Armagideon Time

Mark Gruenwald once stated that “every character is somebody’s favorite,” and this feature was launched to stress test the validity of the late Marvel continuity guru’s theory.

From the beginning, I took pains to distance what I did here from the facile “Mort of the Month” nonsense which characterized so many write-ups of the obscure and unloved. While I certainly haven’t abstained from snarky commentary and cheap pot-shots, I’ve tried to incorporate some level of insightful commentary — be it cultural, historical, or autobiographical — into each entry, no matter how terrible the subject in question might have been.

Since its launch in the summer of 2009, Nobody’s Favorites has become the most popular feature on Armagideon Time, driving at least half of the site’s traffic and becoming an easily-linked reference source for scores of blog and forum posts. Even the term “nobody’s favorite” has entered the lower echelons of comics fandom’s vernacular, which as creepy as it is flattering.

Now, on the occasion of this feature’s fifth anniversary, I think it’s time to turn my sights on a well-known character who exemplifies the concept of “nobody’s favorite.”

Yep, Hawkman.

The character’s origins stretch back to the very dawn of the Superheroic Age, when work-for-hire dreamers cranked out all manner of bizarre concepts for the benefit of shady publishers looking to siphon off some of Superman’s success. In Hawkman’s case, the exercise in making shit up as they went along took the form of a modern day archaeologist named Carter Hall, who decided to don a bird mask and set of wings after discovering he was the reincarnation of an ancient Egyptian prince.

Though hardly a barn-burner when it came to sales and popularity, Hawkman’s interesting visual design and mainstay membership in the Justice Society positioned him as a solid second stringer in National’s roster of costumed mystery men. Enough so, in fact, that when the Company Eventually Known as DC decided to relaunch a number of its fallow superhero franchises during the dawn on the Space Age, Hawkman made it onto the bottom half of the list.

The decision made sense, at least on paper. Joe Kubert, who illustrated a number of Hawkman’s 1940s adventures, was one of the big guns in DC’s artistic arsenal, and a revived version of the character seemed like an ideal venue for his talents. A familiar enough property, a stellar artist, and a strong tailwind boosting the superhero genre’s revival — what could possibly go wrong?

Well, for starters, the times had changed since Hawkman’s 1940s heyday. In an age of sci-fi superheroics, the old school pulpiness of “a reincarnated dude with a goofy mask who can fly” felt downright quaint. To keep up with the Lanterns and Flashes and Atoms, Hawkman was given a superficial space-oriented facelift.

So long, blonde-haired Prince of Egypt Carter Hall. Hello, “Katar Hol” of planet Thanagar’s avian police force.

The makeover was fairly thin stuff, as it maintained the outfit and other trappings (female sidekick, love of archaic weaponry) of the Golden Age incarnation glossed over with a veneer of modernity auto-plagiarized from Adam Strange and the recent Green Lantern relaunch. Apart from introducing Zatanna to generations of fishnet fetishists present and future, the Silver Age Hawkman didn’t do much apart from cycling through a gallery of laughably terrible supervillains on the way toward the inevitable cancellation of both his solo title and a shared series with the similarly sub-critical Silver Age sensation, the Atom.

From there, Hawkman spent a long stint as a supporting player in Justice League, which at the time served as the superheroic equivalent of the corner of the Home Depot Lot where the day laborers gather in search of pick-up work. Free from the mandated blandness required of a solo series gig, Katar was allowed to spread his wings a little with snatches of profoundly developmental characterization…mostly in the form of grumpy confrontations with Green Arrow that only got louder in the retconned retelling.

(Meanwhile, over on Earth-2, the elder Hawkman was busy telling those damn kids — his colleagues’ and his own — to get off his damn perch in Infinity, Inc. Who knew hawks were such a crabby species?)

Hawkman’s position was similar to Aquaman’s in many ways. Both possessed an level of recognition due to League membership which got a massive signal boost from the Superfriends cartoon and the associated merchandising. On the comics side of the equation, however, neither character had the critical mass of required fandom to make them viable as independent properties in their own right.

