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Aldis Hodge has been cast as Hawkman for DC’s upcoming Black Adam movie, with the actor set to strap on the wings opposite Dwayne Johnson’s titular antihero in the upcoming project. The name alone is enough to offer up a good précis of the character, but just who and what Hawkman is turns out to be a lot more complicated than it needs to be.
The character was first introduced in 1940’s Flash Comics No. 1 as Carter Hall, an archeologist who also happened to be the reincarnation of an ancient Egyptian prince. Upon discovering something called “ninth metal” — later retconned into the less numerically strict “Nth metal” — which allowed him to defy gravity, he created the costumed identity Hawkman, and fought both crime and Nazis, as was the fashion of the time. Visually inspired by the alien hawkmen from Alex Raymond’s Flash Gordon newspaper strip, the hero would fly high for 11 years before disappearing after his appearance in All Star Comics No. 57 as a member of the Justice Society of America.
In 1961, DC revived Hawkman with a revised origin: this time, his true identity was Katar Hol, an alien policeman from the planet Thanagar who lived and operated on Earth alongside his wife, Shayera. It was, at heart, just a cosmetic change: Katar Hol’s secret human identity was, of course, Carter Hall — who was the director of Midway City’s museum; like the original Hawkman, to whom he was virtually visually identical, this second Hawkman also liked using ancient weapons in his crimefighting. Unsurprisingly, this reboot came from Gardner Fox, who’d originally created the character in 1940, with Joe Kubert, who’d also worked on the original run, illustrating.
That there were two Hawkmen who were, essentially identical, wasn’t a problem for DC at the time; they existed on two alternate Earths, and only met during when the Justice League and Justice Society would team up for a story so big it required upwards of 10 superheroes to fix it. When the publisher decided to “simplify” its mythology with 1985’s Crisis on Infinite Earths comic book series, however, things very quickly became a mess that it would take more than a decade to resolve.
Crisis did away with DC’s alternate Earths, and declared that there had only been one Earth, with all the various superheroes the publisher owned co-existing on it and duplicate versions pared back to just one primary incarnation, or folded into “legacies” — so that there had been different Flashes and Green Lanterns, but only one Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman. The problem was, when it came to Hawkman, it seemed unclear which direction was being taken, leading to multiple stories that entirely contradicted each other: Hawkman was active in the 1940s, but also arrived in the 1980s; attempts to explain the discrepancy away only complicated matters more, including the creation of two additional incarnations of the character to fill in newly created gaps — one of which was a so-called “Hawkgod,” because… comics.
The 1999 JSA series attempted to streamline the character’s mythology with a surprisingly graceful solution: Everything started with Khufu, the Egyptian prince who was part of the original Hawkman’s origin — but this time, instead of his simply reincarnating as Carter Hall, it was established that he’d discovered a crashed ship from Katar Hol’s home planet of Thanagar, and that every existing version of Hawkman — and even more, as yet unknown — had been reincarnations of Khufu, who was cursed to be reborn eternally and become a hawk-themed hero.
2018’s new Hawkman series expanded that idea further, establishing that the reincarnations weren’t linear, nor limited to humanity; Khufu’s soul — and that of his wife, Chay-Ara — ping pongs throughout time and space, including incarnations on Krypton and other planets already part of DC’s superhero mythology. The only problem is, he can’t really remember just who and when he’s been, and at what times. (Currently, he’s Carter Hall again, but he’s dropped the museum gig in favor of full-time adventuring.)
Hawkman, then, is eternal — and, as has been demonstrated in multiple incarnations, eternally eager to use old-school weapons when it comes to beating down the bad guys. He can be brutal when enraged, but his heart is in the right place. What this means for his relationship with Black Adam, a morally ambiguous character through and through, is precisely what the movie is going to explore, with added fisticuffs and explosions.
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