Hawkman: The Complication Tango

Hawkman wasn’t always the hero with the most tangled past in comic books.

Image provided by Wikimedia/DC Comics

Indeed, for many years, Hawkman was a fairly straightforward creation. At least as far as comic book superheroes go.

Hawkman seems to be the victim of the unintended consequences of creative ideas. At points when no one else knew what to do with the character, someone would float an interesting suggestion. DC would run with it. It would sputter out and in the aftermath, Hawkman and his mythology were more complicated than ever.

But it wasn’t always so for the winged wonder.

Hawkman: The Golden Age

Hawkman was a prominent hero of DC’s Golden Age. In his original conception, he was Carter Hall, a wealthy heir (naturally, that was par for the course) and amateur archaeologist with an impressive collection of ancient weapons. A chance encounter with a young woman named Shiera Saunders sparked a bizarre déjà vu for both.

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After Shiera was kidnapped by the evil Dr. Hastor, Carter made use of a rare substance he’s discovered called “Nth metal” that had anti-gravity properties. Fashioning wings, a harness and a mask, he called himself Hawkman. Armed with some of his ancient weapons (the medieval fighting mace would become his “go to” piece), Hawkman saved Shiera from Hastor. In the course of that first adventure, Carter and Shiera learned they were the reincarnations of ancient Egyptian royals Khufu and Chayara, while Hastor was the reincarnation of Hath-Set, an evil priest who murdered the Prince and Princess.

That kind of wild coincidence and outlandish origin were par for the Golden Age course. Hawkman became a prominent masked crimefighter, eventually joining the Justice Society of America. Shiera eventually became Hawkman’s partner, Hawkgirl. Hawkman served as JSA chairman for most of its Golden Age run (he was the only character to appear in every Golden Age JSA story). At the same time, he held down his own regular feature in Flash Comics for most of the period. Luminaries like writer Gardner Fox and artist Joe Kubert worked on many Hawkman adventures.

By the early ‘50s, superhero comics were in decline and Hawkman was one of many characters to go into mothballs. A new, Silver Age version would debut within a decade’s time, but that wasn’t the end for the Golden Age Hawkman.

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Once DC came up with the “Earth 2” concept, where the original Golden Age versions of various characters lived, the JSA made a comeback. Hawkman was still chairman and was a frequent participant in the JSA’s annual team-up appearance in Justice League of America. Hawkman made some appearances in the JSA’s ‘70s revival, but took a back seat to other characters.

Hawkman and Hawkgirl were core cast members, however, of All-Star Squadron. That series launched in the early ‘80s from the mind of writer Roy Thomas. It related the World War II adventures of the vast network of Earth 2 heroes. Spin-off title Infinity Inc. included Hawkman and Hawkgirl’s son, Hector, who built a suit of armor from Nth metal and called himself Silver Scarab. That was a key expansion of Nth metal, which for years had mostly been treated as merely an anti-gravity substance. Thomas was one of the writers to suggest it had other energy-conducting abilities. That helped explain how the shirtless Hawkman was able to operate in chilly Northeastern winters without getting frostbite.

After Crisis on Infinite Earths, the Golden Age Hawkman was dispatched to a limbo dimension with the rest of the JSA and wasn’t seen for years.

Hawkman: The Silver Age

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After many other characters had been successfully updated, Hawkman was part of the second wave of heroes to get a makeover and join the JLA on “Earth 1.” The Silver Age Hawkman and Hawkgirl were Katar and Shayera Hol. The Hols were married cops from the distant planet Thanagar, sent to Earth on the trail of escaped Thanagarian criminals. The Hols adopted the names “Carter and Shiera Hall” and took up running a museum in Midway City.

Hawkman had multiple solo series, rarely lasting more than a year or two. The mid-80s The Shadow War of Hawkman tried to spice the drama with marital troubles for the Hawks, but that didn’t seem to attract fans.

Hawkman and Hawkgirl mostly were seen as members of the JLA. As an alien cop, the Silver Age Hawkman had a somewhat more militaristic bearing. That put him at odds with teammate Green Arrow, who, after decades as a wan Batman knockoff, was recast as something of a hippie peacenik. The Hawks were among the many heroes who vacated the JLA as part of the “Detroit League” era.

