Hawkman | Crime Stories | Poetic Fantasies
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These best stories of the comic books are preceded by their issue number.
The Silver Age Hawkman stories of the 1960's have their own article.
The Origin of Hawkman (1940). Writer: Gardner Fox. Art: Dennis Neville. (Title supplied by Grand Comics Database.) Wealthy research scientist and antique weapons collector Carter Hall adopts the identity of Hawkman. The origin of Hawkman; also the origin of his girl friend (and later wife) Shiera.
The art of this story is striking. It includes Hawkman's permanent costume. The depiction of Hawkman's wings in flight is especially good.
In some ways this is a creative tale: after all, it invents Hawkman, his costume, his use of antique weapons, and the "ninth metal" that powers Hawkman's flight. But in other ways, this origin story is not very good. It is dull to read. It also includes a lot of twaddle about Hawkman and Shiera being the reincarnations of ancient Egyptians: Hawkman used to be Prince Khufu. Hawkman's ninth metal, which is the sole origin of his flight power, has nothing to do with any of this. The ninth metal is a purely scientific invention, the product of Carter Hall's work as a research scientist. This worthwhile part of our hero's background is skimped, and all this superstitious nonsense about ancient Egypt is emphasized. Unfortunately, we rarely see Carter Hall do much scientific work in the early Hawkman tales. For that matter, the fact that Hall is supposedly a reincarnated Egyptian Prince is not mentioned much in later stories, either, which is just as well. Unfortunately, it is in the origin story, and thus is always included in any critical discussion of the Golden Age Hawkman. It actually has little or nothing to do with the way Hawkman's character functions throughout the rest of the series.
One strange note: Hawkman's costume is explicitly described as being inspired by that of the ancient Egyptian god, Anubis. This is something I've never seen referred to by any other Hawkman tale.
The Globe Conqueror (1940). Writer: Gardner Fox. Art: Dennis Neville. (Title taken from final blurb of last issue's story). Hawkman and Shiera fight against a disaster threatening New York City. Everybody really puts it together in this tale, which is the best of the early Hawkman stories. It is a pure science fiction tale, set in modern day urban life, so there is so superstitious hooey.
The art here is the last word in elegance. The first half of the tale, showing Carter Hall and Shiera dealing elegantly with a menace in the background of a posh society dinner, is in the grand style. It might be snobbish, but it does do everything up to a T. Carter and Shiera seem like the ideal sophisticated couple here. They are a little like Nick and Nora Charles here, only with less booze and more science fiction.
Both the art and the plot set-up in the first few Hawkman stories are strongly reminiscent of the work of comic strip artist Alex Raymond. Hawkman / Carter Hall is an upper crust macho man, who has a lot of exotic, often fantastic adventures, just like Raymond's Flash Gordon. The Hawkman costume looks like the sort of exotic gear that Flash often wore on his adventures. Like Flash, Brick Bradford and other 1930's comic strip adventure heroes, Hawkman's costume looks like something out of the barbaric past, full of savage splendor. And like Flash, Brick, and others, Hawkman's costume leaves his chest bare. In many ways, Hawkman is attempting to crossbreed the "comic strip adventure hero" with the "comic-book super-hero". Hawkman is about as close as you can get to the Flash Gordon style adventure hero, within the framework of the comic book super-hero paradigm. Aside from his flying ability, due to the ninth metal, Hawkman has no super powers. He is just a macho Earthman having adventures, like Flash and Brick. And like Flash and Brick, he also loves to fight. Carter Hall also looks like the supremely elegant, rich, macho men Raymond used to draw in his Secret Agent X-9 comic strip. He looks impossibly aristocratic and upper crust, as well as being superbly muscled. Like them, he is always dressed to the nines in upper crust suits and evening wear.
The Thought Terror (#4, April 1940). Writer: Gardner Fox. Art: Sheldon Moldoff. (Title supplied by Grand Comics Database.) A sinister hypnotist called the Thought Terror victimizes people. This is a minor story, but it has some good moments. The hypnotist's basic racket is based on an ingenious idea. And the comic moment when one of his hypnotized henchmen wakes up towards the end of the story is a gem. He has some good dialogue in his thought balloon. This is the first Hawkman tale with art by Sheldon Moldoff, who would be the main artist associated with the early Golden Age Hawkman. Sheldon Moldoff signed the tales "Shelly". He had been doing the spy adventures of Cliff Cornwall in the same magazine, Flash Comics, and he continued these too for a time.
The Heart Patient (1940). Writer: Gardner Fox. Art: Sheldon Moldoff/John Lehti. (Title supplied by Grand Comics Database.) A crooked doctor makes people believe that they have heart problems.
