I Believe I Can Fly: A Tribute To The Enduing Legacy Of Hawkman
On this date in 1940, All-American Publications published Flash Comics #1, which featured the first appearance of the titular hero The Flash, but also featured the very first appearance of the winged warrior Hawkman in a story by Gardner Fox and Dennis Neville.
Throughout the years, Hawkman has become a sometimes confusing aspect of the DC Universe, but there’s a reason he has endured for the better part of a century; there's something compelling about him that keeps readers and creators coming back to the character.
In his first incarnation, Hawkman was Carter Hall, an archeologist who discovered through a mystical knife that he was the reincarnation of an ancient Egyptian prince named Khufu. Khufu and his lover Chay-Ara were murdered by the jealous Hath-Set. In the present day, Hath-Set was also reincarnated, and kidnapped the reincarnated Chay-Ara. Using the gravity-defying “Ninth Metal”, Carter created the Hawkman identity to rescue her and defeat the evil priest.
Carter and Shiera Sanders --- the reincarnated Chay-Ara --- began to date and not long after, she joined Carter under the name Hawkgirl and the pair joined the Justice Society of America, a group of Golden Age heroes assembled to join America’s war effort in the 1940s. As superhero popularity waned heading into the ‘50s, Hawkman was one of many casualties that disappeared from the comic stands.
The concept of Hawkman was reinvented drastically in The Brave and the Bold #34, where he was imagined as an alien police officer who arrived on Earth chasing a fugitive criminal. Katar Hol was from the planet Thanagar, and settled on Earth along with his partner Shayera Thal in the guise of museum curators, while operating as new versions of the superheroes Hawkman and Hawkgirl (later, Hawkwoman).
Hawkman’s character evolved considerably over the time, going from the cookie-cutter do-gooder of the Silver Age to a gruff authority figure and staunch conservative. As a member of the Justice League, he frequently clashed with the liberal Green Arrow, but he also found an unlikely friend in The Atom as he became a fixture in the DC Universe.
DC revived the Golden Age heroes on the alternate Earth-2, but folded its most popular Earths into one cohesive universe with Crisis on Infinite Earths. For a brief time, Hawkman was unchanged, but it was decided to reinvent the character from the ground up with Hawkworld, leaning harder on the sci-fi aspects of Katar Hol’s alien heritage, and casting Thanagar as a much grimmer world worth escaping.
The next three decades were spent trying to find a balance between the different types of Hawkman, to differing degrees. Zero Hour literally merged Carter Hall and Katar Hol into one being, while David S. Goyer and Geoff Johns leaned harder on the Egyptian archaeologist aspect and filled in the resurrection gaps between ancient Egypt and the present day, showing that Hawkman and Hawkgirl have been killed by Hath-Set multiple times across millennia
The New 52 attempted to fix things by making Hawkman a Thanagarian prince who crashed landed on Earth and thought he was an archeologist, but it didn’t take especially well. One of the best 21st century depictions of Hawkman was in the television show Legends of Tomorrow, which streamlined his story and made Hawkwoman just as important a focus of their shared mythology.
Hawkman stories don’t always land, and they often get lost in their own continuity but there’s something undeniably awesome about a bare-chested dude who hits things very hard with his a mace. Whether he’s an ancient Egyptian prince, an alien police officer, or a little bit of both, Hawkman will endure.
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