Both were subject to a series of aborted attempts at retooling for a wider appeal. In Hawkman’s case, it involved a grim ‘n’ gritty reboot with the Hawkworld miniseries based around a dystopian, militarist Thanagar and a leather-centric badass makeover for the Mr. and Mrs. Hawk. Intoxicated by Hawkworld‘s minor success, DC proceeded to addle the franchise with a wave of sequels and an ongoing series of hawkitude unleashed.

By the time the early 1990s rolled around, DC decided to drop all pretense in favor of serving up a steaming pile of “What We Think Fans Want” –

– Wolverine With Wings and metallic foil covers.

When this, too, failed to gain the anticipated traction, the decision was made to reboot again. Spun out of the vortex of terrible ideas known as Zero Hour, this version of Hawkman was a semi-bestial “hawkgod” created by smooshing all the previous incarnations into one ludicrous and quickly abandoned package. (Who, of course, resurfaced in Kingdom Come, because we live in a fallen world.)

After DC’s series of ill-advised fixes completely fouled up what they had set out to “save,” Hawkman was relegated to an editorial quarantine so total that even Grant Morrison was forbidden to break it. The herculean task eventually fell on the shoulders of David Goyer and Geoff Johns, who spun the presence of a new, unencumbered Hawkgirl (who was doing just fine on her own, thank you very much) in the JSA ongoing into a chance to untangle the mess Hawkman had become.

The relaunched character was a revitalized version of the original 1940s Hawkman, but one that skillfully wove together the disparate threads of the franchise — from reincarnated prince to alien police officer to cosmic avatar — into a cohesive whole.

It was a back-to-basics, wings-and-weapons approach to Hawkman with minor flourishes (such as the additional properties of the anti-gravity metal that powered his wings and episodes of past life regression) that made the character feel viably interesting for the first time in decades. He was even given another chance at a solo title, with James Robinson revisiting territory he’d explored in his acclaimed Starman ongoing and some sweet art by Rags Morales. If ever the stars were aligned in ol’ Carter Hall’s favor, this would have been the moment.

It wasn’t. The relaunch quickly lost steam, cycled through a couple of creative teams, and was eventually retooled as a Hawkgirl ongoing before DC finally pulled the plug.

There’s no question that it’s possible to tell an entertaining Hawkman story. Kyle Baker did a swell one a few years ago in Wednesday’s Comics. Whether or not there’s enough there to sustain an ongoing series is another matter, even with the current affection toward high concept fluff. Given the real affection fandom has for Hawkgirl/Hawkwoman, maybe it’s time to make that character the bearer of the franchise’s torch — if only to spare the world more material like this…

Iconic yet unloved, Hawkman is a stripped gear within the machinery of the DC Universe, perpetually spinning, never gripping, and each rotation driving him further into the realm of Nobody’s Favorites.

Related posts:

  1. Nobody’s Favorite: Jackin’ it
  2. Nobody’s Favorite: Around in circles
  3. Nobody’s Favorite: The king and why

23 Responses to “Nobody’s Favorite: The fifth is feathers”

  1. Cary

    I actually love the few good versions of Hawkman enough to overlook all the shit, but I still think Hawkgirl/woman is obviously a better character, and that Hawkman should be kept as her sidekick, rather than the other way around. My favorite interpretation was the Justice League animated version voiced by James Remar, which just proves the point. No one would classify Hawkgirl as Nobody’s Favorite.

  2. Aberration, The

    Yes, for God’s sake, if there’s any single superhero whose “girl” version is superior to the male, it’s Hawkgirl/Hawkwoman. Given how, after years the comics of sidelining her, she completely blew up in the Justice League cartoon AND (to a lesser extent) JSA without her Hawkbetterhalf hogging the spotlight, you’d think the nerds in charge would figure. It. Out. Nope! “Huhhuhhuh, that’s stoopid, she’s a GURL, get, kitchen, make, sandwich, huhhuhhuh!! NEED man!”

