Superhero Spotlight – Hawkman

One of D.C. Comics’ most notoriously confusing characters since the 1990s has been Hawkman. He wasn’t always this way, but some decisions during the Silver Age and the wake of Crisis on Infinite Earths convoluted his history to the point editorial banned him from use in the late 1990s. Hawkman recently ended a run written by Robert Venditti that delved headfirst into his backstory, trying to iron out the wrinkles. More on that when I review the series next week. For now, let’s look at Hawkman’s evolution over the years and how he became such a confusing character.

Hawkman was introduced in the pages of Flash Comics #1 (January 1940). He debuted alongside the Golden Age Flash. Hawkman was created by Gardner Fox, the same writer behind the Silver Age Atom. This original version of Hawkman began life in ancient Egypt as Prince Khufu, who was caught in a power struggle with the priest Hath-Set. It ends when Khufu and his consort Chay-ara are captured and killed. Thousands of years later, Khufu is reincarnated as archaeologist Carter Hall and Chay-ara as his girlfriend, Shiera Sanders. Hath-Set is also still around in the form of scientist Anton Hastor. On a dig in Egypt, Carter finds the knife used to kill him, and it floods the man with memories of this past life. He’s the properties of the Nth metal in the blade to make a gravity-defying belt. He adds a helmet and wings to become Hawkman and gets revenge on Anton Hastor.

When the Justice Society of America was formed, Hawkman was there as a charter member and even became the team’s permanent chairman. Shiera eventually adopted a similar costume to become Hawkgirl and joined Carter in fighting crime. Later retcons would explain the JSA’s disbanding in the 1950s as due to the Joint Congressional Un-American Activities Committee (an analog to the real world HUAC). For the rest of the decade, Carter would retire the Hawkman identity and settle down with Shiera. They had a son named Hector and life became very calm.

Both Hawks were pulled out of retirement when the Justice Society discovered they were a part of the multiverse. The Justice League of America, on Earth-1, contacted the JSA on Earth-2, which led to an ongoing series of team-up throughout the 1960s. Hawkman continued to serve as the chairman of the JSA and refused their children a place on the team, which led to the formation of Infinity Inc. Hector Hall became the Silver Scarab and married Fury, the daughter of Wonder Woman of Earth-2. Meanwhile, a new Hawkman was introduced in the mainstream D.C. Universe during the 1960s that would begin to complicate things.

In the pages of The Brave and The Bold #34 (Feb-Mar 1961), written by Gardner Fox & illustrated by Joe Kubert, readers were introduced to Katar Hol, the imperial prince of the alien world Thanagar. Invaders came to Thanagar in the form of Manhawks and looted the globe. Paran, Katar’s father, sent his son to infiltrate the nests of the Manhawks, where he learned the secret of their Nth level technology. Paran fashioned anti-gravity belts and wings that created a force of Hawk-Police to protect Thanagar. Katar became one of these officers and was teamed with rookie Shayera Thal. They eventually married and were sent to Earth to capture the shape-shifter Byth. They befriend the police commissioner of Midway City and settle down as museum curators taking the secret identities of Carter and Shiera Hall. You need to remember these are meant to be totally different characters from the Golden Age versions. Shiera would eventually take the moniker Hawkwoman, and the two would even get a sort of sidekick in the form of Charley Parker, aka Golden Eagle.

The Silver Age Hawks developed their own rogues’ gallery, including villains like Shadow Thief, Matter Master, Rainbow Raider, Kanjar Ro, The Fadeaway Man, Ira Quimby (I.Q.), and The Gentleman Ghost. Katar would join the Justice League and become friends with The Atom. Hawkman was eventually framed as very politically conservative, so this was used to put him in ideological conflict with the more liberal Green Arrow. Yet, Katar would be pulled back to Thanagar when a plague began to erase the diversity of his world. The fallout would cause Katar to become involved in expansionist efforts that took Thanagar to war with Adam Strange’s Rann. 1985 came, and Crisis on Infinite Earths happened, merging all the parallel worlds into one singular reality.

