Why is Aldis Hodge playing Hawkman in the Black Adam movie? Isn’t Hawkman a white man in the comics?
Here’s the answer, but you’re not going to like it.
The reason is that Hawkman isn’t a white man. He has never been a man at all. (Gasp! Heresy!) Hawkman isn’t a man. He isn’t a hawk. He isn’t a were-hawk, either for those of you who tend to get extreme when they don’t know comic history.
Hawkman is an intellectual property. He is an idea. Nothing more. Everything else, he might be is a product of the writers who added to his story over the eighty years and the notions the fans put on him as a result of their preconceived ideas of the character are just that: preconceptions.
Here is the reality, which no matter how you may rail at the uncaring Universe, cannot be denied:
at any time DC Comics, Incorporated, an American comic book publisher and the flagship unit of DC Entertainment, which is a subsidiary of Warner Bros. Discovery, wants to change Hawkman, their intellectual property, into something else, they can and will. Thus he can be anything, any color, any sexual orientation, any cultural perspective the company who owns that property wants him to be.
And there is nothing you, the reader/viewer can do about it except complain, helplessly.
Thus endth my TL;DR TED talk.
Hawkman is an Idea
“Hawkman is the name of several fictional superheroes appearing in American comic books published by DC Comics. Created by writer Gardner Fox and artist Dennis Neville, the original Hawkman first appeared in Flash Comics #1, published by All-American Publications in 1940.”
Gardner Fox was a white writer in 1940 when there were few Black creators and even fewer Black characters. This was the dawning of the four-color, Golden Age of mystery men, who donned colorful costumes and battled against injustice during a time when the world was in need of a distraction. World War II was just beginning.
During this time in American history, racial tensions from generations of enslavement of Africans who were brought to the United States to work the fields under the cruelty of chattel slavery remained. While chattel slavery had been abolished by the Civil War in 1865, there remained racial disharmony which kept Blacks from employment in any number of opportunities, including working for the nascent comic industries just coming into being.
Gardner Fox’s very first dialog describing the Hawkman in his backup story of Flash Comics #1 began thusly:
“Beginning the tale of a phantom of the night, the Hawkman, who from time immemorial has fought the cause of Justice against the force of evil. The Hawk fights the evil of the present with the weapons of the past –
“In the weapon-lined library of Carter Hall, wealthy collector of weapons and research scientist – ”
Gardner set us up with the basic mystery man premise common at the time: Carter Hall was a man of privilege, wealth and martial talent. He was also a learned man of letters, a scholar of ancient civilizations and their cultures. Carter Hall was also a man of secrets, using the mysterious “ninth metal” he would don massive wings and fly through the night as the Hawkman!
Note, nothing in this description requires Carter Hall to be of any particular cultural or social persuasion— but if you were reading this comic, written by a white man, for a white audience, you can expect that he too would be white to appeal better to his target audience of this nascent creative format.
Wikipedia informs us: “Several incarnations of Hawkman have appeared in DC Comics, all of them characterized by the use of archaic weaponry and by large, artificial wings, attached to a harness made from the special Nth metal that allows flight. Most incarnations of Hawkman work closely with a partner/romantic interest named Hawkgirl or Hawkwoman.”
Carter Hall swoons and finds himself cast back in time to Egypt where he finds himself being beaten and fighting for his life as Prince Khufu. The prince escapes to reach his true love, Shiera who is being sought by the mysterious Hath-Set.
This was before services such as Wikipedia and possibly even before the age of Britannica. At this point in the creative world, writers wrote their ideas from myths, stories, and stereotypes learned from books, libraries and radio programs. Yes, this was before every home had a television in it.
Cornered by Hath-Set, turning the day into night, Prince Khufu realizes, though he has no magic, he can fight his pursuers with a sword. “And the blade of Khufu flashes death once more! But the odds are too great – Khufu tires!”
Shot in the shoulder, Prince Khufu declares that Mortal Combat catchphrase, sixty years before it became common. “Hath-Set wins!” (Fatality! – Prince Khufu will die a few panels later in the Temple of Anubis.)
Hath-Set boasts as he is about to sacrifice both Prince Khufu and Princess Shiera (who curiously hasn’t had more than a two lines up until now…)
Prince Khufu in this moment plays his trump card – secret knowledge. “Only we have that power Hath-Set. I know the Older Sciences as well as you.”
It was 1940. Stay in the story.
“Then die, Khufu! and after – Shiera!” Hath-set stabs the prone and tied up Prince Khufu. Tied hand and foot. (This is a villain who takes no chances.)
