Julius Schwartz had found a formula, and he was not letting go of it.
The DC Comics editor had spearheaded a revival of the publisher’s line of superhero comics, which by the mid ‘50s had dwindled to Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman, with second-stringers like Aquaman and Green Arrow hanging on as backup features. Starting with the Flash, Schwartz had taken DC’s trademark characters from the 1940s, given them a more science-fiction-based makeover and some fresh, sharp new designs from artists like Carmine Infantino and Gil Kane, and found considerable success. After applying the same process to Green Lantern and the Atom, next on Schwartz’s list was Hawkman, the Cal Ripken, Jr. of the Justice Society (having never missed an appearance in the series’ 54-issue run).
This time, Schwartz enlisted the writer and artist most strongly associated with the Hawks, Hawkman creator Gardner Fox and artist Joe Kubert. Curiously, while the new origin and backstory for Hawkman was the most radically different of all the characters resuscitated by Schwartz and company, the character designs were the most unchanged; a wise choice, as much of Hawkman’s appeal has always been the simplicity of his “look,” and once you start mucking with that, you run the risk of losing the reader’s interest, as much later Hawkman creators would discover.
The new, modern Hawkman and Hawkgirl debuted in THE BRAVE AND THE BOLD #34, in “Creature of a Thousand Shapes!”, written by Fox and drawn by Kubert. Here we first meet Katar Hol and his wife Shayera, police officers from the distant planet Thanagar. Katar and Shayera are heading to Earth in pursuit of the shape-changing criminal Byth. Katar and Shayera use their ship’s “electronic brain” (later renamed the Absorbascon) to conveniently transfer all knowledge of Earth’s customs and culture into their minds.
Donning their Hawklike Thanagarian police uniforms, Katar and Shayera visit George Emmett, the police commissioner of Midway City, and politely introduce themselves, explaining that they’ve tracked Byth to this particular city.
The surprisingly openminded Emmett agrees to help, and sets them up with human cover identities, as Carter and Shiera Hall. Even more generously, Emmett sets up Katar with a pretty sweet gig as director of the Midway City Museum, a position his brother had recently vacated, and even gives Shayera his daughter’s clothes. Commissioner Emmett is a little too friendly to a couple of strangers with wings and beak masks who just show up on his doorstep, if you ask me…
After settling into their new apartment (also a hand-me-down from Emmett’s recently retired brother), the Hawks realize they can talk to the birds, thanks to their comprehensive Earth knowledge gained from the Absorbascon, and send out the birds of Midway City as spies, looking for Byth.
Soon enough, a feathered snitch has located Byth robbing a country club, and Hawkman and Hawkgirl are on their way, borrowing valuable antique weapons from the museum to use in capturing Byth. Something tells me Katar isn’t taking his new position quite as seriously as he should be…
The Hawks struggle with Byth, who manages to get away. Katar soon deduces that Byth is waiting for them in the coincidentally named Hawk Valley, thanks to his appearance there as a rare Thanagarian bird, which is then photographed and duplicated in a museum exhibit by the museum’s naturalist Mavis Trent.
That’s a pretty circuitous way to get their attention, particularly if you don’t know Hawkman works at the museum. Maybe just try a phone call next time, Byth.
After another encounter and failed capture attempt, Byth decides to put an end to the Hawks for good, this time appearing as an enormous Thanagarian creature called a Brontadon, which has never been captured. The Hawks respond with more “borrowed” antique weapons from the museum, this time using maces and spiked Roman wristbands. As the only way to stop a Brontadon is to strike both its twin brains simultaneously (although I’m not sure how they know that, since no one’s ever done it), the Hawks conspire to slow the creature’s reflexes by “accidentally” losing their maces down the creature’s gullet, with the maces actually hollowed out and filled with a powerful sedative. The doped-up Brontadon is now slow enough for the Hawks to knock out, and the unconscious Byth reverts to his humanoid shape, after which Katar and Shayera place him in a hibernation chamber and set his starship for auto-pilot back to Thanagar.
