Monday, October 3, 2016

The Weird Appeal of the Winged Wonder

Assets for the 1940s Hawkman: a uniquely memorable and coolly weird costume with a hawk’s head mask and dramatic wings. Why the medieval maces and flails? Why the bare chest? The character always caught the eye, which is probably why he was cover-featured in every other issue of Flash Comics.
Liabilities for the 1940s Hawkman: his un-unique power of flight, which was initially an asset. Remember, not even Superman and Captain Marvel could actually fly at first. But flight quickly became Standard Operating Procedure for comic book superheroes, virtually the ante to get in the game. Characters like the Human Torch and the Submariner got flight as part of a package deal with other impressive abilities. Even superheroes who don’t actually fly often simulate the freedom of personal flight — think Batman, Spider-Man and Daredevil.
Successful superheroes require unique angles, and Hawkman lost one of his early on.
Hawkman also somehow developed the power to talk to, though not command, birds. While interesting, it’s nothing that Cinderella couldn’t also do.
Created by writer Gardner Fox and artist Dennis Neville in 1940, Carter Hall, the Winged Wonder, developed his own mythology, which included enduringly intriguing archenemies like the Gentleman Ghost (who was later to clash with Batman and Superman). Hawkman appeared in every adventure of the Justice Society, not being sidelined like the Flash and Green Lantern because he was never awarded his own exclusive comic book title.
The Winged Wonder also made a contribution for gender equality when his reincarnated girlfriend, Shiera Saunders, also became his sidekick and crime-fighting partner, Hawkgirl.
Introduced in Hawkman’s initial adventure, Shiera first spread her own wings in All Star Comics 5 (July 1941), inaugurating a theme we’d see echoed in Mary Marvel, Bullet girl, Fly Girl, Batwoman and so forth.
I always like to observe how popular culture provides a funhouse mirror reflection of social reality. I find it telling that Hawkgirl now appears more often than Hawkman, and often alone. 

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