The Golden Age Hawkman has some similarities to Batman. Both men can be described as basically "costumed crime fighters with technological gimmicks and secret identities, but no super-powers". Both are wealthy Society figures in their secret identities, as is Lamont Cranston, one of the identities of the Shadow, a pulp magazine figure who probably influenced comic book heroes. Both have personas based on winged animals, and both wear masks making them look like giant versions of these animals.
Hawkman has some differences from Batman, as well. His ability to fly makes him different from Batman. Even here, however, Hawkman's flying ability is based on his belt and wings: technological devices. It is not grounded in his personal biology, as it is with Superman. There are also differences in tone. Hawkman lives in a much less grim world than Batman, one that somewhat recalls the glittering movies of the 1940's. Carter Hall enjoys going to night clubs and living the high life with his girl friend Shiera. While Bruce Wayne's society playboy image is a pose, with suggestions that such a life is only fit for wimps and rich wastrels, Carter Hall clearly loves being part of his sophisticated world. He has plenty of friends too, some dating back to his era as a college football player. To reach the underlying point: Carter Hall is not alienated. Both Hall and Hawkman like the world around them, and enjoy it in a natural, enthusiastic way. By contrast, Batman is an alienated figure who moves gingerly though a grotesque world filled with evil and horror. He is separated from society and sees it in a negative way, whereas Hawkman is part of society and sees it in a positive light.
Shiera has some similarities with Lamont's girlfriend Margo Lane. Both women are glamorous sophisticates; both are good-hearted and deeply loyal to the hero. These are happy relationships. This is an idealized couple that live lives of both love and shared adventure.
Carter Hall resembles Gardner Fox's other Golden Age hero, the Flash, in that both are young scientists with a college education. Both emphasize pleasant wish fulfillment fantasy: the one to run fast, the other to have wings and to fly. Both are up-beat young men with plenty of charm.
The art of this tale strongly recalls Alex Raymond's for Secret Agent X-9. Both take place in a world of night-clubs, rich homes, gangsters, glamorous women crooks, and the trappings of wealth. The men in this world look at once sophisticated and tough. They are dressed to the teeth, often in double-breasted suits or tuxedos. There is much about male bonding here. All of these seem like features of Raymond's comic strip. Carter Hall wears a spectacular double-breasted white tuxedo here that is one of the comics' most glamorous outfits.
Mentioning Dashiell Hammett's X-9 brings up that other couple, Nick and Nora Charles of The Thin Man (1933). Carter and Shiera seem very different. For one thing, this story has an explicit anti-drinking message. Carter and Shiera lead lives of glamour and excitement, but they don't drink. They regard drunkenness in others as a tragedy. Both also seem much less world weary than Nick and Nora.
The story opens and closes with Carter Hall male bonding with his friend Tommy Rogers. In the opening, Carter expresses concern for his friend, drunken and in trouble; at the end, Carter socializes with his rescued and restored friend. The finale shows both men beautifully dressed in good suits, and recalls similar scenes of bonding in Alex Raymond.
The Hand (1941). Writer: ? Art: Sheldon Moldoff. (Title supplied by Grand Comics Database.) Combined mystery and supernatural tale involving a disembodied hand made out of mist. This story is an unusual hybrid. Its feel is that of a 1930's movie whodunit, with skullduggery at a remote country estate, suspicious characters, suspects from a mix of wealthy society types and no-good criminals who prey on them. Intermixed with all of this is the disembodied hand, a supernatural, or perhaps science-fantasy, concept. The story is full of plot. It shows a pleasure in story-telling for its own sake. The hand essentially figures as another character in the tale. It interacts with the human characters, performs plot actions that are structurally similar to those of the human characters, and even has dialogue like theirs. The story is moody and effective, with good atmosphere.
Seven months later, a similar character will appear in the Starman stories, the Mist, debuting in "The Menace of the Invisible Raiders" (#67, October 1941). The Mist is a head attached to a cloud of mist, just as the hand in this tale is a hand emerging from a cloud of mist. The Mist will become a major series villain in the Starman tales.
Sandra, a villainess here, anticipates the femme fatales of countless noir films to come. Film noir was a genre just getting underway in Hollywood in 1941, with a handful of pioneering films that year. Her portraits with a gun are startlingly similar to those of many dames in noir films to come.
Murder at the Opera (#17, May 1941). Writer: ? Art: Sheldon Moldoff. An opera singer is murdered on stage, in a case that involves a Golden Mummy. Campy mystery tale. The solution has some moments of ingenuity, but mainly this is pretty hokey. We do learn here that Carter Hall has a hidden room at his house, where he changes into Hawkman. The best part of the story are the opening and closing illustrations, showing Shiera Sanders and Carter Hall at the opera. Shiera wears a backless evening gown (p1), while Carter wears a double-breasted black tuxedo at the end (p9).
