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: https://youtu.be/fvncx7O4wQM
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.
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 the next season, 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.
About a decade and a half later, the Cartoon Network JUSTICE LEAGUE series 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. As for Hawkman, his appearance would be limited to a single episode of the follow-up series JUSTICE LEAGUE UNLIMITED.