Archaia, who makes a strengths out of the crossroads between comics and other visual media, has taken on another estuary zone in HAWKEN: GENESIS, bringing a comic based on a free internet gaming hub, HAWKEN to readers. Flood zones between visual media can be tricky, especially in gauging the right audience for a comic, since there’s not a one to one correspondence between gamers and comics readers in this case. But there is overlap, and Archaia are setting out to find out just how wide that swath is, and how much interest gamers might take in comics and comics readers might take in gaming. What they’ve produced, however, is a graphic novel true to the traditions of comics, featuring the aspects of the comics medium that can even more fully explore the world of HAWKEN in a sci-fi tradition. Add to that a commitment to bringing in comics artists who are well-versed in the medium to interpret the world of gaming into sequential narrative.
Main characters give the wide-ranging story focus and chronology, and highlight the role of competition and antagonism between the corporations, Sentium, and Prosk, that the characters play off against. All around special forces agent Rion Lazlo schemes to bring his former colleague James Hawken into defection status from Sentium so that both can work to give Prosk the upper hand. There’s an impressive handling of deep themes in HAWKEN that takes a long-term historical perspective as the choices of two men, one blindly ambitious and amoral, and the other a somewhat out of touch scientific genius, set the stage for what may be a tragedy or what may be a finally liberating trend for the planet they inhabit. There’s something even a little Shakespearean about the way that readers know, due to a prologue, that something disastrous may occur through the unregulated push toward technological innovation at the hands of big industry, and yet don’t know exactly how it’s going to come about. This keeps the reader guessing, and also creates empathy for the characters, who know less about their own future than the readers.
The prologue focuses on light-infused blues, greens, and golds to suggest the harsh outlines of a world already in decay but not yet devoid of mesmerising qualities, while the interactions between characters in later chapters, often taking place in closed spaces like labs, takes on a sepia tone or more moderate hues. Some chapters make the leap between painterly styles that are not out of place in video game storyboarding and a nearly indie art style with ragged inked lines and a focus on facial expressions and psychological realities. One of the biggest surprises in HAWKEN’s artwork is the contribution of comics great and master of mood Bill Sienkiewicz, working with Sid Kotian, and it’s work that feels very much at home in the volume, suggesting that as a comic, HAWKEN works, and it works to build upon the potential of comics to embrace new material in its own way.
Props to the writers of the graphic novel, however, too, since the details contained in the narrative and in the meta data show intensive research and careful construction of consistency for the historical context of Illal, and its tragically ambitious characters. Readers will find parallels in recognizable earth-history elements, such as the competitive relationship between the USA and USSR during the cold war, including the concept of “defection” and the careful monitoring of passes and information moving between the two corporate entities. The unlikely friendship and ambition of the two main characters might also remind you of rivalries between technology moguls like Steve Jobs and Bill Gates, both friendly and at, times, at odds. There’s no doubt that an admirable amount of work and detail-oriented inspection of the combined elements of HAWKEN went into making the book, and the quality shows at every turn. This may be the key to appealing to both gamers and comics readers. Gamers are used to high-quality graphics and intelligent world-building in their often expensive products, meant to bring hours of interaction and entertainment home with them.
HAWKEN is a graphic novel produced with a lot of confidence about what is both visually and narratively appealing to pop culture right now, and poses the suggestion that total immersion in a narrative world is a common feature of both gaming and comics. It’s a bold suggestion, and one they argue well through fluency in the comics medium.
Title: HAWKEN: GENESIS/Publisher: Archaia Entertainment LLC/ Creative Team: Dan Jevons, Miles Williams, Khang Le, Story/Jeremy Barlow, Writer/Deron Bennett, Letters/Andrew Nielson, Heather Nuhfer, Interstitial Story Materials/Scott Newman, Design/Francisco Ruiz Velasco, Alex Sanchez, Kody Chamberlain, Sid Kotian, Bill Sienkiewicz, Bagus Hutomo, Michael Gaydos, Federico Dallocchio, Nathan Fox, Christopher Moeller, Artists/Grant Goleash, Derek Dow, Eddy Swan, Chad Fidler, Logan Faerber, Colors.
Hannah Means-Shannon writes and blogs about comics for TRIP CITY and Sequart.org and is currently working on books about Neil Gaiman and Alan Moore for Sequart. She is @hannahmenzies on Twitter and hannahmenziesblog on WordPress.