Art by Prentis Rollins (2017, Commissioned by Tim Board)

Nov 10, 2019

Hawkman 80th Celebration: Hawkman: The Flight Continues

Art by Adam Kubert
“I am Carter Hall. I am Hawkman.

I am made to soar.”

                  From Hawkman Vol. V No. 1 (August 2018), Writer Robert Venditti

Writer: Gardner Fox, Artist: Dennis Neville

On November 10, 1939, Hawkman / Carter Hall soared into comic books for the first time. Eighty years later, despite never really achieving “first-tier” status, Hawkman continues to soar today. He has his own comic, he consistently makes appearances in other heroes’ books, and he has a solid fan base that, depending on their point of view, continues to soar or suffer along with their favorite winged wonder. What is it that has kept this hero in the comics for so long? His book has been canceled time and time again. There have been eight Hawkman series, several mini-series, and numerous special issues and back-up features over the years. He was even considered too toxic to be used in comics for a few dark years, but he has always made a comeback.

Why does Hawkman continue to be brought back? His series have never made it to a 50th issue, and it often struggles in sales. But there is something about Hawkman that continues to capture the fans, writers and artists’ fascination. I believe there are five basics aspects of Hawkman that keep him soaring: flight, reincarnation, weapons, love, and purpose.

Art by Sheldon Moldoff
When Hawkman was created, there really wasn’t a superhero whose signature superpower was flight. Superman, the superhero of strength, wouldn’t fly until 1943. Batman, the super-detective, used his vehicles to fly. Flash, who debuted in the same comic with Hawkman, was the superhero of speed. Green Lantern wouldn’t appear for a few more months. Zatara was featured in Action Comics and appeared to have the power of levitation, but his primary power was magic. The Sub-Mariner was flying seven months before Hawkman, but his main powers were his abilities underwater.

Gardner Fox, the creator of Hawkman

The story of how Gardner Fox came up with the idea of a winged superhero has been told by his granddaughter, Terri Fox. One day in 1939, he had sat down to create new superheroes to be featured in a new comic. He looked out of his window and saw a bird pick up a twig and fly off. Fox thought it would be interesting if the bird was a superhero and the twig was a criminal. The idea for Hawkman was born.

Working with artist Dennis Neville, Fox got busy creating a bird-like superhero and he went all out. He gave the character huge wings. For a mask, he made a helmet that had an entire hawk’s head on top. There seems to have been a fascination with bare-chested heroes back during that time, so Hawkman was given a harness instead of a shirt. There has never been any reason given to my knowledge for the costume’s colors of red, green and yellow. Perhaps the bird Fox saw when he looked out the window was a brightly colored hummingbird. And that gave him the idea for the colors. Whatever the reason, Hawkman was a striking image. 

When Hawkman flies off on his first adventure as Hawkman, he flies over the city. The people below see him and shout, “Look! A hawk! A giant hawk you mean!” It could be possible that this was the precursor to the famous catchphrase for Superman a few years later. “It’s a bird! It’s a plane! It’s Hawkman Superman!”

Hawkman’s super power of flight is one of the traits of the character that continue to captivate many fans. It has always been man’s desire to fly ever since he looked up and saw the birds flying above him in the sky. To have that freedom to soar is a desire in many ways; to be able to soar to new places, to be able to soar unencumbered by gravity, and to soar high above the problems of our daily lives.

Art by Bryan Hitch, Andrew Currie, and Jeremiah Skipper

Personally, Hawkman represented freedom. Until I was the age of 18, my family moved numerous times. It was often places far away. I was completely uprooted, put on an airplane, and taken to a place where I was a stranger. I felt out of place and alone. I desperately wanted to just fly back home. But no matter how much I desired it, I could not go back to my family and friends. I had no wings to return to where I wanted to go. I had no money to buy an airplane ticket. I was grounded in a place I didn’t want to be. I think this is the reason why airplanes and airports, in general, put me in a melancholy mood even to this day. I clearly remember seeing the birds fly across the sky, I marveled at the freedom they had to go where they wanted. I wanted that power of flight. If I had that power, I could fly back home and be with my family and friends whenever I wanted.

