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

Jul 18, 2020

Hawkman Unleashed Part One: The Reason and The Components of a Hero

By Tim Board
Hawkman 80th Anniversary Collage by Tim Board

In my mind, Hawkman is the greatest comic book character ever created. Now before all the Batman and Spider-man fans scoff, curse, and click away, let me explain why I think this way. We all love comics. We love how a certain character or story grabbed our attention, our interest, and finally our heart and never let go. For me, that character is Hawkman. For you, it might be Wonder Woman or Captain America. And that is perfectly fine. Somewhere, somehow, that character became rooted in your consciousness and stayed. Every time you see the image of that character, your heart immediately starts beating faster. You'll remember your favorite stories where the character lifted you up. Or you may even feel enraged, as you remember a story where you feel your hero was mistreated. But that's why comic books will never go away. These characters have become a part of our identity, and they keep us young until our dying day.

Back cover of DC Comics' 1976 Calendar
Ever since I saw Hawkman flying with other heroes on the back cover of a 1976 DC Calendar, the character has thrilled me, saddened me, excited me, or left me wondering why I didn't follow Superman or Thor. Because let's face it. Hawkman is not a top-tier character. Maybe not even second-tier. While all the headliner heroes are reaching 1000 issues of that or 750 issues of this, Hawkman hasn't even reached No. 250 yet. He has never even had a series reach No. 50. He didn't even get his own comic until 24 years after his creation. It is what it is.

Art by Prentis Rollins
Why is Hawkman my favorite hero? The reasons have changed and evolved over the years, just like anything would. In the beginning, I was struck by the hero's image. While all the heroes had costumes and capes, here was a guy who had wings, didn't bother with a shirt, had a hawk helmet, and was swinging a huge mace. His look blew me away. How can that not be cool! Here was a mace-swinging gladiator with wings walking around a group of more "conventional" heroes. And he could FLY. Not only that, but he had the most gorgeous partner in Hawkgirl that was just as badass as he was, maybe even more. And if that wasn't enough, he was an alien from another planet. Thanagar was the coolest sounding planet name ever. He had an awesome spaceship to travel back and forth. His identity on Earth was an archaeologist/museum curator. I was a history buff when I was a kid. I would sit and devour the encyclopedia for hours, learning about other places, remembering the people and the dates, and dream about going to all those exotic places for adventure. History, geography, and social studies were always my top subjects in school. Here was a hero who lived the life I dreamed of! This hero was for me! As the years passed, Hawkman evolved. The reincarnation part of his origin started being addressed and it fascinated me. He had lived all these different lives. He remembered being an Egyptian, or an Indian, or a Japanese. He could still speak the languages. He retained all the skills that he learned in previous lives. He was steadfast in his purpose of fighting for life and the people around him. He loved Thanagar and Earth and fought for both. He had a really touching friendship with the Atom. His rogues' gallery was so much fun, with a ghost, a lion, a shadow, a shape-shifter, and so many others. I could on and on but you get the idea. Hawkman was my hero that captured my imagination and hasn't let go.
I've followed him through the somewhat good times and some times of ridicule or times of absolutely nothing. But right now is a pretty good time. The current Hawkman series by Robert Venditti, which started in June 2018, has become the character-defining series that I have always waited for. When Scott Snyder brought back Hawkman in the Metal series in 2017, I had no idea what was coming. At first, I thought Jeff Lemire was going to be writing a new series since he was the writer for the tie-in issue called Hawkman Found. But then on March 14, 2018, it was announced in the Washington Post that Venditti and Bryan Hitch would be teaming up for a new Hawkman series.

Hawkman Vol. V No. 1 (August 2018)
In this series, Hawkman has finally been unleashed. He has been allowed to approach his absolute best version. Of course, there are Hawkfans who disagree with me. They don't care for the new origin, or they don't agree with the way Hawkwoman has been portrayed. I'm not going to argue with them over that. They have valid points. The past versions of Hawkman have a special place in their hearts, and nothing is going to replace that. But I want to explain why I think this current Hawkman is the best we've ever had. You may agree, you may disagree, but there's nothing wrong with a good debate over our favorite comic book characters. What would be the fun if we all agreed on everything?

Art by Joe Kubert
Throughout their 80-year history, there have been nine things that have been a part of Hawkman and Hawkwoman's stories. I want to look over each one before going into the history of the Hawkman series (Part Two), and then finally look at the series by Venditti and why I think it is the greatest Hawkman series ever (Part Three).

