Hawk The Slayer was one of the leading movies in the early-Eighties reinvention and re-popularisation of the sword and sorcery genre in movies. Arguably, it’s one of the better examples of the type, sticking closer to the pure tropes of the genre than many. While the likes of Labyrinth, Krull, Willow, and even Marc Singer’s outing as The Beastmaster all have bucketloads of merits, there’s something fundamentally hell yeah about Hawk The Slayer.
Two brothers, one on the path of evil, one on the path of, if not exactly good, then certainly righteousness. A band of adventurers on a quest to stop the evil brother from doing the evil things. Giants, dwarves, elves, sorceresses, enchanted swords, monks, nuns – seriously, what more are you looking for in a rollicking sword and sorcery adventure? Okay, fine, Lysette Anthony, but apart from her, what else?
The fact that its cast included some acting stalwarts didn’t hurt, either – Bernard Bresslaw, Patricia Quinn, Annette Crosbie, Christopher Benjamin, Roy Kinnear, Graham Stark and Warren Clarke all bolstered a cast that focused on John Terry – then in his first year of real movie fame, but with an impressive career ahead of him – as Hawk, the hero, and Jack “Holy Crap, It’s Really Him” Palance as Voltan, the villainous brother.
All of this – the energy, the somewhat accidental commitment to solid sword and sorcery principles, the comedy-rich cast and the two enigmatic leads – combine to make Hawk The Slayer a film that’s never been content to entirely die out. Rumours of sequels have dogged it almost since the original movie came out, and have still to come to nothing.
Okay so there’s no new Hawk The Slayer movie just yet, but now there’s a sequel in comic-book form, written by Garth Ennis – colour us sold-as-all-hell, thank you very much – and drawn by Henry Flint.
In this first instalment, we’re not gonna lie to you, there’s quite a bit of recapitulation of the original film, for anyone who dares to have the temerity not to have either been alive when the movie came out, or have caught up with it at any point since. Slackers, all of you, but if you’re brand new to the world of Hawk The Slayer, Ennis and Flint have you covered here.
The plot of the movie is more or less retold to “some passing strangers” by the innkeeper, as played in the movie with Roy Kinnear. The art style in this section from Henry Flint is cleverer than you might initially give it credit for – it’s not sepia as such, but it is thinned out, almost like a transparent overlay, as if you’re watching an actual stream-of-consciousness memory, including some fairly violent scenes as Volume I catches up any newcomers to the world and the quest of Hawk The Slayer.
That gives the panels of catch-up a sense of genuine storytelling legitimacy in the ‘now’ of this adventure, rather than falling into the trap of seeming like half of the first issue was taken up with stuff that everyone already knew.
The storytelling in this recap section is also pretty subtle in what it does – it plants the idea of “The Message of Death,” and a potential arrangement between Voltan and “the Black Ones” – to allow him to come back from the grave and do their evil bidding a second time. It also mentions that there are rumours – no more than that, of course, and no-one takes them seriously, while knowing they’re also absolutely spot-on – that there are disturbances in the south of the land that have a distinctly evil stink to them.
Boom! That right there is the central plot element we need to take us beyond Hawk The Slayer the movie and into the territory of another four instalments of Hawk The Slayer, the comic-book. Voltan may well be back, and even though (spoiler alert?) we don’t meet him in this issue, there’s plenty of ‘agent of evil’ stuff to be going along with, as delightful eyeless wonders, servants of the League of Darkness (the Black Ones go by a few names, all of them equally portentous), stalk the land and start making trouble.
Hawk and Gort run into one such cheeky chappie at the innkeeper’s hostelry, there’s a pleasing piece of magic swordwork, and we’re off to the races. The very existence of the eyeless ones (a particularly effective piece of artwork from Flint in this issue, along with his occasional screeching hawk acting as a screen-wipe) means that something dodgy is going on, and Hawk and Gort go in search of what the hell that might be – while somehow picking up an idiot minstrel along the way. Honestly, minstrels – they’re like the crabs of the sword and sorcery world. Stay too long in one tavern and they attach themselves to you and follow you home.
Meanwhile, there’s some equal dodginess in a fortress of holiness, where Sister Jessica is increasingly concerned about the raunchy ministering practices of the church fathers, and cleaning girl Bella – whose dad always told her he used to ride with Hawk – is faced with a dilemma over one of the fortress’s most unnerving prisoners.
While the cataclysmically fatal consequences of Hawk The Slayer prevents a full-on Blues Brothers-style ‘getting the band back together’ feel, the surviving members of Hawk’s band are all potentially up for joining him on his new quest to investigate the grimness in the south, the rise of the disturbingly eyeless ones and the faaaairly strong possibility that they’ve been detoured on a wild goose chase.
As the issue draws to a close, there’s a classic bit of ambush action which will have you punching the air and wanting to watch the movie again – and a reveal that’ll have you cheering. While the full ‘band’ of the original film can’t come back together, Garth Ennis’s script, within the course of a single issue, sets out its stall – it’s the sequel you’ve been longing for, whether or not you knew it while you’ve been busy getting old and grey and misanthropic in the – get this – 42 years since the original hit cinemas.
There’s a huge dollop of the same irreverent comic spirit that made the original a cult hit even in the face of sneering critics, and there’s some solid foreshadowing and foreboding of League of Darkness action here too.
Lots of the surviving characters from the film are here, and there are joyous new additions, too. Bella in particular is shaping up to be a great new element, showing brains, cunning, forward planning and a very sharp touch of sarcasm here and there that cuts through the structures of respect in her world.
Rejoice, all you ageing Hawk The Slayer fans – and rejoice any young pups who’ve been raised in an understanding of the finer points of this kind of comic-tinged full-on sword and sorcery fun, too. The hero you need, and at least some of his friends, are back. There’s impressive sword action, clear and easily assimilated artwork, and the delicate blend of humour and fantasy swashbuckling you love from the original movie in Garth Ennis’s sequel.
Go, get it now, before the League of Darkness burn your comic shop to the ground! Tony Fyler