DC Histories: Hawkman

Welcome back to another DC History. We’re well into the New 52 at this point, but there’s still much that can be gained by examining how we got here. Only by looking back at what came before can we understand where we’re going.

This week, we’re looking at Hawkman. This is going to be a bumpy one. There have been a lot of awful continuity problems with the Hawks over the years but we’ll try to sort them all out here for you. Just try to stay on your toes.

Hawkman debuted in 1940′s Flash Comics #1 as a backup feature. After a dream told him that he was a reincarnated Egyptian prince, archaeologist Carter Hall discovered a mysterious Nth metal which defied gravity. Carter came to grips his heroic past lives and after he discovered that a belt made from Nth metal allowed him to fly, Carter donned a pair of artificial wings, a mask, and grabbed some ancient weapons so he could save people in need. He became Hawkman. His girlfriend, and later wife, Shiera took the name Hawkgirl and found alongside Carter during many adventures.

From Flash Comics #5 (1940)

As a kid, Hawkman freaked me out. The mask was very off putting. His beak was were his nose was? Gross. Hawkman’s creators must have agreed with me because Carter switched to a simple yellow, skin tight cowl in 1948. This look would pop up now and again, but Hawkman would mostly be tied to that hawk mask for the next 60 years.

Carter Hall, along with most of his Golden Age brethren, disappeared in the early 1950s. Superheroes were on the way out. Westerns, romances, and science fiction tales were in. A decade later, the Silver Age of superheroes was gearing up. Flash and Green Lantern had returned and, in 1961, it was Hawkman’s turn to once again hit spinner racks.

The Brave and the Bold (Vol. 1) #34 (1961) Cover

This time, Hawkman’s name was Katar Hol. As science fiction tales were still a hot commodity in 1961, it made sense that Katar was from the planet Thanagar, a world looked after by the Hawk-Police also known as Wingmen.  It was on Thanagar that the Nth metal which allowed the Wingmen to fly was found and developed. Katar, a member of the Wingmen, and his partner Shayera tracked down a Thanagarian criminal named Byth who had escaped to Earth. After capturing Byth, Katar and Shayera stayed on Earth to study our police methods. They took a civilian identity as museum curators and called themselves Carter and Shiera Hall.

Continuity problems were already beginning to make things confusing. The Golden Age Hawkman’s name was Carter Hall. The Silver Age Hawkman’s real name was Katar Hol but went by Carter Hall while dressed as a human. The two Hawkgirls also had the same name civilian name. This was all well and good when the Golden Age Hawkman and Hawkgirl hadn’t appeared in over 10 years. But, as the Silver Age continued, the Golden Age Carter and Shiera were reintroduced on a different plane of existence. They could, and did, meet on occasion. Still, the four Hawks were mostly kept apart.

Katar and Shayera’s adventures continued for the next 20 years. They both joined the Justice League, had their own solo titles, and generally helped out where need be. Things started to get more confusing with The Shadow War of Hawkman miniseries in 1985.

The Shadow War of Hawkman In-House Ad (1985)

It wasn’t the series itself that was the problem. It was the fact that this series, and the ongoing Hawkman series that followed it, took place during and directly after the Crisis on Infinite Earths. Following the Crisis, most major characters’ origins and powers were shifted. Superman, Wonder Woman and Captain Marvel all got their origins retold and their status quos shifted. Not so for the Hawks. Things remained as they always had. If DC wanted to change up the Hawks’ origin, it was during this time period that it should have happened. DC waited, which caused an avalanche of future problems.

That isn’t to say that there weren’t changes to the Hawks’ current status quo. The Shadow War was against the Hawks’ fellow Thanagarians who had declared war against Earth. Katar and Shayera turned traitor to their own kind and sided with humans against their home planet. In retaliation, the Thanagarians revealed the secret identity of the Hawks to the world. During their first public appearance after the revelation, Katar tried to make light of the situation. Katar’s grasp on American humor wasn’t as tight as it should have been.

From Hawkman (Vol. 2) #4 (1986)

As the Shadow War continued, it crossed over into other books. In fact, it was the post-Crisis on Infinite Earths version of Superman that helped the Hawks turn the tide of the war. Superman worked with the Hawks to destroy a Thanagarian armada that had been bearing down on Earth. They were successful, but Katar and Shayera knew that they could never go home again.

From Action Comics (Vol. 1) #588 (1987)

The second volume of Hawkman ended soon afterwards. Katar and Shayera bummed around the DCU after that, showing up occasionally in other titles. They even joined the JLI for a moment during the Invasion! event. No one seemed to think that they belonged in this version of the League.