1. Origin/Purpose
Where does he come from? How did he become a hero? Why does he do what he does? What's the reason and the motivation for it all? Superman and Batman's origins are probably the most important parts of their stories. A baby escaping from an exploding planet and a young boy witnessing the murder of his parents begins their stories and is the theme that runs through them. With Spider-man, we learn that great power comes with great responsibility. For Batman, it is to bring justice to criminals and make sure that what happened to him as a child never happens again. For Superman, it's to be a symbol of hope for all people. Most of the big-time heroes have a purpose. As we read the comics, we don't ask, well...why is he doing that? What's his motivation? We already know. We know why Superman does what he does and what Batman fights crime in Gotham. A purpose makes a hero come alive. It makes him relatable. And we want to see him be successful in his cause. DC Comics' heroes tend to do what they do out of a sense of duty. Batman is maybe an exception. Hawkman seems to fall in the group of heroes who take it as their duty to use their powers and abilities for others. That all changed with the current series but we'll look at how this was handled in each.

From Hawkman Vol. 2 No. 2 (September 1986)
No. 2 Secret Identity
There seem to be two ways of approaching a secret identity. Most Marvel Comics' heroes don't seem to bother with a secret identity at all, unless you're Spider-man, while DC Comics' heroes rely heavily on the secret identity part of their stories, at least until Brian Bendis brought Marvel's approach into Superman's story. Anyway, the question is why do heroes have an identity?
This topic can be a topic of a thesis (which this is quickly becoming) but the main reasons for a secret identity are to:
a. Protect your personal life and loved ones.
b. Become a symbol of hope or fear, depending on which side you're on.
c. Discover the ability to transcend yourself and become something bigger.
d. Entertain readers with quick changes using telephone booths, batpoles, or, lasso twirls.
There could be a hundred other reasons but these are the ones that stand out in my mind when I look back on the comics I read as a kid.
A secret identity has always been a central part of a superhero story. Watching our hero interact with us "normal humans" and deal with everyday problems makes the hero more relatable and likable. Superman's secret identity was Clark Kent, while Bruce Wayne is Batman. They are exact opposites but the stories about their true character made them more real and personal. Spider-man is the best example of this. But with Hawkman and Hawkwoman, it gets complicated. Which is their true identity? Are they Hawkman and Hawkwoman first? Or are they Carter and Shiera first? They have been Hawkman and Hawkwoman for thousands and thousands of years, but they have been Carter and Shiera for only a short time. They have lived many other lives, but the Hawk appears to have always been a part of their persona. There have been times when their secret identities came close to becoming relatable (Shadow War, Hawkworld), but it's been a bit of everything. Hawkman started out as Carter Hall first, but in the latter series, Carter Hall/Katar Hol has taken a back seat to Hawkman. Which is the right approach? It would make for a great debate.

From Blackest Night No. 8 (May 2010)
3. Love
Right from the beginning, the love of Carter Hall and Shiera Sanders has been a focal point of their story. Along the way, it became Katar Hol and Shayera Hol, then Katar Hol and Shayera Thal, Carter Hall and Kendra Saunders, and now Carter Hall and Shayera Hol. Even in their past lives, there were Khufu and Chay-ara, Brian and Celia, Nighthawk and Cinnamon, and Ktar and Shrra. You cannot talk about Hawkman without talking about Hawkwoman. OK, maybe you can but it will be a short conversation. These two have been soulmates for thousands of years. Their love was portrayed as being strong enough to power a power battery on Zamaron. What other superhero couples can say that? Their love has been an important and vital part of their story from the beginning and despite some writers' efforts to tear them apart, they remain Hawkman and Hawkwoman.

From Flash Comics No. 1 (January 1940)
No. 4 Powers
Since his debut, the writers have touched on the joys of flying and the freedom that comes with it. While they may not be the fastest fliers, Hawkman and Hawkwoman should have the best aerial skills of anyone in the DC Universe. In the current series by Venditti, right away in the first issue on the first page, it opens up with Hawkman's flight. "I was made to soar."
The Hawks have other powers as well, such as super-human strength, super-vision, endurance, healing, combat technique, limited invulnerability, etc. But their signature power remains flight.

Hawkman's Signature Weapon
No. 5 Weapons
Where would Hawkman be without his weapons? Ever since he picked up a quarterstaff in Flash Comics No. 1, he has used all kinds of weapons to fight evil. His signature mace (actually a flail) first showed up in Flash Comics No. 8. A true mace (a metal ball on the end of a rod) didn't show up until Flash Comics No. 47 (November 1943). But it gradually became his signature weapon. We've seen the Katar (a hand-held blade) and also his mightiest weapon, the Claw of Horus. There have been some Thanagarian weapons introduced, but Hawkman and Hawkwoman have always settled on Earth's weapons. You can read more about the history of Hawkman's mace here and the Claw of Horus here.

