WC: HAWKMAN #2

When it came to the organized comic book fandom of the early Silver Age of Comics, there was no character that hardcore audience was more behind than Hawkman. The Winged Wonder had been a favorite of both Dr. Jerry Bails and Roy Thomas during their youth decades earlier as part of the Justice Society of America, and a revival was something that both championed in the pages of the fanzine Alter-Ego and then everywhere else they could reach. As Bails was almost single-handedly responsible for establishing the early super hero fan community, he had a lot of sway over the membership. And yet, somehow, Hawkman simply refused to take flight. The character was given a three-issue tryout in BRAVE AND THE BOLD under editor Julie Schwartz, but failed to catch on. The artwork by Joe Kubert was adored by the hardcore audience but was divisive among more casual readers–Kubert’s line was felt to be too gritty and stylized for a super hero strip. A second BRAVE AND THE BOLD tryout likewise failed to clear the bar. In a somewhat-odd decision, Schwartz decided to feature the character in his MYSTERY IN SPACE series, reckoning that since Hawkman was now an alien from the planet Thanagar, he qualified for inclusion. In doing so, Schwartz switched up the art assignment, giving the strip over to the more streamlined Murphy Anderson. The hardcore fans weren’t happy, but this was enough to prove Hawkman’s popularity and get him his own series (as well as inclusion in the Justice League of America.) So finally, the Winged Wonder had a book of his own.

If it resembled anything at all, the Hawkman strip was closest in spirit in some ways to Adam Strange, in that it featured an intelligent lead with an outer space background often facing the challenge of disparate menaces and overcoming them through his intellect. In the case of Hawkman, the shtick was that despite being an alien from an advanced civilization, he would use the primitive weapons of Earth’s past to cope with the menaces of the present. He was also unique in that he came to Earth a married man–his wife Shayera joined him in his high-flying adventures as Hawkgirl. She wasn’t quite treated as an equal–the sexism of the era was too strong for that–but she did make out as being more capable than most of the other ladies of the DC Universe at that time. Compared to Lois Lane, for instance, she was a grown up.

The original Hawkman had been created for the pages of FLASH COMICS in the 1940s by writer Gardner Fox. That version had been the reincarnation of an Egyptian prince, and dealt with heavily supernatural themes. By contrast, the modern day Hawkman was far more a science fiction series–though Schwartz did bring Fox back to write it. As with his work on Adam Strange and JUSTICE LEAGUE OF AMERICA, Fox tended to favor intricate plotting (often based around some obscure science fact) over characterization. His characters were always pleasant enough, but often seemed relatively interchangeable. Murphy Anderson, for his part, was an immaculate artist heavily influenced by the work of Golden Age great Lou Fine. But his work on HAWKMAN was perhaps just a little bit too immaculate, especially as compared to the more lively lines of Joe Kubert, who had inaugurated the revived strip. It’s clear that the addition of Anderson to the mix is what allowed Hawkman to get off the ground, but at the same time, for some fans, it also meant the loss of the very unique quality that made them interested in the first place. A clear case of getting what you want and still not being happy.

A brief pause here for this terrific Ira Schnapp house ad touting the big change in Batman, the inauguration of the “New Look” in which Julie Schwartz took over as editor from Jack Schiff and switched up all of the emphasis in the series. He also added the yellow oval around the bat-symbol, the better to trademark it.

In the manner of most of Schwartz’s other solo hero titles, HAWKMAN typically led with a two-part story and then featured a shorter one-part back-up. This second issue is no different in that regard. The opening tale concerns the invasion of our world from the alternate dimension of Llorth, home of the Tralls. Hawkman and Hawkgirl are warned of the impending attack by a slave of the Tralls, who contacts them by exchanging telephones and other communications devices with mental communicators from Llorth. The Tralls have come to our dimension in order to bathe in the light of our sun, which will restore their super-senses. And the only thing they have to fear are the Hawks, whom they’ve observed defeat other powerful aliens by finding a weakness in their defenses.

