Off The Shelf: ‘Spacehawk’ by Basil Wolverton

One of the most imaginative Golden Age creators is celebrated in this Fantagraphics release.

Iann Robinsonby Iann Robinson


Basil Wolverton.

Some will know the name, others will not. Those who do, will understand why the Fantagraphics release of Spacehawk is so amazing. Those who do not, well, now is your time to learn. Basil Wolverton is a comic writer and artist, one who helped usher in the Golden Age. He is one of the unsung heroes like Fletcher Hanks, Jack Cole, Bill Everett or Lou Fine and, like those peers, also belongs in the same pantheon as Will Eisner or Jack Kirby. Wolverton’s contributions to comic books are that important.

Wolverton’s career spanned from the early '30s until the mid-'70s when a tragic stroke made him unable to work. Four years later, Wolverton would pass away at the age of sixty-nine. Some of his career highlights included Powerhouse Pepper, the story of a dim-witted but super strong boxer, which ran from 1942 to 1952 via Timely Comics, a place later known as Marvel. Wolverton was also behind characters such as Flap Flipflop, The Flying Flash, Inspector Hector The Crime Detector, Hothead Hotel, Dauntless Dawson and several others.

In 1946, the famous comic strip L’il Abner conducted a contest to see who could bring to life Lena The Hyena, the world’s ugliest woman. Salvador Dali, Frank Sinatra, and Boris Karloff judged over 500,000 entries before unanimously electing Wolverton’s as the best. The Lena drawing would solidify his “spaghetti and meatballs” style of illustrating that would serve him the rest of his career. From Adventures In Terror to Mad Magazine to religious comics, Wolverton’s unique style and sense of dynamics cultivated him a real following in the comic world.

One of his most interesting works was Spacehawk, an adventure series featuring a galactic peacekeeper driven solely by his mission. Unlike Flash Gordon or Buck Rogers, Spacehawk was devoid of personal human dramas or romantic entanglements. Spacehawk’s equipment was the same type of stripped down ideal. Big machinations of gurgling steel and burning fuel helped Spacehawk fight the good fight. Think of it as steampunk about fifty years before it become a look or a genre.

Collecting all of these glorious strips, Fantagrahic Books has once again outdone themselves. Simply titled Spacehawk, this two hundred and seventy-two page homage to character and creator is beautiful. This is a larger format book, 13” by 9.25”, full color and painstakingly restored. You can really see Wolverton’s love of heavy inks and how much weight is behind his creations. I also think this larger sized book really lets you in on how rich with life and color Spacehawk is.

The art is fantastic as is Wolverton’s imagination. Bizarre creatures,  horrid monsters, creepy villains, all serve to make Spacehawk something much more than just another sci-fi comic. This is the medium when there were no rules, no event series and no giant corporations standing watch over what the creators were doing. If you love the Golden Age, science fiction and adventure, nothing compares to the world Basil Wolverton put together for Spacehawk.