The Hawkman series begins with a long flashback prompted when Carter Hall examines a crystal knife amid his ancient weapons collection. Carter sees himself as a young Egyptian prince, Khufu, who has fallen prey to the machinations of Hath-Set, a priest of Anubis. Hath-Set uses the knife to kill Khufu and his lover, Shiera.
Carter wakes from his reverie, and crafts himself a costume with a hawk mask and large wings, which are held on by straps across his bare chest. The wings are made of “ninth metal,” which he also learned about in a dream, another secret of the ancient Egyptians, which allows him to fly. The subway system is mysteriously burning, and in investigating it Carter finds not only Shiera Sanders, the reincarnation of his former lover, but also the evil Dr. Hastor, a reincarnation of Hath-Set. Dr. Hastor appears to die at the end of the story, but he returns in the 80s.
Hawkman encounters the god Poseidon in an underwater adventure in Flash Comics 9, and Poseidon gives him the ability to breathe underwater, but it appears this was a temporary power, as Hawkman clearly does not have this ability in later issue. On the other hand, after getting severely wounded in issue 23, he is saved and tended to by hawks in the hidden valley, and taught the language of birds. He uses this to his great advantage, both for information, and also to train a bird army that he calls upon when needed.
Big Red is the hawk that becomes somewhat of a sidekick, but that role is largely filled by Shiera.
Shiera’s appearances are sporadic at first, and often she gets kidnapped and has to be rescued. We learn that she is an archeologist in Flash Comics 16, as she heads to a dig on Mongolia and gets captured by a horde of Mongol warriors. Her aunt and uncle appear in issue 25, searching for a rejuvenation formula. Despite being captured so often, Shiera is no wimp. In issue 20 she attempts to prove her equality to Hawkman by going after a mad bomber on her own, using a rope to swing from rooftop to rooftop.
In Flash Comics 24, December 41, Carter makes Shiera a matching costume, though with a red bra, for a costume ball. Shiera jumps on the chance to try it out, and offers to help a young couple that have fallen prey to a phony accident scam. She doesn’t fare very well, getting caught again, and Hawkman does the heavy work himself. In her next outing she gets shot by hoods who mistake her for Hawkman, but she never gives up, and becomes more or less equal partners with Hawkman by the end of the era. Interestingly, for a very long time she refers to her costume as her “Hawkman” costume, and its not until issue 30 that she is called Hawkgirl. Her costumed debut also precedes the first appearance of Wonder Woman by two weeks, making her DC’s first superwoman.
At first she cannot speak to the birds, but somewhere along the way she does learn their language, and even gets her own bird sidekick, Kitty Hawk, though this bird only appears in Flash Comics 37.
Sheldon Moldoff does the art on much of the run, coming on with issue 4, and sticking around until late 42. The stories after this are signed by him, but clearly are not his art. That being said, many of the later 1942 stories look partly like his work, but also partly not. Perhaps he was getting sloppy, even by 1941 we stop seeing the fabulously rendered mythical cities high in the hills and tribesmen of different nationalities in full dress.
There are no villains who make more than one appearance during this era, but a few of them return in much later times. Alexander the Great debuts in Flash Comics 2, a wanna-be world conqueror with a giant bulbous bald head, he invites Hawkman to a sumptuous dinner and explains all his plans before the two fight it out. Nyola is an Aztec priestess of the god Yumm-Chac, who seeks out perfect young women to sacrifice to her god in All-Star Comics 2. Like Dr. Hastor, Alexander the Great and Nyola would have to wait until the 80s to be seen again, all of them returning in the pages of All-Star Squadron.
Satana the Tiger Girl puts human brains into the bodies of animals, who act as her slaves, in Flash Comics 13. She next appears in 2009.
There are many fascinating one-shot villains, who easily could have returned, as Hawkman tends to fight talking alligators, fake mummies, or talking killer plants more often than simple robbers or murderers. Father Time appears in issue 33, a mad scientist with a mountain castle as his base, he develops untraceable poisons and melting metals, but dresses as the character he names himself for, with a large scythe that he uses in his battle with Hawkman. The Human Dynamo is scientist Danford March, who gains the ability to shoot electricity from his body after an experiment goes wrong (because his cleaning lady spilled water on the machine). His powers drive him mad, but his sanity is restored at the end of the story as his powers get drained.
The Hummingbird is noted ornithologist Hester Morgan. Greed prompts her to develop a pair of wings that allow her to fly and a magnesium flare gun to blind those she is robbing. Carter uncovers her identity in Flash 52, and tries to reform her. Shiera gets jealous of the attention she is receiving from Carter, and as Hawkgirl threatens her, insisting that she is still a criminal. This stresses Hester out so much that she does return to crime, but even after catching her a second time, Hawkman lets her go free again.
Hawkman’s use of ancient weapons in battle is tied to Carter’s collection, but in no story in this period is Carter called an archeologist. He is independently wealthy, and in one story is credited as the inventor of a new gun. He is shown to live in Hall Manor, a large estate, but in other stories clearly is inhabiting a high-rise. Flash Comics 9 has him operating in New York City, issue 37 says Gotham City, and its Keystone City in issue 49.
I prefer to see these not as continuity errors, but reflecting his ultra-rich status. Carter has his family estate, but also apartments in a number of different cities, which he and Shiera travel to. I mean, really, if your power is to fly, why wouldn’t you travel a lot?
Hawkman continues in the Late Golden Age
Hawkman: Flash Comics 1 – 55 (Jan 40 – July 44)
All-Star Comics 1 – 2 (Summer – Fall 40)