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. Luckily, things would soon be looking up…
As the years went on, the critical and commercial success of James Robinson and Tony Harris’ STARMAN proved that there was an audience for the original JUSTICE SOCIETY characters and their kin, if handled with respect and the proper contemporary focus; the series should honor and reflect on the past, but not wallow in it. This philosophy was evident in the debut of JSA, the Justice Society’s smash hit series by James Robinson, David S. Goyer and Stephen Sadowski that debuted in 1999. Among the team’s members (a mix of veterans and rookies) was, lo and behold a brand-new Hawkgirl!
This Hawkgirl was 19-year-old Kendra Saunders, granddaughter of Speed Saunders, Golden Age detective and associate of the Justice Society, and the great-niece of Shiera Sanders Hall, the Golden Age Hawkgirl. The new Hawkgirl is brash, aggressive, and has a troubled past. Little does she realize that she actually has numerous pasts…
As an increasingly distraught Kendra struggles with memories and visions she doesn’t understand, it becomes more and more apparent to whom these memories belonged: Shiera Hall. While Kendra struggles to understand her visions, JSA chairman Sand Hawkins seeks out Kendra’s grandfather to get some answers.
Saunders comes clean: a year ago, Kendra had attempted suicide, and in fact, succeeded. Kendra had been dead for over 10 minutes, and then snapped awake, alive once more. Her once-green eyes were now brown, and when looking in them, Saunders knew that his granddaughter Kendra was gone and that Shiera, his cousin, had returned. It was then that Saunders began training Kendra for a career as Hawkgirl, because if Shiera had returned, then Carter would somehow not be far behind.
Here’s where writers David Goyer and Geoff Johns really deserve the kudos, for finding a way to bring back Hawkman and tie in much of the convoluted backstory, without confusing the new reader. On an accidental time-travel trip to ancient Egypt, Golden Age Flash Jay Garrick discovers the heretofore unknown link between the Hawkmen: a Thanagarian spaceship that had crashed in ancient Egypt, providing the Nth metal that would eventually be used by Carter Hall to create his wings in 1940.
Nabu the Wise and Prince Khufu, the ancient precedents of Garrick’s JSA teammates Dr. Fate and Carter Hall, give Garrick a glove made of Nth metal and send him back to his time, where he will reunite with Khufu and Nabu to face a great evil.
Garrick returns to the present just as Kendra is teleported to Thanagar, where she is to be used to help the Thanagarians, who have been conquered by a Thanagarian demon, Onimar Synn. According to the Thangarian priests, not only is the Nth metal anti-gravitational, it’s also psycho-receptive, able to absorb and respond to emotional states. It was Carter Hall’s use of the Nth metal that linked him with the Thangarian people and subconsciously influenced him to take on the identity of Hawkman. As for Kendra, she’s been brought there to summon Carter Hall from the netherworld, through their shared lifetimes and memories. As a confused Kendra extends her hand over the pit, a familiar hand reaches out to take it: Carter Hall, the original Hawkman, is back.
As it turns out, the returned Carter now retains the memories of all his past lives, as well as those of Katar Hol as well. He seems a little younger for the journey, and he’s now got brown hair instead of blond, but based on the reaction of his friends, this is clearly the genuine article. After helping to free Thanagar from Onimar Synn, Carter Hall returns to Earth and to the Justice Society, where he reunites with old friends for a moment of reflection.
Hawkman’s return, while welcome, isn’t without difficulty. While Carter remembers everything and is as in love with Shiera as ever, Kendra retains her new persona and never regains her past personality, setting up the central conflict in the new HAWKMAN series by Geoff Johns and Rags Morales: what do you do when the one woman in the world you’re fated to be with, whom you’ve loved and who has loved you for centuries, doesn’t love you back?
After all the confusion of the ’90s HAWKMAN books, this one finally gets it right, with a simple, approachable and appealing premise that combines the best of both versions of the character. Museum curator Carter Hall, a reincarnated Egyptian prince, fights the criminals of today with the weapons of the past. That’s all you need right there. Sadly, Hawkman’s more recent New 52 incarnations haven’t come anywhere near this level of quality.
