Armchair Screenwriter: You Heard Me, A Hawkman Trilogy.

Posted: July 12, 2011 in Action Movies, comic books, Jeff Holland, Threat Quality
Tags: , , ,

While I’m generally against movies trying to build themselves up as sequels regardless of the audience’s say in the matter, I’m of a different mind when it comes to Hawkman:

It has to be the most epic action-romance ever.

Here’s what I’m thinking:

It’s the 1930’s, Midway City (set designers could go apeshit crafting a kind of Fantasy 30’s Manhattan this way). Carter Hall is a young archeologist – dashing, handsome and adventurous. But also lonely. Everyone calls him an old soul, and wonders why he never met the right girl. It’s something he’s always wondered himself.

Then he finds himself in a competition to claim an archeological dig, said to be the lost crypt of an Egyptian prince Carter’s always been fascinated by for reasons he’s never quite understood. Suddenly he’s in a race against two other archeologists: a conniving grave robber named Carl Sands, and the astonishingly beautiful – yet quite tom-boy-ish – Shiera Saunders. 

Carter and Shiera are immediately drawn to each other. Can’t-keep-their-hands-off-each-other drawn. Their competition becomes a partnership to beat Sands, and that’s how they find the burial site first.

The site’s not what they expected – despite the age, everything looks remarkably well-preserved, and more than a little alien. Then Carter touches a weird machine (this is the Absorbiscon) and begins to remember Everything.

So then the movie’s just a matter of him donning the wings and helmet, realizing he’s Khufu reincarnated and figuring out who Shiera is – while also battling Sands, who’s also come upon the crypt and found a harness that turns him into a living shadow. It’s a battle between a flying man with millennia of fighting experience, against an opponent he can’t touch. Not bad so far.

It takes Shiera longer to embrace the truth – but she’s the one who figures out The Curse first, which means she knows Carl Sands isn’t just a Shadow-Thief. He’s the reincarnation of Hath-Set, and he’s destined to murder them. At the end of Act IV, She straps on her own wings and goes out to join the fight.

Already, by making the movie a superhero Indiana Jones/The Mummy/Titanic mash-up, it’s become distinctive enough from the expected superhero fare. But in the last act, we can make things a little more interesting.

Let’s say Sands/Hath-Set comes up with some world-threatening ploy the Hawks have to stop. And let’s say they stop it, and Sands is defeated. Hooray! Big passionate kissing, the end, right? NO. In his dying act, Sands manages to kill Carter and Shiera. They lay dying in each other’s arms. “Not enough time…I just found you again,” Shiera croaks. Carter smiles. “My love. We’ll find each other again…” Dead.

DEAD! The heroes are dead at the end of their own movie! Whaaaa? (This is the ideal audience reaction.) FADE TO BLACK. (Oh, wait, what? Is the movie over? WHAT THE HELL?)

FADE UP: A bizarre, beautiful alien world, spires stretching high into an orange sky. A man wakes up, confused. It’s Carter, but…not. His lover stirs beside him. It’s Shiera, but…not.

“Something wrong?” she asks.

“No, nothing. I just had this strange dream.”


“It’s silly. I was…I dreamt I was some kind of warrior-prince, on a faraway world.”

“Well…you’re my warrior-prince.”

This is Katar and Shiera Hol. Our hero lovers, reincarnated somewhere far, far away. Thanagar – “Hawkworld.” They smile at each other, kiss, and then gear up into uniforms with helmets and wings. And fly out to right wrongs, as they always do – it’s just the place that’s changed.


Here’s what I like about this plan: it both plants solid sequel seeds, while also accounting for the possibility that the movie will bomb, and there will be no follow-up.

At the very least, it’s told a complete story that gets to the emotional core of the characters. But it also reiterates the reincarnation angle, gives Hawk-fans a nice nod to the Katar Hol era, and while ending the way it should – death and rebirth, the whole central theme of the Hawk-story, it also (in case the movie DOESN’T bomb) sets up…

This one would basically just adapt Truman’s Hawkworld story, rejiggering the time frame of how Katar and Shiera met, and adding in Katar’s feeling that he’s done all this before. But while the last movie played with 30’s pulp serials, this one would be a space-opera-noir, with Katar – basically the same hero the audience knew from the first film – now in a framed-cop story in an exotic setting.

