By Jack Sharpe — The first Hawkman, alias Carter Hall, was introduced in 1940’s Flash Comics #1 by Gardner Fox and Dennis Neville. Since then, the character has gone through many incarnations over a nearly 80-year history at DC Comics. Alongside Hawkman has always been his lover/partner, Hawkgirl. First introduced as Shiera Sanders, she has gone through different incarnations throughout her own 80-year history. These different incarnations, however, have created confusion about the origin of Hawks.
Are they archaeologists reincarnated often dating back to the times of Ancient Egypt? Or are they police officers from the planet Thanagar? Throw in many other contradictions and confusions, and you get characters whose origins are among the most confusing in comics. That’s not to say creators haven’t told excellent stories with the characters—including writer Geoff Johns and artist Rags Morales in the early 2000’s—but many fans struggle with the confusing history.
In late 2017, however, DC reintroduced Carter Hall and Kendra Saunders to its universe during the Dark Nights: Metal event, setting the stage for future adventures. Kendra has now joined the current Justice League comic from Metal writer Scott Snyder and artists Jorge Jimenez and Jim Cheung, while Carter’s story is being told by writer Robert Venditti and artist Bryan Hitch in Hawkman. The latter book is taking the character in a new, easier-to-understand direction with a story based on mystery and exploration. Venditti and Hitch are using the character’s various incarnations and history to their advantage, cementing Hawkman as one of 2018’s best comics. Today I intend to explore the reasons why the book has worked so well.
Exploration and Mystery
The current Hawkman book is built on mystery. Why is he constantly reborn? What are the mysterious visions he keeps seeing? From issue one, Venditti and Hitch set the stage for mystery being central to the book. Through this they weave a tale of exploration and history. We as readers follow Carter as he finds clues to his past and uncovers truths about his life. We learn in issue one that Carter’s past lives go back much farther than Ancient Egypt. He has lived lives all over the DC Universe – Thanagar, Krypton, Rann, and other planets. We also get a vision of the Deathbringers, a threat returning to the DC Universe that has a tie to Carter he doesn’t yet understand.
The central stage of the first big Hawkman arc is then set. Carter goes on a quest which takes him to Ancient Egypt, Dinosaur Island, Thanagar, the microverse, and more. Throughout this journey he meets old friends and new, all while learning more about his past. We also see narration notes in the book, similar to those used in the Metal. This narration is made up of the words written in Carter Hall’s own journal. It seems likely to me he is either retelling the events to someone, or someone has found the diary and is reading it themselves. We don’t know who it is yet, but my guess would be that it is Shiera Hall.
The book also has Carter getting help from ordinary people in he DCU as well as other heroes. Issue one for example features a Greek fisherman helping Carter because Carter in a past life helped his father during the Greek Civil War. In that same issue, Carter also meets with Madam Xanadu in London. The best meeting in this book so far, though, is a team up featuring Carter Hall and Ray Palmer, taking places in issues 5 and 6. The partnership is a highlight of the current run – Carter and Ray’s relationship is so much fun and the creative team place huge importance on it. I don’t think I’m alone in wanting a Venditti/Hitch Ray Palmer miniseries from DC.
Anyway, it is through this meeting that we finally get an explanation for Hawkman’s confusing timeline. Ray explains that Carter’s past lives may not be in chronological order. This means that Carter Hall has been reborn not just through space but also through time, so we as fans now understand that Carter’s past lives may have taken place at anytime and anyplace. It’s a brilliant way of explaining the confusing mess of Hawkman’s origins. They all happened, but they could have happened at any time and in anyplace. This is how Hawkman gets a new origin, one that also explains his reincarnation cycle and his link to Hawkgirl.
New Origin and Hawkgirl
In issue six we see Carter Hall trapped with Ray Palmer on Moz-Ga. Ray discovers that Carter was at one point an adventurer in the Microverse and may well have left something to help his future selves uncover the truth of his origins. Ray’s hunch is right, and Carter discovers a ship built by one of his past selves. After escaping from Moz-Ga and learning how to pilot the ship, Carter sets off into space to continue his journey. During this journey Carter discovers his first life, which changes everything we knew about the character.
It is revealed that Carter Hall’s first life, Ktar, was the leader of the Deathbringers, whose hunger for life meant that Ktar and his partner Idamm had to sacrifice thousands upon thousands of people to satisfy the Deathbringers. It is clear that Ktar is not happy doing this. He is fighting amongst himself, desperate to be a better person. On Thanagar after an attack, Ktar is confronted by a mysterious woman who senses the pain inside from his actions. Only Ktar can see this woman and, while it is not said who she is, it is hinted that she is the first incarnation of Hawkgirl.
One criticism of this series has been that it ignores Hawkgirl. I don’t believe that is the case. Hawkgirl doesn’t appear in physical form, not yet anyway, but she is almost a spectre haunting Carter. Each issue has journal entries and it is clear Carter is writing this journal to someone. While he may be writing this journal for his next incarnation in case he fails to stop the Deathbringers, I feel he is writing this journal to Hawkgirl. She may not be in the book physically, but she is there in both spirit and memory. This is shown via issue seven and the mysterious woman, who only appears to Ktar and no one else. She might be a past victim of the Deathbringers, or Ktar’s own conscience trying to get him to revolt against them, but either way her appearance eventually leads to Ktar betraying Idamm and the Deathbringers, causing his first death.
Ktar is then awoken by a strange voice. He has done many horrific things as leader of the Deathbringers, but his final actions showed a man willing to change. As such Ktar is given a deal. He can die now and be forgotten. Or he can be reborn repeatedly, saving lives all over the galaxy until he has saved as many lives as he can. This will not be easy, but he will eventually earn final atonement and be allowed to rest. Ktar chooses to be reborn, and so begins his reincarnation cycle.
This revelation is an example of Venditti and Hitch using the mysteries of Hawkman to craft a character-based story. The audience follows Carter Hall, who grows before their eyes. The reveal that he was the leader of the Deathbringers shocks Carter, but he remains steadfast in his journey. He continues with his ship and heads towards his next adventure – Katar-Ol, the Hawkman of Krypton.
Before the current Hawkman series, I was not very familiar with the character. After giving this series a chance, I’ve become a huge fan of him. His love of history and exploration speaks to me so much. The mystery behind the character and the peeling back of said mystery shows us a character with a deep and thought-provoking past, as well as a future that is very exciting. For upcoming issues I hope the creative team continues its exploration of Hawkman while also introducing more of Hawkman’s supporting cast. I also hope that DC Comics does more with the Hawks as a whole. I’d love a Hawkgirl book or miniseries exploring some of Hawkman’s other lives.
To conclude - Robert Venditti and Bryan Hitch are currently helping Hawkman soar once again. They crafted one of 2018’s best comics, and here’s to hoping their partnership continues for years to come. It’s an exciting time to be a Hawkman fan. Let those days continue.
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Jack Sharpe is a huge fan of history and comics. When he's not in the trenches surrounded by history, he's reading and studying comic books. You can follow him on Twitter at @JackJacksharpe5