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Black Adam: Hawkman's Backstory Explained

One of the more exciting announcements for long-time DC comics fans coming out of DC FanDome was the confirmation that a certain winged superhero would be appearing in the upcoming Black Adam feature starring Dwayne Johnson in the titular role.

Hawkman, who's tussled with the nefarious Black Adam before, is a somewhat enigmatic character in the branching DC continuity. He's a creation of legendary writer Gardner Fox, and made his first soaring appearance in 1940's Flash Comics #1, then a property of All-American Comics, one half of the publishing merger that would eventually yield DC. All-American was the original owner of some of DC's most iconic characters including Wonder Woman, The Flash, and The Green Lantern.

Many of All-American's characters have endured some degree of retconning and revision since the merger, but Hawkman's past is arguably the most difficult to untangle. As it currently stands, the moniker belongs to two distinct characters who have at times been connected through valiant authorial efforts, but still largely stand apart even though the distinction was further muddled by 1985's Crisis on Infinite Earths storyline. Fortunately, DC's multiverse comfortably accommodates these kinds of discrepancies, and the backstory of Hawkman is ultimately graspable if you have the patience for a little DC history.

So buckle up for a people's history of Hawkman, perhaps the perfect microcosm of DC comics' byzantine continuity.

A tale of two Hawkmen from two planets

Carter Hall is the original Hawkman — the one who flew onto the pages of Flash Comics way back in 1940. Hall was a charter member of the Justice Society of America, and his powers have an ancient, spiritual origin. Per Flash Comics, he is the reincarnation of the Egyptian Prince Khufu, and discoverer of the Nth metal (referred to as the "ninth metal" back then), a substance that reverses the effects of gravity, thus granting him the power of flight. As a result, his wings are more than a simple costume flourish. He actually uses the wingsuit to conduct air currents and control the direction of Nth metal-fueled flight.

Carter Hall-Hawkman had an avian sidekick, the hawk Big Red. Before he took to the skies, he worked as a museum curator and archaeologist, a position that he took advantage of to procure ancient weapons, which he deployed to fight crime.

In 1961, many DC characters were in the midst of a radical reimagining. Editor Julius Schwartz took his big red pen to Hawkman, replacing Carter Hall with the alien cognate Katar Hol. Unlike the terrestrial Hall, Hol was an interplanetary police officer who originated on the planet Thanagar. Gardner Fox once again created this version of Hawkman, this time working in concert with artist Joe Kubert. Hol's backstory has him traveling to Earth while working as a space cop, chasing a criminal who fled from Thanagar. After his arrival, he decides to remain on Earth to study Earthling police practices, as well as assist the locals in fighting crime. Hol adopts the Earth name "Carter Hall" and becomes a museum curator in Midway City. Despite the lack of Egyptian lineage, his powers are largely the same as the original Carter Hall's.

Things get weird with Hawkman again in the 1980s

The famous 1985 series Crisis on Infinite Earths resulted in some massive collateral continuity damage across the DC universe. Post-Crisis, myriad characters had to be rewritten or reimagined just to square with the reality-bending effects of the storyline. Hawkman had to weather a long string of creators' occasionally haphazard attempts to tweak the character for the next phase of DC storytelling. The publisher finally decided to set the record straight and reboot the character with a limited series entitled Hawkworld from creator Tim Truman. Truman — and, later, John Ostrander — took the Katar Hol original story as a starting point. In this version of Hawkman, Hol's homeworld of Thanagar is an imperial planet with an appetite for conquest. Hol's father is a prominent political figure in the imperial Thanagar. Hol rebels against his father and is exiled to Earth along with his wife, Shayera.

To resolve the obvious conflict in the Hawkman timeline that this new origin story created, DC retconned the old Hawkman story from the 1940s and '50s. The original Carter Hall (the Egyptian avatar) continued to work as Hawkman in the period from 1951 to 1990 — the time period previously occupied by Katar Hol-prime, who assumed the name Carter Hall. The Halls were the ones, therefore, that worked with the original Justice League. In this new set of lore, the Nth metal came to Hall from Thanagar.

By the mid-1990s DC had apparently settled on a version of events wherein Carter Hall is the original Hawkman, the latest in a long line of reincarnated Egyptian princes. The Nth metal remains of Thanagarian origin. The imperial exile Katar Hol is an entirely different entity who came to Earth in the 1990s under the established circumstances.

There's also this Fel Angar guy who is essentially an imposter Hawkman from Thanagar sent to spy on the JLA in the '80s, but that's a whole other can of worms.

It will be exciting to see which version of the character squares off against The Rock in Black Adam.