History of the Hawks

A look into how Hawkman and Hawkgirl began and evolved

By Avi Green

The Beginning/Golden Age period

When legendary comics writer Gardner Fox was putting together some more features in 1939 to accompany the Flash in his own series that was set to begin in 1940, the second he thought of, that being Hawkman, came to him as an idea while watching a bird that was flying around outside his office in New York City.

The idea of humans who could fly using man-made wings dates back as early as an ancient fable of an architect/craftsman and his son, Daedulus and Icarus, who flew on wings to Sicily to evade capture by the Roman Empire, though the son, Icarus, sadly fell to his doom after he foolishly flew too close to the sunlight and melted the ingredients holding his wings together. And a few years before Hawkman came to be, the idea of a race of bird people was featured in Flash Gordon’s comic strip. Fox took his inspirations from Egyptian mythology of Hawk Gods (and even avatars), writing the story of a noble prince, Khufu Kha-Tarr, who was leading the fight against an evil pharaoh and his scheming high priest, Hath-Set, with the help of his lover, princess Chay-Ara, a renegade member of the community the evil pharaoh and his high priest came from, who was ashamed of her community’s wicked ways. To aid Khufu and his followers in their battle, they had to their advantage a magical form of wings and armor called Ninth Metal, which could provide the wearer with superhuman strength (not quite as much as Superman’s, to be sure, but still very effective) and flight, plus, there was a mask to accompany it. They defeated the evil Pharoah, but Khufu and Chay-Ara both died the same day the battle took place, when Hath-Set, the power-greedy villain he himself was, ambushed and slew them inside a temple, and swore that they would meet again in reincaration.

And indeed, three of these figures from ancient times, Khufu, Chay-Ara, and the sinister Hath-Set, would eventually be born again in modern times (and even before that, as was later established, there may have been a couple more incarnations throughout the centuries too), meet again, and the goodies would battle the baddie and his cronies once again. Khufu would be reborn as Carter Hall, an archaeologist in New York, Chay-Ara would become news reporter Sheira Saunders, and Hath-Set would reappear as an evil scientist named Dr. Anton Hastor, who was a warmongering schemer, and wanted to try and conquer NYC for starters. This time Hawkman would also certainly get help from his lover whom he was lucky to remeet then, when she worked out a costume of her own as Hawkgirl (to address a woman as a girl already became common since perhaps the 19th century, so of course it was quite possible to have Hawkman’s female partner in crimefighting bear a codename like that as well), and it could very well be said that Hawkgirl was the first female take on a role started by a male protagonist in the history of comics, years before Supergirl and Batgirl made their debuts in the Silver Age. She teamed up with him on various occasions in the strip, helping him in the fight against evil wherever it may be.

Hawkman was the only other ongoing feature to last in Flash Comics during its initial 9-year run from 1940-49 for the whole of its run back then, and it was one of the best comic series next to Wonder Woman to use ancient mythologies as its inspirations. Not only that, but Hawkman would also serve as the chairman for the Justice Society of America for its 11-year run in All-Star Comics from 1940-51 as well, alongside other great superheroes such as Flash and Green Lantern, plus the first Mr. Terrific, Sandman, Black Canary, and even the Spectre, fighting in WW2 and against many other evils wherever they be in the world.

His early depiction was as a figure of dread, and it could at times be one of the rougher series for its time, though there were some times when the writers would offer some tongue-in-cheek adventures for him, such as in the “Simple Simon meets the Hawkman” story from the time, and his hand-held weapons would consist of such ones as truncheons and battle axes. Interestingly, much like Aquaman, the Hawks were depicted learning how to talk to birds, when they were written discovering a valley where hawks and falcons nested, and sometimes used them as backup allies between 1942-47, after which the premise was mostly abandoned.

One thing that’s a bit of a shame though, is that, unless included with Jay Garrick’s own adventures in the Golden Age Flash Archives published to date, as of this writing, I have no idea as to if a lot of these first adventures are available in trade paperback archives! But luckily, it does appear that of recent, DC has already gotten around to that, publishing at least one trade of the beginning adventures in 1940.

The Silver/Bronze period

During the Silver/Bronze Age period, when the concept of two alternate earth dimensions was featured in the DCU, another Hawkman and Hawkwoman (yep, she did ascend to that title then!) were spotlighted in their own series that began in 1964, this time being Katar Hol and Shayera Thal. Under the guidance of editor Julius Schwartz, these characters, as depicted then and up to the mid-1990s, were police officers from the planet Thanagar, one that was influenced by a lot of the warrior concepts that Hawkman had used in his own time, and the costumes were more or less their uniforms. Their enemies would include such adversaries as Byth, a shape-changing criminal from their own planet, the Shadow Thief, a crook from earth who stole Thanagarian technology to achieve his goals, and also the IQ gang. They lived in Midway City, where Katar worked as curator for the city museum. And once again, Gardner Fox would be the writer for these new Silver Age adventures. Alas, while it did run for awhile, it ran low in readership after several years, and was cancelled towards the end of the Silver Age, becoming merged with the Atom’s book as a single series starring both heroes together (but lest we forget Hawkwoman, of course!). But it was pretty good stuff, and if there was anything Hawkman did accomplish then, it’s that he was a prominent member many times in Justice League of America, where he'd become a very prominent mainstay for many years to come.