From Justice League International (Vol. 1) #22 (1988)

Remember that this was all taking place nearly two years after the end of Crisis on Infinite Earths. It had been established by two major post-Crisis titles, Action Comics and Justice League International, that Katar Hol was Hawkman and had been for years. End of story.

Then, the story changed.

A miniseries debuted in 1989 called Hawkworld. It told the story of a young Katar Hol on Thanagar. His home planet was shown to be a place of racial and social problems. Thanagarians had conquered dozens of planets. As each planet joined their empire, their citizens became members of the lower class, living in filth while native Thanagarians kept their money and natural resources for themselves. Katar, a junior member of the Wingmen, felt ill-at-ease with this arrangement.

From Hawkworld (Vol. 1) #1 (1989)

As he began to voice his concerns, Katar was set up during a raid that ended with the death of his father at Katar’s own hands. Eventually, Katar was exiled for his crime, where he developed his sense of righteousness. Upon returning from exile, Katar discovered that Byth, a high ranking Wingman, was working against Thanagar’s interests. Just as Katar was about to arrest him, Byth fled the planet. Katar discovered that Byth had run to Earth.

This story would have worked just fine in the post-Crisis DC continuity if it had been said to take place 5 or 10 years ago. After all, it was just an updated version of Katar’s original origin. DC, however, decided that Hawkworld took place place in the modern DCU. When an ongoing Hawkworld series debuted shortly after the original miniseries ended, Katar and his partner Shayera tracked Byth to Earth where they were both newcomers. If this series had been published just a few years earlier, directly after the Crisis, none of this would have been an issue. Now, how would DC be able to reconcile the earlier post-Crisis appearances of Katar? Well, it took some doing.

Thanks to the fact that the Crisis on Infinite Earths combined all of Earth-1 and Earth-2, the Silver and Golden Age DC worlds, into a single world, it was now canon that Carter Hall was a World War II era hero on the same Earth where Katar and Shayera found themselves. Thanks to this new continuity, it was claimed that all of the Silver Age Justice League adventures featuring the Hawks actually had Carter and Shiera Hall under the masks, not Katar and Shayera. Furthermore, the Hawkman and Hawkwoman seen during that 1988 Justice League International adventure was another set of Hawks. Carter and Shiera were in Limbo at the time (a story that I’ll tell in a future DC History) so it couldn’t have been them. These Hawks were Fel Andar, a Thanagarian spy claiming to be the Golden Age Hawkman’s son, and a human woman he duped into loving him. Fel left Earth at the end of the Invasion! event after attempting to tie up the loose end that was his partner.

From Hawkworld (Vol. 2) #23 (1992)

All of these explanations sort of worked if you didn’t question them too much.

The relationship that Katar and Shayera had developed in the Silver Age was gone during Hawkworld. Now the two of them were partners and, while they cared for each other, they had intimate relationships with humans instead of with each other. In fact, in one adventure Katar turned his partner over to the Chicago authorities after she went against their orders. It’s hard to imagine the earlier version of Katar doing this to his wife.

From Hawkworld (Vol. 2) #8 (1991)

After a while, it became obvious to everyone that Hawkman’s continuity problems weren’t getting any better. No matter how many ways they tried to explain the various Hawks, it seems that more questions remained. In an attempt to fix everything, DC made it even worse during Zero Hour.

During Zero Hour, three of the main Hawks, Carter, Shiera, and Katar, found themselves fighting a Thanagarian Hawk Avatar. Suddenly, a beam of cosmic energy (or something) hit the four of them, fusing them into a single entity. It was DC wiping its hands of the Golden Age and attempting to start fresh with a Katar Hol without any baggage.

From Zero Hour #3 (1994)

This new Katar sort of remembered the history of everything that came before him, but it was mostly a blur. If he concentrated, he could also recall the past lives of Carter and Shiera. Still, this Katar was a brand new character with new abilities such as organic wings. Every other Hawks’ wings had been ornamental with the Nth metal doing all the flying work. This Katar’s wings let him fly and could even be contained within his body whenever he pleased.

From Hawkman (Vol. 3) #0 (1994)

During all of this change, it was also revealed that Katar wasn’t fully Thanagarian. Katar’s father had actually traveled to Earth sometime in his youth and given the Golden Age Hawkman the Nth metal Carter had used to fly. While on Earth, Katar’s father had fallen in love with a Cherokee woman who he’d brought back to Thanagar and had a child with. This made Katar half-human, something he’d never been before.

