The Savage Hawkman soars once more

An archaeologist discovered his past life as an Egyptian Prince is brought to the present by a glass dagger and an insane killer from beyond time, Hath Set. Taking up the mantle of the Osiris (the image of the hawk) and the ancient weapons littering his museum, Carter Hall fought the forces of injustice as the Hawkman.

Heavily influenced by the pulps and the Mummy feature film, the early Hawkman book is just as nutty as it sounds. Not only did Carter Hall discover his true self, he also found his reincarnated love, Shiera, who took up the mantle Hawkgirl. They remain one of the few husband-wife superhero teams in comics. To add to the drama, Hath Set had a history of killing them whenever they attempted to find true love in each others’ arms.

Chasing a villain from the planet Thanagar, space policeman Katar Hol established himself as an archaeologist. Using the weapons of the past, the Nth metal of his planet and alien police methods, Katar Hol became Hawkman, defender of the skies. Much later after the Crisis of 1985, DC Comics released Hawkworld, a stunning book that delved into the world of Thanagar and depicted a much more flawed Katar Hol and a cold Shiera. The real problem lay in the continuity conflicts when this new Hawkman landed on Earth after already being there.

But that’s another story.

(In fact, I summarize much of Hawkman’s convoluted life in this earlier article)

At some point, a writer decided that these two creations from different periods needed to be merged. Rather ingeniously, Geoff Johns crafted Hawkman into a kind of Highlander, an immortal reborn time and again to resume his battle with his most dreaded enemy who chased him from incarnation to incarnation. However, when he found his Hawkgirl, she had no recollection of her previous lives and could not return his love. Their relationship was a strained one and along with the superb action by Rags Morales, made for an excellent monthly book.

A burly and headstrong man, this Hawkman was a brilliant tactician but often led with his mace and followed up with an axe. After Johns had established Hawkman, he left him in the hands of Justin Gray and Jimmy Palmiotti whose run was no less extraordinary. The real problem arose when the title was renamed Hawkgirl and lead writer Walt Simonson wrapped up Katar’s battle with Hath Set, setting him free to chart his own course.

This is unfortunate because there were no plans for Hawkman other than a brisk death in the pages of Final Crisis. Hawkman recently returned in Brightest Day (along with Aquaman), but it is unclear what parts of that continuity have been held over to the new DC.

The new creative team have their hands full. Before taking over both Batman and Hawkman, Tony Daniel talked to ComicBookResources (I do hope they see the traffic I am referring to them because I adore their site) about his plans.

ComicBookResources: The copy for the first issue reads very much like an origin story. Is that the case? And if so, was it necessary to do an origin due to the character’s long, and sometimes convoluted, backstory?

Tony Daniel:It’s not an origin story, but the approach is, as if we’re meeting this guy for the first time. He’s already Hawkman. He’s already lost the love of his life. It took me several months to work through his initial arc. It was very, very hard work. He’s setting up new roots in NYC. I’m establishing a supporting cast of characters. Some are human, some are more than human. Some friend, some foe. I didn’t feel I had the luxury of a great rogues gallery, such as the likes of The Flash or Batman. I need to make challenges for Carter Hall/Hawkman from the ground up.

My first priority was to introduce a character who will eventually be his nemesis. His arch-enemy. I’m very excited about that.

CBR: What else can you tell us about “The Savage Hawkman” as it appears much more Indiana Jones in style than the gritty Bat-books you’re known for?

TD: Maybe a bit more Sherlock Holmes, the Robert Downey Jr. version, than Indy, but some of that too. Plus some savage beatdowns. It’s going to be very exciting. Lots of adventure. Lots of fun characters being introduced.

Daniel has made a name for himself for his Detective Comics run and I have high hopes that he can transform Hawkman into a real knock-out. The preview pages (below) look impressive and feature some impressive coloring.