Art by Neal Adams and Dick Giordano

When I first discovered Hawkman in 1977, I was immediately struck by his appearance. He had wings. He had the power of flight. He had the freedom to go wherever he wanted, when he wanted. I wanted to learn more about him, and my awe-affair with Hawkman began.

Art by Bryan Hitch, Andrew Currie, Jeremiah Skipper

Reincarnation is a power that is not unique to Hawkman, but it is the foundation of his story. Hawkman’s first identity in Flash Comics No. 1 (January 1940) is Carter Hall, but in his very first origin story in that issue, we are introduced to Prince Khufu. Gardner Fox introduced the idea of reincarnation to the origin of Hawkman and that has become one of the most interesting and confounding aspects of Hawkman ever since. It was basically swept under the rug during the Silver and Bronze ages, but since Hawkman’s return to comics in 2001, Geoff Johns, John Ostrander, Jimmy Palmiotti, and now Robert Venditti have greatly expanded that side of Hawkman’s story.

With all the reboots, rewrites, retcons, and rebirths, Hawkman’s story has been all over the place. While the different versions of Flash and Green Lantern were neatly separated, explained and distinguishable, Hawkman’s versions have become tangled over the years. Readers have been asked to forget this version ever happened, or to act like this square peg will definitely fit in that round hole. You can’t blame the casual fans for being confused by it all.

Geoff Johns was the first to truly explain the story of the Hawks’ reincarnation, and the effect it has had on them over the years. It wasn’t complete, but it was a start. We discovered that the heroes of the 1950s, the Silent Knight and Nighthawk were Hawkman’s past lives. We discovered that not only was he an Egyptian prince and a Thanagarian policeman, but he was also a priest, a German blacksmith, a Japanese samurai, a Virginia colonist, an ancestor of Jonathan Kent, a slave, and an early 20th-century detective. We found out that the Hawks, for the most part, retained the memories and abilities of past lives. It was a brilliant move that gave Hawkman and Hawkgirl limitless potential as characters. It still didn’t fit perfectly, but it worked to an extent.

Art by Fernado Pasarin

The reincarnation angle was again basically ignored during the New 52 period, but when the new Hawkman series started in June 2018, writer Robert Venditti made it the foundation of everything that Hawkman is about. Not only had Hawkman reincarnated across time, but he had reincarnated across time and space. As Venditti has mentioned in his interviews, all he did was add the two little words, “and space” and suddenly it all clicked. 

In my 40-plus years of following Hawkman, continuity was never a turnoff nor even an issue for me. Hawkman was Hawkman; Egyptian or Thanagarian, helmet or yellow-cowl, Carter or Katar, Society or League, none of that mattered. He was a winged superhero who carried all sorts of cool weapons, was afraid of nothing, had a beautiful partner, and he flew with his glorious wings.

When Venditti introduced the concept that all of the Hawkmen who have ever appeared in comics had been reincarnated from the original, it finally fell into place. There were Hawkmen from Thanagar, Rann, Krypton, the Microverse, New Genesis, and many other places. But there is no shoehorning required here. Different times, different planets, different dimensions; it doesn’t matter. Here we have a character that has lived and reincarnated for thousands and thousands of years. Reading his new origin revealed in Hawkman Vol. V No. 7 (February 2019), I was amazed by how easily Venditti brought it together. What Johns had started, Venditti found a way to complete it.

Art by Rags Morales and Michael Bair

Weapons have always been one of the interesting things about Hawkman. When Fox started writing Hawkman in Flash Comics, he gave Hawkman all sorts of weapons; quarterstaffs, nets, knives, crossbows, and more. The mace first appeared in Flash Comics No. 8 (August 1940). Its use gradually increased over time and now it’s impossible to imagine Hawkman without it.