Going with a whole new setting allays the “Sequels are just like the first movie only more of it” issue by making a wholly different film, albeit one with familiar themes and motivations.

For the serious fans, it would also answer questions about where the Hawks’ wings came from in the first movie – they came from Thanagar (with enough implications about that that audiences would want a third movie to address). The magical wings of the first movie become technological constructs this time around. The links would be clear to the audience, but not the heroes, which would be fun without feeling like prequel fan-service.

But now we need to deal with how to head into…

Hawkman 3: Hawks Forever (or something less corny, maybe, but the ultimate goal here is: “This is Where The Hawks Beat The Curse”)

There’s two ways we can go with this:

1)      At the end of Hawkworld, the Hawks, starting to understand their reincarnation deal, follow the shape-shifting Byth to Earth. They now know that he’s the new reincarnation of Hath-Set, and decide to get proactive and take down their killer, breaking the cycle, OR

2)      At the end of Hawkworld, the Hawks again take down Byth/Hath-Set, and the end of Hawkman 1 plays out again: Byth kills the Hawks, and we dissolve into a new scene, back on Earth, where the new Carter and Shiera have one last chance to save their immortal lives.

Now, if we go with the first option, Katar and Shiera take on the roles of Carter and Shiera Hall, curators of the Midtown Museum, with the goal of tracking a shape-shifter in a modern urban landscape. Even knowing the details of how you’re going to die, it’s tough to escape when you don’t know the territory and the prey can look like anyone. That’s a great setup for a fast-paced action film.

But if we go with the second option, literally anything can happen. A weirdly nice byproduct of the Hawkman continuity confusion that’s plagued the character over the last 30 years is that there aren’t any “classic” Hawkman stories to draw on. No “Daredevil: Born Again,” no “Batman: Knightfall.” Nothing, really. (Seriously, if you’re a hardcore Hawkman reader, please point me to something here.)

So we could write a conclusion to the never-ending death-rebirth of the Hawks that’s not dependent on the comics for inspiration. Nothing crazy, just minor tweaks, like:

  • Maybe they’re a lot younger this time – maybe college students (and hey, depending on the production timeframe, casting younger actors is something Hollywood’s always excited about)
  • Maybe this time it’s not an Egyptian dig – maybe it’s an alien (Thanagarian) crash-site recovery, where we find the bones of dead Katar and Shiera?
  • Shiera, not Carter, is the one who learns about their past lives first this time, and/or
  • They know they’re going to be killed by Hath-Set before knowing who Hath-Set is, so they have to hunt for their killer with nothing to go on (this proactive stance would actually fit better with younger incarnations, actually).

I might not have all the specifics worked out, but I think we can agree, this is a way of using the bombastic nature of a trilogy to its fullest advantage – and not by having  the setpieces get bigger every movie, but by having the emotional core of the story (I’ll say it again: forever doomed warrior-lovers fighting their own fates) become more sweeping and epic.

And having the threat of death mean more for our heroes, because we’ve actually seen that play out.

A few more notes:

  • In his Thor post, Braak rightly admitted that you did kind of want to see Thor and Jane Foster DO IT. That’s not just because Chris Hemsworth and Natalie Portman are incredibly attractive people – it’s because they did a really good job of selling the idea that these were two people who were insanely attracted to each other.

Unrequited Sex should absolutely be the subtext of the Hawkman films. These are two characters who BURN for each other. The audience should WANT them to grab each other sweatily at every turn. Honestly, they should groan when another action sequence creeps up instead of a sex scene. That is how much the two leads should want each other. This is an Epic Romance with maces and wings (and why the first film should totally have a buff, hairy-chested  hero).

