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Friday, January 22, 2016

Review of 1985's The Shadow War of Hawkman mini-series


Hawkman, created by Gardner Fox (writer) and Dennis Neville (artist), first debuted in All-American Publications’ Flash Comics #1 (1940) and faded into obscurity sometime in the early 50s. In 1961, Hawkman got a Silver Age revival in the pages of DC’s The Brave and the Bold # 34 (under the direction of Editor Julius Schwartz). This new Silver Age Hawkman was once again co-created by Gardner Fox (the other co-creator being Joe Kubert) and had an altered back-story to differentiate him from the 1940’s Golden Age Hawkman. While the Golden Age Hawkman was an Egyptian prince reincarnated in modern day times, the Silver Age Hawkman (and his wife Hawkwoman) was a winged cop from another planet who arrived on earth (and took up permanent residency) in pursuit of a criminal.  Although Silver Age Hawkman (Katar Hol) was in the ‘here and now‘ (as far as the Silver Age was concerned), Golden Age Hawkman (Carter Hall) was still prominently featured in Earth-Two related stories and was a founding member of the Justice Society of America (so he was never really far from view).

Written by Tony Isabella (creator of DC’s Black Lightning character) and illustrated by Richard Howell, the concept for this mini-series arose when Dick Giordano (Vice-President Executive Editor of DC comics at the time) simply decided that Hawkman was due for a comeback. Isabella submitted the winning mini-series proposal by promising “a bold new direction for Hawkman, a clearly defined mood for the series, a story that creates an unstoppable upheaval in the life of Hawkman with effects that will continue long after the mini-series is complete”. Isabella did deliver on these promises by devising a plot that had Hawkman and Hawkwoman immersed in a “trust no one” environment that involved ties to their Thanagarian home-world, and killing off a long-time support character to the Hawkman mythos. To his credit, Isabella did his research before writing this mini-series and read every single Silver Age Hawkman/Katar Hol appearance that DC had ever published prior to 1985. He treated all previous Silver Age appearances of Hawkman history as cannon and even goes so far as to retcon (or dismiss as ‘imaginary tales’) the adventures that didn’t make sense or seemed out of character for Katar Hol*. Mini-series editor Alan Gold was completely on board with Isabella’s ideas.

Most readers don’t realize it, but Hawkman was *this* close to being the sacrificial lamb in DC’s Crisis on Infinite Earths crossover event (1985). When the idea of Crisis on Infinite Earths was conceived in 1983 - 1984, it was suggested that a major character needed to die in order to give the event some sort of resonance. It was already agreed that Kara Zor-El Supergirl was slated to bite the bullet, but the DC editorial team were looking for more characters to die, just to give the event a little bit more “oomph”. Hawkman was on the short list of characters to be executed, but Marv Wolfman quickly nixed that idea. The DC editorial team were not completely unjustified in considering Hawkman for death – since his creation in 1961, Hawkman titles had always suffered from weak sales and cancellation. In 1984, Hawkman was at an odd junction in his super-hero career as the JLA had just been disbanded in Justice League of America Annual #2 (1984) and relocated to Detroit - leaving him with no regular series to be featured in.

Isabella had no plans to have Hawkman or Hawkwoman rejoin the JLA, and had his own vision of a storyline that would keep the Hawks engrossed with their own troubles until the late 80s – if this mini-series amassed enough positive reader feedback. As expected, this mini-series was a ‘test run’ to determine if Hawkman had enough of a following to merit a regular ongoing series. Isabella was pretty confident it would. His confidence would prove correct as (thanks to high sales) this series was followed by a Hawkman Special in 1986, and then an ongoing series later in 1986. I’m sure it didn’t hurt that this mini-series was heavily promoted in The Comic Buyer’s Guide (Isabella was a regular columnist for the publication). For the record, this mini-series occurs before Crisis on Infinite Earths.

FUN FACT: This mini-series introduces a character named Fel Andar (created by Isabella and Howell) who would be later used by John Ostrander in a big retcon fix trying to explain why there were so many multiple Hawkmen running around in the late 80s.

* Isabella observed that Hawkman always sold weaker and got cancelled more frequently. Hence, weird things always happened to Hawkman and Hawkwoman to stir up interest in their series.

This article originally published in April 2014.

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