Hawkman was the fourth member of the Justice League of America on whose solo adventures I eventually decided to gamble 12 cents, his having been preceded by Superman, Batman, Green Lantern, and the Flash. (Wonder Woman, the Atom, and Aquaman would eventually follow, though unfortunately Green Arrow had already lost his supporting slot in World’s Finest by this time, and I wouldn’t get around to checking out House of Mystery until well after its doors had shut on the Martian Manhunter.) Most of what I knew about the Winged Wonder came from Justice League of America #41, where I’d learned that both Hawkman and his wife, the similarly attired and identically powered (but perhaps slightly smarter) Hawkgirl, were alien police officers from the planet Thanagar, operating undercover on Earth for reasons I didn’t quite understand yet.
Though I wasn’t aware of this at the time, Hawkman was the third of editor Julius Schwartz’s four great revivals/re-inventions of a 1940’s-era DC hero, his reintroduction in 1961 having followed those of the Flash in 1956 and Green Lantern in 1959. In contrast to the revised versions of Flash and GL, however (not to mention Schwartz’s new take on the Atom, which followed Hawkman 2.0’s debut by only a few short months), the revamped Hawkman (and Hawkgirl) resembled their Golden Age predecessors quite a bit. Not only were their powers, costumes, and modus operandi essentially the same as the earlier versions; they even had the same secret identities, more or less: Carter Hall and his girlfriend/wife, Shiera.
The key difference was in the characters’ origins. The Forties’ Hawks were the reincarnations of an ancient Egyptian prince and his consort, whereas the Sixties’ Hawks, as already noted, were law enforcement officers from outer space. Both versions of the origin story provided rich resource material for comic book storytelling, but they were essentially incompatible. That wasn’t a problem so long as the Golden Age and Silver Age heroes were conceived of as inhabiting parallel universes, but after the consolidation of DC’s fictional realities in 1985’s Crisis on Infinite Earths, it became a prime source of continuity headaches.
Of course, such concerns lay more than twenty years in the future when I first read “Quest of the Immortal Queen!”, written by Gardner Fox and illustrated by Murphy Anderson. Anderson (who passed away just recently, on October 22, 2015) would quickly join the other two great artists in Schwartz’s stable as one of my favorites. His style was less dynamic than Gil Kane’s, and less fluid than Carmine Infantino’s, but it shared their smooth, cleanly detailed look.
The story gets off to a rousing start as a couple of frost giants right out of Norse mythology stomp their way into the Hawks’ home base of Midway City and begin to cause mayhem, pushing over buildings and the like. Katar Hol (that’s Hawkman’s true, Thanagarian name) shows up and, despite the giants’ greater size and strength, manages to defeat them, revealing them to be robots in the process. Hawkgirl (aka Shayera Hol) then shows up, just in time to watch as a beautiful woman riding a winged horse, looking very much like a Norse mythological valkyrie, swoops in and sends her husband hurtling through an invisible portal in the air. Shayera prepares to follow, but is immediately interrupted by a sometime ally:
This scene provides an opportunity to show off one of the Silver Age’s Hawks’ most charming powers, their ability to communicate with birds (who are quite bright and articulate, of course), which I’d previously encountered in JLA #40.
Hawkgirl opts to ignore Big Red’s warning and head into the portal after Hawkman, and her spouse does indeed need help, as the mysterious mists on the other side of the invisible doorway have rendered him the winged horse’s rider’s helpless prisoner:
This is a heady scene, potent with allusions to ancient myth, and handsomely rendered by Anderson. Unfortunately, the effect is somewhat marred by the blatant hawking of DC’s upcoming new teen humor series, Swing with Scooter, via the blazing red caption at the bottom of the panel. In 2016, it reminds me of nothing so much as the penchant of modern broadcast television networks to insert promos for other shows at the bottom of the screen while a program is airing. Thankfully, this marketing experiment of DC’s, like their “Go-Go Checks”, didn’t last long.