The Savage Hawkman #1
By Tony S. Daniel and Philip Tan

Carter Hall’s skill at deciphering lost languages has led him to a job with an archaeologist who specializes in alien ruins – but will the doctor’s latest discovery spread an alien plague through New York City? No matter the personal cost, Carter Hall must don his wings and become the new, savage Hawkman to survive! Witness the start of a new action series from writer Tony S. Daniel and artist Philip Tan that will take Hawkman where no hero has flown before!

(preview via CBR.com)

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What would a live action Hawkman film look like?

Silver Age Hawkman by Joe Kubert

Whether he is veteran warrior from ancient Egypt or a space policeman from the planet Thanagar, Hawkman is a somewhat obscure DC Comics hero who nonetheless has a strong following (including yours truly). Premiering in the famous Flash Comics #1 from 1940, Hawkman was created by Gardner Fox Dennis Neville whose unusual depiction of wings remains stupefying to this day. The reincarnation of Prince Khufu, Egyptologist Carter Hall became the embodiment of an ancient warrior spirit after receiving a mystic glass dagger. Donning the symbols of Horus and the strange Nth Metal, Carter took the skies armed with a variety of ancient weapons to fight crime alongside his fellow reincarnated beloved, Shiera Sanders.

When Flash was revived in 1959 by John Broome, Fox followed suit with young cartoonist Joe Kubert in reinventing Hawkman as a policeman from the planet Thanagar using weapons from the past to fight the foes of today. More recently, Hawkman’s varied back-stories have been combined by Geoff Johns into a kind of Highlander/Eternal Champion type (it’s unclear what the character’s new back-story will be come September when the DC Comics line is rebooted).

Hawkman has appeared on screen in animated form in the Filmation series, Super Friends, Justice League and more, but he has been realized in live action as well… with bizarre results. Even though the images and vide0 below are separated by decades of production values, they all look hauntingly similar… and share the same goofy problems.

Hawkman from the 1979 Legends of the Super Heroes tv special

Hawkman from Smallville (2010)

Hawkman in Baby Ruth ad- 1997

Given that DC Entertainment are exploring the adaptation of their characters in big budget films, would Hawkman make a good candidate? If so, how would the hero be made to look impressive and what would the story be?

Is a Hawkman movie in production?

Hawkman by Kyle Baker

Hawkman by Kyle Baker

FirstShowing.net posted a rumor today that a Hawkman feature film is in production at Warner Bros. As the online world twitches in a frenzy over who Hawkman is, the studio is proving to be no help by describing the project as “part Indiana Jones, part Da Vinci Code and part Ghost.”

Admittedly, Hawkman is an obscure comic book character, but he is also a former member of the team seen in the 1970’s Super Friends cartoon, so the visual is burned into the mind of anyone over the age 0f 32. Having an extensive knowledge of Hawkman, I can almost see the threads of Indiana Jones (archaeology), and Ghost (the love story of Shayera and Katar), but am just dumbfounded by the Da Vinci Code reference.

Created in the era of WWII, Hawkman was a gimmick character of a reincarnated Egyptian prince fighting crime with a pair of wings and a mace. In the 60’s, he was transformed into a space cop.  In 1989, DC Comics revitalized Hawkman with a hard-edged 3 part prestige format series called Hawkworld. More recently, Geoff Johns combined all three ideas into one cohesive character.

A Hawkman movie would most likely take the form of the reincarnated Egyptian prince who is seeking out his true love before she is killed by his nemesis, a killer stalking the pair of lost souls through time itself. That would combine several of the most compelling ideas of the comic book series and would ‘read well’ on the screen. The one major hurdle that the film faces is making the character not look laughably absurd. But if you look at any of the beautiful covers featuring Hawkman from the last decade, it certainly can be done.

Hawkman
Of course the possibility of an animated Hawkworld movie makes my knees weak.