Between the human mother, remembering his past lives, and having a Hawk Avatar bonded with him, DC’s attempt to strip the character of his baggage failed spectacularly. Two years after Zero Hour, DC cut their loses. Katar chose to enter the Hawk Avatar’s realm to try to come to terms with this new side of him, knowing that he would probably never return. He would be mostly correct.

From Hawkman (Vol. 3) #33 (1996)

Hawkman would be gone for years. Knowing that his continuity was about as messed up as you can get, DC kept him out of stories for half a decade. He missed Grant Morrison’s great JLA revival but not a similar one for the Justice Society. It was in JSA that Hawkman was finally allowed to return to the DCU after he was resurrected by a ritual on Thanagar. This time, the version of Hawkman that returned was the original Carter Hall with, thankfully, non-organic wings. His wife Shiera had recently been reincarnated in the body of a woman named Kendra Saunders, though Kendra didn’t believe it at the time.

From JSA #24 (2001)

And just like that, Hawkman was back in the DCU. Like the post-Zero Hour version of the character, Carter remembered all of his previous versions of himself including Katar Hol. In this case, these previous lives were remembered not because of some weird cosmic energy but because Carter had been reincarnated hundreds of times over the years. For many readers, this just made much more sense. Carter took up residence in the town of St. Roch, Louisiana. There, he made a life for himself and generally kicked major butt.

From Hawkman (Vol. 4) #1 (2002)

As we’ve shown here time and again, DC events are not kind to Hawkman’s continuity. Infinite Crisis confused things yet again. During that event, Carter was on Thanagar helping to halt a war between Thanagar and another planet named Rann. While there, he ran into a god that tried to tell him that he was actually Katar Hol and that the Carter Hall identity was a false one. Why this retcon was allowed to be presented baffles me as DC had recently done their best to fix Hawkman. They’d actually succeeded at it too and now they were attempting to muddy the waters again. Luckily, this change was pretty much ignored and Carter remained Hawkman. Conor discussed this whole headache in an iFanboy Mini episode.

Hawkman and Hawkgirl disappeared for a while after Infinite Crisis. The two popped up in the first issue of Blackest Night and were immediately killed. Thankfully, their lives were given back to them at the end of that series. Brightest Day, the sequel to that event, had the Hawks finally break the reincarnation cycle that they’d been stuck in for thousands of years. Carter and Shiera were now free and could live together in peace and love.

From Brightest Day #18 (2011)

Sadly, this lasted for about fifteen minutes. It was then that they were both turned into wind elementals to help protect Swamp Thing. Look. These things happen. After Carter was turned human again, Shiera wasn’t to be found. Swamp Thing was apologetic but offered no explanations.

From Brightest Day #24 (2011)

That’s where we left Carter Hall in the old continuity. Where is he in the New 52? He once again has his own series, this time titled The Savage Hawkman. Shiera is no where to be found and she hasn’t even been brought up much. Did the events of Brightest Day not happen now? Is Carter the only person to have ever been Hawkman? Did Katar Hol ever exist? Oh, and somehow Carter’s Hawkman uniform and Nth metal are now a part of him that he can call forth at will. I don’t pretend to understand it any more than you do.

From The Savage Hawkman #2 (2011)

We’ll see what Rob Liefeld, who is taking over as the writer of The Savage Hawkman in the coming months, will do with Hawkman now. Here’s hoping Shiera makes a reappearance soon. Hawkman works better as a character when he’s with a partner. I’d like to think DC will remember that soon.


Jeff Reid congratulates you on getting this far in this article. He hopes your continuity headache is less awful than his. In fact, he needs to go lie down in a dark room for a while. He’ll let you know on Twitter when he feels better.

Comments

  1. Flash923 Flash923 says:

    Poor old Hawkman and Hawkwoman for that matter; never can anything just go thier way. I think the DC NEW 52 blew it when they gave him his own title right off the bat. The title has been confusing and the artwork has been almost as confusing since issue one and continues on. Now Rob is coming in and well… I have not heard anything good come from Rob in a long, long time. I would think DC right off the bat would have had him guest star in a few books and then maybe make an appearance in the JL first then to his own title. Then at that point establish this is and was always a one character not all of the other BS which with the reboot would have taken care of. You would think? Well I liked the Hawkman from the late 70′s and up till the mid 80′s and well that is irelavent at this point. Good luck Hawks in the future and I hope Rob can pull something out of his hat for once and bring you around as well as his own career.