Art by Bryan Hitch, Andrew Currie, Pau Neary, Jeremiah Skipper

One of the most fascinating things about a character is their weapon. Luke Skywalker’s lightsaber, Indiana Jones’ whip, Thor’s Mjolnir, Wonder Woman’s magic lasso; the list goes on and on. Over the years, Hawkman’s weapon has evolved. It was a flail at first, then a mace or a morning star. The first maces were ancient artifacts, then duplicates created by Thanagarian science, and then finally made out of Nth Metal itself. In Justice League Unlimited (2002-2006), we saw how it has the power to disrupt magic. In Hawkman Vol. 4 (2002-2006), we saw how incredibly heavy and destructive it can be. In Hawkman Vol. V (2018-), we now have a mace that is controlled mentally by Hawkman and returns to him after being thrown. As with the character, Hawkman’s weapons have continued to evolve and become an unmistakable part of Hawkman lore.

From Superman/Batman: Public Enemies (2009)

Another weapon of Hawkman’s that needs to be mentioned is the Claw of Horus. This was first introduced in 2001 by Johns in the JSA series. Prince Khufu, with the help of Nabu (Doctor Fate) and Teth-Adam (Black Adam), forged a gauntlet out of Nth Metal. With this gauntlet, Hawkman now had the power to go head-to-head with the top-tier powerhouses. In one story, Hawkman apparently knocked out Superman with the Claw of Horus, saying it was like hitting him with a planet. Hawkgirl once used it in Hawkman Vol. 4 No. 42 (2005) and destroyed a whole street with it. This weapon has been used sparingly, and we haven’t seen it since the Brightest Day series in 2010, but it is sure to be brought back again.

Art by Jose Luis Garcia-Lopez

We cannot talk about Hawkman without the mention of Hawkgirl/Hawkwoman. Shiera Sanders debuted in the same issue with Carter Hall, and became Hawkgirl 16 months later, a half a year before Wonder Woman/Diana Prince made her own debut. From 1939-1996, Hawkgirl/Hawkwoman eventually became Hawkman’s equal partner and the love of his many lives. That was part of the appeal of the Hawks. With all the other super couples arguing and breaking up, the Hawks were steadfast in their love for each other. They were a team, partners, completely relying on each other, each as competent as the other. Before reincarnation became the cornerstone of Hawkman’s legend, the Hawks’ relationship was the one thing you could count on.

That all changed in 2001. When Johns expanded on the idea of a reincarnating superhero, he brought up a very interesting question. What guarantee do you have of loving the same person in your next life? Over the years, Carter and Shiera finding each other in each life cycle was a given. Johns used a wild premise to give us a Hawkgirl who didn’t know who Carter was. We no longer had a superhero couple who were deeply in love. We now had Carter whose feelings for Shiera had not changed, but instead of Shiera, he was with Kendra Saunders, and she wanted no part of it. Hawkfans still debate this approach in the Hawks’ history. While it made for some interesting stories, I personally think that the appeal of Hawkman and Hawkgirl lost something when the love that they shared over the years was taken away. There are some fans who disagree. There are some that like the fact that Kendra was able to go in another direction. It always makes for an interesting debate.

Writer: Tony Isabella, Artist: Richard Howell

One of the best series to showcase the Hawks' love for each other is the Shadow War of Hawkman mini-series (1985) and the following Vol. 2 series (1986-87) by writer Tony Isabella and artist Richard Howell. In the Shadow War series, Hawkwoman is presumed dead. Hawkman fights through his grief to defeat the enemy, and in mid-battle, Hawkwoman returns. They hold in their emotions until the battle is won and then we see one of the most endearing and precious scenes in Hawkman and Hawkwoman’s history. It is truly beautiful and this is what makes them such a great story. Later on, we discovered that the love that Prince Khufu and Chay-Ara was so powerful, their remains are a source of energy in the Zamarons’ power battery. That’s just mind-blowing. Sadly, we have not seen this kind of relationship between the Hawks in the last 30 years, but with Hawkwoman/Shayera Hol coming to the Hawkman series in December, we will now get to see the direction Venditti will take the eternal lovers.