  • It’s really a shame we only got Jon Hamm when he was a little too old to start doing superhero movies, because he’s exactly who I picture as Carter Hall (and, with longer hair and beard-scruff, as Katar Hol). Can anyone spot a youngish equivalent to Jon Hamm? Like, a guy who looks like (as Liz Lemon put it) a cartoon pilot, but is also a really good actor and in his early-to-mid 20’s?
  • The 30’s-set first film could have plenty of Justice Society cameos and Easter Eggs, considering Shiera’s cousin is Wesley (Sandman) Dodds, and the Egyptian stuff ties into Dr. Fate. Similarly, you could mention that Thanagar’s neighboring planet Rann has a swashbuckling Earthman on it to seed a future Adam Strange movie. But mostly I like the prospect of suggesting a 30’s-set Sandman film (though, good luck finding an actor willing to wear a heavy gas mask over his face for half a movie).
  • Ha! If there’s mention that the same foundation that’s funding Carter’s archeological dig is also paying for Ted Knight’s cosmic rod studies (maybe headed by a shadowy fop in a top hat?), and it’s just a short jump to a Jack Knight Starman movie (that I would write for ONE DOLLAR).

As for special effects: the wings have to be CGI. They HAVE to. I know a big-budget action movie can do better than Smallville, but X-Men: The Last Stand had a good budget and Angel’s wings looked silly there, too.

Maaaaybe some really good, Stan Winston-level prosthetics that simple CGI can doll up for the standing-around scenes (like Tony’s armor in the Iron Man movies), but once the action kicks in, it has to be fast-moving and visceral. The audience cannot, for one second, start to think about the physics of how wings can carry a grown man around.

This may well be the only time I suggest watching the otherwise-forgettable Legion. For all its many faults, they really did seem to think about how to make a winged fighter look kind of bad-ass.

So. Thoughts?

  1. braak says:

    You know, here’s the problem that I have with fake wings on TV shows is the same problem that I have with the fur people have when they turn into werewolves: that is not what bird-wings look like. I mean, it’s KIND of what bird-wings look like, in the sense that they are big and they have feathers. But if you look at an actual hawk’s wings, you can see the way the feathers overlap, the way they’re sized, just the shape of the whole thing is completely different.

    I know that this is an angel, so maybe angels have unusually rough or tattered-looking wings, but I think this also goes a long way towards why movie wings always look fake.

    (The problem with wolf fur is that that’s not what fucking wolf fur looks like. It’s like the designers who design werewolf costumes have never even seen wolves. I don’t know.)

    (Also, they could hire Hugo Weaving to be the Sandman, he doesn’t mind wearing a mask for a whole movie.)

  2. braak says:

    Also: what if Shiera was already Hawkwoman, and, even though she was in love with Carter Hall, she kept trying to sabotage his expedition to prevent him from becoming Hawkman and activating the curse?

    Like, maybe Hall starts finding *some* of the things, like the wings and the weapons, and they kind of half wake him up, but the Absorbicon is down there at the bottom (obviously, where the alien ship crash-landed and the Egyptians built a temple on top of it) and she doesn’t want him to get to it because it means that he’ll be murdered, but then she HAS to because that other dude gets the shadow harness?

  3. Jeff Holland says:

    I like the Shiera-gets-it-first notion for the final story – I’d also like it if it were set just slightly into the future, for the sake of making each film’s set design feel distinctive – it’s the Hath-Set thing that’s wracking my brain.

    In the first one, Shadow-Thief would reach understanding about the same time the Hawks do, while Byth might never realize it (I like the idea of Katar and Shiera only realizing AS he goes in for the kill – “Oh, crap, THIS GUY’s Hath-Set?”).

    But the third film needs a Hath-Set incarnation that’s big enough to feel like this is the final go-round – the most dangerous Hath-Set yet. From grave-robber to shape-shifting corrupt cop…what tops that? What’s the next stage?

  4. braak says:

    Gentleman Ghost?

  5. braak says:

    Actually, also wait: I don’t think you can have a Shiera-gets-it-first notion in the final movie. I think you can barely spend any time with the two of them not getting, and when they do, they have to get it at the same time.

    Becaaaaause, the notion that they’re reincarnated and have to remember who they are is interesting once, and maybe manageable twice, but would probably be a little hard to take the third time.

    Everyone in the audience would just be yelling at them. “Augh, you’re Hawkman, just go be Hawkman, stupid!”

