By Gardner Fox & Murphy Anderson (DC Comics)
When the revived Hawkman series finally made the jump to a full title rather than a try-out or back-up feature the timing couldn’t have been better. Superheroes were rapidly becoming the major draw of the funnybook industry and the new adventures by the incredibly creative Gardner Fox and Murphy Anderson blended history, mystery science fiction and bombastic action with unforgettable impact.
Katar Hol and his wife Shayera were police officers on the planet Thanagar. They originally travelled to Earth from the star system Polaris in pursuit of a spree-thief named Byth who had stolen a drug which gave the user the ability to change into anything. For further information and a real reading treat you should consult the previous volume in this gloriously deluxe hardcover series (ISBN: 1-56389-611-7) or if you’re a fan of black and white artwork, pick up the superbly economical compendium Showcase Presents Hawkman: volume 1 (ISBN13: 978-1-4012-1280-3).
This second volume collects the first eight issues of this classic comic, kicking off with Hawkman #1 (cover-dated April-May 1964).
Two of the most visually arresting characters in comics, the Hawks also had one of the most subtle and sophisticated relationships in the business. Like Sue and Ralph Dibney (Elongated Man and wife) Katar and Shayera were equal partners, (both couples were influenced by the Nick and Nora Charles characters of the Thin Man movies) and the interplay was always rich in humour and warmth.
In ‘Rivalry of the Winged Wonders’, and whilst accommodatingly recapping their origins for newcomers, the couple decided to turn their latest case into a contest. Hawkgirl would use Thanagarian super-science to track and catch a band of thieves whilst Hawkman limited himself to Earth techniques and tools in solving the crime. This charmingly witty yarn was balanced by the action thriller ‘Master of the Sky Weapons’ as Chac, an ancient Mayan warrior, threatened the civilized world with alien super weapons.
‘Secret of the Sizzling Sparklers!’ was an action-packed thriller concerning trans-dimensional invaders, and issue #2 closed with ‘Wings across Time’ a mystery revolving around the discovery of the flying harness of the legendary Icarus. Another brain-teaser opened the third issue. Scientific bandits proved less of a menace than ‘The Fear that Haunted Hawkman’, but common thugs and an extraordinary alien owl resulted in our heroes becoming ‘Birds in a Gilded Cage’.
Issue #4 opened with a tale that would revolutionise DC comics. ‘The Girl who Split in Two!’ introduced Zatanna, daughter of a magician who had fought crime in the 1940s only to “mysteriously disappear”.
Zatarra was a magician-hero in the Mandrake mould who’d fought evil in the pages of Action Comics for over a decade beginning with the very first issue. During the Silver Age Gardner Fox had Zatarra’s young and equally gifted daughter, Zatanna, searching for the missing magician by teaming up with a selection of superheroes Fox was currently scripting (if you’re counting, those tales appeared in Hawkman #4, Atom #19, Green Lantern #42, and the Elongated Man back-up strip in Detective Comics #355 as well as a very slick piece of back writing to include the high-profile Caped Crusader via Detective #336 – ‘Batman’s Bewitched Nightmare’. The saga concluded in Justice League of America #51 ‘Z – As in Zatanna – and Zero Hour!’ )
This epic long-running experiment in continuity proved to the creators – and publishers – that there was a dedicated fan-base out there with a voracious appetite for experimentation and relatively deep pockets. Most importantly it finally signalled the end of the period where DC heroes lived and battled in a world of their own. ‘The Machine that Magnetized Men!’ is another fine tale, as the winged Wonders use reason and deduction to defeat thieves who are impossible to touch.
‘Steal, Shadow– Steal!’ in Hawkman #5 was the first full-length thriller in the run, as the ruthless Shadow Thief returned to seek revenge, believing that triggering a new Ice Age to be an acceptable consequence of his schemes. Issue #6 is another long tale, and one that exploited DC’s peculiar obsession with gorillas to create a classic adventure.
‘World Where Evolution Ran Wild!’ drew our heroes to fabled Illoral where a scientist’s explorations had stretched Selection to un-Natural limits. Bold, brash and daft in equal proportions, this is still a fabulous romp and seeing again the cover where Hawkman struggles for his life against a winged gorilla makes the adult me realise those DC chaps might have known what they were doing with all those anthropoid covers!
By issue #7 (April-May 1965) the world was gripped in secret agent fever as the likes of James Bond, the Man from U.N.C.L.E., and a host of others shook and stirred across our TV screens, and even comics were not immune, though spies had been a staple element there for nearly two decades. Before Hawkman joined that crowd however he had to deal with the rather mediocre threat posed by ‘The Amazing Return of the I.Q. Gang!’ They were quickly returned to prison and the Hawks moved on to face the ‘Attack of the Crocodile-Men!’, a high-octane super-science thriller that introduced C.A.W. – the Criminal Alliance of the World!
Another supremely captivating cover adorned #8 – the last in this lovely book – as the Hawks had to defeat an ancient Roman artificial intelligence built by the not-so mythical Vulcan himself in ‘Giant in the Golden Mask!’, and then defeat an alien Harpy who’d been buried for half a million years in ‘Battle of the Bird-Man Bandits’.
Hawkman was one of the most iconic and visually arresting characters of the second superhero boom, not just for the superb art but also because of a brilliant, subtle writer and a supremely talented artist. These tales are comfortably familiar and grippingly timeless, perfect for warming hearts and firing imaginations of kids of all ages. If you love great reads this book and its predecessor deserve space on your bookshelf.
© 1964, 1965, 2004 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.