At first, everything seemed fine. Katar and Shayera were kept in continuity, briefly joining the new Justice League International. They had a team-up with Superman in the pages of Action Comics, teamed-up with the Atom, and even helped out Animal Man during the alien Invasion of 1988. The Golden Age heroes’ presence proved a problem for editorial who were trying to make sense of things in a combined Earth. The JSA was written out of the contemporary stories via The Last Days of the Justice Society mini-series that ended with the team becoming trapped in a battle with Surtur after Hitler unleashed the Norse Ragnarok in the final days of World War II, the Golden Age Hawkman & Hawkgirl among them.

But it got more complicated when D.C. decided they wanted to give Hawkman a Year One style reboot. In 1989, writer Tim Truman and artist Enrique Alcatena delivered Hawkworld. This mini-series told the origin of Katar Hol and profoundly expanded Thanagar as a more complex and diverse planet. This story took place in the new continuity, so….who were the Thanagarian Hawkman & Hawkwoman that had been running around just after Crisis? They seemed to have a long history with members of the Justice League.

In the following Hawkworld ongoing series writer, John Ostrander used Fel Andar, a Thangarian spy from a story just before Crisis, to explain this inconsistency. Fel Andar was living on Earth in secret between the Golden Age and Modern eras. He fell in love with a woman named Sharon Parker, and they married. Andar’s superiors told him to infiltrate the Justice League, so he mindwiped his wife and implanted lies that he was Carter Hall, Jr., son of the original Hawkman. Sharon eventually realizes she’s been living a lie and goes to Martian Manhunter and Maxwell Lord for help. Andar had to flee the planet when the real Carter Hall returned from Limbo with the Justice Society. Andar was imprisoned in his homeworld and remained there until he became involved in the Rann-Thanagar War events.

So, Carter Hall was back in a world where another younger Hawkman was flying around. Both men had female partners, and their names were remarkably similar. Even their names share close similarities. How can this be? Writers managed to cobble together an explanation that Paran Katar, Katar Hol’s father, came to Earth during the 1940s and met the original Hawkman. In this new continuity, Paran was inspired by the original Hawkman and Hawkgirl, which led to the development of the winged soldiers on Thanagar. Katar becomes injured, and Carter takes him to Naomi, a Cherokee woman he has known for many years. And what do you know? Naomi is really Katar’s mother, whom Paran never told him about. Katar is a Human-Thanagarian hybrid and an Indigenous person at that. Things were getting very confusing at this point, and then Zero Hour happened. You can read my review of that event here.

Part of the fallout was that both Hawkmen, Hawkgirl, and a newly introduced Hawkgod entity were merged into a singular new being. He was now an avatar of the Hawkgod, detached from his alien roots and his Golden Age past. When editorial decided this direction was a complete mess, this Hawkman was written as going insane, and he had to be put into Limbo by Martian Manhunter and the Atlantean sorcerer Arion. For most of the 1990s and early 2000s, Hawkman was persona non grata. Grant Morrison had wanted to use them in his Justice League run but was told no, so he invented the fallen angel Zauriel instead.

When Geoff Johns began writing JSA in the early 2000s, he knew that Hawkman needed to return at some point. He managed to pen a pretty good sorting out of all the confusing details that had driven the character into obscurity. Prince Khufu and Chay-ara learn in ancient Egypt that their souls cannot leave the material plane, and they are destined to reincarnate forever. A spacecraft crashes in the desert, and these characters with Nabu (Dr. Fate) and Teth-Adam (Black Adam) find it is a Thanagarian ship. The strange metal of the vessel is examined, and it is found it can negate gravity. Khufu and Chay-ara are murdered by Hath-Set with a knife made from this Nth Metal, but it binds their souls together forever.

Over centuries they come back in various forms: a medieval knight & maiden, a gunfighting cowboy & a female sheriff, among many, many more. Eventually, they became their Golden Age superhero versions leading to the history everyone was familiar with. Before Carter was reincarnated, the JSA had Kendra Saunders, aka Hawkgirl, on the team, a young woman struggling with memories of a past life. At first, she wants nothing to do with Carter, saying she doesn’t feel the connection they claim to have. Carter would become embroiled in The Rann-Thanagar War, trying to act as an intermediary. From there on, the characters fell back into being overly complicated while staying relatively the same. I don’t even want to touch on the New 52 Hawkman mess, so we will end here. Next week, I’ll talk about what Robert Venditti has just done to clear up this tangled mess of continuity and if it worked or not.

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