Hawkworld

Hawkman, the winged warrior

HawkmanHawkman

Continuing this unplanned analysis of DC Comics ‘third tier’ superheroes, I’d like to briefly look at another of my favorite characters, Hawkman. Another creation of the 1940’s, the character has gone through so many changes and alterations that at one point DC Editorial considered both the hero and thew name Hawkman radioactive. A striking visual, Hawkman is a bare-chested winged crime-fighter usually depicted swinging a mace at his foe, though he is well trained in various weapons. In fact, being a weapons master was a major part of the Silver Age Hawkman’s skill set. Today Hawkman is in a strange place. It appears that DC Editorial is once again scratching its collective head in a quandary over what to do with him. In other words, he’s a Black Lantern zombie. But once upon a time he was neither flawed nor undead, he was the respected chairman of the Justice Society of America.

Created by Gardner Fox back in 1940, Hawkman premiered like many other characters in All Flash #1. Artist Dennis Neville had something of a Hal Foster touch to his artwork, bringing a refined and polished look to the comic strip… until he reached the wings which look like they may be smoke or cloth or… I dunno what. Our story begins when archaeologist Carter Hall opens a package containing a glass dagger, awakening the memories of his previous life as the Egyptian prince Khufu in ancient Egypt. He also remembers that he was killed by Hath Set, jealous of the love Khufu and his companion Chay-Ara. The pair of lovers are murdered, but destined to be reunited in the 20th Century. Thinking quickly, Hall decides to find the modern reincarnation of his once beloved and protect her from Hath Set who no doubt is hunting her down. Carter Hall acts none too soon as he rescues Shiera Sanders (the reincarnated Chay-Ara) in a homemade costume designed to enrage Hath Set as it evokes the high priests God of the Dead.

With a beginning like that, the sky was the limit.

Hawkman was incorporated into the Justice Society of America along with the Flash, Green Lantern, Wonder Woman and many others. One of the more popular characters of his time, Hawkman is also one of the select few heroes who fought alongside his wife (Shiera donned a costume as well and became Hawkgirl). Like all of the superheroes of the 1940’s, Hawkman fell out of favor. His soaring days came to an end in 1951.

It was after DC Editorial decided to experiment with the superhero genre again that Hawkman made a big return.  Editor-in-chief Julius Schwartz had successfully revived the Flash and it was felt that they were onto something. Reuniting Gardner Fox with the talented young artist Joe Kubert, Hawkman was back. Like the Flash, this new Hawkman had no ties to the character that a few readers may have fondly remembered from their childhood. Instead, this Hawkman was named Katar Hol and was an alien policeman from the planet Thanagar. After chasing the criminal Byth to Earth, he and his partner Shayera decided to stay on their new home to learn the police techniques of this strange world. By use of a device called an Absorbacon, the hawks drank up knowledge and studied our culture with bemused interest. Of particular appeal to Katar were the many weapons that our culture had developed. Determined to learn them all, he mainly utilized ancient weapons, thus completing the angle that he fought the threats of today with the tools of yesterday.

As the new era of heroes rolled on, Schwartz decided that more heroes were even better and developed the idea of Earth-2 where the characters last seen in 1951 had aged and gotten on with their lives after fighting crime for a decade. A novel idea, it did offer up the first signs of trouble in regards to the Hawkmen. Both had similar names (obviously Gardner Fox was referencing the original Carter Hall in naming the 1960’s version Katar Hol), but having them stand side-by-side seemed to invite a paradox. But the worst was yet to come.

Like Aquaman, Green Lantern, the Flash and the Atom, Hawkman was animated by Filmation in the 60’s. Armed with a strange cross between Wolverine’s claws and a raygun, Hawkman was teamed up with his hawk named Skreel (whom he called out as a ‘kooky bird’). He also starred in the team-up cartoon version of the JLA.

Filmation Hawkman

Hawkman was not only a success in print but on screen as well. In the Challenge of the Super Friends, Hawkman fought alongside his fellow heroes.

Hawkman as designed by Alex Toth

He also appeared in the comedic special, the Legends of the Superheroes… believe it or not.

