Monday, December 15, 2008
Egyptian Prince Vs Space Cop
That is, which of Hawkman's classic depictions is the "definitive" version of the character?
When a character has been around for as long as Hawkman, there inevitably are different takes and interpretations which come along. In the realm of DC Comics, the very nature oftheir history gives rise to multiple versions -- Golden Age versions, Silver Age versions, post-Crisis versions, post-post-Crisis versions, and so on and so forth. And Hawkman is no different.
Now, for most characters, coming up with what Dan DiDio calls the "definitive" version of the character is pretty straight-forward. The main line version of, say, Green Lantern is a guy with an alien power ring which can't effect yellow (whether this is Hal Jordan or John Stewart or whomever), while the main version of The Flash wears a red suit and yellow boots and has a lightning bolt on his chest. The have been the lasting, "real" versions of these characters for fifty years -- the earlier versions are valid, but not the mainstream definition. Characters who have changed a lot over the years still typically have one version which stands out. A great example is Supergirl; of the myriad versions of the character introduced after Crisis on Infinite Earths, "Superman's cousin" is the most well-known take. This is not a value judgement (I was and still am a big fan of the Matrix Supergirl), but a statement of familiarity and timelessness; Supergirl is Superman's cousin.
Hawkman is something of an abberation (beyond being a member of the Abberant Six...). For many years, pretty much from the early 1960s straight through the turn of the century, Hawkman was an alien police officer fighting crime on Earth. The older version -- the modern reincationation of an Egyptian Prince -- was still kicking it around as an alternate, but for the most part the charcter was the Space Cop archetype. Of course, this was not entirely cut and dried, as within the Space Cop motif we had two drastically different approaches -- the Silver Age version with his classical fantasy look, or the post-Crisis (that is, Hawkworld), modernist take with his metallic wings and militarisitc uniform. Both versions, again, are valid. The main difference between the two versions is the underlying theme: the Silver Age Hawkman was a police officer from a Utopian planet, while the Hawkworld Hawkman hailed from a Dystopian planet. So the question is how do you like your Thanagar?
Speaking unscientifically, it seems that the Dystopian Hawkman is more in line with what readers identified as the definitive Hawkman. For one thing, the totaltarian background better speaks to Hawkman's "my way or the highway" mentality. And, I suppose, an imperfect Thanagar is more compelling than a perfect one. So, it seems that the Space Cop archetype (specifically the Dystopian Space Cop version) makes a play at being definitive. of course, that's relative, as Hawkman became so mixed up and muddled due to all of this revision that DC basically stuck him off into limbo in the late 90s.
Enter James Robinson and Geoff Johns, co-writers of DC's successful 2002 JSA revival. And you can't do the Justice Society without Hawkman, so in the second year of the title, they brought him back. And, keeping with this being the Justice Society, they went back to the Egyptian Prince motif, ditching the Space Cop trappings for the most part (while Thanagar still played a big role). And this new take not only brought the character back into the spotlight, it made him popular enough to get his own title once again, while continuing to figure strongly in JSA. Suddenly Hawkman was more prominent and popular than he had been in years -- but now he was an Egyptian Prince, not a Space Cop. And for a whole new generation of Hawkfans, this became the "definitive" version of the character, now steeped in history and reincarnation myth instead of sci-fi and high tech. And, this take on the character re-aligned his appearance with the classic Golden, Silver, and Bronze Age style, which was abandoned during Hawkworld and slowly inched back towards through the 1990s. So, for all intents and purposes, DC had achieved their goal, and Hawkman was back.
At least, it looked that way, until this year when Jim Starlin introduced doubt once more -- a dangling plot point which has not yet been resolved at this time.
So that leaves us where we began: what is the definitive version of Hawkman? The reincatnated Egyptian Prince? The winged sleuth from the advanced alien civilization? The tough as nails Wingman of a totaltarian state? It's hard to say at this point. I think the attempt in Zero Hour to combine all of the various versions into one merged Hawkman had some promise, but ultimately failed to satisfy much of anybody. I think it's safe to say that the definitive look of the character is the bare chest and feathered wings as opposed to the more modern designs. But regarding what version of the character hits this mark is more complex. I believe that the two Space Cop versions hold what most fans consider the definitive elements; further, both satisfy the concept of the definitive version being easy to explain. But the work of Robinson and Johns to update the original version should not be ignored or discounted. So what is the "definitive" take of Hawkman? Sorry, but your opinion is as good as mine. Hawkman is a character with many flavors and varieties, and that probably is not going to change any time soon.
Image: Hawkman sketch, ???, David Beck.