Plus, Zatanna first made her grand debut in his book, in the fourth issue!

An interesting aside, while Hawkwoman then was able to join the Justice League as an honorary guest member, a rule stipulated by the team’s members at the time that said that two superheroes with the same powers/skills couldn’t be full-time members on the team prevented her from gaining a full-time membership for awhile. But in the mid-1970’s she lobbied against the rule, and won in getting it tossed out, and getting a full-time membership with the Justice League at last. And, during the Bronze Age, the Hawks found more space for their own stories in special backup tales published in Detective Comics, and even World's Finest Comics.

After the Crisis on Infinite Earths in 1985, some changes were made just as much with the Hawks as with everybody else, and so it was established that the Silver Age characters were actually the Carter and Sheira Hall who'd debuted in the Golden Age, and moved on from the Justice Society to the Justice League later on, to continue their careers, and also to offer some training to the newer generation of superheroes in the DCU. What happened to exact status of Katar Hol and Shayera Thal, would be revealed a couple years later, when a new rendition of the Thanagarians was produced.

The Iron Age and so forth

When the 1980’s rolled in, writer Tony Isabella wrote a miniseries called The Shadow War of Hawkman in 1985. And when the post-Crisis era came around, another Hawkman series was produced that ran 17 issues, and lasted for about 2 years. Then, in 1989, DC tried it again, this time calling the series Hawkworld. It was here that, under the pen of writer Tim Truman, Katar Hol and Shayera Thal were reworked once again for the Iron Age of comics, and this time, Thanagar underwent rendition as a much darker, more depressing planet in which opression had reigned very badly in its early years. Unfortunately, while this new rendition, titled as it was due to the fact that it more or less referred to the planet Thanagar, did have its hight points, especially when you take writer John Ostrander's record into consideration, some really lousy developments were brought up at the time that undermined its impact, in which the newer Hawkman became a drug addict (!), due to his despondence over the cruelty being employed by the people of Thanagar, following a civil war upon the planet. And some confusing explanations came up for how the Golden Age Hawks could be in the Justice League now that the Silver Age Hawks were being retconned. Other than that, some of the series did have its moments, but not enough to sustain it artistically for long. (There was also, oddly enough, a third Hawkman character who turned up at the time, named Fel Andar, another Thanagarian, who, it turned out, was masquerading as the son of Carter Hall, the original Hawkman, but was really a spy for his own planet, on earth to gather information about the earth during the Invasion crossover story of 1989.) Once again, it was cancelled, and soon afterwards, it was revived briefly again as another volume of Hawkman, this time featuring Katar sans Shayera at his side working in Detroit as a cop, but when Zero Hour came around in 1994, a storyline was presented wherein Katar, Carter and Sheira were all merged together as one being, that having been a "Hawk Avatar", which ended up killing Sheira in the process. It was very hard to explain this whole merging idea to readers when they did it back then, and that’s when it hit a very low point before being cancelled in 1996 and going into limbo for several years as a series concept.

And I guess you could say that, with Katar Hol’s death a year or two afterwards in the JLA, that that ended up marking one of a few “successor” characters to a role hitherto taken by another one, that DC decided just didn’t work out in the end, and so they did away with them. As for Shayera Thal, she's still around, living on earth in the Chicago area, but no longer a major player.

As somebody who has a special appreciation for minor heroes and co-stars, I felt that this is something that could use the best possible fansite dedicated to profiling the various heroes and villains who make up this world of the hawk from the Golden/Silver/Bronze Ages, plus even the various powers and weapons they employ, and their bases of operations around the United States.

So, let's fly high with the Hawks, ladies and gentlemen!

About the fansite's creator

I was born in Pennsylvania in 1974, and immigrated to Israel in late 1983. I read plenty of comic books when I was young, beginning my readership at the early age of 6, and while I hadn't begun reading Hawkman's own adventures as quickly as I'd like to, when I did, I was quite excited with some of the adventures I came upon, and enjoyed it very much.

When I began practicing on building websites, I noticed that there didn't seem to be any really authentic comic book fansites for Hawkman and Hawkgirl on the internet, and so, I thought to myself, why not build one of my own, where I could gather as much of the best information as possible on the Winged Warriors of the DCU, and offer one of the most helpful websites for information on two of comicdom's best and classic characters?

So here it is now, my very own website dedicated to Hawkman and Hawkgirl, and the many other characters surrounding them in their adventures, and I hope you'll enjoy what I've provided here. It was a pleasure and a labor of love to work on, and I certainly hope it'll turn out to be one of the best fansites available for everybody.

Copyright Avi Green. All rights reserved.

Hawkfan Homepage Profiles Cool Stuff Recommended Links