Spacehawk is Fantagraphics' recently published complete collection of Basil Wolverton's long-lost space-hero comics, published for a two-year run starting in 1940. In his introduction, Monte Wolverton (Basil's son) explains that Basil had always dreamed of having his own superhero book, and that Spacehawk was the realization of that dream. The character -- an 800 year old psychic crime-fighter with an anti-gravity belt and an army of robot clones of himself that he controls through telepathy -- had an all-too-brief existence fighting interplanetary crime before being co-opted by Wolverton's editor into fighting Nazis and the Japanese Navy.
Wolverton wasn't much of a superhero writer. There's not much dramatic tension here. Whenever Spacehawk shows up, he's inevitably stronger, smarter, faster, and more powerful than the bad guys. He rescues the girl (if there is one), puts down the bad guys (usually terminally), and flies off, saying something appropriately square-jawed and brave. But that doesn't matter. You'd be nuts to read Spacehawk for the plotting: what you read it for is the character design, that amazing Wolverton grotesque that is as unmistakable as it is unforgettable.
I mean to say, this guy could really draw monsters.
The backgrounds were also marvels of four-color fantasy, the spaceships all spare and dieselpunky, the alien worlds all a-squish with weird fauna and distant astronomical bodies, and strange, Gernsbackian impossible high-rises.
But honestly, Spacehawk was really about the monsters and weirdos.
And Fantagraphics really does the art justice with heavy-stock pages that soak up titanic amounts of ink, making for a supersaturated, weighty tome that almost strobes with awesome.
Alas, the art takes a decided turn for the duller when Spacehawk starts fighting WWII, and Wolverton has to limit himself to drawing caricatures of Tojo and American Bund fifth columnists. But every now and again, he sneaks in a full-page spread like the one above, just to be sure we all know that's he's not just phoning it in.
This book would make a fantastic gift for happy mutants, and might just spark a lifelong love-affair with the estimable Mr Wolverton.
I write books. My latest is a YA science fiction novel called Homeland (it's the sequel to Little Brother). More books: Rapture of the Nerds (a novel, with Charlie Stross); With a Little Help (short stories); and The Great Big Beautiful Tomorrow (novella and nonfic). I speak all over the place and I tweet and tumble, too.