The Adventure of the 'Killer-Gang' (1941). Writer: ? Art: Sheldon Moldoff. Shiera witnesses an armored car robbery by the notorious 'Killer-Gang'. This story is a pure crime tale, taking place against an urban background. It is close in feel to the "hard-boiled" tales appearing in plays, movies, pulp magazines and comics, with gangs, night clubs, police and urban locales. The story builds up a logical crime plot, with a touch of mystery.
There is a good portrait of Carter Hall in a green suit with vest (p2): very macho, Alex Raymond-like. He certainly looks aristocratic. P3 has a good, detailed picture of Carter taking off his outer clothes, changing into Hawkman. This image shows Carter Hall in his underwear, something that is rarely drawn in any comic book. Usually, illustrations of heroes changing into their super-hero costumes show the men removing their shirts.
Hawkman blows a whistle through his helmet, making a "scree" sound (p5). The text states that the whistle is built into his Hawkman helmet. This anticipates somewhat the "wheet-wheet' sound that will debut in the next issue; the 'wheet-wheet' noise will persist throughout Hawkman's career. There is a striking image of Hawkman flying at the night club, shaking down the robbers, causing their loot to shower back down to its owners below (p6).
Hawkgirl (#24 December 1941). Writer: ? Art: Sheldon Moldoff. (Title supplied by Grand Comics Database.) Hawkman gives Shiera an outfit identical to his own, allowing her to fly around as Hawkgirl; they pursue a phony accident racket. The central Hawkgirl idea of this tale is terrific. It will have many future follow-ups; it is not a one time deal, but a change to the basic premise of the series. Especially during the Silver Age in the 1960's, Hawkman and Hawkgirl will typically operate as a team. The idea behind this story is completely logical. Hawkman's powers derive entirely from his costume, and the ninth metal it contains. So anyone could do similar feats, given the possession of such a costume. It is good to see a series follow such rigorous logic.
However, this particular story has problems. It is sexist, and shows Shiera as inadequate compared to Hawkman, probably because she is a woman. It is part of a rather unpleasant competition that has sprung up between Carter Hall and Shiera over the last few episodes, breaking their earlier pure friendship and alliance. Its "Hawkgirl" premise aside, I did not like this tale very much.
The Creatures From the Canyon (1940). Writer: ? Art: Sheldon Moldoff. (Title supplied by Grand Comics Database.) Kogats, sea beings from deep canyons in New York City's harbor, rise up, and plot to attack surface humans.
This story is hard to place, along a scale of science fiction versus fantasy. Underwater sea beings could easily be seen as science fictional. But soon, the creators have also introduced Poseidon, the ancient Greek god of the sea, as a character. It is perhaps best to regard this tale as "science fantasy". One might define science fantasy as stories that use plot ideas often found in science fiction, such as other planets, exotic realms, fantastic beings, etc., but which do not rigorously justify these concepts according to the laws of science, but which instead take place in a fantastic universe where any imaginable concept is seen as somehow possible. There are a large number of prose works that can be viewed as science fantasy, in this sense. As in this Hawkman story, the protagonist in these tales often has adventures in some exotic realm, where he meets many strange and fantastic creatures and societies.
This story takes place almost entirely underwater, at the bottom of the seas near New York City. It allows Hawkman to encounter many poetic situations and beings in the under sea world. The story has a poetic atmosphere and mood.
There is a huge tradition of comic book stories that take place on the sea floor bottom. It is a favorite locale for Aquaman and Superman, and many other super-heroes have also had one-shot adventures on the sea floor. These stories are usually fairly rigorously based in science, and can be considered as traditional, pure science fiction. This tale's poetic fantasies are quite different in feel.
In this tale, Poseidon gives Hawkman the ability to breathe underwater. This allows Hawkman to have underwater adventures, both here and in subsequent tales, without any sort of special equipment. Similarly, in the otherwise minor Alaskan adventure, "Gold in Alaska" (#18, June 1941), Hawkman's ninth metal gives him an "aura of warmth", allowing him to flourish in the freezing arctic air, without any sort of extra protection. Hawkman can wear his bare-chested costume, and do just fine, while everyone else around him is in heavy parkas. In general, comics creators always want their protagonists in the same hero costume. It identifies them instantly to the reader, and is part of their characterization, in a visual medium like comics. For invulnerable heroes like Superman or Green Lantern, this is no problem, but a less powerful hero like Hawkman needs special arrangements.