Stone Chat Museum, St. Roch, Louisiana (From Hawkman Secret Files and Origins)
The Brontadon, Hawkman's Thanagarian spaceship (Hawkman Vol. 4 No. 2)
6. Location
A central location, a base, or a home has always been an important part of a character's identity. Batman and Gotham, Superman and Krypton or Smallville, Wonder Woman and Paradise Island, and so on. Hawkman has had several locations over the years; New York City (Golden Age), Midway City and Thanagar (Silver-Bronze Age), Thanagar and Chicago (Hawkworld), St. Roch (Vol. 4), and New York City (New 52). Despite all the locations, there have been two places where you can usually find the Hawks; a museum and a spaceship. Carter Hall's story started in a museum, while Katar Hol was in a space ship. The museum was a perfect set up for the archaeologist Carter Hall, who also used the ancient weapons in his museum as Hawkman. The space ship was often in orbit above Earth and served as the Hawks' connection to Thanagar. It's difficult to imagine the Hawks without one or the other.

Hawkman and Hawkwoman's Rogues Gallery
7. Villains
Every hero needs a villain. Someone to instigate the battles and become a nemesis. Any well-known hero has his villain, and sometimes the villain becomes even more popular than the hero. Hawkman's Rogues Gallery doesn't get near the attention it deserves. In the 80 years of Hawkman's history, he has had a vast number of villains appear in the comics. The most famous of these are probably Hath-Set, Gentleman Ghost, Byth, Shadow Thief, Matter Master, Lion Mane, and Fadeaway Man. There's also the Monocle, Onimar Synn, I.Q., the Man-Hawks, Darkwing, Hummingbird, Hyanthis, Count Viper, White Dragon, the Wingors, and Idamm. It's a treasure trove of potential stories just waiting to be told.

Commissioner George Emmett, Mavis Trent, Joe Tracy, Lefty, Danny Evans
8. Supporting Cast
It's often said that a story is only as strong as its supporting cast. While Hawkman has had a few characters in his story, this is probably the part of Hawkman's history that most comic book readers are unaware of. Each series has had several characters who made repeated appearances (George Emmett) and some have been rebooted each time DC resets everything (Mavis Trent). There have been various attempts to add new characters, and as a result, there is an expansive Hawk family that connects Earth and Thanagar in many ways. This chart includes most of the Hawkman family members from the Golden Age to the Geoff Johns' series in the 00s.

With so many previous lives, the Hawks have connections to Jonathan Kent, Wonder Woman, Doctor Fate, Lyta, Dream of the Endless, the Golden Eagle, Hyanthis, Speed Saunders, and so on. It's vast and a great source for stories in the future.

Art by Aaron Lopresti and Brad Anderson
9. Death/Reincarnation
Death is a big part of comics. If your favorite character has been around for five years or longer, there's a good chance he/she died at least once. You're actually surprised when your character is still alive after a crisis. Hawkman and Hawkwoman have been no exceptions. After Carter and Shiera of the Golden/Silver/Bronze Age were "killed" during the Zero Crisis in 1994, the Death March began. From 1994 to 2017, Hawkman met his death over a dozen times. Hawkwoman/Hawkgirl had her own share of deaths during that time. It got to be a bit of a joke. If Hawkman was in the story, he probably wasn't going to make it out alive. The interesting thing is no longer how is he going to die. The question is, "How is he going to come back this time?" And Hawkman has been given the perfect vehicle to do it again and again in a way no other hero can; Reincarnation.

From Flash Comics No. 1 (January 1940)
Shaw Desmond, an Irish writer, once said this: "Reincarnation is, indeed, the key which unlocks all doors, the universal "combination," before which our manacles fall from our limbs -- the life-line by which the crooked way is made straight." This quote made me think about reincarnation from a Hawkman perspective.  Gardner Fox gave us the key to understanding Hawkman and Hawkwoman in the very first issue of his story. Granted, Fox may not have intended it to be used in the way it has worked out. During the 80 years of Hawkman's history, we've been given many different paths for Hawkman, some crooked and some straight. Many writers following him, including Robert Venditti, have taken that key and used it to unlock Hawkman and straighten the path for the rest of us.
As I said earlier, Part Two will come out next Friday, on July 24. I'll talk about the series that Hawkman series that we've had over the years. Then Part Three will come out on July 31 and we'll dive into the current series by Venditti. Stay tuned!

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