Hawkman: Post-Crisis

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Unlike other heroes, the Silver Age Hawkman and Hawkgirl were intended to survive Crisis more or less intact. While their Earth aliases were those of the Golden Age Hawks, the “cops from another planet” hook was enough of a differentiator to allow both sets of heroes to exist in the new, unified post-Crisis Earth. But the characters weren’t really seen much in the first couple years after Crisis.

1988 was when Hawkman started on the road to hopeless complication. Writer/artist Tim Truman came up with the intriguing Hawkworld miniseries. Katar Hol and Shayera Thal (not a couple) were seen as cops on Thanagar, part of the elite upper stratus of society. Katar had a social awakening when he wound up in the grimy lower parts of Thanagar. It was a sleek reinterpretation of classic Hawkman elements and it sold well enough to launch an ongoing series. A disgraced Katar and Shayera dispatched to Earth after escaped Thanagarian criminals, where they became Hawkman and Hawkwoman.

The only problem: Hawkman and Hawkgirl were said to have existed in the DC Universe for years before Hawkworld. If the Thanagarians were Hawks-come-lately, who was flying around the DCU for years before that?

Eventually, a couple of different solutions bubbled up. First, the Golden Age Hawkman and Hawkgirl were said to have remained active for years longer than their JSA peers. The Hawks joined the JLA and served as mentors of a sort to the younger heroes. The Hawks were said to be active into the early ‘80s. Eventually, it was revealed that another Thanagarian Hawkman had come to Earth before Katar and Shayera. Fel Andar was said to have arrived on Earth after Carter and Shiera quasi-retired and was briefly a JLA member, while secretly planning to infiltrate and betray them.

One big thing to note was the Hawkworld costumes. Hawkman, from his early ‘40s debut, had eschewed a shirt, wearing only a chest harness and wings. Hawkworld gave the Hawks elaborate leather body-armor that seemed more appropriate to their paramilitary bearing.

Hawkman: Zero Hour

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By the mid-90s, less than a decade after Crisis, DC had managed to foul up plenty of its continuity. In an attempt to clean up various issues, DC launched Zero Hour, a time crisis that shuffled various pieces.

Zero Hour attempted to hit the “reset” button on Hawkman. At one point, all the various Hawkmen (including Carter Hall, who’d returned from limbo not long before) were somehow “merged” into one “hawk avatar” that allegedly represented aspects of the various versions.

This new “avatar” Hawkman reflected a lot of trends of the mid-90s. He was supposed to be darker and was presented as barely containing his savage impulses. He’d often lose control and rip into enemies. His overall deportment and demeanor were “gritty.” He was usually shown with facial scruff. And having once again ditched a shirt, Hawkman, a charter member of the Chest Wax Club for Heroes, jumped on another ‘90s trend with a bare, hairy chest.

The “avatar” Hawkman was around for a few years, and briefly joined the Justice League. But once again, no one seemed to know what to do with the character and his solo series sputtered out before too long. He apparently died and Hawkman went back into storage.

Hawkman: JSA

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In 1999, DC launched a successful new JSA series, co-written by David Goyer and James Robinson, and later by Robinson and Geoff Johns. JSA featured a match of classic members and legacy heroes connected to deceased or retired JSA members.

Among the legacy heroes was a new Hawkgirl. Kendra Saunders was the half-Mexican granddaughter of Speed Saunders, the cousin of Golden Age Hawkgirl Shiera Saunders. After her parents were killed in an accident, a teenaged Kendra attempted suicide. She came under her grandfather’s care and he trained her to follow in the footsteps of “Aunt” Shiera as the new Hawkgirl. Kendra would eventually learn that, during her suicide attempt, Shiera’s soul had transmigrated into Kendra’s body. So that while Kendra still had her own memories and personality, Shiera had become a part of her.

About two years into this run, Hawkman was resurrected during an adventure on Thanagar. The properties of Nth metal were expanded once again, said to have a psychoactive link to the will of the wearer. As part of an arcane religious rite, original Hawkman Carter Hall was reborn as a relatively young man. Carter sported a version of his original costume, but was said to possess aspects of all the other Hawkmen. Including the hawk avatar, whose gift appeared to be chest hair.