WATCH HIM LIKE A HAWK
Hawkman’s media exposure, outside the aforementioned Baby Ruth commercial, has been pretty sparse. Hawkman made appearances on the 1968 CBS Saturday morning series THE SUPERMAN/AQUAMAN HOUR OF ADVENTURE, both in solo cartoons and as part of the JUSTICE LEAGUE OF AMERICA (which was absent Batman and Wonder Woman due to contractual issues with other producers.) The Hawkman cartoons were fairly run of the mill, with each adventure usually involving a different interplanetary invader, and, if I recall, no Shayera to be found.
If most people on the street remember Hawkman at all, it’s for his featured role in CHALLENGE OF THE SUPERFRIENDS, hands down the best season of the long-running ABC Saturday-morning Superfriends cartoon. As often discussed here, CHALLENGE didn’t bother with any of the pesky moral issues or life lesson often foisted upon viewers in earlier and later seasons of the series. No, this season just assembled the 8 coolest superheroes (plus token members Black Vulcan, Apache Chief and Samurai) and set them against 13 of DC’s baddest villains, and let the mayhem ensue.
Hawkman was played by Jack Angel, who also voiced Flash and Samurai for the series, and gave Hawkman a deep, stentorious, almost pompous quality to his voice. My personal favorite Hawkman moment in the series barely even involves him, but it’s a favorite nonetheless. In the episode, Luthor has reasoned that the best way to destroy the Superfriends is to deprive them of their most powerful members by going back in time and preventing them from becoming superheroes. Accordingly, Luthor goes back in time and blasts baby Kal-El’s rocket, preventing it from landing on Earth, and therefore eliminating Superman from the picture. Luthor heads back to the present and turns on the TV which is showing a broadcast of a “Superman Day” parade. The screen shimmers, and Superman is replaced by a beaming Hawkman, grinning ear to ear and getting the recognition he’d never received while Superman was around, while the banner behind him morphs, now reading “Hawkman Day.” Classic. CHALLENGE OF THE SUPERFRIENDS is finally being released in a full season DVD box set this July, by the way.
The next year, SUPERFRIENDS reverted to previous form, with most of the characters other than Superman, Batman, Robin, Aquaman and Wonder Woman reduced to guest appearances (but no Hawkman), and boring monster and aliens replacing the much cooler Legion of Doom. The year after that, Hawkman actually garnered two guest appearances in the 1980 season of SUPERFRIENDS, and this time, Hawkgirl made her first animated appearance as well. However, the episodes themselves were a mixed bag; the first one, involving “the Incredible Crude Oil Monster,” was nothing to write home about, but the second, “Revenge of Bizarro.” was fun stuff, with Bizarro managing to turn the SuperFriends into Bizarros, while dosing Superman with some Red Kryptonite, which made him grow additional arms and legs. Eventually, Superman even busts out the Blue Kryptonite, putting Bizarro down for the count.
Most recently, the Cartoon Network JUSTICE LEAGUE series has featured Hawkgirl in a strong starring role, with Hawkman nowhere to be seen. Why only Shayera? Well, when the series was being developed, Hawkman was still considered damaged goods by most, so it made sense not to include him. Besides, the producers undoubtedly wanted to add another woman to the team, and visually, Hawkgirl is a much more striking choice then someone like Black Canary or Zatanna.
Maria Canals provides a snarling, grunting, fierce presence as Shayera Thal, and her more aggressive role nicely balances out Wonder Woman’s more pacifistic approach. Hawkgirl’s characterization on the show has stayed close to the ’90s version, no-nonsense and looking to kick some ass, but later episodes in the second season has revealed a more tender side to Shayera, as she has let down her guard and begun a relationship with Green Lantern John Stewart, which, I have to admit, I completely did not see coming. Hawkgirl’s presence and long-term story arc is one of the great joys of JL and its follow-up series JUSTICE LEAGUE UNLIMITED. Go watch it if you haven’t.
Hawkman finally made it to live-action proper in a ninth-season episode of the CW’s SMALLVILLE, and it actually wasn’t too bad, with STARGATE’s Michael Shanks making a pretty respectable Hawkman in an episode that incorporated far more Justice Society backstory and lore than I ever really expected to see on television. Definitely worth checking out.