The Hawks elect to stay, however, choosing to remain so as to further “study Earth’s police methods.” If you say so, Katar. I think he just didn’t want to give up the sweet new pad and the cushy job he’s not really qualified for…
In succeeding issues of THE BRAVE AND THE BOLD, the Hawks encountered all manner of new enemies, alien and otherwise. Some of them, like the Matter Master, a fairly run-of-the-mill supervillain with powers derived from alchemy, weren’t too impressive. The first truly memorable new villain showed up in THE BRAVE AND THE BOLD #36, in “Shadow-Thief of Midway City!”, again by Fox and Kubert.
Here the Hawks are called in to handle a mysterious thief who appears as nothing more than a shadow, walking though walls and doors with ease. The Hawks try arrows, tear gas and smoke, but nothing can affect the Shadow-Thief.
The Shadow-Thief was actually career criminal Carl Sands, whose jailhouse experiments with shadow projection allowed him to accidentally contact a creature from another dimension, desperate for assistance. In return for saving the creature’s life, Sands was given a Dimensiometer, which would shift his body into another dimension, and a pair of ebony gloves, to allow him to hold material objects while in shadow form.
The Hawks recognize Sands by looking through mug books, thanks to his distinctive profile, and use their feathered agents to locate his trailer-home hideout. Realizing that even as a shadow, Sands is affected by gravity, the Hawks lift his mobile home hundreds of feet in the air and pretty much shake him out, with the panicked Sands returning to material form so he can be caught. Although the Dimensiometer is supposedly destroyed, Sands would return as the Shadow-Thief again and again over the years.
Probably the least impressive of Hawkman’s recurring foes was I.Q., a self-described genius who attempted flashy robberies with the help of his amazing inventions, such as the “lifting rod,” which allowed him to hoist armored trucks into the air, and his aeroshoes, which let him fly alongside it. For someone who was supposed to be a genius, he sure could’ve used some fashion smarts.
Check out this outfit: blue jodphurs, white gloves, a purple high-collar shirt, white goggles and a yellow ascot. I think I.Q. usually got away because the cops were too busy laughing…
One of the strongest aspects of the new HAWKMAN strip was the strong and equal relationship between Katar and Shayera. Unlike the ‘40s Hawks, in which Hawkman was clearly in charge and Hawkgirl was often little more than a secondary character, the new Hawkman and Hawkgirl worked together, lived together and fought crime together, and there was none of that “you stay here, it’s too dangerous” bunk that the original Hawkgirl often got.
Compare Katar and Shayera to the other newly revived DC heroes: Green Lantern was continually competing against himself for the affections of Carol Ferris, Barry Allen would eventually marry Iris West without telling her he was the Flash, and Ray Palmer was stuck in a horrible relationship with Jean Loring, who refused to marry him until he met her psycho expectations of career success. In contrast, Katar and Shayera were the perfect couple – and they seemed to enjoy a level of intimacy that the rest of DC’s stars were sorely lacking in their romantic lives. Time and time again, we’d see Katar and Shayera changing clothes in the same room after coming back from a mission.
Granted, this seems pretty innocuous now, but consider the era: 1961, not too long after network executives forced Desi Arnaz and Lucille Ball to sleep in separate beds on I LOVE LUCY, and this while both they and their characters were married. In this climate, the fact that readers would often see Shayera and Katar undressing together was a pretty big deal, and it really helped sell them as a happily married couple, a concept unfamiliar to comics for the most part.
Not that the HAWKMAN strips were completely devoid of romantic tension. The aforementioned museum naturalist Mavis Trent clearly had eyes for both Hawkman and Carter Hall, despite the fact that Carter was married to Shiera, who also worked at the museum as Carter’s secretary.
Mavis would often be seen doing some rather shameless flirting with Carter, and usually with Shiera looking in with narrowed eyes from the doorway, delivering a pithy remark with the classic icicle-laden delivery than can only be conveyed in comics.
Mavis even went so far once as to color her hair red (in a clear but unexplored attempt to get Carter’s attention), at which time she accidentally discovers Shayera’s Hawkgirl outfit and helps herself to it, even accompanying Hawkman on a mission, who’s surely never going to hear the end of it from his wife that he wasn’t able to recognize that it wasn’t her in the costume.
In the end, Mavis is strung along yet again, led to believe that the Hawks weren’t married, all so as to protect Katar and Shayera’s secret identities.
Either way, Mavis could never hold a candle to Shayera, who’s probably the most appealing female character in all of DC’s Silver Age roster. In redesigning Hawkgirl for the ‘60s, artist Joe Kubert cleverly streamlined the costume, giving her a more angular look and a more pronounced hourglass figure, along with a slightly racier low-cut tank top.