  6. braak says:

    I think the only way a third time could be interesting would be essentially unamanageable with the way movies these days work: it would have to be that we, the audience, didn’t know who the reincarnation of Hawkman was going to be, so that it could come as a surprise.

    But how would you do that? You wouldn’t be able to.

  7. Jeff Holland says:

    OK, good point. About the just-get-to-it-already nature of the third movie, you’re right. Not Gentleman Ghost.

    Man, I gotta figure out a way to get Gentleman Ghost in there.

  8. braak says:

    I think Gentleman Ghost is a good third-movie villain. He’s like the soul of the bad guy, but now just completely unmoored, bringing all the forces of the underworld after these two reincarnated lovers who keep managing to escape it.

  9. Jeff Holland says:

    Disembodied/Invisible Hath-Set (in a slick white suit). Well. There we go.

    Also, setting it in an urban environment allows for modernity and a set-shift, so. Okey-dokey. THERE’S YOUR FRANCHISE, HOLLYWOOD, YOU’RE WELCOME.

    If you need us we’ll be trying to figure out Aquaman for you. Ideally without maiming him. No promises.

  10. braak says:

    I think we should work on Martian Manhunter next.

  11. Jeff Holland says:

    I was juuuust about to yell something about how making J’onn into a movie was a sucker’s bet, but then it hit me:

    If I were to write a Martian Manhunter movie, it would just be the J’onn/King Faraday stuff from Darwyn Cooke’s “New Frontier” book, but with all the other DC characters removed. The story works even better if it’s JUST J’onn and a paranoid government agent learning to trust each other to stop an alien threat in a Cold War setting.

    ESPECIALLY if it’s The Centre, which is a really weird, creepy…well, ALIEN…enemy to go up against. Again, even cooler if it’s just J’onn J’onzz and a guy in a slick mod suit.

    “My Favorite Martian” with a healthy dose of “X-Files” Cold War paranoia. I would watch the hell out of that movie.

    (If you haven’t read “New Frontier” yet, go grab it from the library, the DVD does its best but condenses things way too much to nail the spirit of it.)

  12. braak says:

    “Mad Men” plus “X-Files” plus “The Day the Earth Stood Still” = victory.

  13. Carl says:

    Speaking as a layman (and with undisputed authority for casual fans of the genre everywhere– dispute it. go on. I dare you), I’ll confess that Hawkman is the only non-Batman/Superman property that DC holds that I’ve been actively interested in seeing on the big screen. As a kid, I mostly read Marvel on the basis of the presumption that DC heroes were, as a group, old-timey and kinda one-note, so what I am about to say I say with admitted ignorance. But whereas Flash’s speed or Aquaman’s ability to talk to dolphins didn’t seem like compelling enough characte-traits/super-powers to build a movie franchise around, the idea of a guy with strap-on wings wielding a morning-star on an alien planet full of similarly-outfitted and ill-tempered Hawkmen struck me as having all the requisite exoticism and potential-for-awesome that’s called for in the Golden Age of fantasy movies. What I mean is, Hawkman feels like he has Marvel edge. Plus, reincarnation. The Movies love reincarnation (dispute it. go on. I dare you).

    What I didn’t know until now was that my interest was apparently also predicated on a mistaken expectation of depth and complexity in his character (see what you learn when you read Threat Quality?). I will blame this on my father, as he was a big fan of the Golden Age Carter Hall version of the character, and hyped him in my youth as a kind of masked, flying, mace-wielding Indiana Jones. Who the hell doesn’t want to see THAT on a movie screen? No-the-hell-body, that’s who.

    Anyway, if you two get these movies made, I promise to go see it. Also, if its a trilogy, I’m probably good for a purchase of at least one of them on DVD. So factor that into your revenue projections.

  14. […] as Braak pointed out in his Thor review, and I mandated in my Hawkman pitch, of COURSE there could be more sex in superhero movies, if superhero movies weren’t intended to […]

  15. I’ve always thought that the films in a Hawkman trilogy (yes, I’ve fantasised about that too) should be titled: 1. Hawkman; 2. Hawkwoman; 3. Hawkworld. Yours almost fits that, but with 2nd and 3rd reversed.

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