So you thought you knew Hawkman continuity?
Read Hawkman Special yet?
Had a distinct urge to shout out loud “No Jim! Don’t do it!”?
There is a general feeling that Hawkman is the poster child for continuity problems, but the character is relatively easy to understand once you realise that he’s actually more than one character. Pre-1985 there were two Hawkmen. The first was a Golden Age superhero, a pulp adventurer archeologist called Carter Hall who discovered that he was the reincarnation of an ancient Egyptian prince and used said Prince’s magic wings and ancient weaponry to battle evil. The second Hawkman was a 1950s era sci-fi space policeman called Karter Hol who came to Earth on an exchange visit and never really went home. They were virtually identical in appearance, but worlds apart in backstory.
Both Hawkmen originally lived on different parallel-Earths. When the Crisis on Infinite Earths finished they were both living on the same Earth and that’s were the problems began. Carter Hall was relatively unharmed by the Crisis, but Karter Hol was destroyed by a badly handled, but excellently written origin story/relaunch called Hawkworld. When DC rebooted the Superman franchise they were careful to make sure that the Man of Steel mini-series took place in the past, but they didn’t do this with Hawkworld. Suddenly Karter Hol was arriving on Earth in the present day and his entire 1960s history with the Justice League was erased. They did something similar with Wonder Woman, but the time frame never really stuck.
It was in patching the continuity holes caused by Hawkworld that the real continuity problems began because they did so by robbing backstory from one Hawkman to patch another. Carter Hall was drafted in to fill in Karter Hol’s vacuum in the Justice League and at the same time elements of Karter Hol’s sci-fi origin were being implanted into Carter Hall’s pulp backstory. The two characters backgrounds were beginning to blur. That ultimately came to a head in the Zero Hour crossover when Carter Hall and Karter Hol were physically merged into one man. There followed a short-lived Hawkman series that heavily played up Carter Hall’s reincarnation theme and shoe-horned Karter Hol into it with the concept of a “Hawk-Avatar.” That series crashed and the entire Hawkman concept was considered too toxic to handle.
It eventually took Geoff Johns (who else) to tidy things up. He extracted Carter Hall from the wreckage of Karter Hol (who was literally left in Limbo), kept the idea of a reincarnated Egyptian Prince, and left in a nebulous reoccurring link with Thanagar (Hol’s homeworld). The JSA led to another new Hawkman series which prospered as long as Geoff was on board. The breakout character for that relaunch was the new Hawkgirl and she eventually took over the entire series. Hawkman was left to wander around in space and has been permanently attached to the Rann/Thanagar plotline. As more and more Thanagarian elements, elements from Karter Hol’s backstory, have been brought back it has left Carter Hall looking more and more like Karter Hol.
Now Jim Starlin has taken a shot at Hawkman continuity with the new Hawkman Special. He has revived plot elements that haven’t been seen since Geoff Johns’s Hawkman relaunch. Essentially he has set up a powerful, deus ex machina character who flipped a cosmic switch and morphed the Karter Hol’ised Carter Hall into a full Karter Hol. Mysteries abound about how Hawkman switched and they’re obviously setting up a something big for him, but this is a very risky strategy.
By getting his hands dirty with Hawkman continuity Jim Starlin may have have reopened a box that can’t be closed again. As I was reading the issue, which by the way isn’t bad, I kept having thoughts like “they can’t be doing what I think they’re doing” and “surely they wouldn’t reopen this can of worms.”
Jim Starlin is either very brave or completely insane.