There is a good portrait of Carter Hall (p2), wearing a striped sport jacket and tie. He looks rather like Leydendecker's famous, aristocratic images of the Arrow Collar Man. Later, Hawkman is seated on a bench covered with a cloth (p3), looking like a king on his throne. The disposition of the cloth aids in this royal, commanding effect.
The Awesome Alligator (1941). Writer: ? Art: Sheldon Moldoff. (Title supplied by Grand Comics Database.) The villain Karvac starts a supernatural cult in a remote valley. Richly poetic fantasy tale.
Visually, the evil Karvac resembles the villain of Flash Gordon, Ming the Merciless. However, it is clear that Karvac is white, as are his followers, unlike Ming. There are no traces of racism or stereotypes in this Hawkman tale. There is a good full-length portrait of Karvac in his boots and cape (p6).
There are also some fine portraits of Hawkman: removing his helmet (p2); alighting on Karvac, a large image against the rich, beautiful mountain landscapes that fill this tale (p7); unfastening his wings (p9). The many illustrations of Hawkman protected by the mesh of ninth metal are also visually striking; the mesh adds complexity to the images. Also superb: the portrait of Carter Hall in a red tennis sweater, looking extremely aristocratic (p4). Hall carries a tennis racket tucked under one arm.
The Graydon Expedition (#16, April 1941). Writer: ? Art: Sheldon Moldoff. (Title supplied by Grand Comics Database.) Hawkman goes to an archeological expedition in Northern Mongolia, where he encounters the lost capital city of the ancient Dravidians.
This tale is full of a quasi-medieval atmosphere, with elaborate costumes and ancient architecture. One suspects that Moldoff had been looking at Hal Foster's comic strip Prince Valiant. Brick Bradford was also full of battle scenes in medieval-style kingdoms. The pageantry in this story is quite detailed. It is full of large panels, showing huge panoramas of soldiers and old time cities. This sweeping mass of military events tends to dwarf any actual plot or personal action in the tale. I am not big on war stories or battle scenes. This type of tale is not my cup of tea. Clearly, it is the result of some ambition on Moldoff's part, however, who has made an effort here. The view of the towers of the ancient city (p3) is genuinely impressive. The buildings are made of stone, and have the heavy look one associates with medieval fortresses. Yet the round towers, and the numerous flanges on them, also recall a bit the Art Deco cities of the future that frequently appeared in comic books.
The Dravidians are depicted as dignified people, medieval in attitude, but otherwise intelligent and responsible. This reminds one of the characterization used in Prince Valiant. The exotic adventure tales in Hawkman seem completely free of the racial prejudice and stereotypes that often afflicted 1940's comic book adventure series. I cannot tell you how many times I have begun an adventure tale set in some foreign country with high anticipation, only to wind up cringing at the racism present in the tale. The racism is systematically present in many adventure series of the 1930's and 1940's; in fact it is so omnipresent that it must have been consciously encouraged by the editors and publishers of the day. Somehow, the Hawkman tales have largely escaped it.
The Dravidians are depicted as the people who populated ancient India; this story takes place at their (fictitious) ancient capital, supposedly hidden somewhere in the wildernesses of Northern Mongolia. Purportedly, according to this tale, they all lived in Mongolia, before emigrating to Ancient India around 1,000 or 2,000 B. C. There is a grain of truth to this historical fantasy. There are really are speakers of Dravidian languages all over India today, with small pockets of speakers in Northern India, and huge populations of Dravidian language speakers in India's four Southern states. At the time this story was written, its depiction of the pre-history of Dravidian speakers was probably as good as any other speculation, although even in 1941, this tale contained huge elements of speculation and historical fantasy. Today, scholars suspect that Dravidian language speakers populated the early, advanced Indus Valley civilization, in what is now Pakistan, and perhaps settled South Asia from there, instead. The cities in the Indus Valley were large scale and complex, although very different from the medieval style buildings shown in this story.
Smoke from Nowhere (1941). Writer: ? Art: Sheldon Moldoff. Related to a cover by: Sheldon Moldoff. (Title supplied by Grand Comics Database.) After being injured by smoke-bomb throwing gangsters, Hawkman is rescued by a hawk, and learns the language of the birds. This is the start of a major new role for Hawkman, that of the leader of the birds. It will be a major part of his characterization henceforth. In many ways, this is a second origin story for Hawkman.
The Brick Bradford Sunday strips of 1935 often sent Brick into exotic realms in remote corners of the Earth, populated by animals playing fantastic and exotic roles. Hawkman's encounter with the valley of the birds is somewhat in this same tradition. One also recalls the alligator god in the remote valley in "The Awesome Alligator", and the underwater beings in "The Creatures From the Canyon".
This story is wonderfully poetic. The ideas in it seem magical.