Book Review: Star Hawks, Volume Two: 1978-1979 by Gil Kane and Ron Goulart

Written by Chad Derdowski

I’ve never seen anything quite like Gil Kane and Ron Goulart’s Star Hawks. And yeah, I know we geeks are prone to hyperbole; we like to rant and rave online about how mind-blowingly transcendent the stuff we love is and we like to say that things we don’t like somehow travelled through time to assault our childhood. It’s all pretty ridiculous, but it seems like Geek Hyperbole is part and parcel with internet nerdery, doesn’t it? So much so, that you probably didn’t bat an eye when I capitalized it! So yeah, we who fly on the geeky side of life tend to exaggerate.

I’ve still never seen anything quite like Star Hawks.

And yeah, there are elements of Flash Gordon in there. Good luck finding sci-fi without Alex Raymond’s fingerprints on it. The ambiance and attitude of Star Hawks might remind you a bit of Star Wars and at least one of the vehicles seems reminiscent of Battlestar Galactica (though Star Hawks most definitely predates it). With Gil Kane handling art, you can’t help but compare the characters to a few superheroes from the Bronze Age. There are a lot of things in Star Hawks that are reminiscent of a lot of other science fiction films, books, and cartoons. It’s got what you might call a classic feel to it – but filtered through Goulart and Kane’s vision, all of those influences gel into something really unique, very exciting, and a whole lot of fun. Star Hawks reminds me of a lot of things, but I’ve never seen anything quite like it.

But first, a little history. Star Hawks was first published on October 3, 1977 and ran through May 2, 1981. This particular volume, the second of three from IDW and the Library of American Comics, includes August 11, 1978 through June 10, 1979. It’s written by Ron Goulart (except for the last story, which is written by Archie Goodwin) and features artwork by Gil Kane (with the exception of a brief stint where Howard Chaykin and Ernie Colón filled in while Kane recuperated from an illness). Now, I can’t claim to be familiar with the works of Ron Goulart, but apparently Ben Bova’s Analog magazine referred to him as “the Mack Sennett of science fiction”.

Actually, I don’t know who Mack Sennett is either, but I’m guessing he’s a big shot. People don’t compare you to other people unless both of the people involved are pretty awesome, right? And at least I know who Ben Bova is and I’m familiar (if only vaguely) with Analog magazine – I’m not completely ignorant, folks! The point is, somebody out there likes Ron Goulart and if I bothered to do even the slightest bit of research, I could tell you that he ghost wrote William Shatner’s TekWar series, ghosted a few novelizations of popular television shows, contributed to a lot of science fiction magazines, and wrote a whole bunch of stuff under pseudonyms.

Now Gil Kane…Gil Kane I know! The legendary comic artist’s career spanned the 1940s to the ’90s and along the way, he picked up four National Cartoonists Society Awards, an Inkpot Award, and a Shazam Award. He co-created the modern versions of Green Lantern and the Atom for DC, he co-created Iron Fist for Marvel and he drew those Spider-Man issues where Harry Osborn had a drug problem. There’s a lot more, but if none of this stuff rings a bell – he’s the dude from the ’70s who always drew those “up the nose” shots in all of his comics. You know who I’m talking about? Yeah, he’s awesome. So he’s drawing this comic strip.

And while Ron Goulart’s writing is totally awesome – full of humor and far-out concepts, it is Gil Kane’s two-tier format that makes Star Hawks stand out. Basically, Star Hawks was the size of two regular comic strips stacked on top of each other, which probably infuriated a lot of newspapers and even some other cartoonists, but it looks totally awesome. And it’s not like Kane just doubled up the number of panels; his layouts look more like comic book pages, staggered and unique. I’m pretty sure he never duplicates the same layout throughout this entire volume. Where Goulart supplies the swashbuckling stories and exciting characters, Kane gives you the exquisite style and pacing. These stories are full of action and it never lets up from the moment you open the book to the moment you close it. I guess that’s because it’s a daily comic strip, so they had to keep the action moving to keep readers coming back, but it also feels reminiscent of some high adventure sci-fi serial from back in the day. And despite knowing nothing about the series or the characters, it only took me a couple pages to acclimate myself to the world of the Star Hawks. This is in part because of the familiarity of the concept – they’re basically your archetypical space cops in a floating headquarters – but also because of the skill of the creators. It’s an easy comic strip to get into if you’re a sci-fi or action fan and an easy book to stick with (and read in a very short time) because you can’t put it down.

We’ve got junk planets, space hillbillies, an ice planet, an enemy base that doubles as a spaceship, buccaneer boots, jet packs, ray guns, telekinetic powers, brain transplants into clone bodies, and totally rad 1970s hairstyles. There’s a sense of humor to the book, but it’s not ironic or campy; they’re not mocking sci-fi tropes, but playing with them and utilizing them in interesting ways. The character of Rex is basically your standard Flash Gordon hero-type, while Chavez provides a bit of comic relief along with being the muscle of the organization. There’s a scientist who looks a whole lot like Isaac Asimov, and there’s a robot dog too. Yeah, you read that right. And the robot dog is a jerk!

And it’s from the Library of American Comics, who constantly remind me of a magnet I saw on my aunt’s refrigerator when I was a kid. It featured a messy little kid and the phrase “I know I’m special ‘cause God don’t make no junk.” Now, I don’t claim to know anything about god, but I do know that I have yet to see something from the LOAC that isn’t a goddamn work of art. They don’t make no junk! From the design of the covers to the quality and size of the pages and artwork, I am continually impressed by everything they produce. It’s no exaggeration to say that the best-looking stuff on my bookshelf was published by the Library of American Comics.

And maybe that wasn’t my best analogy. And maybe it’s a double negative. But you get where I’m coming from, right? It’s good stuff.

And there you have it. Gil Kane and Ron Goulart’s Star Hawks: Volume Two is a big hit with this guy. You like action and adventure? Romance and robots? Swashbuckling epics and crazy space monsters? Totally insane and completely out-there concepts brought to stunning life through the talented hands of master craftsmen? It’s all here in this book, so go ahead and buy it!

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