    A lot of it had to do with the one change the JL cartoon made that the comics never dared make: Thanagarians don’t wear fake wings; they HAVE wings. The cartoon and JSA avoided secret identity nonsense whenever possible, while the other comics persisted in the delusion that we gave a single damn what Carter Hall did in his civilian identity as a museum suit trying to convince sane people that nets and bolos and wee tiny shields are still state-of-the-art weaponry. So the wings had to be costume.

    But if Thanagarians fly naturally, regardless of the evolutionary questions there’s no further suspension of belief necessary. You aren’t asking yourself why (what appears to be) a completely normal man puts on an anti-gravity belt, then takes off his shirt, straps fifty pounds of pure drag across his chest and onto the small of his back, pops an unsecured windcatcher over his head, then soars into the sky subjecting himself to temperatures that would kill a polar bear in seconds. (Nerd pipes up: “Maybe there are subdermal snaps that attach the helmet directly to his skull? And in issue three of Atom and Hawkidiot, they explain that Thangarians use a sort of Vicks Vap-O-Rub to keep their lungs from solidifying and their nipples from snapping off in extreme tem”–SHUT UP NERD! The first hard crosswind would catch those wings–and their straps–and suddenly it’d be raining bloody raw quarters of Carter Hall over Generic City. Unless he’s Kryptonian. Shut up.)

    At least Hawkgirl’s helmet was a little streamlined.

    And unlike Comics Carter, Cartoon Shiera had character. She was a bit hostile even when she wasn’t berserker-raging, but not Guy Gardner-style obnoxious, and as she came out of her shell and hooked up with John Stewart, even the bigots on 4chan who shat themselves in rage when John was announced as the ‘toon’s GL were shipping them. When she cried over Solomon Grundy, we cried with her. And when we found out the truth about her, and she flew away…it hurt. (Then they had to screw all those feels up by dragging her back, dragging Grundy back, and–voila!–rubbing Carter Hall in our faces! And I stopped watching! Just like JSA dragged Hawkman back into the fore! And I stopped reading! FIGURE. IT. OUT.)

    What’d Carter have? Being Rush Limbaugh to Oliver Queen’s Al Franken, which was good for one or two issues of JLA. Otherwise, being yet another white guy from outer space. Being the same piece of stale Wonder Bread that was Barry Allen, Hal Jordan, Ray Palmer (and Ralph Dibny if you took away the humor). Being a winged amalgam of Judge Dredd, Wolverine, and Batman in that horrid turdstorm. Nothin’, with wings. All the life of an action figure.

    Oh, but he talks to birds! I almost forgot! *farrrrrrrrrrt*

  3. Cathy Leamy

    YES. Damn, this was a pleasure to read. The constant revamps of Hawkman always strike me like a parent serving the same crummy unwanted leftovers again and again with desperate unhelpful tweaks. “But I added bacon bits this time! But I stirred in some sriracha sauce!”

  4. Kris

    Yep, he sucks. Always has, always will. Hawkwoman on the other hand, man…. Where’s the online petition to get her elected as fandoms imaginary girl friend emeritus?

  5. Jer

    I was actually also going to come here to say that while I can believe that Hawkman is nobody’s favorite (because Hawkman), I know for a fact that Hawkgirl is beloved by many. If you ask my wife her favorite superhero character and don’t give her time to think she’ll say Wonder Woman – because Linda Carter made an impression on both of us at a young age. But if you give her some time to think about it it’s always Hawkgirl – because the Justice League cartoon was far and away her favorite set of superhero stories until the Marvel movies came along.

  6. Kid Kyoto

    It was the strap on wings that doom him.

    I mean a winged warrior is cool.

    A warrior who has to put on wings, is just a poser.

    Bring back Zauriel, now that was a winged character with potential.

    Hawkman, like Aquaman, is an example of everything wrong in American comics, the same failed characters brought back again and again thanks of a combination of incestuous creators and corporations that think IP is a limited resource.

  7. Tom Hartley

    That a teen-age Shelly Moldoff’s swipe of one of the hawkmen from Alex Raymond’s Flash Gordon has lasted seven decades tells us a lot about super-hero comics.