Then Prince Khufu does the unexpected and then the expected.
Caption: The dying prophecy.
Khufu’ unexpectedly intense stare reveals the depth of his hatred for his enemy. He spits his last breath at Hath-Set and says “I die – But I shall live again – as shall you, Hath Set. And then I shall be the victor!”
Then Prince Khufu does the expected. He dies. Presumably, to ensure Hath-Set’s ruling of the world, requires Shiera to also die – off-camera. This was 1940. You just didn’t do those things to women on the page.
We return to the dapper, blue suited, Carter Hall who realizes HE is Prince Khufu, though he was not clear on who Khufu was, he remembers the important part – does Hath-Set live again? Shiera, too? We have been reincarnated!
Comic stories back then moved fast. Carter Hall assumes he is the reincarnated Prince Khufu and his beloved as well as his enemy have been captured by his Older Sciences-based final death curse. Carter Hall caresses the knife which took his life and reminds it he shall not succumb to it again.
Is This ‘Chekov’s Knife’?
Four panels later, (I said these comics moved fast) Carter runs into Shiera on the street. Even better, she knows who she is! Apparently she already knew who she was before Carter did due to her retrocognitive dreaming.
Carter takes Shiera home with him. I guess he just asked. He leaves her in his study(?) and goes to his secret laboratory to don a new identity. (No. He does not put on a leather suit with a ball gag and whip. You people in the 2020s are just too much.)
“Carter Hall goes into his laboratory – tunes in on his Dynamo Detector and emerges shortly after from his weapon room clad as a grim jest, in the guise of the ancient hawk god, Anubis… The Hawkman – Peril of the Night – whose extraordinary powers are derived from Carter Halls discovery of the ages, the Ninth Metal – which defies the pull of the Earth’s gravity – and the Hawkman goes forth!”
Say what? Winged god, Anubis? Umm. Anubis is the god of the dead. He is also a god with the head of a dog. The winged god of ancient Egypt was Horus. (I think. Let me go check Wikipedia. Be right back.)
“Anubis is the god of death, mummification, embalming, the afterlife, cemeteries, tombs, and the Underworld, in ancient Egyptian religion, usually depicted as a canine or a man with a canine head.”
Okay. Round two.
“Horus or Heru, Hor, Har in Ancient Egyptian, is one of the most significant ancient Egyptian deities who served many functions, most notably god of kingship and the sky. He was worshipped from at least the late prehistoric Egypt until the Ptolemaic Kingdom and Roman Egypt.”
Different forms of Horus are recorded in history, and these are treated as distinct gods by Egyptologists. These various forms may be different manifestations of the same multi-layered deity in which certain attributes or syncretic relationships are emphasized, not necessarily in opposition but complementary to one another, consistent with how the Ancient Egyptians viewed the multiple facets of reality. He was most often depicted as a falcon, most likely a lanner falcon or peregrine falcon, or as a man with a falcon head.
(I call it an honest mistake. Did I mention they didn’t have access to Wikipedia back then…)
Thus, A Legend Was Born
Once more for those might not be able to follow along:
“Hawkman is most often depicted as human archaeologist Carter Hall—the modern-day reincarnation of an ancient Egyptian prince named Khufu—or as Thanagarian police officer Katar Hol from the planet Thanagar.
“The character is generally regarded as having one of the most confusing backstories of any in DC Comics, due to a series of reinventions over the years following DC’s 1985 series Crisis on Infinite Earths.
“Some writers have attempted to integrate Carter Hall and Katar Hol into one story by linking the Thanagarian aliens to the Egyptian curse that causes Hawkman to reincarnate periodically throughout human history, or by using Carter Hall as Katar Hol’s alias, or otherwise depicting the merger of Carter and Katar into one being.”
Not a Goddamn thing about him not being Black.
Given this character has the ability to reincarnate due to “the Older Sciences” – which we now presume may have actually BEEN older sciences from another world – allowed the spiritual energies of Prince Khufu, Princess Shiera and the evil Hath-Set to migrate through time into new lives, where Carter, Shiera and Hath-Set battled until one or all of them died and reincarnated again.
Again and again they would do this battle from the time of ancient Egypt until the modern era.
Carter Hall would get a page in Who’s Who in the DC Universe before becoming Katar Hol from Thanagar. DC was just trying to expand the range of the character, whose backstory made less and less sense every year. I thought it was a very elegant curse story, part magic, part science. Star-crossed lovers and their very angry jilted lover, who reincarnate generation after generation.
