Endangered Species – Hawkman, Part III

For those who came in late: In previous installments of Comics 101, we’ve explored the origins of the 1940s Hawkman character, as well as his 1960s counterpart. When last we convened, the question was: How would Hawkman fare in the wake of DC Comics’ sweeping editorial restructuring of their universe? The answer: not well.

Throughout the 1960s, ’70s and ’80s, we had two sets of Hawks at DC Comics. There was Hawkman and Hawkgirl, a.k.a. Carter and Shiera Hall, the reincarnated Egyptian royalty, and Hawkman and Hawkwoman, a.k.a., Katar and Shayera Hol, alien cops here on Earth to study our police methods. And for the most part, ne’er the twain did meet, thanks to a little concept called Earth-2, courtesy of editor Julius Schwartz. For those of you might have missed our previous discussion of the multiple Earths, here’s a quick recap. When Schwartz began reintroducing characters like Flash, Green Lantern and Hawkman in the ’60s, readers began requesting to see the return of the original 1940s versions of the characters as well. In response, Schwartz created Earth-2, a parallel world where history was slightly different. The younger, contemporary versions of Flash, Green Lantern, et al, lived on Earth-1, while the original 1940s versions, now older, lived on Earth-2. Therefore, any superhero published by DC in the 1940s lived on Earth-2, including older versions of Superman and Batman as well.


Accordingly, the middle-aged Egyptian Hawks lived on Earth-2, while the young Thanagarian Hawks lived on Earth-1. Simple enough, right? Unlike Flash and Green Lantern, who met with their elder Earth-2 counterparts fairly frequently, the Hawkses didn’t really get together all that much. There might be an occasional exchange at one of the annual Justice Society/Justice League get-togethers, but otherwise, Carter and Shiera and Katar and Shayera didn’t really have a lot to say to each other.


All went swimmingly until 1985, when DC Comics enacted their enormous CRISIS ON INFINITE EARTHS maxiseries event. A year later, DC had combined all their numerous parallel Earths into a single Earth, with a single streamlined history. When it came to the duplicate characters, the ones that were always separate people stayed a part of history (e.g., the ’40s Flash was Jay Garrick, while the ’60s Flash was Barry Allen – two different people, so both still existed). However, the ones that were identical needed a different approach: Since there was a ’40s Superman and a ’60s Superman, and they were both Clark Kent, the older one had to go, to allow the younger one to maintain prominence. Therefore, all the duplicate Earth-2 versions of Superman, Batman, Robin, Wonder Woman, Green Arrow and Aquaman were either killed off or simply wiped out in the CRISIS.

How does this affect Hawkman, you ask? That’s just the point: it shouldn’t have. The original Hawks were distinctly different characters from the alien Hawks, and both sets of characters should have been allowed to co-exist happily. Sure, there was the slight problem of the similar names, but that could have been either explained away with a bit of new backstory linking the characters, or simply changed, with Katar and Shayera being given new, different human identities. Instead, the Hawks fell victim to a couple of popular trends at DC in the latter half of the ’80s: “Old Equals Bad” and the “Everything You Know is Wrong!” crutch.

The Powers That Be at DC had apparently decided by 1986 that any reference to the Justice Society was going to be confusing and would take emphasis away from the newer versions, so longtime JSA editor/writer Roy Thomas was given the assignment of putting the JSA (including Hawkman and Hawkgirl) out to pasture for good.


In the one-shot special THE LAST DAYS OF THE JUSTICE SOCIETY OF AMERICA, Thomas, with artists David Ross and Mike Gustovich, consigned the Justice Society to what was expected to be permanent limbo, perpetually fighting the battle of Ragnarok for all eternity as a replacement for the Norse gods, in a convoluted yet darkly entertaining tale. So much for the senior Hawks.


However, Katar and Shayera wouldn’t fare much better. You see, the other popular trend at DC at the time was using the CRISIS as an excuse to start your character over from scratch, as John Byrne did with Superman and George Perez with Wonder Woman. In Superman’s case, while readers were treated to a Byrne version of Superman’s origin and early days, readers weren’t expected to accept that Superman has just arrived on Earth. Instead, there was a reasonable expectation that Superman has been around for years and had met most of the major players in the DC Universe. With Wonder Woman, they went in the opposite direction, declaring that Wonder Woman’s new first issue was her first day in Man’s World, and she had never met anyone in the DC Universe, and had certainly never been a member of the Justice League. So when Hawkman was restarted, guess which approach was taken?

Yep. When HAWKWORLD (the introductory miniseries was written and drawn by Tim Truman, while the succeeding monthly was drawn by Truman and written by John Ostrander, who never quite lives up to his usual high standard on this book) first appeared in 1989, it was decided that this was the first appearance of the Thanagarian Hawks on the new post-CRISIS DC Earth, and therefore they had never been members of the Justice League.