Art by Bryan Hitch, Andrew Currie, Alex Sinclair

When I read a superhero story, sooner or later I ask the question, “Why does this hero do what he does? Why does he put on tights and fight bad guys? What makes him risk everything to battle evil? What’s his motivation?” Batman’s reason for fighting crime is probably the most famous. The murder of his parents sparked an intense hatred of killing and a desire for justice. With Hawkman, it’s been a bit more muddled. During the Golden Age, it started with getting revenge on Hath-Set, and after that, it was basically just a sense of justice. 

The Silver and Bronze Age Hawkman at first was on Earth to study Earth’s police methods. Hawkworld’s Hawkman was out to capture a Thanagarian fugitive and then became a fugitive himself. And on it went. One of the reasons The Savage Hawkman series did not last past 21 issues could be that it was hard to understand why he was doing what he was doing. That was even mentioned in the Justice League of America series (2013). Just flying around and whacking people upside the head with a mace just didn’t resonate. I wonder why.

From Dark Days: The Casting

In the current series, Venditti has given at least four reasons why Hawkman/Carter Hall does what he does. In the very first issue, we are introduced to an interesting question. Why does Hawkman, a hero of the skies, dig deep into the earth as an archaeologist? He was made to soar, and yet he goes into dark, enclosed spaces where flying is not possible. He is “driven by the twin compulsions of his existence. Exploration and discovery.” The exploration, the search, the find, and the discovery are the things that drive Carter Hall. He is compelled to go into those places, not because he wants to, but because knowing the truth is sometimes more important than staying safe in the open skies. That’s a powerful bit of truth about Hawkman that I think we can all relate to. We all have something that drives us, that thing that drives us out of our comfort zone and compels us to do something that may not be comfortable, and maybe downright frightening, but there is something in us that makes us move forward, to find the answer that we’re looking for.

But it doesn’t stop there. In issue No. 7 (February 2019), we discover why Hawkman is reincarnated. As a winged being named Ktar, he was created to serve an evil entity, and as the leading general of his army, he mindlessly killed and murdered countless people and planets over the millennia. Gradually, he came to understand what he was doing and found no purpose or joy in serving the evil entity. Inspired by a peculiar red-haired woman, he rebelled. He sacrificed his life to send the evil entity and its horde into another realm. Ktar died. Before his judgment, he was confronted by another entity. We do not yet know what this entity is, but it gave Ktar a choice; either accept his judgment and go into the afterlife or enter a cycle of reincarnation for all eternity to save as many lives as he took, as long as it takes. Ktar took the chance to atone for what he had been made to do over the years. This was his redemption and now he lives for atonement. Every life he saves is a part of his atonement.

Art by Bryan Hitch, Andrew Currie, Jeremiah Skipper

Exploration, discovery, redemption, and atonement; these are the reasons why Hawkman does what he does. In every story of Hawkman, we get to see where he is exploring, what he discovers, how he has been redeemed and his effort to achieve atonement. That makes him relatable to pretty much everybody.

Hawkman was created 80 years ago in 1939. That’s three generations. Over the years he has gone through many changes, and many consider him to be a confusing character. But the core of Hawkman has never changed. He has always had the power of flight, his gift of reincarnation, his weapons, and his love for Hawkwoman. He soars through the sky and goes underground for exploration and discovery. He was given redemption, and he continues to battle evil and fight for life as an atonement.

There is hope for Hawkman's future. He has a great comic with a great writer and team. According to the current series, he is the living record of the DC Universe. A movie is also currently being rumored. If Hawkman and Hawkwoman are ever given a movie that comes remotely close to what Aquaman received, Hawkman could be the next big thing. And then DC Comics might join in the celebration of Hawkman's next anniversary. But regardless of what happens, there will always be Hawkman fans who soar when they see their favorite winged warrior in the comics.  

The flight continues.

Art by Bryan Hitch and Alex Sinclair

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