Carter was immediately drawn to Kendra, whom he recognized as Shiera’s reincarnation (of sorts). Kendra, however, had no interest in a relationship with Carter, despite feeling a powerful attraction to him.

From there, Hawkman launched into what was probably his most successful solo series. Johns wrote the first two years (with Robinson as an initial co-writer), with superstar Rags Morales as primary artist. Writers Justin Gray and Jimmy Palmiotti and artist Joe Bennett came aboard for a well-regarded run that lasted about two years and did some really good work on the complicated Carter/Kendra relationship.

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One of the intriguing aspects of Johns’s run was the concept that Khufu and Chayara were reincarnated over and over across centuries, in various forms, only to be killed by a reincarnated Hath-Set. Johns recast old DC western characters Nighthawk and Cinnamon as one reincarnated pair.

Hawkman was a key part of the run-up to Infinite Crisis, starring in the Rann/Thanagar War limited series. With Hawkman electing to remain in space, his book was rechristened Hawkgirl with the 50th issue. The superstar creative team of writer Walter Simonson and artist Howard Chaykin steered Hawkgirl’s adventures in a more horror-oriented direction. Hawkman returned for a story that seemed to resolve the curse of Hath-Set once and for all. In the interim, Hawkgirl had joined the Justice League and begun a relationship with Red Arrow. As the Hawkgirl series wrapped, Carter and Kendra had gone their separate ways.

Hawkman alternated between Justice Society membership and space adventures. As a digression from the Rann/Thanagar: Holy War series, auteur Jim Starlin suggested that the entire “resurrected lovers” scenario was an elaborate cosmic hoax and that Hawkman’s true origins were to be found in space. Fan reaction to that concept was rather tepid, as it seemed to even further complicate an already twisted character history.

Hawkman: Blackest Night/Brightest Day

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At the outset of Blackest Night, Carter and Kendra were among the first victims of the Black Lanterns. At the climax of the series, Carter and Shiera were among the many characters resurrected by the White Lantern. Both were presented as relatively young.

In Brightest Day, Hawkman and Hawkgirl chased strands of their past that took them back to Thanagar, where they tangled with a death cult, and to the planet Zamaron, where they uncovered a connection to the Star Sapphires. At the end of Brightest Day, having solved their mystery as intended, Carter and Shiera were “absorbed” by the White Lantern and transformed into some kind of elemental creature.

That concept never really went anywhere, as DC rebooted its entire line. But it at least attempted to reconcile the traditional “resurrected lovers” idea with Starlin’s cosmic approach.

Hawkman: The New 52

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After the reboot, Hawkman was once again an alien named Katar Hol. Except at the outset of his new series, he didn’t know that and thought he was an Earth-born archaeologist named Carter Hall. Nth metal had evolved even more; it was grafted to Hawkman, so that his wings and armor pieces appeared when he willed them to. Otherwise, they were “stored” in his body. Nth metal was shown to be powerful enough to regrow a severed limb and even heal apparently fatal wounds.

Carter eventually recovered memories of his life on Thanagar, including his romance with Shayera Thal, part of the planet’s royal family. Now bonded with the only known Nth metal in the universe, Hawkman was exiled from his home planet, though he continued to have space adventures.

As typically happens, even the attempt to streamline Hawkman’s history caused enough confusion that fans dropped the new series quickly and it was cancelled. Hawkman has since had prominent roles in Justice League of America, Justice League United and New 52: Futures End.

Kendra Saunders is the Hawkgirl of Earth 2, with wings bonded to her shoulders via a mystic incident. No Earth 2 Hawkman has emerged.

And as always, writers seem unsure what to do with Hawkman. They’ve kept the “gritty warrior” aspect and deploy him as an attack dog in team book settings. Settling on the “alien warrior cop” concept at least frees the hero of some of the accumulated baggage of the post-Crisis era.

Whether creators ever figure out an interesting, creative direction for Hawkman remains to be seen. But at some point, someone’s bound to try again.

Originally published at thunderalleybcpcom.ipage.com on March 26, 2015.

Author (Grievous Angels) and pop culture gadabout #amwriting

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