It is intriguing to consider the fact that despite the impact comic books have made on pop culture, the medium has truly not been around for very long. In fact it was only around the 1940s and 1950s, also known as the Golden Age of Comics, that featured the initial publications of comic books and the monumental surge in their respective popularity.
Therefore, it should come as no surprise that figures such as Superman, Sub-Mariner, Wonder Woman, and Hawkman all made their debut in this pivotal era.
Like many of his fellow Golden Age heroes, Hawkman has undergone numerous interpretations and reinterpretations throughout his fictional history since his 1940 debut. Consequently, it can be difficult to keep up with a hero that maintains such an extensive history and, arguably, not as much popularity as other DC Comics heroes.
However, I have recently had the privilege of binge-reading writer Robert Venditti's run on the character. This run began in 2018 as a part of DC Comics' Rebirth launch and encompasses some of the most nuanced characterization of Hawkman in recent years. In fact, Venditti even incorporates an entirely new origin story for the character.
So, without further ado, let's traverse the journey Hawkman has taken on in this modern adventure, as the character embarks on a quest through the very fabric of space and time.
Upon the beginning of Hawkman (2018), Carter Hall, also known as Hawkman, finds himself in a bit of an existential crisis. Though he spends his days exploring, and defending, the depths of history, he often finds himself unsure of his own history.
As Hawkman, Carter has lived many lives, literally. He has died a multitude of times throughout his history and has thus been born again as a plethora of personas. However, Carter does not remember many, if not most, of these lives.
Therefore, Carter struggles to maintain a concrete perspective of his own identity and memories. So, he takes on a handful of methods to understand himself.
With this, one of the aspects I admire most about this run is the manner by which Venditti depicts Carter's introspection. In the context of the story, Carter expresses an affinity for journaling via pen and paper. He admits that the tangibility of the process provides him with comfort.
As a result, each and every comic in Hawkman provides us with an accurate and insightful perspective of Carter's thoughts and inner conflicts by sharing the contents of his journals.
For Carter, journaling provides him with control and understanding over his words and thoughts in his current persona, control and understanding that he does not exactly have over his previous personas due to the lack of memory.
As aforementioned though, Carter takes on a few methods to help remediate his existential crisis. Perhaps the more definitive one is literally going through time and space and coming face-to-face with the lives he once lived.
I, the Deathbringer
Venditti's run on Hawkman has been monumental for a variety of reasons. One of these reasons is the various new developments established in the Hawkman mythos. In the events of the run, we come to learn that Carter has not only lived various lives on Earth, but across the galaxy!
Consequently, when Carter begins traversing space and time to interact with his past selves, he comes to discover that he has lived lives as Catar-Ol of Krypton and Airwing of New Genesis, amongst others.
This is certainly an exciting revelation as it places Hawkman in the midst of the evolution of the universe.
Now, journeys of self-discovery often shed light on things that one may not be prepared to learn. Carter's own quest is no different as he learns the truth about his origins.
In a reinterpretation of Hawkman's origin story, Venditti details a particularly gruesome beginning for the character. We come to realize that Hawkman's initial life was that of Ktar Deathbringer, a general of a squadron that would roam the universe, slaughtering millions upon millions across varying worlds and offering the survivors as sacrifices to the Lord Beyond the Void.
Hawkman would continue this role for quite some time until he began experiencing visions of a woman pleading for salvation from the slaughter. These visions would provoke remorse from Ktar, resulting in his eventual turn against The Deathbringers.
Though, this event would lead to Ktar's own sacrifice, upon which he would experience his first death. Upon this death though, Ktar faced a chance at atonement, a duty. That duty comprises him reincarnating until the number of people he saves exceeds the number of lives lost during his tenure as Ktar Deathbringer.
This reinterpretation of Hawkman's origin is undoubtedly dark and perhaps unexpected. To think that a Golden Age superhero is responsible for an innumerable amount of death is alarming to say the least. Though, I believe Venditti's boldness pays off as this reinterpretation provides us with a fresh, innovative take on the Hawkman character, or should I say characters due to the many lives the Hawkman character has encompassed?
Now, Venditti succeeds in rendering Hawkman as a multi-dimensional character throughout this run. He proposes difficult, controversial questions such as, can Hawkman truly atone for his past crimes? Should Hawkman be held responsible for the crimes of a past self?
Though, the question that remains in my mind is, what aspects of Hawkman's persona remain consistent throughout each and every persona? What is his definitive, identifying quality?
Answering this question would require identifying the very essence of Hawkman's being. Of course, one could attribute this essence to Hawkman's heroic tendencies, which may be the easiest and most general answer.
Though, one can also partially attribute that essence to the character's need for absolution. Even when he failed to remember the crimes of his past self, Hawkman's ability to transcend death was rooted in his need for atonement.
Despite the number of comics I have read throughout my life, I have never really familiarized myself with the mythos of Hawkman to the extent of other characters. Sure, I had read comics featuring Hawkman before, but none had really engaged me the way this particular run did.
Throughout Hawkman (2018), Venditti presents pretty straightforward adventures. However, the way in which he fleshes out each and every aspect of the plot while always pushing Carter Hall's characterization forward truly establishes a comic book series that serves as a definitive take on the character himself.
Hawkman is a monthly, ongoing series that has been running for quite some time now. However, it is absolutely never too late to pick it up and start reading.