Where did the muddled history and continuity first begin?

March 27, 2017

By Avi Green

It’s time now to get to the bottom of something I’m not sure anybody realizes could have an answer to.

For many years, there have been people claiming that Hawkman’s history is confusing and all screwed up. But is that really so? Let’s take a look at a point in publication history where I believe much of the troubles since first truly began.

Back in 1989, DC’s editors decided, 3 years after Crisis on Infinite Earths had been published and 2 after the brief series originally written by Tony Isabella had concluded, to reboot the origins of the Silver Age Hawks. As depicted in the Hawkworld miniseries written by Tim Truman, Katar Hol’s origins on Thanagar were made darker, notwithstanding that a darkening had already been developed in the Bronze Age of the late 1970s, and he suddenly arrived at planet Earth during 1989 proper, his prior DC history otherwise erased. I’m not sure at this point, but I can’t help wonder if they used the Invasion crossover to justify this too.

The ongoing Hawkworld series followed in mid-1990. And soon after, it was accompanied by apparent confusion and desperate attempts by the editors to explain away all that came before, like trying to claim the Golden Age Hawks were members of the Justice League of America when it originally ran during 1960-87. Or that one of the Hawks who appeared in Justice League International was a Thanagarian spy. Or something like that. And when it became clear that their dreadful efforts to sort out any kind of continuity weren’t working, they went an even cheaper route, killing the Golden Age Hawks in one of the worst crossovers of the mid-90s, Zero Hour, the story where Silver Age Green Lantern Hal Jordan was portrayed as bizarrely evil for the sake of tearing down heroism. This was also the case with Hank Hall of the Hawk & Dove duo, already turned evil in the Armageddon crossover of 1991, which saw Dawn Granger killed, and then Hank was turned into Extant, who killed the Hawks. To be specific about the fate of Carter Hall and Sheira Sanders (assuming that’s possible with what the editors did), the former was seemingly merged with Katar Hol, while the latter was killed (and then resurrected in the body of Kendra Saunders, as established in JSA circa 2000). Finally, when it became clear that was failing spectacularly too, along with the laughable conceit of making Katar a drug addict, all they could do was put him in death limbo in 1996, until the time when Geoff Johns, David Goyer and James Robinson took up writing JSA-connected heroes and series. And when they got around to it, even their writing wasn’t particularly appealing in hindsight. Because they stuck with several of the same ideas and established elements post-1989, and worse, they stuck with the whole Extant atrocity. A short time after their Hawkman/Hawkgirl series ended, one of the later writers for DC suddenly turned Carter into Katar again, and I’m sure I don’t need to tell you how aggravating it is when those kind of abrupt retcons come about.

Now let’s be honest. Truly, whose fault is it for bringing things down to where they were at the start of the 1990s? The editors, writers and publishers who mandated all the changes, who else? If they wanted to, I’m sure they could’ve just modified everything to what Truman actually wanted – to simply retell the Silver Age Thanagarian origins retroactively, and if costumes were important, I’m sure they could’ve found some ways to work in why our heroes would take up those black uniforms, if only to differentiate Katar Hol and Shayera Thal from the Golden Age Hawks. And let’s also be clear: they did not have to write up a whole company wide crossover to justify any of the changes they were making (though if I’m correct, Invasion was used for just that). Yet that’s long become entrenched in the minds of the “creatives” as the only way to do anything of this sort at a mainstream publisher or elsewhere, and it’s no wonder they’ve since lost the audience’s trust.

It is possible, if anybody in charge of the ownership and editorial oversight wants, to change continuity back to some more plausible paths. The answer is by abandoning much of the “continuity” that took place since 1990, and no longer regarding it as canon. As abortive as the 2006 Superman Lives movie was, one idea it had that was interesting was how it ignored the 3rd and 4th Superman movies from 1983 and 1987 (and likely also the similarly abortive Supergirl movie from 1984). I once read that even the producers of the Terminator movies were pondering the idea of disregarding the 3rd movie, and even Terminator: Salvation, which was a definite box office failure. Though it didn’t guarantee the resulting movie, Genesys, would be any more sucessful (and indeed, it wasn’t), the idea itself still has potential, and if any decent minded editors and writers wanted, I’m sure they could work something out with DCU continuity post-Crisis on Infinite Earths, by clearing away much of what came post-1989. The same could also be done with Green Lantern’s 3rd volume that ran during 1990-2004, given how dreadful it ultimately was, and even the overrated Starman series (1994-2000), to name some telling examples. Then, you could start storytelling anew, but to really make things work, the editors would have to avoid all temptations of publicity stunts and sensationalized writing. In fact, as I’ve stressed at times, the monthly pamphlet format will have to be discontinued, and a paperback format taken up in its stead. This could also help provide for an easier time doing self-contained stories, something that’s been sorely missing ever since Crisis on Infinite Earths and even Marvel’s Secret Wars devastated mainstream superhero comics.

If one wants, it’s always possible to trace the root causes of a problem. The pre-1990 continuity for Hawkman, to be sure, wasn’t perfect, but was still a lot more plausible than what came afterwards. Showing the courage to disregard the points in publication history where it derailed can help make things more comprensive again. All that’s lacking is the courage and determination, along with sincere contributors and company owners. Find those and you can work something out.

Copyright 2017 Avi Green. All rights reserved.

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