Messy. Yep. Time for a makeover. Alien space cop from a militaristic humanoid race who also use Nth Metal to give them their powers and their anti-gravity propulsion. He also got to use a gun along with his usual mace, flail, spear or great axe.
Same guy, though. Loves to fight. Half-ass detective. Loves to fight. Cause Thanagarians love to fight. This guy debuted back in the Brave and the Bold, March 1961. This is the Silver Age version of the character.
Then came Crisis on Infinite Earths. When DC decided it was time to clean house and destroy all of those pesky Earths they bought from all those loser companies many years ago. They were going to tell a grand story of multiversal destruction unlike anything ever done before. And it would be permanent. No more parallel Earths. No more Annual crossovers between the JLA and the JSA (where we got to see the older versions of the characters alongside their Silver Age compatriots – God, I loved those stories as a kid.)
Katar Hol would exist in the Post Crisis Universe as well. Space Hawkman! Bye, ancient Egypt. Hello, Thanagar.
Hawkman would never ever truly acquire fame. He would get a series or two but always his runs would end too soon. Hawkman fans , few they may be cherish every issue. Then Final Crisis. Universal reboot. Then Flashpoint. Universal reboot. Then the New 52. Then Convergence. Hawkman and Hawkgirl disappear for a while in every reboot era until a writer bold enough or crazy enough decides to take the helm and bring him or Shiera to life again.
Finally, A Black Guy
Hawkman finally lands in the modern DC Omniverse. Which includes everything on television and in the films and on the page. All canon. All the time.
Hawkman has appeared in the animated series, Justice League and Justice League Unlimited with Shiera who is a main character in this series, and one of the best depictions of Hawkgirl, ever. (Is there any reason she couldn’t be Hawkwoman? Besides the fact it doesn’t roll off the tongue as smoothly?) Just kidding. Hawkwoman was indeed Shayera Hol, identity when the character was rebooted in the same issue of Brave and the Bold #34.
“In live action, the Hawkman first appeared onscreen in the two-part 1979 TV special ‘Legends of the Superheroes’ by Bill Nuckols appearing alongside Adam West and Burt Ward as allies Batman and Robin.
“Hawkman was later portrayed by Michael Shanks in ‘Smallville’ and by Falk Hentschel in The CW’s Arrowverse family of shows, with both versions favoring the ancient Egyptian version of the character.”
Hawkman will be reincarnated into the dashing body of Aldis Hodge, where he will make his silver screen cinematic debut in the film ‘Black Adam, expected to be released on October 21, 2022. ‘
And yes. Hawkman will be being portrayed by a Black actor. Yep. Black. Now that you have a bit of history, you can realize, there’s not a single reason which suggests it should be otherwise.
Hawkman. On the silver screen. It’s about damn time, DC. Good move making him Black, too. DC’s heroic lineup could use a bit of color…
A final note: The film Black Adam will be featuring the anti-hero, Teth Adam, who with a single reality-shattering word is transformed into the titanic form of… Dwayne Johnson, who petitioned the gods and help to spawn the titular hero into his own film.
There are some other Justice Society of America heroes who will be appearing in this movie such as the enigmatic Doctor Fate, the size changing, Atom Smasher and the tornado-force winds of Cyclone. If you’re nice to me, I might write about them, too. By the way, that first Hawkman story in Flash Comics #1 didn’t end with those pages I shared. You got an entire tale of Hawkman fighting the reincarnated Hath-Set (now Hastor). Those stories moved fast back then.
You get a aerial battle with Hawkman against lightning bolts from a diabolical machine created by his reincarnated foe, Hastor. You get to see the mysterious Ninth metal in action!
Hastor screaming maniacally “You shall pay, you fool! Pay and pay and pay!”
The backup story ‘The Hawkman’ had to give you the origin of Hawkman in 12 pages. And they didn’t go back to the knife…
Hit that tip jar on your way out. I gotta pay people. http://paypal.me/ebonstorm.
Thaddeus Howze is an award-winning writer, editor, podcaster and activist creating speculative fiction, scientific, political and cultural commentary from his office in Hayward, California.
Thaddeus’ speculative fiction has appeared in numerous anthologies and literary journals. He has published two books, ‘Hayward’s Reach’ (2011), a collection of short stories and ‘Broken Glass’ (2013) an urban fantasy novella starring his favorite paranormal investigator, Clifford Engram.