When discussing the most tragic love story of all time, the common “man on the street” answer is usually within the realm of Romeo and Juliet. This passionate tale of woe is that of two Italian teenagers kill themselves, (I know, 402 year old spoilers here), and leave two warring families in a tenuous truce. At least, for the weekend. It’s actually pretty unclear how the next few years played out after that.
Leave it to my beloved friends, comic books, to say that this most strange of romantic entanglements needed a run for its money. With the gauntlet thrown, it was DC Comics that eventually met the challenge. In 1940 (345 years post R&J and at the dawn of the Golden Age), Flash Comics #1 was released, introducing a new misguided duo who have since taken the Olympic gold metal in weirdly tragic romance. Sorry, Shakespeare, but you’re wearing the silver when it comes to Hawkman and Hawkgirl.
Flash Comics #1 brought with it a 12-issue arc featuring archeologist Carter Hall, a dashing young fellow who dreams that he was once an Egyptian Prince by the name of Khufu with a beautiful lover, Princess Chay-Ara. Within 24 hours of what most would have chocked up to a bad night’s sleep or eating too much cheese before bedtime, Carter meets a woman named Shiera Saunders. She also just happens to exactly resemble the Princess from his dream. Though Shiera doesn’t assume the identity of Hawkgirl until All Star Comics #5 a year later, she becomes his little 1940s sweetheart and the result is some Flash Gordon inspired costuming choices and perpetual emotional agony that spans over countless lifetimes to come.
Due to fluctuations in popularity over the years, the tales of Carter (sometimes Katar) and Shiera (sometimes Kendra) have become decidedly muddy in continuity. But one thing always remains the same, their love story. These two ill-fated royals who were worshiped as Gods in their time are assassinated by this Egyptian priest/sorcerer named Hath-Set when he murders them with a cursed dagger. Their fate is to be reincarnated lifetime after lifetime, find each other and fall in love, only to die when their pinnacle of their love is reached. (The joke was kind of on Hath-Set though, as his actions resulted in his continuous reincarnation as well.)
After a lull in Silver Age sales and their temporary disappearance, the two Hawks were brought back in The Brave and the Bold #34 in 1961, this time as alien space cops of the planet Thanagar. The pair was happy, married and teaming up to fight the crime that Earth had to offer from their established home of Midway City where they became curators of the museum.
This was the bulk of their Silver Age journey, coupled in with a brief ill-fated team up of Hawkman and the Atom which only lasted a year or so.
All things are fair in love and war, so from here things get a little weird and a lot crazy.
When you are fated to find and fall in love with the same person lifetime after lifetime, one could imagine the gesture becomes less romantic and more daunting as time goes on. Even super-couples have their ups and downs. And while you would think that the major downside for Carter and Shiera would have been the whole dying over and over thing, the 80’s decided it kick it up a notch.
In 1981, the Shiera had shed the name Hawkgirl and was now a strong, independent Hawkwoman. Hawkwoman took this new found title to the next level, now being known as Shayera Ma. So the weird love of Carter and Shiera took a bit of a left turn as they attempted to deviate from the tragedy of the two love birds.
Fast forward to 1985 when a delightful little tale called Crisis on Infinite Earths, which famously retooled a lot of the existing DC universe. Hawkman was seen bouncing in and out of various stories at the time with writers quick at his heels attempting to explain why he was there. It seemed that people loved Hawkman, but that it was increasingly difficult to keep him engaging without his one true love.
But these stories, seemingly fueled by as much cocaine as the decade was famous for, culminated in the grandest adventure the Hawks had been given to date. In 1989 Timothy Truman gave us the alien tale of love, betrayal and social commentary; this story was Hawkworld. Yet another look at the sordid love connection of our winged warriors, the story followed young Katar Hol, son of a privileged family who has joined the police force. Upon seeing the classicist system implemented by the wealthy, conquering Thanagarian elite he rebels, is exiled, and returns to right what is wrong. It was in this book that brought Shayera and Katar back together, showcasing once again a love story that overcame death.
Hawkworld was a testament to the idea that love is what made these two characters a smashing success. Both characters have had the most success not just when they are off smashing things with maces, but rather when they are learning from each other. What was originally supposed to be a three issue mini-series was so popular, it was extended into an ongoing monthly book due to high interest and tremendous sales.
But we’re not just talking about love here, we’re talking about weird love. So yet another call was made to up the ante. In 1994 there was so much faith in this tragic love story that in Zero Hour: Crisis in Time, husband and wife Katar and Shiera actually merge together to form a singular Hawk God. This was both effective and ineffective as it was the ultimate sacrifice of love in a time of battle but it also rendered them both technically as non-entities, as it was the Hawk God who was the character in charge. The individual of Katar was active briefly but soon looses his sanity and is left to his own devices in limbo. Despite magically reappearing in the flesh a few times after, separated once more the characters arguably stayed in limbo.
But in brightest day, in blackest night, it was the Lantern Corps that finally brought these two eternals to ultimate love story to accompany their ultimate love. The War of the Emotional Spectum, also known as the Blackest Night crossover event, had plenty of fighters but it finally gave Carter and Shiera a chance to overcome the odds as lovers. In Blackest Night #1 the Hawks are attacked by the Black Lantern forms of Ralph and Sue Dibny (aka the previously deceased Elongated Man and his wife). This, of course, comes right before the pronouncement of Kendra’s love for Carter. Then in traditional Hawk fashion, Hawkgirl is skewered with a spear and Hawkman is brutally killed soon after. But in their death, something magical is revealed.
Meanwhile in Green Lantern #46, on a planet called Zamaron, home of the Star Sapphires, an origin has come full circle. The Sapphire’s are a Lantern Corps powered by love, much the same way that the Green Lantern Corps is powered the power of will. A battle rages around their Central Power Battery, when suddenly two Black Lantern rings appear and jettison their way into the a pair of lovers’ bones that seem to have powered the Star Sapphires for centuries. They are the bones of Khufu and Chay-ara, removed from Earth long ago and have stood as the battery of for the power of love in the universe. That’s better than any romance novel I’ve ever read.
Sadly the result of this discovery is that they are both indoctrinated into the Black Lantern Corps, where they became a murder of such epic proportions that even I feel ashamed about that pun.
As the crossover event came to a conclusion, two white power rings appeared from the sky and gave the Hawks their happy ending. Ushering in the Brightest Day series, the couple is revived by the power of the White Lantern, remembering all past lives, names, and weird story lines. Themselves and their lifetimes are finally reunited. So see? Suck it, Romeo and Juliet.
The Hawks continued on to be a large part of the Brightest Day crossover event and with the induction of the New 52, Hawkman was once again given his own secular book, sans Hawkgirl. But it’s hard to know where the two characters will go from here. When you have literally lived and loved for a thousand lives to power the ultimate battery of love in the universe it’s a little hard to make dinner date plans and keep things romantic and fresh. That is the price though for the most bizarre love story ever told that transcends time and space. Be on the lookout for the Shiera and Katar, Kendra and Carter, or whomever we may see next on the horizon! After all, who knows what future incarnations of the winged wonders may hold?
Melinda-Catherine Gross is a writer out of Burbank who she assures you is just as nerdy as she looks.