    K

  2. Cantseeme Cantseeme says:

    As a huge fan of what Geoff Johns did for the character pre-Infinite Crisis, this article was a huge eye opener on the origins of one of my favorite characters. I just wish that Savage Hawkman had been given better caretakers. Daniels has a co-writer this issue, so maybe it will actually be readable. Phillip Tan’s drawing of Hawkman in armor looks great, but everything else from Carter Hall, to his backgrounds are just murky and simplistic. Does DC even care about presenting Hawkman as a quality character? Don’t give up on him I say!

  3. JDC JDC says:

    Your keyboard must have caught fire at least twice while wrtiting this. Bravo for perservering.

  4. HailScott HailScott says:

    I actually never read any Hawkman, but when I was a kid, his action figure was my favorite. When you squeezed his legs together, his wings would flap.

  5. Not gonna lie…this is the DC Histories that I was looking forward to the most. My history of reading Hawkman has been more or less confined to his exploits in Brightest Day, where the whole resurrection thing was detailed quite a bit. I didn’t mind it, though I can see where the whole reincarnation thing doesn’t really apply to where it seems that there were TWO Hawkmen running around the place.

    It seems that the best place to get on the ground running with Hawkman is the JSA series, which is good since I was hoping to start that soon.

  6. ato220 ato220 says:

    I didn’t think that this was possible. Excellent work Jeff.

  7. mikegraham6 mikegraham6 says:

    That Geoff Johns run of Hawkman was pretty epic. I highly recommend it. the first volume of the omnibus came out today!

  8. Firevine Firevine says:

    I have such a headache now.

  9. MisterJ says:

    This was like reading a crazy ass manifesto, except it is all real. Slow clap for DC editorial over the years on this one!

  10. daccampo daccampo says:

    I lived through this one. Discovered Truman’s HAWKWORLD in… maybe 1990? So shortly after it had come out. I started picking up Ostrander’s follow-up series shortly thereafter, and I really loved it. It was also my first experience with the retcon (the Fel Andar scene you reference above). Made my head spin, but I loved the Katar Hol character, and once they got past that it was really easy to ignore.

    But editorial wouldn’t let it got, and they tried to use Zero Hour to fix it… sigh… this is one of those situations where the continuous stab at a cure is generally worse than the disease. The whole Hawk avatar thing in his subsequent solo series… ugh, I wanted to like it so badly, but it just kept getting worse and worse (though right at the end of that series, Priest and Howard Porter did a little final arc that I recall being kind of awesome).

    I like that the new 52 version of Hawkman just doesn’t seem to bother itself with explaining everything. Unfortunately, they don’t see to execute it in a very interesting way. I read one issue and just had no interest in continuing.

    Great job summing this one up, Jeff!

    • Jeff Reid Jeff Reid (@JeffRReid) says:

      Of the series that I mentioned above, my favorite of the pre-Geoff Johns era was Shadow War of Hawkman / Hawkman Vol. 2. It was just fun super heroics. The Hawkworld stuff wasn’t awful, but it hit a little too hard on the political button for my tastes. Katar was all about pointing out America’s promise against its reality, which he did every other issue. It got to be a bit much when read in a large gulp, which is how I experienced it after the fact. Perhaps if I’d read it monthly, it wouldn’t have been so distracting.

  11. Skyfire124 Skyfire124 says:

    At the time I remember being rather ok with the post Zero Hour Hawk Avatar Hawkman…but the more I think back on it now, the more cringe inducing it seems. I was happiest with the Geoff Johns’ take from JSA and then the solo series, but God I wish they’d left well enough alone…I didnt like how Brightest Day wrapped up and I can’t this current version of Hawkman now.

  12. My only experience with Hawkman is the first two or so years of Geoff Johns run and I really grew to love the character in that time. To me he was almost like DC’s Wolverine, a straight up rugged bad ass who kicked a lot of heads in. But of course Infinite Crisis mucked everything up and I didnt care anymore, but Ive always had hopes that some talented writer might come onto a Hawkman book and make him awesome again. I didnt even bother reading the new series and it looks like it was for the better, here’s hoping for a better tomorrow for Hawkman… and Hawkgirl too.

  13. BCDX97 BCDX97 says:

    You didn’t even mention the stuff about Prince Khufu and Chay-Ara and Hath-Set. Hawkman has the most convoluted history in comics. He’s a cool character when done right but he never seems to be able to avoid cancellation.

  14. UncleBob UncleBob says:

    Connecting Hawkman to Vertigo Sandman……. even more confusing

  15. Thoctar Thoctar says:

    It’s a shame that the new Hawkman series had such a rocky start–that would have been a good place to give him a tangible, clear backstory.