Understanding Hawkman: How A Simple Concept Became The DC Universe’s Most Confusing Character
This week sees the release of Marc Andreyko and Aaron Lopresti’s new DC Comics miniseries, Death of Hawkman, which seemingly promises to kill off the confusing cluster of continuity masquerading as a character for good. But how did Hawkman get this way? What single decision led to decades of confusion, and how can it be fixed? There may be a solution, but if we’re going to address the Hawkman problem, first we need to understand it.
Hawkman was created by Gardner Fox and Dennis Neville in the pages of Flash Comics #1, the same issue that introduced the world to Jay Garrick. The story establishedd archaeologist Carter Hall, who discovered he was the reincarnation of the Egyptian prince Khufu and, with the mysterious “ninth metal,” he was able to fly.
He wasn’t a complicated character. He flew around and hits things with his mace. Sometimes he did it alongside Hawkgirl; sometimes he did it as a member of the Justice Society. Then the Silver Age happened and ruined everything forever.
The Silver Age replaced Jay Garrick with Barry Allen, Alan Scott with Hal Jordan and Carter Hall with Katar Hol, and that’s where the problem begins. Katar Hol wasn’t an archaeologist, he was an alien space cop from the planet Thanagar. On its own, that’s also a simple enough concept. He flew around with the Justice League and hit stuff with his mace. He argued with Green Arrow about politics. Everything was fine.
Then Crisis on Infinite Earths happened and ruined things further.
Crisis on Infinite Earths folded all of DC’s prominent continuities into one new timeline, and it was one where the Justice Society predated the Justice League. Jay Garrick and Barry Allen co-existed, but Hawkman carried on as normal. He had a miniseries titled Shadow War of the Hawkman, which took place immediately post-Crisis.
But a year later it was decided to reinvent Hawkman in the series Hawkworld, which brought Hawkman to Earth for the first time, even though Shadow War established a long history.
So DC already had a Hawkman and a Hawkgirl with ties to the DC Universe that stretched back through to World War II, links to the JSA and JLA, and a son --- Hector Hall, AKA The Silver Scarab --- on Infinity Inc, but they introduced a new Thanagarian Hawkman as if they didn’t.
It was retconned that the Hawkman and Hawkwoman of Shadow War were in fact a Thanagarian named Fel Andar, pretending to be the son of the original Hawkman --- who was trapped in Limbo with the rest of the JSA --- and his brainwashed human wife.
Fel Andar’s father came to Earth during World War II and met the original Hawkman and Hawkwoman, which inspired the Hawk motif of the Thanagarian police, tying the two disparate motifs together. So now you have:
- Hawkman I: Carter Hall, archeologist/reincarnated Egyptian prince
- Hawkman II: Fel Andar AKA Carter Hall Jr, Thanagarian imposter
- Hawkman III: Katar Hol, Thanagarian cop, no relation
So let’s talk about the Hawkgod.
In the mid-'90s, DC Comics put out Zero Hour, a spiritual successor to Crisis on Infinite Earths, with the aim of cleaning up some of the loose strands of continuity, including the Hawks. To make things easier, the Golden Age Hawkman and Hawkgirl were merged with the modern Hawkman into one being known as Hawkgod, which served as Hawkman and, for better or worse, essentially was Katar Hol, until he lost his mind and was banished back to Limbo.
Everything was tied together by David Goyer and Geoff Johns within the pages of JSA, as Carter Hall was resurrected on Thanagar with memories and some physical qualities (such as darker hair) of Katar Hol. This new Hawkman was essentially the Golden Age Hawkman returned and was, thankfully, a much simplified version.
He was big, brash, and solved things by hitting them with a mace --- but nuanced as a man out of time struggling to come to terms with a Hawkgirl that didn’t love him back.
Then The New 52 happened and things became even more confusing.
In The New 52, Hawkman is a Thanagarian police officer named Katar Hol, who initially thinks he is a normal human named Carter Hall. He was once the adopted son of the king of Thanagar, who escaped the planet with the dangerous Nth Metal to stop his mad brother from using it. He crashed landed on Earth with no memory of who he was before, and took the name Carter Hall because it sounded familiar.
This is where we go back to the dawn of the Silver Age. Everything wrong about Hawkman comes down to the fact that his Silver Age name kinda sounds like his Golden Age name. If they were completely different names, they could have co-existed on the JSA and JLA, and Hawkman could have been a legacy title like Green Lantern or the Flash. But because they sound similar, comics writers have bent over backwards for decades trying to square the circle.
It’s a vicious circle, because some people are going to prefer the reincarnated Egyptian prince aspect of Carter Hall, and some writers are going to prefer the alien space cop aspect of Katar Hol, and the character will flip-flop between the two, providing more confusion for decades to come. Even Geoff Johns, who mostly managed to fix it for a time and meld the two origins, did it by scrapping most of the Thanagarian stuff in favor of the reincarnation aspect. Ultimately, DC Comics can’t have its cake and eat it too when it comes to Hawkman.
So, how do you fix it? It’s easy actually; so easy that Grant Morrison tried to do it already in the pages of JLA. He introduced the angel Zauriel as a potential new Hawkman with no connection to the previous Hawkmen, but DC never allowed him to use the name.
If Hawkman is truly lined up for the chopping block in the new miniseries, it’s the perfect time to introduce a new Hawkman and shed seventy years of baggage. Draw a line under the past and move forward.
Or just bring back Hawkgirl. Everyone likes her more.