussing those core ideas and, you know, with him of course having worked on Hawkman Found, it really dovetailed very nicely and the amount that he contributed to the story, it was something we really built out from the ground up together. I came in with a one or two sentence idea and then from that point we took it and we built it all out together and the amount that he’s added to it and the sheer number of ideas that he brings… I say one thing and then he says something else and then, you know, it becomes something else that’s a combination of the two things and it’s just all been very fluid and just a great scenario to work in and to create in. To have somebody who’s as gifted a storyteller as he is on board and what he’s able to do with the visuals and the way he’s able to render ideas, it’s just staggering and I really feel like it’s one of those rare opportunities where you build something from the ground up in a collaborative way and everything is just clicking, and hopefully that comes across in the stories that we’re telling and in the books that we’re putting on the stands because we certainly feel like things are working very well on our end.
Bryan’s absolutely killing it on this book.
Yeah, and I’ve seen a lot of pages, you know? You’ve obviously read the first issue. I’ve written five issues and I’ve seen a lot of pages and a lot of art elements beyond that first issue. It’s just staggering. What he adds to the story with his visuals, he’s not just interpreting a plot like those dance footsteps you see on the ground. He’s not just doing the steps, he’s bringing so much of his own creativity to it. And as he’s drawing he’ll have ideas, and he’ll email me while he’s in the middle of a page and say “Hey I just thought of this” and it just expands it and makes it so much larger than it was. I really can’t say enough about the guy, even beyond just being a storyteller — just being a good guy. Just getting to know him and to have this working relationship with him that grows into a collaboration and a friendship beyond that. Just an all around good person to be working with.
This first issue takes place in multiple locations in Europe, and it seems that Carter is going to be caught up in a wide-ranging adventure from here. I want to ask if he has a steady base of operations, as St. Roch used to be. Where does Hawkman hang his hat these days (or his hawk mask thingy)?
[Laughs] Where are his pajamas and his slippers? Yes, he does have a base of operations and we will get to that in time. But for now, I think you really hit on what we’re trying to do, which is — at end of this first issue you see he’s about to embark on this grand adventure. As a character he’s done these things throughout his career, and one of the things when I first started reading about him that occured to me was that here’s somebody who has wings and who is obviously enthralled with flight, but he’s chosen a career like archaeology that requires him to spend so much time underground. And why is that? What is it about him that drives him to do those things that are sort of antithetical to his nature? For me, this compulsion towards outward exploration has been about, unbeknownst to him, this subconscious desire to discover and reveal the secrets about his own self. In the first issue he’s going to have a couple of really big secrets revealed to him, and one of them is that there is this enormous threat from his past coming to Earth to destroy him and to destroy Earth. He doesn’t know a lot of details about it or how to stop it. All he knows is that the secrets lie in his past, and so now he’s on this sort of breakneck paced adventure to follow a trail of clues he’s left to himself throughout history. And this is going to take him to some very far flung locations and places that are all unique to the DC universe, and that’s kind of going to be his focus as he confronts this first major threat. And then we’ll calm him down and we’ll settle him back in. But for right now, he’s got more pressing matters than managing the exhibits at the museum at St. Roch or something like that.
Does that constant movement cause challenges in establishing a regular supporting cast?
It does and it doesn’t. One of the things that Bryan and I want to build out for this character is this sort of global network of contacts that he has. This guy’s a scholar, he’s an archaeologist. This isn’t necessarily the kind of job that makes you fabulously wealthy. And he’s not in it for that, but throughout his many lives he has helped people — some still alive and some who are descendants of those people who he has helped. And they know who he is and they are loyal to him, and they have a deep appreciation for him and what he’s been able to do for them and their families, and so he kind of relies on them. And we’ll meet several of those contacts that he has as we go through the series, and see how he kind of has relationships with these people that are, you know, the boat drivers and the public transportation or subway people in London and all these kind of blue collar people that really know the ins and outs of places better than anybody, and how he’s built those relationships. And we’ll have other cast members as well, and you see a little bit of that in issue #1. But this early adventure is really about him as a character, him trying to discover who he is and it just seems to make more sense to have him propelled forward with that momentum. Every issue he’s in a different location, he’s discovering a new thing and we’re barrelling along into the next issue after that. It’s a very fast paced story, as it should be. I guess I would describe it as kind of Indiana Jones but also National Treasure. He’s an archaeologist but he’s following this mystery and one clue is leading to the next and just going and going and going, because if he doesn’t figure it out in time it’s not just going to be the end of him, it’s going to be the end of Earth and everything he cares about.
I assume we’ll be seeing Kendra a good bit in this series. Right?
Absolutely. Yeah. It’s something that we’re certainly focused on and we have a lot of discussions about. We want to build toward it and make it something that’s impactful when it happens. We didn’t really want to enter the series with just this assumed relationship, you know? But Kendra’s also showing up elsewhere in the DCU, and there’s some very exciting things that are going to be happening that I encourage people to follow her character and read about. But it is something that we do want to do and we are very focused on it. But I also think it’s kind of nice to have the two characters stand on their own and operate on their own before we see who they are together.
Any chance you’ll answer whether you have plans for Hath-Set to make an appearance?
[Laughs] No, there is no chance at all that I’ll answer that.
Had to try. Before we wrap up, we’d be remiss if we didn’t mention the mace and Nth metal…do you have plans to do something unique with those essential aspects of Hawkman’s character?
Yes we have, and you’ll be seeing those things…I believe in issue #2 you’ll see something and in issue #3 you’ll see something again. So yes, we are going to reveal some new tricks there.
Is there anything else you’d like to say to new readers about Hawkman?
No matter who you are, if you’re someone who’s been a reader of Hawkman for a long time or for someone who’s never read Hawkman before, which is kind of where I came into this, this is an issue you can come into with no prior knowledge. Don’t let what you’ve heard about confusing continuities or any of those kinds of things in any way dissuade you. I very much, when I sit down to write a series…I didn’t start reading comics until I was in my late 20’s, so I don’t have a lot of historical familiarity with these characters. I remember the feeling of going into a comic book shop and trying to find an entry point for a comic book series and feeling like I needed to read thirty years of comics to understand what’s going on. So that’s always at the forefront of my mind when I’m writing. Because I’ve been there. And so I really believe that what we’ve done with Hawkman is take a series that, if you’ve read it for thirty years you’re going to have some revelations here and some things that you didn’t expect. But if you’ve never read a Hawkman comic in your life, you’re going to come to this and you’re going to understand who this character is and where we’re going with him at the end of this first issue. What Bryan and I are doing with the character is something that I don’t think is just unique to what’s been done with Hawkman before, or is unique to what’s currently inhabiting the DC universe, but is really unique…I don’t think you’re going to find another book like this on the stands.
Hawkman #1 is on sale next week, June 13th!