Hawkman was the life of the party

Like his predecessor, Hawkman was inducted into the superhero team of the day, the Justice League of America and served in that capacity for some time. His relationship both with his wife and his homeworld of Thanagar became strained when he took part in a failed assault on the planet Rann by the Thanagarians. This led to a later invasion of the planet Earth that only Hawkman and Hawkgirl could combat called the Shadow War. Shayera couldn’t come to terms with being a renegade from her own people and the pair found themselves separated for the first time. Before much exploration of this idea could be made, Crisis on Infinite Earhs occured and history was rewritten.

The revised DC Universe combined both Earth-2 and Earth-1 (along with Earth-3, Earth-X, etc) into one massive continuity… that seldom worked. This welcomed lots of confusion that got even worse after an amazing mini-series was released called Hawkworld (click here for my article on Hawkworld).

Hawkworld was essentially an updated retelling of the Katar Hol Hawkman, adding a few touches here and there to give him depth. He was still an alien policeman who hunted the villain Byth to Earth along with his partner Shayera. However, what followed added a wrinkle or two.

Previous to Hawkworld’s release, a major event was published called Invasion which featured a planned attack on the planet Earth by a unified force of aliens… including Thanagarians. This was in some ways a sequel to the Shadow Wars and greatly featured Hawkman and Hawkgirl, then members of the JLA. The problem arose when Hawkworld was released and succeeded by an ongoing story that told the tale of the Thanagarian couple adapting to life on Earth. What was intended to be a period piece allowing writer John Ostrander to retell Silver Age stories was turned into a series set in modern continuity. Therefore, Katar and Shayera had only just arrived on Earth. So… who were the other hawk people?

Thinking (too) quickly, DC Editorial started building up explanations that asked readers to mentally edit published stories, taking Katar and Shayera out and replacing them with various characters. It was a mess but it got worse. Looking to make Hawkman more unique and spiritual, DC introduced the idea that Katar was the product of a Thanagarian and a Native American woman, giving him ties to Earth that he never knew he had. He was also given a spiritual connection to bird spirits… no kidding. The Hawkman series became such a mess that it concluded with the creation of a Hawkgod comprised of everyone who had ever been Hawkman.

Finally, cancellation beckoned… it must have seemed a kindness.

Hawkman and Hawkgirl by David Michael Beck

It wasn’t until Geoff Johns came up with the bright idea of bringing Hawkman back in a way that respected all of the stories told rather than brushing them under an editorial explanation that DC finally realized that they were sitting on a golden opportunity of a character. Utilizing aspects of the very first Hawkman story, Johns spun a tale of lost love and reincarnation tracing back to ancient Egypt. The ties to Thanagar were maintained by incorporating the Nth Metal into Hawkman’s identity. Johns added an unexpected element to the romance between Carter Hall and Shiera was unrequited as his beloved had no memory of her previous lives. This added a lot of tension to the series that fans adored. The new Hawkman comic was action packed and also had plenty of drama. It seems like everything finally clicked. Not only was Hawkman back, he was also the star of a hot solo series.

Hawkman appeared in JSA and a few spin-offs including Identity Crisis and the Rann-Thanagar War, all of which expertly used the character to great success. Incoming writer Walt Simonson removed Carter Hall from the comic and focused on Shiera, renaming the series Hawkgirl. The pair finally confronted Hath Set and ended his threat, finally releasing the pair from his curse.While it must be nice to have closure, this removed a lot of impetus from the characters. I mean, what now?

Oh right, death.

Both Hawkman and Hawkgirl were brutally murdered by zombie-like Sue and Ralph Dibney. Black Lantern versions of Hawkman and Hawkgirl has been spotted in the pages of DC’s latest event series Blackest Night.

It’s very unclear where the character can go from here, but I think you’ll agree that DC can hardly do any more damage to the already punch-drunk comic character. My one hope is that with the one writer who was able to untangle Hawkman’s messy continuity has another plan up his sleeve to ‘fix’ him again. Don’t let me down, Geoff Johns… please.