Review: Spacehawk

A comic review article by: Jason Sacks

Spacehawk is a lunatic thrilling space fantasy adventure come to astonishing, surrealistic life. It's a joyous, riotous parade of lunatic visions from the amazing pen and unique mind of the great Basil Wolverton, one of comics' most original creators. This enormous collection is a deliriously joyful celebration of pure creativity, the adventures of the alpha male space hero of all alpha male space heroes, all wrapped up with breathtaking production values.

Wolverton is a startlingly original cartoonist, one whose visions aren't naïve in the way that many early '40s comics are naïve. His work is too original, too odd and too idiosyncratic to be declared naïve. The material presented in this book is pure, unique, thoroughly personal comics art that somehow manages to be all about the adventures of some sort of space jockey, a great and grand action hero in a world of bizarre penis-shaped aliens, kaleidoscopic landscapes, rocket ships eternally crashing, and a completely thrilling moral code that somehow makes everything work magically well, no matter how nasty the obstacles that must be overcome.

Spacehawk!

Yeah, this book is really fucking exhilarating and awesome and eye-popping, and you have to add it to your bookshelf if you loved I Shall Destroy All the Civilized Planets or if you've read Wolverton before and know the genius you'll be enjoying, or if you just plain want to read a comic that will make you smile maniacally like a little kid all over again.

This was one of those books for me that had me smiling at page one and giggling by page 100 or so.

Part of the fun in this book is Wolverton's use of recurring motifs. There are the aliens with penis-shaped heads I mentioned above:

Spacehawk!

Spacehawk!

And the  rocket ships and airplanes that seem always to be crashing:

Spacehawk!\Spacehawk!

Spacehawk!

Spacehawk!

Spacehawk!

All the women are beautiful:

Spacehawk!

Spacehawk!

Spacehawk!

And all the landscapes are colorful and bizarre:

Spacehawk!

Spacehawk!

Spacehawk!

Not to mention the grisly deaths that meet so many of the villains in these books:

Spacehawk!

Spacehawk!

 

Spacehawk!

Spacehawk!

When you see these sorts of scenes over and over again, one on top of the next, you kind of start to wonder about Wolverton himself. There's a pattern there when he comes back to the same ideas again and again, so what kind of portrait do they create of the master cartoonist? Was he trying to emulate the slam-bang and laser gun action of Buck Rogers in comics form? If so, why are Wolverton's alien landscapes so completely strange? Are the adventures so random and surreal because that reflected Wolverton's state of mind, or do they reflect his view of the world?

The utter randomness of these space adventures gives them a wonderfully fresh and almost thrilling feel. Most anything can happen in these stories, often for the random or even unintelligible reasons, and that makes them feel utterly fresh and exciting. Few creators could create this level of randomness while still managing to create a story that makes sense; hell, few creators would even care to try something like that!

Because these oddball random stories plain work on their own terms. They provide a unique sort of manic thrill, with their utterly straightforward character rendering gone somehow – well, not wrong as much as they've gone all Wolverton. These stories are being created by a pure auteur, a creator living in Oregon, far away from his publishers, literally in his own world compared with his colleagues, and therefore free to create works that didn't quite fall in line with the editorial standards of his editors at Target Comics.

Even with the stories in the latter half of this book, where Spacehawk is assigned to fight the "Japs" and Nazis in an attempt to foil their nefarious plans, the stories in this book have only a glancing resemblance to reality. The penis headed aliens are gone, but those evil creatures are replaced with vaguely exotic human beings flying vaguely strange crafts to try to defeat the good Allies who were working to defend our freedom. Heck, in the second half of this book there's a manic masterpiece of a story centered around an Axis invasion from a giant gas-filled dirigible – a completely odd and thoroughly thrilling story in which Wolverton seems to challenge himself to continually top himself with one odd, inexplicable event after the next, never resting until he hits his designated limit of ten pages.

Spacehawk!

Even the quietest story in this book – "The Case of the Missing Tires", a kind of banal generic super-hero adventure – is completely entrancing for the completely casual way that Spacehawk is a complete dick to a Hollywood actress because he suspects her from stealing rubber tires from cars. The introduction to the book explains that rubber was a rare commodity during World War II and that explains the urgency in this story. But that doesn't explain either the completely odd feeling of this story or Spacehawk's utter dickery to the beautiful actress. Plus, umm, really, rubber tires are such a big deal anyway?

And those sorts of oddball, obscure quirks are a big part of why Spacehawk is essential reading for anyone who loves awesomely weird comics. All of the stories in this breathtaking book kind of, sort of makes sense on the printed page if you squint really hard and turn you mind off. But it all made sense to Basil Wolverton and it's all deliriously crazy, full of energy and joy and some wonderfully strange artwork. Spacehawk is lunatic, manic genius.

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