Fans of DC Comics may still have a hard time believing it, but The CW braintrust that used Arrow‘s realistic, moody action to launch the full-fledged metahuman speedster The Flash are only getting bolder. Not only have they called on more DC characters to team up for a time-traveling adventure, but the flying, furious Hawkgirl (Ciara Renée) is among the new recruits.
Having been already introduced into the universe of The Flash as her everyday identity Kendra Saunders, the first half of the Arrow/Flash crossover saw her finally take the first step – or first flight – into adopted her superpower destiny. But considering that the character is sticking around for DC’s Legends of Tomorrow, and just how complex and occasionally ridiculous her comic book continuity really is, we figured it best to run down the essential facts fans should know.
Here is our list of 10 Facts About Hawkgirl You Need To Know.
She’s a Reincarnated Ancient Egyptian
The story of how Hawkgirl first became a superhero has been retconned and tweaked over the years, but the original tale is the most influential. Millenia ago in ancient Egypt, an alien spacecraft from an unknown world – later revealed to be the planet Thanagar – crash landed in the desert, drawing the attention of Prince Khufu, his lover Chay-Ara, and a seriously jealous priest named Hath-Set. It wasn’t the technology or the origins of the alien ship that became the subject of study, but the metal that was harnessed to give it flight.
By melting it down and molding it into a scarab and armored gauntlet, Khufu was given the gift of flight and superhuman strength. Unfortunately, Hath-Set was too evil to stay silent for long, and ended up killing both Khufu and Chay-Ara with a knife cast in the alien material – known as “Nth Metal” – and setting a cycle of reincarnation in motion that would last thousands of years. The mystical properties of the metal reacted to the love shared by the pair, causing them to be reincarnated time and again… along with the man who had ended their lives.
She Was Introduced in The Flash #1
It’s fitting that Hawkgirl should be realized on The Flash, since the character made her debut in the speedster’s very first issue. The star of the story is archaeologist Carter Hall, who uncovers the same knife used to kill Khufu and Chay-Ara, and falls into a deep and dream-filled sleep. Carter sees himself as an Egyptian prince, and the woman he was hopelessly in love with (and died beside). Carter then woke to find the very same woman standing in front of him, now going by the name of Shiera Saunders. Fashioning equipment out of the Nth Metal and creating a costume, Carter took to crime-fighting with Shiera as his girlfriend.
It would be some time before Shiera got in on the action herself, putting on one of Carter’s ‘Hawkman’ costumes and joining him on a mission in “All-Star Comics” #5 (1941). It became something of a habit, with Shiera eventually making it a similar calling, gracing herself with the name ‘Hawkgirl’ and joining Carter in battle and, eventually, the Justice Society.
She & Hawkman Are a Package Deal
Ask any comic fan to explain the origins of either Hawkgirl or Hawkman and it’s immediately clear that the two are inextricably linked, regardless of the comic incarnation. They received shared immortality (of a sort) due to this bond, but the pair’s gift was also a curse: with each new life, they would be drawn to the other, and fall just as deeply in love as they had the first time around. But the joy wouldn’t last long, since their renewed love signalled the arrival of their next death.
As tragic as that story may be, the writers at DC Comics had some fun with the idea, retroactively explaining that doomed lovers throughout history were really Khufu and Chay-Ara in disguise (DC characters like the Old West gunslinger ‘Cinnamon’ and her romantic opposite ‘Nighthawk,’ classical Greek soldiers, African mystics, and medieval knights, just to name a few). Sadly, the reincarnated form of their ancient killer Hath-Set reappeared almost as often, ensuring that the pair’s happiness would always be short-lived.
She Gets Her Superpowers From Alien Nth Metal
Shiera and Carter’s superpowers are less than airtight in terms of science, since the alien Nth metal is about as close to a magic potion as you can get. The most obvious power is the gift of flight which, shockingly, doesn’t come from the massive wings strapped to their shoulders. A belt of Nth metal allows them to defy gravity, with the wings (depending on the specific incarnation, comic series, or writer) typically used to supply lift, direction or speed. But that’s just the physics side of the equation.
Even a small amount of the metal grants its wearer nearly every superhuman gift you could think of: super strength, super durability, increased sight, and an enhanced healing ability. The heightened strength and brute force make melee weapons like maces or spears the most effective weapon (but swords or axes will work in a pinch), not to mention the centuries of combat experience and skills she can call upon.
Her Son Was The Sandman (& Doctor Fate)
It’s possible that even serious DC Comics fans may not know that the Golden Age Hawkgirl and Hawkman (Shiera and Carter Hall) actually had a son, let alone that he would go on to carry not one, but three different titles. Hector Hall’s own story is as strange as his parents’, which means the later chapters in his life didn’t actually rely on his parentage as much as you would expect. Even so, he delivered a life as impressive as fans of the Hawk heroes would hope, beginning by joining the ranks of Infinity, Inc.: the team of young heroes comprised of the children of Justice Society heroes.
Forging an entire suit out of the Nth Metal that gave his parents their powers, Hector took the name ‘Silver Scarab.’ Eventually taken over by Hath-Set, Hector was killed by his former teammates, traveling not to the afterlife, but the realm of The Sandman, taking on the title role for a time (before Morpheus returned and kicked him back to the land of the dead). When the heroes Hawk and Dove – champions of Order and Chaos – had a child, Hector returned in its place, using the inherent mystical balance of the child’s form to take up the mantle of Doctor Fate. It really is a small world, after all.
