Tuesday, April 12, 2005

Let's tawk about Hawkman

Quick, who’s lamer than Aquaman? Time’s up. Answer: Hawkman.

I’m just kidding, I kind of like Hawkman. He’s very similar to Aquaman in that he’s sort of a one-trick pony – Aquaman swims, Hawkman flies. And hits people with a mace. That’s about it.

Hawkman was created in 1939 by the prolific Gardner Fox, first appearing in Flash Comics in 1940, then in All-Star Comics. He was a founding member of the Justice Society of America and was popular back in the day. Tastes change. He has appeared in multiple solo series from the Silver Age on, and has the most fucked up convoluted history of any comic book character.

The original Hawkman was blond millionaire playboy Carter Hall, who collects antiquities and wears Hugh Hefner outfits. He discovers he’s the reincarnation of an Egyptian prince named Khufu (gesundheit) who was murdered, and that he had a lady love back in the day named Shiera. Wouldn’t you know it, a foxy chick named Shiera comes into his life, as well as a villain who was the reincarnation of the dude that murdered him. Following me? Carter straps on wings and hawk gear and takes to the air using anti-gravity belts made of “nth metal.” Carter avenges the murder of his former self by whacking the villain with a big mace -- "With a weapon of the past, I shall defeat an evil of the present" – and began his crimefighting career as Hawkman. Shiera joins him later as Hawkgirl. They clobber evil and join the JSA.

The old Hawkman comics were very cool – they had an Edgar Rice Burroughs vibe to them and were illustrated well. But much like Aquaman, the character then suffered through a number of comic series’ which were started then cancelled, and each new series was a re-imagining of Hawkman that didn’t reconcile with the past. In 1961 Hawkman and Hawkgirl reappeared in The Brave and The Bold, but now they were alien cops from the utopian planet Thanagar named Katar Hol and Shayera Thal, a husband and wife crime-fighting team. Huh?

Since this was before the continuity altering Crisis on Infinite Earths, DC solved the inconsistency by putting the two different Hawkmans on different Earths - Katar Hol and Shayera Thal on Earth-1 and Carter & Shiera Hall on Earth-2. Follow? After Crisis, things got confusing.

Then came 1989’s Hawkworld, by writer/artist Tim Truman, who reimagined utopian Thanagar as a planet of floating cities ruled by the fascist Wingmen police, where the rich elite live on the backs of the oppressed Downsiders. Right wing (get it?) cop Katar Hol has an attack of conscience and defects from Thanagar with his partner Shayera, seeking political asylum on Earth. This three-issue mini-series led into the Hawkworld ongoing series, which was an interesting political fable about a former fascist who comes around to the idea of sentient rights and is profoundly affected by the US Constitution. This series features the first interpretation of Hawkgirl as a ball-breaking warrior chick featured in the Justice League cartoons. The series slowly went downhill and was eventually cancelled.

This version of Hawkman didn’t fit with the Silver Age history of the character. Truman originally wrote Hawkworld imagining that this was the back story of Hawkman before he joined the Justice League, but editor Mike Carlin wanted to set the ongoing Hawkworld series in modern times. What about all those JLA heroes who adventured with Hawkman in the JLA? Were the Hawkworld Katar Hol and the Silver Age Katar Hol even the same guy?

There was another short-lived Hawkman series in 1986-87, which screwed up continuity even further and confused geeks everywhere. Hawkman was now an avatar of the “hawk spirit” or some shit, and at some point Katar Hol and Carter Hall were mystically fused together to fight the evil Hawkgod. What happened to alien Hawkman? No fucking clue.

Here’s DC editor Mike Carlin:

"Honestly, Hawkman is the character we have collectively done the most disservice to. Too many completely new starts just set the continuity on a spiraling tailspin. There was a wave of ‘rebooting’ that DC went through in the late eighties, and Hawkman unfortunately had the most ‘rebooting’ done with his character and mythos, so much that we just decided to give the character a rest, and to let the ‘radioactivity’ die down."

Hawkman was stuck in another dimension for a while, until writers Geoff Johns and David Goyer resurrected him in Golden Age form and he joined the JSA. In 2002, DC published yet another Hawkman series, written by Johns. I’m not totally 100% clear on what the character’s origin is – and I don’t think I’m alone.


Anonymous said...

You should definitely read the JSA issues where he is re-introduced.

Those and the new Hawkman series issues by Johns (and I think James Robinson at some point early on) are really very good.

One of my favorite things about his JSA appearances is his relationship with the newest Hawkgirl, the reincarnation of Shiera Hall who refuses to believe this/rejects him.

David Campbell said...

I only have a couple of the new Hawkman, and I must admit that he's a bad-ass in JSA...

RTO Trainer said...

You left out Shadow War of Hawkman.

That said, the new "origin" idea is not to have one: Hawkman is a continually reincarnated hero, as is Hawkgirl/woman, destined to both die at the hands ot the continually reincarnated villan.

They've evn pulled in the old west DC heros Nighthawk and Cinamon as the Carter and Shiera/Kendra of their day.

In spite of the occassional stretch this has to make, its actually seemd to fit pretty well.

Doctor Fate is another character with deep continuity issues as well that has been given a nth chance by the JSA reboot.

David Campbell said...

No way - Cinammon was one of Shiera's reincarnations? Clearly I need to read more Hawkman; that's nerd-tastic.

RTO Trainer said...

Seriously, the new Hawkman series is da*n good. It doesn't story lines for granted and the psychologies of the characters have remained very stable (IMO, this is what separates Marvel from DC--Marvel traditionally did the character psychology better--they need to relearn that trick).

You may have inspired me to go back and reread the whole thing so far.

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