There are few comics characters that have as much history as Hawkman. That’s not just because Hawkman has been around longer than most superheroes, but because DC has given him several histories — different origins, major retcons and other nonsense that has made him one of comic’s most baffling characters, and here’s how. Please note: DO NOT THINK TOO HARD ABOUT THIS. THIS WILL NOT MAKE ANY SENSE.
1) Reincarnation of an Egyptian Prince
Carter Hall was one of those 1940s archaeologists who did as much punching bad guys as careful examination of fossils. While exploring an ancient Egyptian tomb, he picked up a crystal dagger and had a dream where it was revealed he was the reincarnation of the ancient Prince Khufu. He also discovered the mysterious, gravity flying Nth-metal, too. He turned this into a belt and then put on a bird head helmet and wings, the latter of which were completely useless because it was solely the belt that allowed him to fly.
2) Alien Policeman
Carter Hall was retired with most of the other lesser DC superheroes in the ‘50s, and then reinvented for the Silver Age. Much like Green Lantern, Hawkman was now a space cop — he was an inhabitant of the hawk-loving planet of Thanagar, where he was a respected police officer named Katar Hol. Katar, who wore the Thanagarian’s traditional wings made of Nth-metal to fly, chased a criminal named Byth to Earth, where he stayed to learn about Earth’s police techniques, taking the secret identity of Carter Hall. This was fine… until the original Carter Hall Hawkman was reintroduced as living over on Earth-2, and the two alien and human Hawkmen hung out a few times. This is when things started going to hell.
3) Hawks of a Feather
DC instigated the Crisis on Infinite Earths in order to simplify all their continuity problems. And yet somehow Crisis on Infinite Earths somehow made Hawkman — or should I say the Hawkmen — worse. While Golden Age and Modern Age characters were getting their origins combined, modernized and streamlined, the Crisis seemed to completely ignore Carter Hall and Katar Hol, both of whom survived Crisis needlessly, and confusingly, intact. Carter Hall joined the Justice Society of America, only to be thrown into limbo with the rest of the JSA in 1988, while Katar Hol joined the Justice League International briefly, which became it’s own issue (see below). The opportunity to simplify Hawkman was utterly missed.
4) The Hard Reset
And then somehow things got worse. A 1989 series named Hawkword decided ol’ Katar Hol was a Thanagarian banished to Earth after calling out his warlike people for being assholes. When he returned to his home planet, he again chased Byth to Earth, Byth now being a Thanagarian traitor. Sounds reasonable, right? Wrong. Because DC decided this happened not just in modern continuity, but the very present of the DC Universe. Which means a brand-new Katar Hol Hawkman just appeared on Earth where another Katar Hol Hawkman and the Carter Hall Hawkmen were just recently hanging out, even post-Crisis. How would DC explain this? In the most awkward way possible.
5) Mass Confusion
Suddenly, DC decided that the Golden Age Hawkman was also the Silver Age Hawkman — and that all the Silver Age and modern adventures that had clearly been experienced by Thanagarian Katar Hol were in fact had by Carter Hall, despite years and years of comics’ evidence to the contrary (who this explained the times when the two Hawkmen teamed up, I have no idea). So what about that Hawkman who had so briefly joined the Justice League International? He was a Thanagarian spy named Fel Andar, who also claimed to be Golden Age Hawkman Carter Hall’s son, just to make things more confusing. He eventually went home to Thanagar. Obviously, none of this simplified anything.
6) Avatar of the Hawk God
DC needed a solution as insane as the mess they had created. Enter Zero Hour, where a Thanagarian Hawk God said to hell with it, and merged Carter Hall and Katar Hol into one being — a being that kind of remembered Carter Hall’s life, kind of remember Katar Hol’s life, but definite had real, organic wings that he could somehow retracted into his back.
During Zero Hour it was also revealed that Katar Hol was half-human, as his dad had come to earth, originally given the Nth-Metal to Carter Hall, then picked up a Cherokee woman and brought her to Thanagar in an act that we can only hope was consensual. So now Katar Hol — or really, the Carter/Katar/avatar hybrid — was now half-human! Shockingly, having a character that was part-human who was the reincarnation of an Egyptian prince and part-result of a human mating with a Hawk-themed alien while also being the avatar of some kind of Hawk deity was not as simple as DC has hoped. So DC just killed him two years after Zero Year and left him the hell alone. DC so didn’t want to deal with Hawkman that they refused to let Grant Morrison use the character in his hit JLA relaunch, which is why the winged angel Zauriel was part of the team.
8) Carter Hall Again
A ritual on Thanagar resurrected Hawkman in JSA, but it wasn’t Katar Hol — it was carter Hall. I don’t know how the alien Thanagarians managed to resurrect the human Hawkman, but this new Carter explained he remembered all of his past lives, from old Prince Khufu to his life as Katar Hol to all the random people in-between — with his lady love Shayara, often known as Hawkgirl, generally being reincarnated by his side. So now Hawkman was an eternal spirit who was continually being reborn, but his recent life as Katar Hol meant he still had plenty of reasons to deal with the Thanagarians. It wasn’t perfect, but it was about as neat as DC could get it.
9) Break Like the Wind
Which is of course why DC almost immediately started to pick at the scab again. Some god told Carter that he was actually Katar for a bit, but even DC had enough sense to ignore that (after a little while). Hawkman and Hawkgirl then stopped by DC’s Blackest Night event, only to get brutally murdered in the first issue. Then they were brutally resurrected in the first issue of Brightest Day, but with the benefit that they were no longer stuck in their cycle of reincarnation, which sounds nice until you realize what it means is that they can’t come back after they die anymore. And then they were wind elementals for some reason and Hawkgirl disappeared, possibly eaten by Swamp Thing.
DC reset everything — well, almost everything — with the New 52, so the new Hawkman is kind of a question mark. He's Katar Hol from Thanagar, where he's apparently wanted for murder, but he calls himself Carter Hall on Earth He tried to bury his Nth-metal armor and wings but it flew out of the ground and reattached itself to him, and he’s a violent maniac. To be fair, after all the shit he’s been through, we’d want to hit people too.