The helmet was also vastly improved over the originals, with the large wings at the sides smoothly tapering into a streamlined beak, which ended just above the lipline, providing a satisfyingly foreign and hawklike appearance, while still revealing enough of Shayera’s face to remain attractive.
Finally, the original Hawkgirl’s brown hair was changed to a sunset red, lightening up the character visually. (According to Julius Schwartz’s foreword to DC’s HAWKMAN ARCHIVES, Shayera’s hair color was inspired by a new girl at the DC offices who was the apple of everyone’s eye, and who dated HAWKMAN artist Joe Kubert briefly. That is, before Schwartz married her…)
She was funny and affectionate (and almost always smiling, it seemed), but also intelligent and dedicated, a career woman before the term had even been coined. Plus, Shayera was dangerous, as quick to pick up a mace or spear as Katar, and just as likely to use it.
Compared to the simpering girlfriends found in the rest of DC’s line (as well as the no longer bondage-obsessed and now a little boring Wonder Woman under Robert Kanigher’s editorship), Shayera was the real deal.
Despite Hawkgirl’s obvious charms, it was Hawkman and Hawkman alone who made it to the big leagues in November 1964 with his induction into the Justice League in JUSTICE LEAGUE OF AMERICA #31, “The Riddle of the Runaway Room!”
Hawkman’s induction itself is somewhat uneventful, as the Atom surprises him at a charity event (from inside a bag, no less. Hawkman just reaches in and pulls him out. It’s a little creepy…) and extends Katar an invitation to join the JLA, just before feeding Hawkgirl a line of malarkey about JLA by-laws only allowing one new member at a time.
So what? You’re the frickin’ Justice League. Change the by-laws! If Hawkman was any kind of husband, he’d have told ‘em where to stick their signal device, unless they were willing to accept two new members. Personally, I think Wonder Woman was just afraid of the competition…
So Atom and Hawkman head for the JLA’s mountaintop Secret Sanctuary, where the full membership of the Justice League has assembled to welcome their newest member and give him his official JLA plaque (Seriously. They gave him a plaque.) and signal device.
It’s a good thing Hawkman now had someplace else to hang his feathered hat, because the old boy hasn’t had much luck when it comes to keeping a series alive. After his six-issue tryout run in THE BRAVE AND THE BOLD, Hawkman was moved to the sci-fi anthology book MYSTERY IN SPACE before finally getting his own series in 1964. However, Hawkman’s solo run was cut short in 1968 after 27 issues. After that, Hawkman shared top billing in the dying days of the Atom’s solo book, but ATOM AND HAWKMAN only lasted seven issues before its cancellation with issue #45.
Hawkman spent most of the 1970s as one of DC’s highest-profile characters who didn’t have a series, with monthly appearances in JUSTICE LEAGUE OF AMERICA, sporadically appearing backup series in the pages of DETECTIVE COMICS and WORLD’S FINEST, and frequent guest appearances. Mostly it was his JLA membership that kept him in the spotlight, and eventually Shayera had enough of the JLA’s boys’ club and demanded membership, which she finally received in 1977.
A few years later, she even dropped the slightly condescending “-girl” from her name and began going by the name Hawkwoman. About damn time, I say.
Hawkman received another good shot in the arm with the 1985 miniseries SHADOW WAR OF HAWKMAN, by writer Tony Isabella and artist Richard Howell. The series, which opened on Hawkman’s home planet Thanagar, began with a shock: the murder of Shayera, as discovered by Hawkman, who wasn’t home when she was attacked, when he sees her blast-residue silhouette on the wall of the museum, the victim of an alien blaster. The inconsolable Katar goes on a rampage, tracking down those responsible. Eventually, it’s revealed that Shayera wasn’t home either, and the murderers had actually killed poor Mavis Trent, who was once again trying on the Hawkwoman outfit when no one was looking. This is a great little 4-issue miniseries – if you see it at a convention, I highly recommend it.
The success of the miniseries garnered the Hawks another solo series in 1986, but it only lasted 17 issues before it too went the way of the dodo.
What next for Hawkman and Hawkwoman? Oh, I’m so sorry you asked. Come on back next week to find out…