After Hawkman regains consciousness, his captor tells him that her name is Alvit, Queen of Alfheim, and that she is a descendant of the human survivors of an interplanetary nuclear war, many centuries from now in Earth’s future:
As with scripter Gardner Fox’s similar reference to the “Beaulieu system” in Detective #344, my eight-year-old self took this factoid about “Saint Martin’s Land” at face value back in the day. My fifty-eight-year-old self is less trusting, however, so I’ve just done a bit of Internet searching, and I’ve verified that this “editor’s note” does indeed have an external source: the legend of the green children of Woolpit, which dates back to 12th century England. The original legend, however, makes no reference to elements of Norse myth such as Bifrost (well known to fans of Marvel Comics’ Thor as the rainbow bridge between the mortal world and the realm of the gods), nor does it identify the land inside the Earth as Alfheim (the home of the Elves in Norse myth). Additionally, the hidden land of the legend is therein described as being in perpetual twilight, while Alfheim seems to be quite well lit for a subterranean realm (a detail Fox’s story never tries to account for).
Continuing her explanation, Queen Alvit tells Hawkman that the discoveries her scientist ancestors made in the hidden land have allowed her to make herself immortal. And while she can easily travel from Alfheim to the surface world, the journey always takes her back in time:
And this, of course, is the very reason why she’s brought Hawkman here from 1966. Ulp! How will our hero escape this fate?
(A small but really nice detail from this panel that probably escaped me in 1966 is that along with recognizable historical figures of a medieval knight, Roman soldier, etc., Alvit’s collection of ex-husbands-on-ice includes a Buck Rogers-type spaceman. Remember, Alvit is from the very far future, so her past should be inclusive of times yet to come for us readers.)
To prove himself worthy of marrying her, Hawkman first has to pass the “test of champions”, which involves stopping the ship Naglfar from completing its passage of the river Ifing, which flows in mid-air (two more Norse mythological references). Of course, this is harder than it sounds, as the ship becomes animate, attacking Hawkman by having its dragon-headed prow breathe fire on him and so on. Hawkman ultimately prevails, but he’s not out of danger yet — for as soon as he’s passed the test, Alvit’s “mental-dominating machine” begins to exert its influence on him, with the goal of making him fall in love with the queen and agree to marry her:
Yep, it’s Shayera to the rescue. Earlier, she’d followed Katar and Alvit through the portal, then used the handy-dandy Thanagarian device called an Absorbascon — which can absorb all knowledge from any mind on (or under) Earth — to learn she needed to eat the “wonder food” of Alfheim to alleviate the effects of the Bifrost mists.
Alvit quickly regroups, sending her forces (including her temporarily thawed-out exes) after the Hawks, but, after several pages of gratifying action, our heroes ultimately overcome their foes and escape back to 20th-century Midway City. For good measure, they destroy the portal, preventing Alvit from ever again coming to their time to hunt for a husband — or, as Hawkgirl puts it, helping “make the world safe for lovers everywhere!”
As it happens, the mind-controlling machine never had a chance to work on Katar, as Shayera learned about it from the Absorbascon and turned it off before dropping in to interrupt Alvit and Katar in the clinch. Katar doesn’t know she did that, however, so she’s wondering how he’ll account for having fought off its effects:
Um, Shayera, I hate to say this, but if you’d already turned off the machine, then Katar never actually had a chance to prove that his love for you was stronger than its influence. But — never mind. Setting aside the “valuable helpmate” business, I don’t think that “love conquers all” was too awful a lesson for my eight-year-old self to take away from this story. If nothing else, it provided a somewhat more healthy and constructive take on romantic relationships than I was picking up from most of DC’s other comics.
That said, the foregrounding of the romantic motivations of the principal characters (though it may be stretching things to call Alvit’s motivation “romantic”) may be one reason why Hawkman #13 didn’t make more of an impression on me than it did, way back in January, 1966. I mean, I’m sure I enjoyed it, but one thing that struck me in re-reading this book in 2016 is that I didn’t recall many, if any, of the allusions to Norse mythology that are strewn throughout the story. That seems a little odd, considering that by the early Seventies I would be thoroughly enamored with what the poet W. H. Auden once called “the Northern thing”, both in and out of comic books. As far as I can remember, however, the usage of this material in “Quest of the Immortal Queen!” didn’t spark a lot of interest at the time. (Though, on further thought, I suppose the somewhat clumsy way it was combined with both a future scenario of nuclear apocalypse and the unrelated medieval “Saint Martin’s Land” legend might have had something to do with that.)