The new HAWKWORLD series was drearily grim, with a fascistic, colonial-minded Thanagar dispatching officers Katar Hol and Shayera Thal (unmarried in this new version) to Earth to track down the shape-changing criminal Byth. All of Shayera’s charm is completely gone here, replaced with a clichéd “tough-as-nails” characterization, as well as the eventual revelation that she was there to spy on Katar, who’s suspected of exhibiting too strong an independent streak or some such business.


While Katar had always been characterized as something of a law-and-order hardass, his refashioning as a fascist (with a former drug habit, no less) who’s slowly seeing the light never sat well with me. Even more mystifying, the new HAWKWORLD series managed to wring every last bit of appeal and charm out of the Hawks’ visual designs. Think about it: what’s cool about the Hawkman costume? The bare chest with the shoulder straps and the feathered wings. All gone, with replaced with a deadly dull gray-and-brown leather ensemble, and squared-off metal glider wings. Ho hum.


However, by 1992, the intended eternal banishment of the Justice Society turned out to be somewhat briefer than anticipated, lasting only six years. Bowing to popular demand, DC published ARMAGEDDON: INFERNO, a 4-issue spinoff of an earlier DC miniseries, in which the time-travelling hero Waverider frees the Justice Society from their constant struggle with Ragnarok, so they can assist in battling Abraxis, an all-powerful sorcerous creature.


Despite the best efforts of talents like John Ostrander, Tom Mandrake and Dick Giordano, the series was a little blah, but it served its purpose: the Justice Society (and the Golden Age Hawks) were back. (Although within a couple of years, all concerned might wish they were back in limbo…)

With the Golden Age Hawkman and Hawkgirl back in the picture, HAWKMAN editors went about trying to tie the characters more closely together.


It was revealed that Katar Hol’s father, Paran Katar, had visited Earth as a Thanagarian spy in the 1930s, and was friends with Carter Hall, and that the Nth metal that allowed Carter Hall to fly as Hawkman was actually created by Paran, and then surreptitiously slipped into Carter’s experiments to see what Carter would do with it. Around this time it was also revealed that Katar Hol was actually half-human, as Paran took a bride here on Earth.

Confusing matters further, Hawkman editors tried to plug some of the holes in the continuity by revealing that, after the JSA had gone missing but before the arrival of Katar Hol, another Thanagarian spy had been sent to Earth, posing as Carter Hall’s son.


Fel Andor served with the Justice League briefly, along with an Earth woman, Sharon Hall, who posed as a new Hawkgirl. This plan was deemed unnecessary with the arrival on Earth of Katar Hol, so Fel Andor returned to Thanagar, and Sharon was murdered, so as to cover their tracks. Thankfully, most of this nonsense has been mercifully forgotten, and it’s since been retroactively revealed that Carter and Shiera Hall served in both the Justice Society and the Justice League, plugging the Hawkman-shaped hole in so many Justice League stories that were undone after the publication of HAWKWORLD. In addition, there was a lot of mumbo-jumbo introduced about the Hawk-God, one of Earth’s many mystical prehistoric godfigures based on animals, and their chosen champions in human form, called Avatars. According to this, Carter Hall was a Hawk Avatar, as was Katar Hol. If it sounds like pseudo-new age hooey, that’s because it is; this aspect of the character is really best left forgotten.


Hawkman’s poor direction came to a head in the 1994 miniseries ZERO HOUR, another “reality-changing”-type story meant to smooth out some of the wrinkles left by poor handling of the post-CRISIS DC Universe. Instead, ZERO HOUR is remembered for two things: the pointless murder of a big chunk of the Justice Society, and the further perversion of the Hal Jordan character, making him DC’s most powerful villain.


Along the way, ZERO HOUR had used as a red herring the time-controlling villain Extant (who was himself a fallen hero like Hal Jordan, but that’s a story for another time), who fused Carter and Shiera Hall and Katar Hol into a single being, a new unified Hawkman who had the appearance and personality of Katar Hol, but carried the memories and abilities of all the previous “Hawk Avatars” within him, including Carter and Shiera. This version of Hawkman also sported real wings that grew naturally from his back.


This latest re-creation of the character only served to confuse readers even more, and I’d like to think the latest and least satisfying disposal of the Golden Age Hawks also played a part in its lack of success. By summer 1996, sales had bottomed out, and the series ended with Katar Hol, struggling with the spirits of the other Hawk Avatars, being banished to the realm of the Hawk God or some such mystical nonsense. The upshot was, both Hawkmen were gone, and it didn’t look like they were coming back anytime soon.

In fact, DC editorial was of the opinion that the character had been revised and redone and rethought so much that he had become incomprehensible, and declared the character “radioactive,” forbidding his use as a guest-star or any attempts to revive him for several years. Around this time came the absolute low point for poor Hawkman: when Warner Brothers licensed him out for a humiliating Baby Ruth candy-bar commercial, which showed Katar flying into windows like a parakeet until he got the necessary burst of energy from a delicious Baby Ruth.


It was awful. Check it out for yourself:

It seemed Hawkman’s flight had ended for good. Luckily, better days were ahead. More on that next week…

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