  8. Moonrock1973

    For a character that has always had such potential, DC has messed it up more times that not.

    The closest to interesting that Hawkman ever got was the “Shadow War” mini-series, but that incarnation didn’t last long. I also liked the “Conan with wings” approach that Geoff Johns had for a while, but that seemed to die out quickly too.

  9. Jim Kosmicki

    When my wife got her first teaching job back in 1986 or so, she had this one student who just didn’t fit in with the other students. He was the stereotypical Big Bang style nerd, but back when that was still enough to ostracize you. She found out that he liked comics like her husband, so she tried to engage him in that subject. He flat out stated that his favorite superhero was Hawkman – this would have been around the time of the Shadow War miniseries and subsequent regular series. I was sort of flabbergasted. But then again, his favorite TV show was Airwolf. So not only did he have the typical teenage nerd limited sense of aesthetics, but he clearly preferred any pop culture that showed him the ability to fly away and/or attack one’s oppressors.

  10. Jim Kosmicki

    contrary to being only slightly popular in the Golden Age, Hawkman was the cover feature on pretty much every other issue of Flash Comics. I remember reading an article once that pretty flatly stated that he would have been the 4th All-American character to get a solo book if there hadn’t been war-time paper restrictions that limited their ability to expand their line. Once All-American sold out to National, National did little to promote the All-American characters that didn’t already have solo books, so that was that, except that Hawkman was a prominent member of the JSA.

    as for the Silver Age – the fact that it took two tryout runs in The Brave and the Bold showed that there was a weakness to the concept. The only real selling point was the art. Other than Zatanna and the one crossover with Adam Strange, there are pretty much no memorable Hawkman stories from his Silver Age run, and none that anybody’s felt any real need to pick up on since.

    but Tony Isabella’s Shadow War mini and subsequent regular series was a definite uptick in quality. Mainly because the story actually had some resonance, finally.

  11. sallyp

    Oh Hawkman, you were…and are… such a tool. Hawkwoman on the other hand, just rocks. Although I did have a few moments of appreciation for Hawkman in the old JLI where he was even more obnoxious than Guy.

    But in that first scan…is that woman sleeping in a bra? Someone should really tell comic artists that we don’t…do that.

    sheesh.

  12. Chris G

    Let’s not forget the mostly-ridiculous-looking live-action Hawkman on a couple of episodes of Smallville.

  13. Adam

    The best Hawkman is the one from JLU who was just a crazy guy that wanted to get with Hawkgirl.

  14. Old Bull Lee

    @sallyp – Not to mention TV producers.

  15. Tales to Enrage

    I’ve managed to come up with 2 different pitches for a solo Hawkman series, despite the fact that he is not a favorite of mine at all.

    I’m starting to think I have a problem.

  16. Snark Shark

    “Joe Kubert”

    I LOVE his first Hawkman cover- the one with the giant-headed lizard/monster? SO AWESOME!!!

    ” Hawkworld”

    Loved it- before the regular series petered out. Same with the Rags Morales-art relaunch. I remember rliking Shadow War of Hawkman, also. Though my memories of that one are rather vague!

  17. Snark Shark

    ” because Linda Carter made an impression on both of us at a young age.”

    BOY, DID SHE EVER! :D

  18. Snark Shark

    “That a teen-age Shelly Moldoff’s swipe of one of the hawkmen from Alex Raymond’s Flash Gordon has lasted seven decades tells us a lot about super-hero comics.”

    WAS IT? Interesting! The resemblance is certainly there, I just hadn’t thought of it before.

  19. LCB

    I had almost forgotten about the Chromium Age Wolverhawk, exactly how many characters, retooled or ‘original’ ripped off Wolverine back then? I’m seriously not suggesting that this site tackle a sampling but someone should, just to see. Just like how, back in the 80s, some comics magazine posted a list that filled a whole page of all of the TMNT ripoffs and “parodies” that had been published at the time.

  20. Bill D.

    Hawkman was always a character I thought I should like a lot more than I did, and it’s all because of his Super Powers action figure. His was the best-looking figure of that first wave by far… the helmet, the mace, the bandoliers-and-wings thing, he was basically a DCU-proper He-Man. Tremendous visual appeal, all of it done in by DC’s inability to not tinker with their second- and third-tier characters.