And the Tralls aren’t wrong about Hawkman. Based on his and Hawkgirl’s earlier unsuccessful fights with them, the Winged Wonder is able to deduce that they are vulnerable to “cold-light” such as that generated by fireflies. In addition, their weapons can be warded off by the Anti-Gravity metal of the Hawks’ flight belts. so Hawkman coats a pair of ancient shields with the stuff, whips up some sparklers that will give off cold-light, and heads off to the counter-attack. And that’s the ballgame. In true Silver Age DC hero tradition, the day is saved not through superior strength or firepower of greater super-powers but rather through observation and intellect and ingenuity.

Despite this being only the second issue of HAWKMAN, editor Schwartz was still able to pull together a letters page for it, Hawkman’s Roost, by culling from letters about the character that had been sent to MYSTERY IN SPACE and BRAVE AND THE BOLD. This particular column includes a communication from Bruce Lowry, who became a prominent fan and original art collector.

The second story in this issue was also produced by the creative team of Gardner Fox and Murphy Anderson. It opens with the discovery of the legendary wings of the mythological Icarus being discovered in tact after centuries–this despite the fact that they are made of wax, feathers and thread. Apparently, a special preservative substance has kept them intact all this time. Midway City Museum Curator Carter Hall is selected to test out the wings by leaping with them from a ridiculously tall building–which seems idiotic on the face of it, what if the stupid things didn’t work as advertised? Of course, Carter, being Hawkman, is in no danger anyway, as he’s wearing his anti-gravity belt. So Carter makes a successful flight with them, but takes the wings back to the Hawks’ spaceship where they can date them more precisely than any Earthly equipment.

Later, while pursuing a gang of crooks who have robbed a truck, Hawkman’s own wings are destroyed by a shot from a bazooka as he attempt to chase the fleeing felons. With little other choice, Hawkman substitutes the Icarus wings (which he’s confirmed are genuinely 4000 years old) and armed with a Greek battering ram, continues after the criminals. You kind of expect his wings to fail at some point just as they did in the mythological story, but they don’t–Hawkman just cleans up on the bad guys with no real difficulties, and in the end confirms the wings to be genuine. So it’s a strangely conflict-free story, the point of which I’m not exactly certain. But I guess they can’t all be winners.

5 thoughts on “WC: HAWKMAN #2

  1. I loved Murphy Anderson’s art on Hawkman though I can see why some fans liked Kubert better. A bigger problem rereading them is how many of the human villains are about the level of a Gotham City “crook with a gimmick” from the same era.

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  2. I enjoyed Anderson and Kubert equally and for different reasons. My person favorite artist for Hawkman did far less stories but they imressed me: Richard Howell.

    An aside: Has any winged hero survived solo longtime? I can’t thinkof one but I’m interested to know if I’m wrong.

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  3. It’s fascinating how Hawkman’s debut in the Brave and the Bold was pitched firmly at the readers who’d loved him twenty years earlier. Credits on the first page for Gardner Fox and Joe Kubert, and two pages of text all about how Gardner Fox created the original character, letters from Roy Thomas and two other adult fans, and basically giving the impression that you had to be a fan of the old comics to ‘get’ this one.

    If I was a kid at the time, I would have thought I’d accidentally picked up a comic aimed at 30-year-olds, and taken against it right away! That’s probably what stopped it being successful, as much as Joe Kubert’s really rather cool artwork. 🙂

    Even here with Anderson, it’s looking mature enough to put people off – more lines and details than Superman had…

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    1. The Atom’s Showcase debut had a two-page text feature about the Golden Age Atom and the JSA in general and Ray Palmer clearly wasn’t pitched at fans of Al Pratt (assuming there were any hardcore fans around). As someone who was a kid at the time, learning about these older versions fascinated me, and I doubt I was alone.

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  4. I was a big fan of Hawkman in the 60’s. For one thing he seemed more settled and mature than most heroes. He had a wife, he had a sensible career at a museum. Plus he wasn’t easily rattled, he’d usually come up with the answer in a logical thought out manner. A good role model for us children back then!

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