Golden Age showcase: Hawkman

Today we are continuing our exploration into the Justice Society of America.

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Next up is Hawkman, one of the stranger characters to be created out of the Golden Age and a lesson for any future editors and writers on the importance of keeping your origin stories straight.

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Origin and career

The character of Hawkman was created in  by writer Garner Fox and artist Dennis Neville and debuted in Flash Comics #1 in 1940.  Hawkman’s original secret identity was mild mannered archaeologist Carter Hall.  While on an ordinary archaeological dig Hall discovered a mysterious dagger that put him into a deep trance when he touched it (side note: when will archaeologists ever learn that it’s probably a good idea to keep your hands off the ancient and potentially deadly artifact?)

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When he awoke Carter Hall realized that he was actually the modern reincarnation of an ancient Egyptian prince named Khufu (because of course) who had been murdered by the evil sorcerer Hath Set along with his lover Shiera.

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Realizing his true destiny Carter Hall set out to dispense some justice.  He discovered a rare metal known as “9th metal” which allowed him to negate the effects of gravity and fly on a set of homemade wings.  Also, in an act that would send historians and museum curators into fits of rage, he used weapons from his own museum to fight off the bad guys.

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In terms of his career Hawkman would go on to have a long and interesting run.  He would wind up becoming one of the founding members of the Justice Society and was the chairman of the organization until the very end.

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He also met a girl named Shiera Sanders who it turns out was actually his re incarnated bride from ancient Egypt.

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She winds up becoming the heroine Hawkgirl, making these two one of comic’s first power couples.

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All and all the two hawk themed heroes were quite popular.  Their allusions to magic and the ancient past set them apart from the rest of the superhero pack and made them a huge draw for readers.  In fact, Hawkman was so popular that he was the only superhero to appear in every singe Justice Society comic published.

So what happened?

Like most of his Golden Age counterparts Hawkman suffered a serious decline during the 1950’s with his final appearance as part of the original Justice Society in 1951.  However, like his co worker the Green Lantern Hawkman would receive a sci fi makeover a couple years later.

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The new Hawkman wasn’t a human archaeologist, he was a police officer from a distant planet called Thanagar named Kartar Hol.  The Thanagarians still used a winged harness to fly and they and used weapons made out of “Nth metal” to beat their foes.  This new incarnation of Hawkman came to Earth with his wife Shayera and in order to capture an alien criminal named Byth

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and decided to stay and study human police methods (hilarious) and knock some heads in the name of justice.  Eventually they would sever all ties with their homeworld when Thanagar tried to conquer Earth in the name of fighting a long and bloody war with another planet called Ran.

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Now hold onto your hats because this is where it gets weird.

At the beginning of the Silver Age it was established that there were actually parallel universes in what would become the DC Comics cannon (we’ll talk about that next week).  Carter Hall, the original archaeologist Hawkman, lived on Earth-2 with the original members of the Justice Society while the alien Kartar Hol lived on Earth-1.

In 1985 DC decided to do away with decades of comic book continuity and confusing alternate dimensions with their massive crossover series Crisis on Infinite Earths.

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The series was a huge hit and has helped dictate DC editorial policy for years for better or for worse.  What the event did was reboot the entire DC universe from scratch and replacing the alternate dimensions with one Earth timeline that had the Justice Society in the 1940’s and a more modern Justice League later on.  The series had a massive impact on the history and stories of thousands of characters and created new established cannon that still holds sway today.

Apparently someone forgot to get the memo to the writers of Hawkman because when it came time to reboot him they stuck with the Silver Age alien version.  Kartar was the only Hawkman in this universe and that was final.  This created a continuity problem because it left no explanation for how the Golden Age Hawkman, the archaeologist Carter Hall, could exist as Hawkman.  In order to fix this the writers changed it around to state that the Halls, not the Holls, were the original members of the new Justice League and that the alien Hawkman was simply a Thanagarian agent spying on Earth.

If this is sounding confusing to you don’t worry.  A lot of people find this way to confusing to follow and as a result Hawkman titles suffered from poor sales.

Today Hawkman and Hawkgirl are still kicking around the DC universe.

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Currently both heroes are written as re incarnations of Khufu and Shiera although their continuity continues to remain a confusing mess for many.

Before we go, there needs to be special mention of Hawkgirl.  In modern superhero stories she has actually wound up becoming a bit more popular than her male counterpart due to her main role in the phenomenal Justice League cartoon.

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In this version the creators took the Thanagarian route and made her an alien from another world.  Her wings were part of her and she carried an Nth Metal mace.  Interestingly enough, while she would go on to have her own story in the series (she fell in love with Green Lantern and helped stop an invasion of Earth by her own people at tremendous personal cost) there was an episode called “Shadow of the Hawk” where a mysterious man named Carter Hall attempted to convince Hawkgirl that they were reincarnated lovers of a Thanagarian couple who came to Ancient Egypt thousands of years ago.

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While the history and story of Hawkman has proven to be a bit difficult for readers and writers to handle he deserves some recognition as one of the first members of the Justice Society and one of the most important for a very long time.

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