Superheroes are famous for having convoluted backstories, but even for the costumed set, some stand out as absolute clusterfucks. Cable of the X-Men. Donna Troy of the Amazons. Ben Reilly, Spider-Man. But only one of them stars in Black Adam: Hawkman, the costumed adventurer who is best known for being a modern archeologist, a reincarnating adventurer, or a space alien, depending on who you ask.
Actor Aldis Hodge, who plays the character in Black Adam, is very aware that his character is kind of a mess.
“It was sort of a running joke for a bit when I first started dipping into research,” he told Polygon via Zoom ahead of the film’s release. “All right, which story? I know all of the stories, all of the backstories.”
What is Hawkman’s backstory?
Truly, Hodge is a brave man. If you’re familiar with the Hawkman of DC Comics (or TV’s Arrowverse), you probably know Hawkman one of two ways: as Carter Hall, a modern adventurer who happens to be the reincarnation of the ancient Egyptian prince Khufu, or as Katar Hol, a cop from a planet where everybody wears wings.
Or you might know Hawkman and Hawkwoman from the Justice League cartoon, which slams both of these backstories together into Carter Hall, the modern human reincarnation of an alien bird warrior who crash-landed in ancient Egypt and became pharaoh and stuff.
So which one of these fellows shows up in Black Adam? Hodge didn’t want to give too much away (though to be fair, the movie doesn’t have much time for Hawkman’s backstory either, given that the focus is on its titular character). But he talked about his own personal quest, before the movie began shooting, to find a “stream of synergy” between all the versions of Hawkman.
“For me,” Hodge said, “it was Carter Hall, the version that most of us are quite familiar with. [...] I loved the nature of his reincarnated state coming from the original [...] who was a pharaoh. I connected with that the most.”
Carter Hall also allowed Hodge to find a parallel between his character and Black Adam’s mercurial protagonist, played by Dwayne Johnson. “Both he and Black Adam come from a healthy line of legacy. They’re both warriors in a new age and a new space, but their principles come from a very different time period. So there’s a regal nature. Those are the elements that inspired me the most when it came to who this person is.”
What does all of this have to do with hawks?
In Hawkman’s first appearance in 1940s Flash Comics #1, writer Gardner Fox and artist Dennis Neville have him take on the guise of a hawk in homage to, quote, “the ancient hawk-god, Anubis.” (Who, uh, famously has the head of a jackal, not a hawk, or any other kind of bird.) So, ultimately... Hawkman dresses like a hawk because some guys in 1940 thought it looked cool. (To be fair, it does.)
Hawkman’s powers have usually amounted to warrior skills, mostly in the medieval sense of having a giant morning star to swing around. He can also strap on an anti-gravity belt and a set of enormous wings made of the mystical Nth metal, in order to fly.
That’s right: The wings are not a part of his body, and he can take them off. Over the years, Hawkman’s costume has run the gamut from a full tunic to a barely-there leather harness. He’s definitely a superhero who believes in the maxim of “sun’s out, guns out.” But when I asked Hodge whether he was disappointed that Carter’s movie look was going to cover up all the hard work he’d done to achieve a superheroic physique, he laughed it off. And again, he showed that he had done the research.
“Not at all! So the Hawkman armor is all made from Nth metal. There are different iterations of the armor, and there are some with a cuirass, which is what I wear in this film. The thing I loved about it was that we got to really see the full-on talent of our art team, the designers Kurt and Bart, and then also Legacy Effects studio, that actually made the armor — this guy Darnell Isom, who was amazing, he modeled the helmet and the armor and the gear.”
Hodge’s appreciation for the costume comes in part from studying to be a designer before his acting career took off. He still keeps a foot in the design world.
“I’m literally wearing museum-piece art!” he said of his Hawkman costume. “I love being able to see that, because I co-own an art studio myself. [...] We worked alongside the team from DC’s Blue Beetle, so I get to see from a different perspective. I get to appreciate the work in its full intensity, and I think it’s amazing.”
It just goes to show that in the world of comics, it sometimes doesn’t matter how convoluted a character’s backstory is, as long as they look dope in action.