Thursday, September 8, 2016
MYTHCOMICS: "THE MASKED MARAUDERS OF EARTH" (BRAVE AND BOLD #43, 1962)
The Silver Age version Hawkman has his mythic moments, but nothing as intense and bewildering as the origin of the Golden Age version.
Most of the DC titles masterminded by editor Julie Schwartz in the Silver Age were marked by an emphasis on SF-tropes and gimmickry, and Hawkman was no exception. The first series had presented both Hawkman and Hawkgirl as modern Earth-people, Carter Hall and Shiera Sanders, who had once lived lives as ancient Egyptians, though I believe that origin was largely forgotten and even contradicted for the remainder of Carter Hall's career. In contrast, the new Hawkman and Hawkgirl, debuting in a three-issue BRAVE AND BOLD tryout from issues #34 to 36, were a pair of "space cops" who, for reasons not explored in depth, wore hawk-costumes and flew around with the aid of artificial wings. Both were from the far-off planet Thanagar, and were for the time-period an unusual male-female team in that they were already married at the time of their debut. Initial sales may not have been strong, for DC didn't move to give the duo a starring title. Other features appeared in the next five BRAVE AND BOLD issues, and then issues #42-44 were once more devoted to the Hawks-- after which a series did follow.
Whereas Gardner Fox, the writer of FLASH COMICS #1, put forth the origin of that Hawkman right away, the Silver Age character-- the joint creation of Fox and artist Joe Kubert-- didn't get a substantive origin until the fifth of the tryout stories. Perhaps this was because that origin had to involve the rise of the Hawk-police on Thanagar, and in early issues the creators were trying to center the stories on Earth, to maximize appeal to juvenile readers. Whatever the reason, the origin of the Silver Age Hawkman never became as much of a touchstone for his adventures as that of the Golden Age one did, at least during his later revivals and rethinkings. Part of the reason is that "Masked Marauders" is not a particularly compelling story as a whole, although I find many of its parts symbolically intriguing.
Despite the implications of the title, the 'marauders" are not at all from Earth; they're the Manhawks, a space-faring race of alien bird-people. At the story's opening they appear on Earth and start stealing things with light-beams that emit from the humanoid masks they wear. (How the Manhawks decided to start wearing human masks, even those tricked out with weapons, is not explained here.) The news of the Manhawks' depredations on Earth makes it to the ears of Hawkman and Hawkgirl, who at the time have returned to their native Thanagar. The crimefighters also figure out that the Manhawks on Earth are related to a group of the same aliens who, ten years ago, came to Thanagar and indirectly brought about the formation of the Hawk-police.
I should note parenthetically that even though in this origin the "Manhawks" predate the existence of Thanagar's "hawkmen" (and "hawkgirls"), patently Fox is attempting to amuse his readers by inverting the name of Hawkman for this new set of villains. On some level he may have remembered a similar reversal in the origin of his Golden Age hero, where that Hawkman borrows his look from the deity of his enemy. End digression--
The Hawks recall the events of ten years ago, when a group of Manhawks came to Thanagar, and started stealing things just for the thrill of it. Fox claims that there had never been any theft before on Thanagar, but does not explain how the whole planet ascended to such a level of moral rectitude. Structurally, this roughly aligns Thanagar with paradise-like cultures into which "sin" has not yet entered. But this ethical Eden isn't invaded by a serpent, but by creatures who seem to be hybrids of man and bird. Fox makes no direct reference to the most iconic man-bird creatures of mythology, the Greek harpies, nor does he portray the Manhawks as death-spirits, the most common modern interpretation of the harpy. However, it's possible that even in 1962 the word "harpy" had been translated as "snatchers," as it still is today-- and it may be significant that the Manhawks are devoted to snatching things, just as harpies may have once snatched the souls of the dead.
Prior to the Manhawks' arrival, there is no police force on the planet, but Hawkman's father Paran happens to have invented an outfit that combines huge feathered wings and a gravity-nullifying device, purely for the purpose of studying bird-life in high places. Eighteen-year-old Katar Hol decides to use this outfit to infiltrate the Manhawks during the night. He succeeds in "snatching" one of the ray-blasting humanoid masks that all of the creatures sport. After he analyzes the mask's makeup, he comes up with a way to defeat and capture all of the marauders.
However, the Manhawks have fouled the Garden, for their orgy of thrill-stealing has somehow spawned the rise of crime in Thanagarians, necessitating a police force. No strictly logical reason is given as to why Katar joins this force, or why the police force as a whole decides to continue using the wing-outfits. One symbolic reason would be that Katar Hol has become by his exploits a culture-hero, and that his people are imitating him. However, the only jusification Katar cites-- perhaps cleaving to the idea that heroes should be modest-- is that the continued use of the outfits is done to show respect to Katar's father Paran, who invented the wing-outfit.
The rest of the story concerns Hawkman and Hawkgirl voyaging back to Earth to battle the new Manhawk opponents. This part of the story is just a routine chess-game, in that this group of avian adversaries has learned how to nullify the weapon the Hawks used against the other Manhawks ten years ago. This means that the heroes have to come up with a new counter-weapon, before the evildoers can use the materials they've gathered on Earth to assail Thanagar. Naturally, the heroes succeed.
Largely absent from this story is Fox's almost fetishistic pattern of having his heroes use "weapons of the past." In the Golden Age this was logically justified by Carter Hall having been a weapons-collector, and symbolically justified because of the character's loose connections with the mythos of the Egyptian god Horus. In the Silver Age version, the Thanagarian heroes' reason for using ancient weapons didn't resonate nearly as well. In essence, because in their civilian identities the Hawks work at a museum, they periodically pilfer weapons from it to fight crime. (No one ever objects to this petty larceny, and if any of the artifacts get destroyed, no one at the museum raises any alarms.)
I'll pass over Fox's usage of cosmological myth-motifs, because they're a little on the lame side. ("Coal into diamonds," Fox? Didn't Silver Age readers get enough of that bit in SUPERMAN comics?) However, the myths of the sinless paradise, and that of the intrusion of evil, rate as good metaphysical myths-- even if later writers would tend to see Thanagar and its peoples in purely sociological terms.