She Was Rebooted As An Alien Cop
When the heroes of the Golden Age had passed from popularity (including Jay Garrick, whose comic featured Shiera and Carter’s first appearance), DC Comics had to come up with a new twist on their old heroes. Their solution was to double down on the alien origin, introducing a new version of Hawkgirl and Hawkman that were no longer reincarnated, but police officers from the planet Thanagar. On a world free from theft and murder, a sudden surge of crime resulted in the creation of the Wingmen – a police force gifted with artificial wings and armor as part of their uniform.
Renamed Shayera and Katar Hol (a playful wink to the previous version of the heroes), the duo were still married, but arrived on Earth in pursuit of a suspect. When the case was closed, they decided staying on Earth to learn crime-fighting tactics from the Justice League was too good an opportunity to pass up. Taking the titles of Hawkman and Hawkgirl (eventually Hawkwoman), the pair returned to popularity – becoming so popular, DC kept both versions of the hero in canon, leading to one incredibly convoluted continuity.
She’s a Major Player in DC’s Animated Justice League
The CW’s superhero universe may be Hawkgirl’s big break for mass audiences, but a younger generation would be quick to name her alongside other Justice League heavyweights like Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman and The Flash. That’s thanks to Warner Bros.’ animated universe, specifically the Justice League series (and Justice League Unlimited which followed it).
But the version of the character seen in the animated features wasn’t a direct adaptation of any one comic, with that version of Shayera Hol a Thanagarian soldier sent in advance of her planet’s forces (but her romance with Green Lantern John Stewart was definitely not following orders). The alien warrior was blessed with a set of actual wings growing out of her back, and Nth Metal only found in her mace, used to dispel magic attacks. The series would later bring Shayera face to face with Carter Hall, learning they were Thanagarians who travelled to ancient Egypt and were reincarnated, fusing the two origins into one.
Kendra Saunders is The Modern Hawkgirl
In 1999 DC Comics decided that a newer (less complicated) version of the character was in order. Kendra Saunders was the answer, the granddaughter of Speed Saunders, Shiera’s first cousin. When the murder of Kendra’s parents pushed her to take her own life, her soul was all that truly left, with the spirit of Shiera finding her way back into the vessel. It was Shiera’s soul, but it was still Kendra who woke up – and who the still-very-much-alive Carter Hall recognized as his lover’s latest form. Kendra didn’t have any of the memories Carter expected, but possessed the same powers and fighting skills, so becoming the new Hawkgirl was a no-brainer.
Unlike the previous version, Kendra resented the idea that she was destined to fall in love with a complete stranger. She and Carter proved to be a good match in battle, but Kendra’s career in crime fighting was truly her own. Operating as part of the Justice Society and Justice League, Kendra would actually become romantically involved with Red Arrow a.k.a. Roy Harper… before admitting she, too, was falling in love with Carter Hall. True to the tradition, it didn’t end well for either of them.
She Was Re-imagined For The New 52’s “Earth 2”
The New 52 relaunch of DC Comics’ universe introduced a new version of Hawkman in the main continuity, but Hawkgirl didn’t get the same honors. Perhaps sensing that the heroine was in need of a larger role, a new Hawkgirl returned as one of the main stars of “Earth 2.” On an alternate Earth where most of the main Justice League heroes have been killed, Kendra Munoz-Saunders now claims the title, with an origin story that pays homage to the original while offering a more updated premise.
Like the original Carter Hall, Kendra was a thrill-seeking treasure hunter (who would have plenty in common with Tomb Raider star Lara Croft) who wound up in a program that permanently grafted wings onto her back. Kendra would eventually escape from that program, joining forces with a re-imagined version of Jay Garrick’s Flash and a new take on Alan Scott’s Green Lantern. As shown in the image above, Munoz-Saunders is even more comfortable with firearms and explosives than her forerunners ever were.
The CW is Making Some Serious Changes
You can’t blame the minds behind The Flash, Arrow and Legends of Tomorrow for wanting to simplify things for a TV audience, and the priorities were obvious from Kendra Saunders’ debut. It’s the standard Kendra Saunders character – reincarnated but without her knowing – but with her wings now a part of her actual physiology, able to emerge or retract as needed. Only time will tell if it’s magic, Nth Metal, or a potentially alien heritage to thank, but given the sudden influx of mysticism and magic artifacts in the Arrow/Flash universe, that seems the most likely answer.
But the character’s first flight brought with it a clear change for the sake of Legends: it isn’t Hath-Set who’s being reincarnated along with the pair, hellbent on killing them in an endless cycle, but Vandal Savage (Casper Crump). The change allows a more personal link to the villain of Legends of Tomorrow, and considering the relatively unknown villain Savage is replacing, few will take issue. But Kendra Saunders may not be the only Hawkgirl fans get to meet: the time-traveling nature of Legends means anything is possible, with Ciara Renée already teasing an alternate version somewhere down the road…
We’re eager to see what The CW has cooked up for their own version of Hawkgirl, and which elements of each origin story and character they’ll be turning to. Hopefully we’ve made enough sense of the character’s DC history for fans to dive even deeper into the lives of Chay-Ara, Shiera and Kendra Saunders – and judge for themselves whether the latest incarnation is up to the same standards.
The Flash airs Tuesdays @8pm on The CW; Arrow airs Wednesdays @8pm on The CW; DC’s Legends of Tomorrow will premiere January 21st, 2016 on The CW.