  21. Aberration, The

    Oh, hey, I almost forgot about this! Hawkman must be SOMEBODY’s favorite, because he and Hawkgirl got their own Jesus-I-can’t-watch-this XXX-rated “parody” (which apparently means, “as much like the actual thing as we can afford–which ain’t much–plus: fucking). Whoever made it knows enough about the character to fill out the cast with Gentleman Ghost and Black Canary in her original, Golden Age role as a cat-thief, and centers the “plot” around the Egyptian reincarnation angle.

    (One presumes the only reason we don’t already have “Barely Legal Teen Titans” is because Beast Boy could get the producers into SO much trouble.)

    YouTube trailer is clean but not worksafe of course.
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jM3FLI8_6_0

  22. Robert

    I don’t think its impossible that there are some now-octogenarian members of The Greatest (comics reading) Generation who retain fond memories of the Winged Wonder’s 1940′s highpoint before they hit adolescence and read comics no more forever. I’m no Golden Age historian but a perusal of my Steranko History of Comics and a look at the Cover Browser website would indicate Hawkman was actually quite popular in the early to mid-Forties. The Flash basically split covers with him in Flash Comics, while Green Lantern and Wonder Woman meanwhile had the prime real estate of All-American Comics and Sensation Comics all to themselves. You don’t have to look at too many pages of any of those comics to realize that Sheldon Moldoff’s artwork was head and shoulders over the All-American big three. Hell, you could even argue it was right there with Jerry Robinson’s Batman and whoever was drawing Superman at the time. Plus, I have the vague impression from the little I’ve read of it, that Hawkman was a bit more mysterious and mature of a feature than the other stuff DC was putting out, probably because of the artwork, the Egyptian motif, and the fact that Hawkman fought crime with an attractive female partner instead of Lou Costello, the Three Stooges, or uh…Woo Woo!!! Then Moldoff got drafted, was subsequently sentenced to be Bob Kane’s ghost, and that was all she wrote for Hawkman’s apex.

    Clearly, after Adam Strange and the revamps of Flash, Green Lantern, and the Justice Society/Justice League, Julie Schwartz’s well ran dry and Hawkman has been everything you say since his Silver Age revival. (Though Schwartz’s greatest brainstorm of all was the insight that comic characters were valuable properties to be kept alive in perpetuity for their corporate owners.) Once (flying) superheroes ceased to be a novelty and DC’s editors ditched dynamic amateurism for bland professionalism in their artwork, Hawkman was just one more boring character in the stable.

    Leave it to Alan Moore to try to do something interesting with Schwartz’s fallow Hawkman. In Moore’s Swamp Thing story with Adam Strange, Moore reimagined Thanagar as home to a race of predatory bird people teeming with sexual violence (as opposed to the technologically advanced but sterile world of Rann). I think Moore’s story kind of served as the basis for DC’s somewhat fondly remembered 80′s revamp of Hawkman (as well as the inspiration for the fondly remembered by nobody epic that was the “Rann-Thanagar War”). Of course with Moore no longer on hand to actually write any of those comics, the relaunch couldn’t last (see The Spectre, Dr. Fate, The Demon, etc.)

    My personal favorite revamp of Hawkman was James Robinson’s in The Golden Age where Hawkman was revealed to be just an archaeologist who dressed up because he was nuts and just thought he was a reincarnated Egyptian prince. So yeah, basically Victor Buono’s King Tut. Sadly, when Robinson actually wrote yet another Hawkman series in the last decade that version was ditched and it was back to all that Nth metal crap.

  23. Uncle Dave

    My Favorite Hawkman will always be the quickie mini-series LEGEND OF THE HAWKMAN written by Ben Raab and illustrated to great effect by Michael Lark. This falls somewhere squarely between the James Robinsons THE GOLDEN AGE version and Kuberts classic 1960′s re-launch. Seek this out, it’s a fantastic book!

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