This was going to be a post entirely about Hawkman and Hawkgirl, as portrayed in this story and beyond — but in re-reading this issue’s letters column (“Hawlman’s Roost”), I unexpectedly came across this gem:
The late Dave Cockrum, as most of my readers probably already know, eventually became a well-regarded professional comics artist, first coming to prominence in 1972 via a re-design of DC’s Legion of Super-Heroes and, a few years later, achieving even greater success through his role in the incredibly popular re-launch of Marvel’s X-Men series, including the co-creation of the characters Storm, Colossus, and Nightcrawler.
His role in the creation of the Hawks’ adversary, the Shrike, is considerably less-heralded, but still worthy of note, I believe, a little more than 50 years after the fact. I’ve never read Hawkman #11, but here’s the cover, featuring Murphy Anderson’s rendition of the villain:
According to his bio on Wikipedia, Cockrum would have been 22 years old when this letter was published. Fittingly enough, one of his first assignments as a comics professional some six years later would be working as an assistant to Murphy Anderson.
I’m fascinated by the editorial response to Cockrum’s letter here, which indicates that at this time DC’s editors (or maybe just Julius Schwartz) might accept someone’s unsolicited character design and compensate them with a piece of original art. I’m not aware of any other examples of such occurring in DC’s comics of the Sixties, but there are many, many such books I’ve never read. Anyone out there have more information?
And now, to return to our originally scheduled blog post:
I picked up a few more issues of Hawkman over the next couple of years, though it never became one of my favorite series. Unfortunately, the book’s sales were weak, and in 1968 it was merged with the similarly ailing Atom to become The Atom & Hawkman. That series itself only lasted seven issues, though the titular heroes would both continue to appear regularly in Justice League of America for many years to come. Hawkman (and Hawkgirl, who eventually and quite appropriately began calling herself Hawkwoman in 1981, and joined the JLA as a full member in her own right, besides) would also soon return in a starring role in back-up features (Detective, World’s Finest) and try-out stories (Showcase) before eventually getting another crack at his (their) own title.
There have in fact been a number of Hawk-starring series over the last few decades, under an assortment of titles (in addition to Hawkman itself, these have included The Shadow War of Hawkman, Hawkworld, Hawkgirl, and The Savage Hawkman), though none have lasted more than a few years before being cancelled. A large part of the problem derives from the “Crisis on Infinite Earths” continuity reset mentioned near the beginning of this post, which resulted in DC needing to find a way to reconcile two distinct sets of nearly identical Hawks/Halls with completely incompatible back-stories. (One could make a strong case that just about everything they’ve done with the characters from 1985 on has made matters worse. See the DC Multiverse Historian’s exhaustive and entertaining account for full details.) Personally, I feel that DC missed a good bet when they passed on an early-’80s pitch from comics writer Steve Gerber that would have fused the two versions of Hawkman, apparently by having the Thanagarian police officer be the reincarnation of the Egyptian prince. (A reworked version of Gerber’s proposal eventually saw the light as Void indigo, an original graphic novel and short-lived series from Marvel Comics.)
Today, the two versions co-exist in different media, as a Hawkman and Hawkgirl based on the “reincarnated Egyptians” origin have recently appeared on TV (if only briefly, in the former character’s case) in The CW’s Flash, Arrow, and DC’s Legends of Tomorrow series, while the comics feature a Hawkman from Thanagar as well as a (seemingly) completely unrelated Hawkgirl, whose origin has yet to be fully revealed, but who operates on a new version of Earth-Two. The current Katar Hol has had a brief stint as a Justice Leaguer, but is currently associated with a different super-team, Stormwatch. Still, one must assume that one Hawk or another, in whatever iteration, will return to some version of DC’s premier team eventually. As Superman told a prospective new JLA recruit (an angel named Zauriel) back in Grant Morrison’s JLA (1997 series) # 7, “there’s always room in the Justice League for, well… a big guy with wings…” Just append “or a big gal with wings” to that statement, and truer words were never said.